Lunch at Pallino Pastaria (University Village)

Italian restaurants around here have gone upscale. It’s almost impossible to find a ristorante with reasonable prices, especially in the suburbs where it’s unlikely you’ll come across a neighborhood spot. In walkable U.S. cities with large Italian-American populations like along the East Coast and in Chicago, this is probably not the case, but out here in the West, it’s a no-show. A plate of spaghetti with meatballs for $15? I don’t usually bite.

That’s why it’s a welcome relief that restaurants like Pallino Pastaria have come in to fill the gap. I suspect that Olive Garden owes much of its success to the value the chain provides. Though Pallino is a Washington chain, their mission is to serve well-prepared Italian food at less than a king’s ransom in an informal, family-oriented setting. Does it work? Their expansion into other locations over the years shows that it has. Is it gourmet food? No, but it’s pretty good.

Take their meatball sub sandwich (Meatball pomodoro) (☆☆☆). Four two-inch meatballs are served in a freshly baked ciabatta roll, lightly dressed with a very good tomato sauce. My gold standard for such a sandwich was a little take-out in Westchester near LAX airport. Now closed, Pizza Napoli made the most delicious meatballs that were topped with mozzarella slices, slathered in a sauce that usually wound up on my shirt and sandwiched inside the lightest of baguette-style rolls. I think in the early days, I might’ve gone once a week for that sub. But, in fairness to other sandwiches to which it has since been compared, Pizza Napoli’s was a Southern Italian version that had great appeal to me for its zesty killer marinara. Pallino’s is a very good version without Napoli’s lava flow of sauce but livened up by marinated bell peppers that added zing. A good panade tenderized the well-seasoned beef and pork meatballs. A difficult sandwich to hold without the insides falling out, cutting the meatballs in half should stabilize the situation.

Meatball pomodoro
Meatball pomodoro

Closer to a tomato explosion was their soup (pappa di pomodoro) (☆☆☆½) chockfull of fresh tomato chunks and thickened with bread. This was a zesty soup, tart, slightly sweet and herbal, delicious and satisfying. My wife orders it almost every time we dine at Pallino. Despite the soup’s excellence, my preference is their Italian wedding soup (☆☆☆½) that is more brothy and savory, which I didn’t get today.

Pappa di pomodoro
Pappa di pomodoro

Finally, we shared a chopped salad (☆☆☆) that was dressed with a judicious amount of a mild Italian vinaigrette. I prefer not having big slices of chicken breast in a chopped salad, but this is a minor quibble.

Chopped salad
Chopped salad

We wound up at Pallino Pastaria as we were surveying the restaurants in University Village, almost every one of them aimed at a well-heeled crowd, including the all-Asian-noodles-to-all-people, Boom. For about half the price of other places, we enjoyed a satisfying meal.

Pallino Pastaria
2626 NE 46th St.
Seattle, WA 98105

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