Philly Italian food: Where to get the best pasta in Philadelphia

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PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — There’s certainly no shortage of Italian restaurants in the Philadelphia area, which makes it super tough to narrow them down – and now you don’t have to!

Here are some of the top places to get a heaping bowl of fresh pasta close to home.

Murph’s Bar in Fishtown is a classic hole-in-the-wall style Irish bar that makes some of the best pasta plates you’ve ever had. Besides being thoroughly confused by that, you’re also gonna have a difficult time choosing something from their menu because it’s all THAT good.

Chef Francesco Bellastelli learned how to cook from his mother while growing up in Italy, so we have her to thank for the fried burrata, the strozzapreti with tomatoes with a huge ball of burrata on top, the tagliatelle with filet in a truffle cream sauce, the pear and cheese gnocchi with a honey drizzle, meatballs, and juicy lamb chops. He cooks every day of the week except for Tuesday and only stops when he runs out of food, so get there early for a seat!

With just a look you might assume Gran Caffe L’Aquila off Chestnut Street in Center City is a specialty shop selling handmade gelatos and wines, and while it is, I encourage you to head upstairs to the restaurant for a different type of adventure.

Owner Riccardo Longo is obsessed with Italian culture and the proper way to do the cuisine and he wants each customer to have an authentic Italian experience. He took me on a trip from the most northern part of Italy to the “heel of the boot” with the imported ingredients and fresh pasta made right in house. The gnocchi alla bava is a potato gnocchi in a fontina fondue. Bava means drool in Italian, and after I sampled it, that made total sense. The agnolotti is a mini ravioli filled with veal, pork, vegetables, and herbs in a butter sage sauce topped with a savory truffle gelato to eat with it. The carbona, which is basically bacon and egg pasta, is topped with a pancetta gelato adding a creamy texture to the dish.

He also told me that if I wanted to eat like a proper Italian, I had to eat the pasta on the plate first, followed by the meat. I didn’t listen to that one, but we did agree on one thing: Pasta better be cooked al dente, and all of his menu items were cooked to perfection.

Le Virtu in Passyunk has been open for 15 years, giving them enough time to perfect their rustic Italian menu. They make all pasta fresh in what they call the noodle room in the basement of the restaurant. I tried four menu favorites, and each one was better than the next.

The ceppe with beef ragu was classic, the gnocchi with pork sausage, sage, Parmigiano Reggiano and butternut squash puree was the right amount of sweetness, the taccozzelle with pork sausage, mushrooms, black truffle, and saffron was lightly creamy and comforting…BUT…the Maccheroni alla mugnaia is on a level all on its own. It’s a single-strand of pasta that’s 4.5 feet long, in a simple sauce of hot peppers, garlic, olive oil, and pecorino. And here’s a fun fact, this is the first dish I’ve ever finished on camera several years ago, and now it’s the first dish I’ve finished on camera twice!

Bon appetite!

Don’t forget to check out Part 1!

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