There’s something incredibly comforting and nostalgic (for many) about a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs or cheesy lasagna served atop a red checkered tablecloth. While there’s no shortage of contemporary California-Italian restaurants around town, red sauce Italian joints have a timelessness and charm that can’t easily be matched. Many have ample history throughout Southern California, with one that got its start almost 80 years ago. And while old-school has traditionally meant red checkered tables and heaping bowls of pasta, today the Sopranos and Big Night era of regional Italian acts as the kind of classic fare that invites plenty of nostalgia. Here now are 18 old-school Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.Read More
18 Old-School Red Sauce Italian Restaurants in Los Angeles
Where to find spaghetti, eggplant parm, and endless glasses of Chianti
The family behind Grandi Italiani may be better known for its old-school spot Andre’s across from the Grove, but this Canoga Park option is no slouch, either. Expect the usual staples like spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, and chicken parmesan, of course.
Founded in 1945, Barone’s is stacked with recipes passed down from six different Italian families including lobster, shrimp, and crab meat-stuffed mushrooms, gnocchi, or carbonara. Head out to the original location in Valley Glen to experience an actual old-school interior.
Pinocchio’s is a Valley staple, the kind of casual Italian-American destination that doesn’t try too hard, and that’s just perfect. While one half of the building is a dedicated market, the real focus is on the steam table restaurant portion of the place to the left, where diners snag trays to fill with whatever noodle-sauce-and-side combo they care to enjoy. It’s inexpensive, satisfying, and busy — a perfect Valley combo.
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Colombo's Italian Steakhouse & Jazz Club
Colombo’s in Eagle Rock checks every old-school Italian box there is, from throwback photos of bygone stars to white tablecloths, deep red booths, and a red sauce-heavy menu that doesn’t skip on basics like chicken parm, pasta, and meatballs. The place does deviate in its own delightful ways at times, too, with a breakfast menu and TVs at the bar, for example.
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Little Dom’s in Los Feliz is perennially packed with diners vying for a highly coveted bar booth, where they can dig into big-as-your-head cheesy, mushroom-flecked fried rice balls; gargantuan portions of chicken parm; and bowls of spaghetti topped with beef-and-pork meatballs. A mirrored bar, red leather-topped bar stools, and Cinzano tables outside lend themselves to the place’s clubby atmosphere.
Feeling very much like an early aughts or even ’90s throwback, this ornately designed red sauce pasta spot offers a wide range of classic dishes at reasonable prices. Start with bruschette, antipasti misto, or meatballs then pick a beloved pasta, from fusilli puttanesca to ravioli verdi. The combinations are nearly endless between pasta shape and sauce, so get creative.
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Now celebrating almost three decades in the business, Jones on Santa Monica Boulevard has cemented itself as a modern Italian red-sauce joint. Sure, during normal times the bar gets more love (and rightfully so), but sitting up front with the checkered tablecloths and a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs is, on the right night, where the party’s really at.
An offshoot of an impossible-to-eat-at New York City original, Rao’s in Hollywood is a little quieter and a little more subdued, but still a lot of fun. The kitchen pushes out big portions to everyone, where families, dates, and anyone looking to recreate a bit of magic can lean in for a taste of East Coast Italian.
64-year-old Marino restaurant is just as charming today as it has ever been, with one of the most refined dining rooms in the city. Expect a variety of Italian classics, including fresh pasta, Caesar salads, calamari, and fried mozzarella. The elegant mains remind one of Big Night-era dinner specials, from chicken scarpariello to veal scallopini.
Osteria La Buca
Melrose’s mellow Osteria la Buca is the perfect kind of neighborhood Italian restaurant. Known for its great pasta, pizzas, and grilled meats, this 15-year-old restaurant is now an LA staple. There’s a location in Sherman Oaks as well.
Is there any more iconic old-school Italian restaurant than Dan Tana’s? From its historic location adjacent to the legendary Troubadour music venue to its timeless clientele of celebs, tourists, and cranky old-timers, this is the place to see and be seen over a big plate of chicken parm and red sauce pasta.
Although certainly a few steps above red-checkered-tablecloth Italian fare, Angelini has been a favorite for elegant pasta, risotto, and the like since Gino and Elizabeth Angelini opened the restaurant in 2001. Stop by for caprese made with heirloom tomatoes, classics like vitello tonnato, and the beloved lasagna verde “nonna Elvira,” made with thin sheets of fresh spinach pasta smothered in beef and veal ragu.
Chef Paola De Re and her three children opened this plucky little pasta shop in Mid-City in 2015, expanding to a larger restaurant in Culver City a few years later. With approachable pricing and a fast-casual service model, Pasta Sisters draws big lines for polished bowls of spaghetti, tagliatelle, and pappardelle with a customer’s choice of sauces that might include pesto, bolognese, or creamy porcini mushroom. This place is a modern pasta classic that has clearly captured the hearts of LA diners.
Vito in Santa Monica has been serving for over 40 years, and all from their charming digs along Ocean Park Boulevard. The place hasn’t changed much since opening all those years ago, as their pasta and traditional cocktail list — Vesper, Sidecar, or Sazerac — can absolutely attest. The kitchen loves to tout its veal dishes, especially the veal parmesan.
Sunday Gravy owners Sol and Ghazi Bashirian have deep roots in Inglewood, as their father operated Jino’s Pizza from the same space for decades. The siblings put together a cozy restaurant that successfully serves Italian American classics, including a signature short rib ragu, plus a weekend-only lasagna that always sells out.
Cantalini’s Salerno Beach Restaurant
Anyone who’s driven through Playa del Rey has undoubtedly noticed the old-school neon signage, in the colors of the Italian flag, no less, outside Cantalini’s. The menu leans toward the owners’ home region of Abruzzi, with housemade ravioli available to mix and match with different sauces; baked ziti; and chicken or veal available in Milanese, marsala, piccata, saltimbocca, and parmesan preparations.
Occupying a large warehouse-style dining room with open kitchens and bar, this anomaly of an Italian restaurant hides in an industrial portion of Gardena, catering to hardworking folks and quieter South Bay neighborhood. Expect well-executed pasta like carbonara and thin-crust pizzas that please a crowd.
La Parolaccia Osteria
Family-owned since 2006, La Parolaccia’s unfussy space focuses on the classics. Head to Long Beach and order the specialties from the housemade pasta that showcase spaghetti nonna Malvina aka spaghetti and meatballs, or the tortellini with ham and prosciutto in a sage butter cream sauce.
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