Sometimes you just want a big bowl of pasta, preferably the kind with cream or butter in the sauce along with some form of pig meat. You don't like sitting by the pool or beach all that much anyway.
In an image- and health-obsessed world, rich pasta seems to have gone out of fashion. Backers of Italian eateries need not worry, however, because it's still being consumed with gusto. Except now everyone says, "I shouldn't," wincing a bit, before they roll up another forkful of fettuccine against an oversize spoon.
A well-made bowl of pasta can be a complex or simple affair. Either is fine, as long as it falls under $20. We went on a coma-inducing, waist-stretching odyssey to find five of the best.
Fratelli Milano is a well-loved lunch spot for downtown Miami professionals. Its homemade pastas include chicken agnolotti, spinach-infused tagliatelle that's bright green, and an unassuming cheese tortellini ($14.95). The tortellini pasta came slightly overcooked but was served in a cream sauce neither too heavy nor light. Diced out-of-place but nonetheless smoky ham and shelled peas added substance to the dish.
California Fresco Bistro serves exactly the kind of food you'd expect from a name like that. There's Mexican, which seems to take care of the California bit. Salads and fish handle fresco, and an array of fresh-baked breads, sandwiches, and homemade pastas cover bistro. Situated on the outskirts of Brickell along SW Third Avenue, this is a great place to go when you want a quiet yet delicious lunch. The pumpkin ravioli is a highlight, but here the simpler fresco portobello will satisfy any noodle urges. Ribbons of homemade pasta in tomato sauce are livened up with a touch of cream, breadcrumbs, and mushrooms. It's a rich, earthy, well-sized portion for a mere $10.99.
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Tutto Pasta sits along the same stretch of road as California Fresco Bistro and enjoys the same popularity. The open kitchen affords an earful of the Kitchen-Aid stand mixer's pasta-rolling attachment, a good sign for sure. Here it's all about the pappardelle ($14.95). Fresh, wide noodles come al dente, clinging to one another thanks to a generous portion of melted mozzarella. This is the one place where the waiter offers fresh parmigiano -- you know, from a block of cheese and a grater, opposed to the sawdust-like topping to which we've become accustomed.
Macchialina Taverna Rustica's lasagna ($16) borders on inappropriate (in a good way). The restaurant is the fourth in the Pubbelly family, and the first one outside the burgeoning neighborhood surrounding Purdy Avenue and 20th Street. Taleggio cheese and braised short rib, full of umami, are layered between sheets of pasta that were a touch overcooked. Each portion somehow emerges from the kitchen in a perfect little square, which is quickly destroyed as soon as it hits the table. It's easy to order most of the menu here and drive up your bill, but the pastas are all well executed and portioned large enough to be a perfect dish for one if you're not feeling in the tapas mood.
Salumeria 104 has become a fast favorite in midtown Miami. A straightforward menu offers about ten pasta dishes, all under $20. Daily pasta specials can be found on a chalkboard overlooking the dining room and often include some of the restaurant's homemade salumi. Here, the pasta, garlic, olive oil, and tomato combination is taken to a new level. Mezzi paccheri pasta ($15) comes as wide noodles bathed in a simple sauce of olive oil and garlic with cherry tomatoes boasting blistered skin. Tender, slightly bitter pieces of broccolini help cut the richness of the pasta, while big bites of house-made sausage add some much-needed fattiness to the bowl.