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classic red sauce joint

hey all! i am a recent DC implant from Queens, NY and I'm looking for a down-home red sauce Italian joint. lots of the italian restaurants mentioned here are a little more upscale/chic than what I crave. I want to find a place with some reliable pastas (vodka sauce, brown sauce with broccoli, red sauce, baked pastas, etc) salads, and classic entrees on the menu.
I tried Sorisso the other day, and that was kind of (but not exactly) what I have in mind. any other recommendations?
thanks for the help!

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  1. In Bethesda,La Panetteria on Cordell was always a good value -- haven't been there in a while though.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Teddybear

      Olazzo is another possibility in Bethesda.

    2. Baltimore.

      in the District Trattoria Alberto is hit or miss and frankly I don't know how they stay open, but they are definitely old-school and not upscale/chic.

      6 Replies
      1. re: hill food

        The only thing reliable and consistent about Alberto's is it's mediocrity. Bistro Italiano near Union Station isn't much better, but at least it isn't ridiculously overpriced. Lavagna isn't super-plus-most-authenticist, but their pasta is fresh and they know what al dent means. Famous Luigis has the red check tablecloth vibe nailed, but they're a love it or hate it kinda place and they've been around forever. Wait staff can be notoriously surly, but they do a good lasagna.

        1. re: monkeyrotica

          mediocrity. Alberto's must own the building outright.

          I did have a really good veal piccata there once. the rest I've sort of blocked. I miss that short-lived place on Penn at 7th where the Turkish place was (also missed) - the names escape me.

        2. re: hill food

          I can't remember the last decent Italian meal I had in Little Italy in Baltimore. Greektown seems to offer the most consistent Italian food at reasonable prices. Zorba's, Samos, etc.

          1. re: monkeyrotica

            Sad, isn't it? You can get better Italian food at any strip mall in Port St. Lucie, FL than Baltimore's Little Italy. We had a private dinner at DiMimmo's a few weeks ago and I couldn't believe how downright sorry the food was. I've had decent meals there in the past, so I was sort of looking forward to it. No more.

            1. re: flavrmeistr

              Da Mimmo's hasn't been good this century, if not longer. La Scala and La Tavola are both decent, but I still prefer the Italian in Greektown. The only time I go to Little Italy is when I want pastries and coffee at Vaccaros.

              1. re: monkeyrotica

                You might be right, now that I think about it.

          1. The stuff you're looking for is pretty much priced out downtown. If you've got wheels, check out Italian Inn in Landover Hills. It's an Italian American time capsule from 1961. The pastas are hit or miss, but they've got good lasagna and Ledo's style thin crust pizzas. Can't miss the place. It's got a giant Italian head on top.


            1. Maybe check out Filomena in Georgetown. It might not be at the level of the Italian joints in Queens but I think it's pretty good. Their pasta is made fresh in-house (you can actually see the pasta mamas making the gnocchi in the window when you walk in) and the portions are huge! My favorite is the raviolis (mushroom or spinach are good) or the gnocchi.

              1. what's brown sauce with broccoli?

                1. Fellow Queens transplant here. Like Monkey said, you can't find these types of restaurants in DC. If you're really desperate and craving the classics I would go to Carmine's.

                  1. Maybe too long of a ride, but Pasta Plus in Laurel is probably what you're after.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: chesapeake72000

                      Second that. And although I personally don't like it at all, many do - Mamma Lucia's. The one in Bethesda is terrible but I hear that the one in Rockville is pretty good. You could try Pines of Rome in Bethesda - but the shabby is no longer chic. Now it is just gross. We do take-out only. What about A La Lucia in Alexandria? The food is great.

                      Just in case someone suggests Cafe Italia in Pentagon City - don't! It is truly horrible.

                      1. re: Just Visiting

                        Il Porto in Old Town has the pasta and old Italian vibe down, but some of their other entrees are hit or miss. Escargots are always pretty good.

                        1. re: Just Visiting

                          JV - I am holding my endorsement of Mamma Lucia back at the moment. I'm one of the Chowhounds who has long said that the chain was bad, but the flagship location on Rockville Pike was still good, but have had two mediocre meals in a row there in recent months.

                          Pizza was still good; still one of the closest to a NY-style pie in the area.

                          Pasta Plus is the bomb, though.

                          1. re: Just Visiting

                            Re: Mamma Lucia's in Rockville. That's where they put tomatoes in the marsala sauce in my Chicken Marsala. I've posted about that on CH. The pizza is tolerable, but any place that puts tomatoes in the marsala sauce isn't worth it. And I'm also a transplanted New Yorker.

