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Italian in Chapel??

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How is Vespa?? what is the best in Ch-Hill area?

Thanks in advance!!!!


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  1. I have yet to find a satisfactory Italian restaurant in Chapel Hill. Vespa is okay, but bland and expensive; not really worth it in the end. Il Palio is at moments very good, but of course it is exceedingly expensive, a place for special occasion dining. The other notable options are Aurora, 411 West, and Panzanella. None of these are particularly thrilling either. If I had to choose between the latter three restaurants, I would probably choose Panzanella, which at least serves good bread and makes a decent pizza crust.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sinophile

      Aurora is, at least for now, out-of-commission: http://www.aurorarestaurant.com/

      I have to agree with Sinophile that there's really nothing in Chapel Hill (OK, nothing really in the *Triangle* as a whole, to be honest) that I'd want to use the word "best" to describe, when it comes to Italian food. There's a lot of "good enough for the neighborhood joint," and a few "more expensive than the quality really justifies" and not much else.

      I'm not even much of a home-cook (I can't help it, I like eating other cooks' food better than my own), but I've had better luck with my own homemade pastas and sauces (from the Hazan & the Kasper cookbooks, mostly) than with stuff I've had at even the "good" Italian restaurants around. Which really does say more about the lack of good Italian food than it does about the quality of my cooking ;-)

    2. Vespa really peeves me; They are low-mediocre & charge $$ prices & don't even put escarole in the escarole soup. If you're going to charge me at least give me top ingrediants.

      Panzanella isn't really Italian. But they do make great home made pasta & their lamb shank ragu or boar ragu is really superb. I've said before Mario Batali has this dish in his NYC restaurant for much $$$. Also they always are happy to serve Marinara over the pasta. Their bread is excellent too. Nice mellow atmosphere.
      So if you want pasta I'd go to Panzanella...otherwise make it at home. I just ordered Rao's Cookbook.

      1. I've got to agree with most of the above. Vespa is really bad, although it's under new ownership, so who knows. I wouldn't even really call 411 Italian... and as we've already noted, Aurora is gone. Panzanella, like 411, has some Italian dishes, very good bread and decent pizza. I had a truly bad and very expensive meal at Il Palio a long time ago, and I won't go back.
        Note to self-- open good Italian restaurant in Chapel Hill.

        1. I would agree with all of the above. The Italian options in Chapel Hill are pretty meager. Panzanella, while not strictly Italian, has some really good dishes and is, by far, your best option.
          If anybody were to open a place serving quality Italian food in Chapel Hill, I would be a frequent and loyal patron and I don't think I would be the only one.

          1. La Russa's in Meadowmont is good. Great place to go for lunch. I recommend the chicken parm sandwich and the specials are usually pretty good. They also serve as a mini italian grocery if you wanna buy something to cook at home.

            1. Not an Italian restaurant at all, but the best affordable Italian dish I've had in the Triangle was the Pappardelle with Boar Ragu at Federal. Absolutely amazing.

              Nope, good Italian is another one we're short on out here.

              1. I have to disagree; Il Palio is a fantastic Italian Restaurant! This like most restaurants it does have its ups and downs, but time and time again we have had a great meal. This is the only place in the Triangle that truly serves what they are serving in Italy. The pastas are made in house, and the Osso Bucco is out of this world. Just like the great restaurants in Northern Italy (Ristorante Sobborgo) www.sobborgo.it you need to talk with the staff, and ask lots of questions.
                They have a new Sommelier (Hailey) that was recommend by Damon (the previous Sommelier). She has unbelievable knowledge about Italian wines. As far as pricey, my wife and I dine at Il Palio at least once a month and our average check is under $100 before gratuity. We have experienced different Chefs over the years, each one specializing in something different, so if you had a bad experience a few years ago you might like the current one.


                Fat Tony

                4 Replies
                1. re: Ilovefood2006

                  I go back at least four chefs or more with Il Palio and some have been more to my taste than others. Each meal has been outstanding in its own way. However, for the vast majority of diners, Il Palio is a special occasion restaurant. Once a month would be far more than my budget could stand.

                  Maybe I understood the initial post incorrectly but for this ex-Brooklyn kid a good Italian restaurant is the kind of place you could go maybe once a week or once every other week, where the primary offerings are not pizza or heroes, and entrees run under $20 each. Oh yeah, and the food should be almost as good as what your Nonna made when you were a kid - if you were lucky enough to have an Italian grandma (I wasn't). This isn't the kind of thing the Triangle is big on.

