Los Angeles is in a groove with pasta, and it’s worth talking about in depth. So, instead of thoughtlessly listing “9 essential spaghetti restaurants in Los Angeles,” here’s how these three spots serve up their inspired pasta dinners, and why you should go:
2813 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
Ceci’s is, in a word, lovely. The yellow umbrellas outside the Silverlake store front beam like sunshine. Sitting outside and enjoying a coffee with a bombolone (think aromatic Italian donut) is a beautiful and relaxing way to spend a morning. The small, focused menu not only makes the ordering experience breezy, it rightfully signals that each item is made with precision and care. Run by married couple Francesco Lucatorto and Francesca Pistorio, the spot opened in August 2021, and it has an enticing variety of regional Italian delicacies like homemade focaccia, focaccina (sandwiches), desserts, and plenty of pasta.
As their website states, Ceci’s is “the first Italian gastronomia in Los Angeles entirely approved by Nonna.” And you can feel that matriarchal approval in their pasta. Their lasagna achieves a phenomenal texture. It is soft, layered, and understated, not chunky, thick, and Hamburger Helper-esque. Read: Lasagna doesn’t have to be clumsy. It can be light, delicate, and luxurious all the same. The al ragu consists of layers of fresh egg noodles in between creamy bechamel and a beef bolognese that is velvety in its own right. Also, try the pesto iteration. The same egg noodles are layered with a deliciously nutty pesto, bechamel, and lots of parmigiano reggiano. There’s a consistently delicate texture to Ceci’s lasagna; it feels personal.
Moreover, lasagna is perfect takeout food. Unwrap the foil packaging and delight in seeing crispy bits of pasta sheets flail and crumb as you unfurl the edges. Most of the items at Ceci’s come complete with reheating instructions, perfect for anybody planning to freeze or refrigerate their pasta meals for a later date.
Ceci’s is a restaurant which serves up enough variety and quality that there’s plenty of reasons to keep coming back, whether it’s for a cappuccino and a nutella bombolone, a deliciously sweet and tangy eggplant caponata sandwich with burrata cheese, or some of the most satisfying and familial lasagna you’ve ever had. It’s one of the only Italian restaurants in LA that actually make you feel like you’re in Italy. So go to Ceci’s, relax, and enjoy some authentic regional food from the heart.
37 Union St., Pasadena
The pasta at Union in Pasadena is great for 2 reasons: Indulgence and sensible innovation. Take the cacio e pepe, a dish featuring the usual suspects – a dump truck full of Parmigiano Reggiano, cracked pepper, and pasta water. The dish is served with tonnarelli, a thicker, more traditional egg yolk rich companion to this classic Roman dish. Meaty strands of pasta absorb the cacio e pepe sauce as it swells with profuse cheesy flavor. But Union doesn’t stop there: The whole thing is topped with a 63 degree celsius egg, a deliciously creamy and runny egg yolk that’s broken tableside and spread around into your pasta dish with an X-rated sound effect. This dish is deeply satisfying and downright raunchy. Still, it somehow maintains it’s ethos as a classic pasta dish, and that’s the great thing about Union: They offer unique versions of the classics without straying too far from the original concept. The food is about indulgence and understandable flavors while letting the pasta shine bright. In short, it’s modern Italian food done respectfully.
Chef Chris Keyser puts pasta into a class so decadent that it feels like splurging on dessert. Thick spirals of torchetti are bound together by a pork ragu with fried rosemary and pepperoncini, a dish that could stop there but declines impolitely. Instead, it comes topped with a dollop of creamy house ricotta cheese. Like the cacio’s egg yolk, stirring and integrating it into your pasta dish transforms it into something downright lecherous. Even the spaghetti and meatballs offers something you likely haven’t had, as their S+P is a delicious mashup of pork meatballs and a mouthy Amatriciana sauce with caper berries and garlic bread that is both bitey and filling. The pasta at Union is like your grandmother’s cooking, but if your grandmother was a wild, horned up, sex-positive nonna. In short, it rules.
L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele
1534 N. McCadden Pl., Los Angeles
Chef Shaki Castillo, a Oxacan native who rose from the ranks as a dishwasher to cooking at notable Italian restaurants like Terroni, helms the pasta program at L’Antica like a pro. Pizza at L’Antica gets most of the hype, and deservedly so, but the pasta menu is full of well executed classics like cacio e pepe, pappardelle genovese, and fettuccine bolognese. The bolognese is aromatic, hearty, and tomato-free, while the aforementioned cacio e pepe stays delightfully authentic to its character. The cheese-packed sauce stays glued to the house made spaghetti and stands tall on the plate like a miniature sculpture. The process for the cacio is mesmerizing. Shaki uses one hand to sprinkle a mound of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano as he rapidly flicks his wrist to toss a saute pan full of spaghetti, Parmigiano cheese broth, cracked pepper, and extra virgin olive oil as the cheese reigns down like snow. Shaki’s motion is both technical and graceful; he’s got the refined pasta skills of a veteran.
One thing you might notice at L’Antica is that most of the pasta dishes have a creamy, carbonara-like quality to them. The culprit here for this decadent tenacity is their aforementioned Parmigiano cheese broth. The broth is the magic juice that binds together a lot of the pasta dishes at L’Antica. A giant pot of water filled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds sits atop the stove for hours, simmering and absorbing the cheese flavor over the course of the day. This broth is ladeled into a good number of their dishes like the cacio e pepe and their pasta nerano (fresh Parmigiano, Pecorino, a helping of vegetable stock, Parmigiano broth, and zucchini).
You’ll also be pleasantly surprised by the wonderful rotation of specials and deep-cut dishes from Italian pasta canon. Here, Shaki stretches his legs and the L’Antica crew gets to flex their pasta prowess. The strozzapreti (think long cavatelli) with smoked mozzarella is fun, warm, and delightfully cheesy, while a few months back the short rib and butter agnolotti were light and rich. Shaki continues to find his stride, and with all his expertise he is likely to take the pasta program to new heights in 2022. Sure, the move at L’Antica is the pizza, but don’t sleep on the pasta. There’s plenty of reasons to go, and even more to go back.
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