                            1. re: mrsbuffer

                              Could that have been an error? I've not gotten tomatoes in my marsala there in the past...

                          2. re: chesapeake72000

                            Pasta Plus is a nice bright home style Italian place, worth the trip. In the opposite direction, we also like Esposito's in Fairfax, also very a la famiglia, lots of good tasting red sauce and some nice tender veal.

                          3. Wow thanks for all the great suggestions! I have written these down so I can check out these places. I live in DC proper without a car so its a little tricky to get to some of the places further out...but when I try your recommendations I'll let you know how it goes.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: zorro54

                              One more: Giovanni's on Jefferson Place just south of Dupont Circle. Old school, surprisingly good based on my one lunch experience.


                              1. re: hamster

                                oh my goodness…trattu! my husband and i used to go there years ago when dee and natasha held reign and giovanni was a waiter! good for him. we must go again now that i'm reminded of it. giovanni was always a sweetheart! back in the day, the food was terrific. we were regulars.

                              2. re: zorro54

                                I haven't been to the Bethesda places listed, but I wouldn't travel all the way to Laurel to eat at Pasta Plus; it doesn't hold a candle to a myriad of places in the Philly, New York, or New Jersey areas. The other places listed here are also fairly anemic.

                                I also have never been to Giovannis' Trattu listed by hamster. It's been there forever, but gets completely overlooked. I would go there before galavanting all around for the kind of restaurant that doesn't really exist in these parts.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  What OP is looking for pretty much died off with A.V. and Gusti's and Roma. What exists now is a sort of pale simulacra; they might have the old Lady & The Tramp vibe down, but their food will be just okay (if you're lucky). The alternative is a more sophisticated Italian experience at a significantly higher price point, which isn't what OP is looking for. I can't imagine anyone from Queens being impressed by DC's red sauce Italian options. Better off going to any number of respectable pizzerias in the area.

                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                    I didn't like those places when they were here, so no loss felt on my part.

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Probably the best low-end Italian around is Il Porto in Gaithersburg, though I prefer their location in Frederick. They do a pretty good job and bake their own bread. It's tucked in the Festival Plaza on Muddy Branch.

                              3. I will also recommed both Filomena (Georgetown) and Pasta Plus (Laurel, Md.)

                                The rec. for The Italian Inn brought a smile to my face. Montgomery Wards lives. : )

                                Is Fratelli (the old Howard Johnson's) just of the B-W Parkway by P.G. Hospital) still open? That was a good Italian place, run by El Salvadorans no less.

                                Is P. G. Hospital still open? The Goatman weeps.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: eruby

                                  Fratelli is still there, but I've never been. I remember going there when it was a HoJos and gorging myself on clam strips.

                                2. I should probably be ashamed to admit it here, but I had dinner this past Sunday night at Maggiano's in Tyson's Galleria. The lasagna was really good. Friend had four cheese ravioli and liked it. The menu had a footnote that it contained nuts, and it turned out that the nuts (unspecified) were in the sauce, so the waiter offered the dish with marinara sauce instead of the "nutty" sauce. I had a taste and it was fine, too.

                                  Sometimes these places that give you too much food aren't really as bad as we'd like to think they are. And speaking of too much food, with their classic pasta dishes as these that we ordered were), you can get another whole serving to take home for free. I have an eggplant parmigiana in the refrigerator waiting for an evening when I'm feeling lazy. It'll be interesting to see how that keeps.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: MikeR

                                    Say what you will, but I like Bucca De Beppe's. Better than, well...a lot of places. It's fun with a crowd.

                                    1. re: MikeR

                                      I was really underwhelmed by the Maggiano's in Tenleytown--really salty and heavy, not in a good way. The Olive Garden is way better (love their salad and breadsticks!)

                                      But I think Mamma Lucia is an even better option. There are several throughout the Maryland suburbs.

                                    2. check out tutto bene in arlington -- at ballston. http://www.tuttobeneitalian.com/

                                      1. What about Pasta Mia? I haven't been in ages, but I enjoyed it the few times I went.

                                        Also, I like Olazzo. They have some tasty lasagna, terrific meatballs, and the grilled eggplant is also quite good. That said, I feel like it used to be cheaper, but then again, so did everything else.

                                        I would caution avoiding the Pines of Rome. Truly awful food. If you think red sauce should be a can of crushed tomatoes dumped on some pasta, well, maybe it's the place for you.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: The Big Crunch

                                          What you wrote about Pines of Rome? Yeah, that's pretty much Pasta Mia. It's the Italian Lauriol Plaza: mediocre food, big pricetag, lines out the door.

                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                            that should become the standard DC 'dis':

                                            "it's the Lauriol Plaza of ..."