                  1. re: Ilovefood2006

                    Agree that both Hailey and Damon know a great deal, and provide an excellent wine list. Sadly, a wine list does not a restaurant make--it'd be a lot easier for people like me if it did. Furthermore, asking questions doesn't do a lot of good if the servers aren't well trained in what they're serving. It's not a lack of understanding of Italian food that colored my experience, believe me.

                    1. re: HeelsSoxHound

                      I too agree a wine list doesn't make the restaurant. But, let me ask you this; if you had one bad experience, "a long time ago" perhaps it was one bad server that no longer is employed? I don’t mean to sound argumentative at all, but when someone says, “a long time ago” a lot can change, so don’t assume it will always be that way.

                      And what I mean about asking a lot of questions is not meant to be an interaction with the server only. Talk with Hostess, Bartenders, the Sommelier, the Manager, and for Pete's sake talk with the Chef. My wife and I love getting to know the whole team in a restaurant. We have built so many great relationships with Triangle restaurants by doing this. So when the day comes the restaurant overbooked or just is having an off night the staff will make sure you are taken care of at all costs.

                      When you walk into the restaurant and they all greet you as if you were Norm on Cheers and the food and wine are great, then that is when you say, “this is one of our favorite places to go.” And as far as Italian knowledge and authenticity the Il Palio has it. Yes, it is more expensive than a Mom and Pop place, but it sure makes you feel like you are in a fine dining restaurant in Northern Italy.

                      I apologize for the disagreement here, as I usually find your comments and opinions pretty right on.

                      1. re: Ilovefood2006

                        Fair enough... goodness knows my wife and I also enjoy a fair measure of camaraderie with good number of restaurants in the area. Also noted that a lot can change over time in any restaurant. I guess that the core of the matter is that if I know it's going to be good, I'll feel a lot more comfortable dropping that kind of change on dinner. Perhaps it's time for me to try it again. Also wasn't trying to be argumentative... *grin* just an avid defender of my point.

                  2. It was not in Chapel Hill and it probably wasn't at the level of what others have referrenced but I sure miss the old La Fonte restaurant in Durham back in the 80s and 90s. Nothing fancy but boy, they sure had some great manicotti and garlic rolls at really great prices. I haven't found anything in the Durham or Chapel Hill area that takes their place.

                    1. I'm with you, guilty gourmand - do you remember the guy with the accordion? That place had such a great vibe. Who needs "authentic Italian" when you can get "authentic Italian American" with a fun vibe and at reasonable prices. I miss it, too! The closest we've found has been Bocci's on Fayetteville - it doesn't have quite the charm and no garlc rolls, nor the dude with the accordion, but last time we went we had a trip of a waitress who's been in the business forever and had some great stories. Their brick oven pizza and sauteed greens are worth a try. It's not crazy expensive either.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: suse

                        My wife and her friends did a ladies night out at Bocci's this past weekend and she raved about it. They had a fllorentine ribeye and a couple of different pasta dishes and she said everything was delicious. And the check was quite reasonable, too.

                        And I don't know about authenticity but 411 West is a very good dining experience in my book. Good food without breaking the bank-- that's what Chowhound is all about, isn't it?

                      2. Suse--Thanks for the tip on Bocci's. Yes, the guy with the accordian was great. Wasn't there an older lady that used to accompany him sometimes as well--maybe a wife / husband team? My memory is failing me. I do remember going there on a date while in school and the owner handing me an extra mint at the register after I paid and giving me a wink and whispering "just in case." It was a great spot

                        1. What about Trilussa La Trattoria on Franklin Street?

                          1. Aurora is gone? Boo! I moved from chapel hill to athens last august, this is a shame.

                            I for one really love 411 West. The last time I was there, the service was mediocre but the polenta was very good, and the food in general was worth it.

                            Chapel Hill is really hurting for decent, true Italian fare. I've been to il Palio a few times and found the atmosphere to be noisy, uncomfortable, and generally abhorrent, so that really put a damper on my dinner and each time I had trouble enjoying the food.

                            1. Pazzo's is good, but definitely not the 'like the family did it' Italian experience. Honestly, I don't ever get that sort of thing anywhere except in the Northeast and Chicago......Trilussa goes for that sort of thing but doesn't get there. I would agree that Panzanella is the best 'daily' italian in CH.

                              1. If you don't mind a drive to Durham, go to Pulcinella's! It's on 751 in the Woodcroft shopping center, just north of 54.
                                It's by far the best Italian I've had here, and reminds me a bit of neighborhood Italian restaurants in Brooklyn. It's totally unpretentious, cheap (most entrees are under $10), and always good. No, it's not super-fancy, and no, it doesn't have a sommelier, but if you're looking for family-style Italian, this is the place.

                                1. Many thanks for all the comments, I will be trying some of your recommendations over Easter.