Oh, pasta, how do we love thee? Especially right now, as the air gets cooler in the evening, all we want is a big bowl of hearty yet delicate carbs, a pert pesto or swarthy ragu -- or maybe some sweetbread ravioli, squid ink fusilli with pistachios, smoked bucatini carbonara, fiorentini with guanciale and pickled peppers, or gnocchetti in uni butter. One could go on, but maybe just head out to dinner instead. In Los Angeles, we're blessed to have many fine pasta practitioners, and it's only getting better. Some are old standbys, some are brand new, but at each of these places pasta is taken very seriously.
If you're the sort of person who dreams of pasta, as some of us do, then Cube Cafe & Marketplace, a very pretty, cozy little Hollywood restaurant and market, is not only a place you'll want to spend a great deal of time but maybe buy stock in as well. Pastas can include plates of nettle-and-ricotta ravioli, Mangalitsa pork belly raviolini, and kabocha squash and Italian sausage lasagna -- and Divine Pasta Co., the Burbank company that also owns the restaurant, sells the stuff on-site. 615 N. La Brea Ave., Fairfax District; (323) 939-1148.
At Superba, Jason Neroni's handmade pastas are brimming with flavor, and ingredients are combined in ways that are unexpected without being gimmicky. Your spaghettini might come with uni, Dungeness crab, miso butter and pickled jalapeños. The smoked bucatini is made with flour that has actually been smoked, so the dusky flavor permeates the carbonara it becomes, ramping up the effect of all that egg and cream and pancetta. Crispy sardines on the plate of casarecce pasta are of the variety that might convert sardine naysayers; sweet and bracing, they leave an aftertaste on the tongue that flavors the whole bowl of pasta long after they're gone. 533 Rose Ave., Venice; (310) 399-6400.
Maximiliano's Andre Guerrero is not a staunch traditionalist by any stretch, and he likes to add jalapeño to his pasta sauces. If chomping down on them is too much for you, they're easy to avoid, but they add an extra layer of flavor and a kick of heat that plays like the eccentric cousin of the red chili flakes usually found in Italian cooking. There's jalapeño in the orecchietti sauce as well, along with fennel sausage, kale, and enough heirloom cherry tomatoes to give the dish a sweet red-sauce base. Neighborhood pasta joints often struggle with imbuing their dishes with the layers of flavor that make them worth going out and paying for, but here they're complex and comforting. 5930 York Blvd., Highland Park; 323-739-6125.
7. Drago Centro
Drago has always been ace with pasta, and his fresh pappardelle with pheasant and morels, his ricotta cavatelli with venison sauce, and paccheri with spot prawns are as glamorous as Fred and Ginger dancing on a penthouse terrace. The little oxtail-stuffed ravioli with celery root in a tart, rich broth have rarely been the source of complaints. A plate of fresh fettuccine with lobster and a cream sauce tinted pink with Basque espelette peppers is an essay in richness. The dense, luxuriously soft agnolotti in a kind of herbed demiglace are superb. 525 S. Flower St., Downtown; 213-228-8998.
Walking in to Bestia, the modern Italian restaurant in the downtown arts district from Bill Chait and chef Ori Menashe, you'll have the sensation of chancing upon a well-kept secret. The buzz is justified in dishes like Menashe's tagliolini al'ortica with mushroom ragu and crispy nettles, bound by a soft-poached egg. The cavatelli has just the right amount of bite and comes swaddled in the earthy funk of black truffle (real black truffle, not a hint of truffle oil); a plate of sweetbread ravioli is delicate and firm at the same time, salty and buttery and lavish. 2121 E. Seventh Place, Downtown; 213-514-5724.
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Sotto's pastas tend to be southern Italian things we haven't seen locally, like the twisted noodles called here casarecce (which means nothing more than "homemade''), with a thick paste of simmered lamb thickened with raw egg yolk and sheep cheese, which nods to the Middle East, or jet-black squid ink fusilli tossed with pistachios, grated mullet roe and mint. Sotto's version of the classic Sicilian spaghetti with sardines, raisins and toasted pine nuts, a pasta that even most Italians tend to make with something out of a can, is splendid here, singing with the unsubtle fragrance of fresh grilled sardines and walloped with wild fennel. 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson; (310) 277-0210.
Deciding what to order at The Tasting Kitchen, the Abbott Kinney restaurant run by chef Casey Lane that has been one of the best restaurants in the city pretty much since it opened, is always a happy quandary. You might ask if Lane has been breaking down whole animals recently, or what form the many pastas, made daily in the small kitchen, might have taken. There are ever-changing plates of pasta on the menu: maybe a creste de gallo with Calabrian sausage and breadcrumbs; tagliarini with shrimp and serrano; or tagliatelle with pork and plum. There's no doubt you'll choose well. 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 392-6644.
The pasta at Angelini Osteria is the real thing, glorious stuff handmade in the back of the tiny restaurant: tagliolini and agnolotti, ravioli and tagliatelle and spaghetti alla chitarra. The supple, beautifully chewy pasta arrives at your table in vaguely nostalgic iterations, loaded with duck ragu or sauces built with cream and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Chef-owner Gino Angelini is from Emilia Romagna.) Maybe it will be topped with shaved black truffles. Maybe it will be filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. But either freshly made or dried, and thus imported from Italy, it will be utterly marvelous. 7313 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax District; (323) 297-0070.
Much of what goes on at Osteria Mozza, Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's ode to Italy, feeds our specific food obsessions -- the mozzarella bar, the amaro bar, executive chef Matt Molina's gorgeous, handmade pastas: francobolli di brasato with crushed duck liver and black truffle, or squid ink chitarra "Freddi" with Dungeness crab, sea urchin and jalapeño. 6602 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323-297-0100.
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As good as the pig-intensive portion of Bucato's menu is, it's the pasta that is the spiritual center of the restaurant. Not only is chef Evan Funke a master sfoglino Bolognese, or maker of handmade pasta extraordinaire, but so is Kosaku Kawamura, the Tokyo-born pasta chef Funke met in Italy and brought to America. Look up, from your dinner of tagliatelle with rabbit sugo or gnocchetti in uni butter, and you'll see the windows into the upstairs pasta lab where Kawamura works, a temperature-controlled temple to the art. Look up again, and you'll see the pasta rollers that function as chandeliers and that -- again -- remind you of why you're here. Order one of the many, ever-changing pasta dishes on the menu and you'll no longer need a reminder. 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City; (310) 876-0286.
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