Sweet, Nice, Reliable 

It's Your Neighborhood Joint

Little Italy's Cucina

2601 SE Clinton 239-4306

Little Italy's CucinaÉ sounds cute, doesn't it? Quaint, even. Low-maintenance and neighborhoody. Mellow, fun. And it is all these things. Plus it serves Italian food, and what could be more desirable in winter?

Having scanned the Portland Yellow Pages in a carb-thirsty freakout, I realized there really aren't that many Italian joints in town. They exist, it's true, but I don't want to throw down $100 at Café Mingo or the Tuscany Grill when all I want is a pile of noodles and some spicy sausage. I mean, even though Gino's is the bomb, you and your date aren't getting out of there for less than $50.

Thus, Little Italy's Cucina. In a cute, corner spot on Clinton, the simple room has well-spaced tables and a colorful faux building facade inside. They even go so far as to have clothes hanging from a clothesline, which is a little cheesy, but also sort of sweet. The servers are nice and attentive, but appreciably not kiss-asses who are all up in your grill.

The food follows standard Italian-American food formulas, and offers a lot of choices. Recently I had their special, a spicy tomato and olive oil sauce over pasta with handmade pork sausage; my friends had the lasagna, and Sorrentina pizza (prosciutto and mozzarella on a light airy crust). Everything was tasty and lovingly made--the lasagna was loaded with meat and cheese--averting the generic tinny taste the food always has at those strip mall pasta chains. The salads, also, were attractive and fresh with a tangy Italian dressing and, kindly, the servers offer to blanket anything you order with spoonfuls of shredded cheese and fresh ground pepper.

Some of Little Italy's food can get a tad expensive, as a full order of the linguini alle vongole (with clams) costs $15, but for the most part, it's pretty resonable. The chicken parmigiana costs $8.95, and a huge piece of lasagna costs $9.95, and you can tack on a healthy-sized dinner salad for another buck-fifty. Plus, this isn't really a place I'd go for a romantic meal--more a Tuesday dinner with friends--so there's less temptation to blow money on wine. Not that I'm saying you shouldn't.

My one big complaint about Little Italy is that they serve the dreaded foccacia with the dinners, and I personally think foccacia is a dry but greasy, tasteless, and decidedly evil affront to society. Why not serve a nice Italian bread and leave focaccia in the '90s where it belongs? It's a minor trifle, though, considering you're scarfing down carbs right and left, and you might want to save room for their rich tiramisu or cannoli.

In short, Little Italy is not the glitzy Mr. Big of Italian restaurants. It's more like Aiden the second time Carrie dates him, when he's not such a fat hippie, and just seems to be a genuinely nice guy. If you don't secretly watch Sex and the City, you won't get this analogy, but hopefully you can understand what I'm saying.

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