Pasta today is considered as American as cheeseburgers and hotdogs. It’s on most menus at popular restaurants, a dish beloved by couples thanks to Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp,” and my idea of the perfect comfort food to indulge in no matter the time of day or occasion. While not always authentic, it can be cooked simply enough for first-timers in the kitchen, inexpensive enough for college students, and made more elaborate for formal dinners.
This hasn’t always been the case, however. When Italian immigrants first came to the United States their dishes and recipes weren’t as revered as they are today. Rather, they were considered low-class. It wasn’t until the 1980s and ’90s, when there was an influx of better-quality Italian ingredients available for chefs and home cooking, that pasta dominated the dining scene. Luckily for all of us who aren’t Italian it happened quickly.
It’s no secret pasta is one of my favorite meals, although I refrain from enjoying too often or I’d spiral into a seven-day binge. I love that different variations of staple ingredients like pasta, cheeses, tomatoes, vegetables, sauces and spices can create a plethora of unique and equally amazing dishes and tastes. It had been some time since I satisfied my craving for Italian food, so I went in search of a new restaurant to try.
Luciano’s Ristorante was a quick and easy choice, located off of California Boulevard in Pasadena, across the street from Huntington Hospital. Upon entering, it’s immediately clear they don’t shy away from embracing all things traditionally Italian. Red-checkered tablecloths, kitschy figurines of Italian chefs, a signed Tony Bennett poster, and large chalkboards displaying their vast menu items all adorned the interior. I was surprised to learn it has been there for 17 years, still run by the same family, Luciano father and son (the first names of both men).
A friend and I didn’t want to take too long to peruse the menu, as it was just an hour before closing, so we hastily ordered the cheese bread ($5.95) and the meatball and sausage combination ($4.95) to start. The cheese bread had a layer of garlic underneath and was melted to perfection. The meatball and sausage were both so good, I’m still not sure which of the two I liked best. At first it was the meatball, seasoned well and a good size, but then a few more nibbles of the sausage and it was impossible to decide. They are served in a bed of marinara sauce, making it the perfect dip for the cheese bread, which was a pleasant discovery.
I noticed immediately they offer vegetarian lasagna ($14.59), and while there were 12 other dishes on the menu I wanted to try, lasagna is my favorite. Layers and layers of pasta, with cheeses and sauces wedged between … Is there anything better? Sure, meat would make it all the more flavorful, but the sign on their front window reads “Home of the fresh vegetarian dishes,” so it was meant to be. Each entree is served with garlic bread — as if I needed more carbs — but I ate the perfectly toasted, fluffy pieces nonetheless. This time around dipping into the marinara was necessary because of the overabundance of sauce. While lasagna should be well coated in both sauce and cheese, I felt like a large portion of my meal was spent eating through that rather than the pasta itself. It was still delicious, but would be perfect if there was a slightly more even ratio of sauce to layers of noodles.
We also ordered the Luciano Masterpiece Deluxe Pizza ($17.99) which is topped with extra cheese, pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, black olives, onions, green bell peppers, and Italian sausage. It was great as most pizza is, and packed with flavor and texture, yet we expected it to have more of a lasting impression than it did. Regardless, this is the pizza to order when visiting Luciano’s.
Other notable dishes are the sandwiches (all $9.25) that we wanted to order but they were out of bread, including the meatball sandwich, the traditional pastrami, salsiccia (sausage and melted mozzarella) and the Philly cheese steak with mayo, sautéed mushrooms, onions and melted cheese. Paninis ($8.25) can be ordered on a French roll or wheat bread and are garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, pickles, mustard, and Italian dressing. They include ham and two cheeses, turkey breast and swiss and mozzarella, Italian salami and two cheeses, a veggie avocado with two cheeses.
Their specials are displayed outside upon entering and offer a choice of spaghetti, mostaccioli, jumbo ravioli, tortellini, gnocchi, or white spaghetti with a small soup or salad, garlic bread, and a soft drink, all for $14.99. For the price, it can’t get better than that.
Personally, I am looking forward to trying manicotti ($12.59) and cream penne pasta carbonara ($15.95) on my next couple of visits. Luciano’s also caters, making it the perfect place for family whether dining in or ordering out. With pasta made in-house, they offer friendly customer service, a cozy place to dine, and best of all tasty traditional dishes for everyone to enjoy.
117 W. California Blvd., Pasadena
Major Cards/Beer and Wine