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Economical Italian in D.C. for Big Group

  • j

My friend Jamie's Italian family is coming to visit from Ohio this weekend, and she's looking for a decent place to take them all on Saturday night. Her sister Sherry is running a marathon on Sunday, and only wants pasta.

I've seen suggestions in other threads for Dino and Sette Osteria, but I don't know price ranges. Sherry hates Buca di Beppo, and they're considering Maggiano's in Chevy Chase. Personally, I would like to recommend someplace non-chain over Maggiano's.

Since it's a family outing and they're not wealthy, nobody is looking to break the bank but I think they want to enjoy a step up from generic.

Any suggestions?


Palena Cafe and Locanda popped up as interesting options from Washingtonian.com. Has anyone tried these places? I'm especially interested in Locanda on Capitol Hill.

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  1. Dino has a great wine list and a very reasonably priced menu. Is it the height of gastronomic bliss? No, but I think it's exactly what you're looking for. Pretty good food for a pretty good price.

    1. Dino is very nice but not exactly inexpensive for "carb loading." If you're considering Maggiano's (don't, please), you should at least consider Sette Osteria. It's not expensive, the food is good (not spectacular) and the price is right. It's on Dupont Circle, very near the metro. And folks will probably loudly disagree, but for a very inexpensive, casual and large-group friendly Italian spot, consider Dupont Italian Kitchen on 17th not far from Dupont Circle. It's very friendly with typical red-sauce dishes. Nothing is very inventive, but I always have a fun time there.

      Does "pasta" have to mean "Italian?" Because if you're open to Asian noodle options, I know the 'hounds can give you fabulous recs for noodle dishes.

      1. I would certainly try to steer her away from Maggiano's.

        If I were to carb load my go to place would be Filomena in Georgetown. All the pastas are home made and the stuffed pastas especially from the Pasta Mamas are great. The portions are huge so you are getting a great bang for your buck (especially since I usually have lunch for the next day as well) and anyone with a sweet tooth will enjoy the giant sized cheese cakes. I would suggest getting a reservation here, especially for bigger parties since a lot of people might be carb loading at Filomena.

        Locanda could be a good idea as well, although I have yet to eat there I've been hearing good things.

        Another idea would be Mama Mia's in Adams Morgan. They'll have to get there early to get a table (no reservations, its where you always see a long, long line) but the pasta is ok and the servings are huge. If the family is very big though this place might not be the best bet since it's pretty cramped.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Elyssa

          I think in Adams Morgan you mean Pasta Mia? You'd need to get in line before six and still might have trouble with a big group. If you're too far back in line when they open, you have to wait for a table ahead of you to finish eating, it can really take forever -- because it's popular and people are willing to wait. Definitely a good place for a carb load, but I think probably not a good place for a big group. (And part of the charm of the place is sort of surly service)

          1. re: mselectra

            Yes sorry...Pasta Mia! I think listening to all that ABBA has finally gotten to me.

            1. re: Elyssa

              hehe! (I'm actually thinking about going to Pasta Mia tonight -- but the first time we didn't realize the routine and waited a couple hours, starving! It's especially cruel because you stand in line staring at a McDonald's that starts looking more and more appealing....)

              1. re: mselectra

                Be bad and get the alfredo. It's sooo good! And sooooooooo big!

                It always reminds me of the Italian Restaurant scene from Albert Brooke's "Defending Your Life." If you've seen the movie you know what I'm talking about.

                1. re: Elyssa

                  Yes! And as long as we're talking about it: for anyone who stumbles on this thread (since I don't think the OP will end up going here) -- do know that all the dishes can feed at least two people (at least!), including salads. It's pretty obvious if a group hasn't been there before because they order a salad and pasta per person and then look a bit stunned when the huge plates come out.

                  1. re: mselectra

                    That happened to me the first time I was there. I was on a 2nd date with a guy and we both just starred at the plate shocked for about 2 minutes. Finally he said "Well at least both of our plates are huge, otherwise we both probably would be worried that the other person was passing judgement. This way we are both pigs!" lol

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      ah -- but did you eat it all?

                      BTW -- Filomena sounds like a good idea for the OP -- though I haven't been in ages so I'm not the best person to say, I remember it as good for a big nice family meal.

                      1. re: mselectra

                        No way. I was planning on saving it for lunch or dinner the next day but ended up dropping the box face down when the date leaned in for a good night kiss. Smooth move Elyssa! (I swear I'm usually a tad more pulled together then that.)

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          I didn't think you could possibly have finished it (who could?) -- but I would have been impressed. What a cute story!

          2. re: Elyssa

            I agree that you should go to Filomena. They have the family-style that your friend's family was looking for in Maggiano's but in a more intimate atmosphere. Their pastas are great, as are the non-pasta dishes (for those not running the following day). Save some room for dessert and the grappa (at least that's what I think it is!) that they serve at the end of the meal.

            1. re: KWynn

              Filomena is delicious, but they should check the menu first. It's on the pricier side. The dishes are generally large enough to share, so that can cut back on cost, but $20 is a lot for lasagna (and I have known people to polish it all off at once!).

          3. I'd do Anna Maria's. Pretty close to my Italian grandma's food. Nothing fancy, just decent red sauce. It's friendly to the wallet, and there is a second floor where a larger family can go.

            While Dino is lovely, it's not for carb-loading.

            Don't send them to Maggiano's! If they know real Italian, they will blanch at being served deep-friend chicken parm.

            1. I fourth Filomena's - it's the best value for the price and the food is very decent. I WOULD NOT recommend Locanda for a large group. The place is small (maybe 30 seats) and in no way conducive to a big party.

              1. I would strongly reccomend Dino with one caveat. Whenever I've gone I've gotten small plates and second courses. Very reasonably priced when you do it that way. There are also expensive main courses on the menu. I don't know anyone who orders them, but it should be noted it is possible to make Dino an expensive suggestion. But, who would?

                This is the menu:


                3 Replies
                  1. re: deangold

                    LOL!!!!!!! I cannot believe I accidentally did that! You mean no one at Dino starred in Superbad?

                    1. re: deangold

                      Dean, briefly met you this summer at your restaurant. My husband and I were visiting from Providence and celebrated our anniversary with you. Thanks for the great experience!

                  2. I'm in the Filomena group.

                    Any large group, that's a great place. Is it under $15 a person? no - but people can easily share dishes with leftovers to spare, and if you want pasta that's the place.

                    Dinos would be fine, but it's not really the spaghetti and meat balls type of place, and if you're going to take advice and order small plates, that can add up very quickly.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Jeserf

                      Hmmm... for me, it is hard to see more than about $32/pp on food (pre tax and tip) doing small plates and pastas (and probably less than that) at Dino... whether that is within budget or not, I do not know.

                    2. Luigi's or Bistro Italiano are not expensive, but definitely a step up from Buca or Maggiano's.

                      1. I'm going to chime in on the Maggiano hate-fest. I was just there on Saturday night and had the worst spaghetti and meatballs in ages. I used to think Macaroni Grill was the poor man's Maggiano's and now I think of Maggiano's as the poor man's Macaroni Grill. It was great a few years ago, but the food quality has gone downhill, both at the Chevy Chase and McLean locations. Needless to say, I won't be dining there anymore.