Food & Culture

Best Pasta Dishes at Local Italian Restaurants

Stunningly good pasta dishes run the gamut, from understated elegance to decadent and over the top.

By Seattle Mag January 31, 2013


This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Storied Italian women are said to sit on old stools set on cobblestone streets, rolling gnocchi off forks, pinching pasta into hankie shapes or cutting it into short tubes. Locally, pasta makers hand-cut fine, fresh pastas, too, and they are stunningly good. Our favorite local pasta dishes run the gamut, from understated elegance to decadent and over the top. Try them all and see what we mean.

at Spinasse
If we had to make a bucket list of Seattle’s must-try pastas, these impossibly elegant noodles, made on Capitol Hill, easily make the cut. We prefer the fine egg-yellow strands dressed only in sage butter, but you can also choose to have them dressed in the restaurant’s classic ragu. What’s most important, really, is that you do indeed have them, that you close your eyes and really taste them. And that you go back often to do it again. ($17)

at Cafe Lago
(Shown below) Could this Montlake restaurant be home to Seattle’s most iconic pasta dish? Sheets of pasta so thin they’re pierced by the slightest pressure of the fork, ricotta and a house-made béchamel sauce in dreamy layers, and that sweet, bright tomato sauce that seems impossible to achieve so far from summer. This is lasagne. All the others that came before were just practice. ($22)


Pretty Much Anything
at Il Corvo
(Shown at top) Oftentimes, chef and pasta whiz Mike Easton makes up his menu the morning before the lunch service at his new Pioneer Square location (opening in January). We’ve tasted Easton’s cacio e peppe (cheese and pepper) pasta, which uses Beecher’s Flagship; his strozzapreti (“priest strangler” pasta, rolled by hand into thumb-length noodles) with hearty brined lamb and black olives; and his gnocchi with blue cheese and walnuts, and it has all been very, very good. Did we mention it’s cheap? (On average, $9–$10.) Yep, that, too.

Tonnarelli Cacioe Pepe
at Rione XIII
When a dish is a simple as this—just pasta, pecorino, black pepper and butter—every element must be just right. At this Ethan Stowell spot on Capitol Hill, long, thick, chewy noodles arrive as if individually rolled in the sharp sheep’s milk cheese and pepper, a buttery sauce in the bottom of the bowl. As you eat them, there’s a dryness in the mouth, a peppery bite in the teeth that beg for a sip of good red wine. Happy to oblige. ($14)

Lamb Ravioli
at Cuoco
Among the impressive pastas at Tom Douglas’ South Lake Union eatery, it’s the tender pockets of pasta filled with savory lamb that we can’t resist. Usually dressed simply—butter, a shower of Parmesan, as well as seasonal accompaniments such as spring peas or softened late-harvest Padrón peppers—this ravioli is a true star. And lucky us: A smaller portion is on offer during lunch time. ($16)

Pappardelle alla bolognese
at Cantinetta
With a chill in the air, there’s nothing more satisfying than a plate of wide, hand-cut pappardelle noodles dressed in a hearty, long-simmered Bolognese sauce humming with red pepper flakes. At Bellevue’s seductive Cantinetta (the Wallingford location is alluring, too), one might dig into it at the thrumming bar, but it’s equally enjoyed with two forks on a promising date. ($16)

Maltagliati with Pork Sugo
at Cafe Juanita
(Shown below) At the marvelous, refined Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, chef/owner Holly Smith has a reputation for serving sublime house-made pastas. Here, the tissue-like sheets of noodles fold and bend around a seductive sauce of braised ground Jones Family Farms pork. Gilding the lily: pools of honey-lemon ricotta, for lift. Simple but sublime. ($16)



Penne with Roasted Pepper Pesto
at Machiavelli
There’s a time for refinement and understated pleasures, and then there’s a time when exceedingly generous, steaming hot bowls of creamy-dreamy pasta is absolutely what the doctor ordered. At this Capitol Hill mainstay, our choice is this nutty, creamy roasted red pepper sauce blanketing penne pasta. You’ll sip the restaurant’s cheap house red, you’ll happily devour too much of the pasta and then you’ll likely need to go home for a long winter’s nap. ($10.95)

Hand-made Smoked Cavatelli
at Book Bindery
When’s the last time you had smoked cavatelli served with a foie gras emulsion? Right? Never. Unless, of course, you’ve tasted this rapturous pasta served at north Queen Anne’s hidden Book Bindery. The ingenious pasta—hand-rolled, ridged noodles smoked in house—arrives decked out with foraged and seasonal mushrooms, wild arugula and pearl onions in a dizzying Périgueux sauce. One version or another has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2010, and rightly so. ($18)

‘Straw and Hay’ Wild Mushroom Pasta
at The Pink Door
Spinach and egg fettuccine twisted around sautéed exotic mushrooms—gorgeous, meaty slices of lobster mushrooms and tiny porcini during one visit—in a light cream moved this from a special to a regular spot on the menu at this Pike Place Market favorite. ($18)

Clam Linguine
at Bizzarro Italian Cafe
(Shown below) At this cozy, wacky Wallingford eatery, you won’t believe how many clams—and how sweet!—arrive on top of house-made linguine in a jalapeño- and pancetta-laced white wine butter sauce. Hot, salty, of sea and hog, the stuff is downright good. ($10.95)


Spaghetti with Hand-rolled Meatballs
at La Medusa
Making the simple taste sublime is a trick best left to the pros—and the grandmas. The chefs at Columbia City’s La Medusa are the former, but this dish—with supple meatballs perched alongside al dente spaghetti dressed in a satisfying, bright, herby tomato sauce—proves there’s some grandma in there somewhere, too. ($18)

Pasta on Wheels –NOW CLOSED
When you think of pasta from a food truck, it’s hard not to imagine large vats of gummy noodles kept warm for hours on end. Urban Nomad’s made-to-order pastas couldn’t be further from that sad reality. From a fabulous, spicy pork sausage ragu over al dente rigatoni (shown below) to a special of cavatelli with perfectly cooked shrimp in a creamy tomato sauce—these are as good, or better, than most you’ll find at full-service restaurants in this city. The truck also serves a surprisingly delicious Caesar salad—crisp and lemony, with wide ribbons of real Parmesan. Bonus: Gluten-free noodles are available. Why isn’t there a longer line? ($8.50–$9.50;


Noodles Untangled
Italian pasta is made with wheat flour, semolina, or durum flour water and/or eggs, and it is formed into dozens of shapes—some cut, some shaped by hand, others extruded. Learn where to find fresh, locally made pasta.


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