written by Julie Lee | photos courtesy of Pazzo Ristorante
Nothing sounds better than a heaping plate of pasta and a bold red wine in this rainy Portland weather. Italian food is comfort personified—from hearty dishes to candlelit ambience. Here are some favorite spots in Portland to get your gluten on.
With over sixty-five new restaurants in Portland since June, it’s easy to overlook those evergreen mainstays that never disappoint. Pazzo Ristorante, located inside Hotel Vintage, is a time-honored anchor in the epicenter of downtown Portland, serving the lunchtime business community and romantics seeking an elegant evening out for the past two decades. Chef Kenny Giambalvo has been around the culinary block, perfecting skill from coast to coast with a stop in Singapore, then opening Bluehour in Portland before landing back home at Pazzo, where he made his mark in the 90’s. Everything spun out of the open kitchen is wicked delicious; some favorites include the Strozzapreti, with Dungeness crab and Calabrian peppers, and the mushroom & black truffle pizza with an organic egg topping.
627 SW Washington St.| pazzo.com
Opened in 2015, Renata came out of the gate swinging, earning ‘best of’ accolades almost immediately in the foodie world. The early and eager praise was warranted. Renata is not only one of the premier preferred spots in Portland to satisfy an Italian itch, it’s one of the best restaurants in Portland, period. Located in the southeast Industrial District, a germinating hipster hot-spot, Renata delivers the trifecta of buzzy vibe, boozy cocktails, and peerless dishes—hand-formed pastas and wood-fired pizzas that inspire two words: more please.
626 SE Main St.| renatapdx.com
Sometimes you crave a mondo plate of spaghetti and meatballs without the frill, the kind you imagine an Italian grandmother making as you sit in her 20th century New York City kitchen. No need to transcend time or place—just head to Gilda’s. Chef Marco recreates a slice of history using his grandmother Gilda’s recipes and passion for feeding her family, delivering hearty classics like Rigatoni alla Bolognese and upscale Italian treats like Pappardelle at Cinghiale with wild boar braised in Chianti, all served with gusto. The recommended entry item for a first time visit, however, is Spaghetti with Grandma’s Meatballs.
1601 SW Morrison St. | gildasitalianrestaurant.com
As the surrounding neighborhood buds and blooms, as contiguous restaurants open and close, as the culinary takeover in Portland mounts, Piazza Italia has been quietly drawing in enthusiastic and loyal fans (literally) since 2000. Piazza Italia is where you go to watch a soccer match while savoring a great plate of pasta paired with a nice Chianti. This place is tiny in size and almost always packed with patrons for a reason: incredible Italian food at a very reasonable price. The Linguine Squarciarella, otherwise known as owner Gino Schettini’s favorite pasta, is unmatched.
1129 NW Johnson St. | piazzaportland.com
Executive chef Cathy Whims excels in cooking ham with her newest baby, Hamlet in the Pearl, but what ignited her rise to culinary superstardom in Portland was her pasta. And pizza. Oh, and her salad—definitely the salad. Pair her fettuccine or ravioli of the day with an Insalata Nostrana, radicchio with rosemary sage croutons and caesar-style dressing, and euphoria is reached. It’s been a decade since Nostrana was coined Portland’s restaurant of the year, and the accolades for Whims, including numerous James Beard nominations hasn’t slowed since.
1401 SE Morrison | nostrana.com