Know of a great little mom-and-pop place we need to check out or someone great we missed altogether? Please let us know in the comments (bearing in mind that pizza got its own "best of" list, so we went more inclusive with this collection).
1. Talia's Tuscan Table
By eliminating table service, classy tableware, and any number of white-linen trappings of the fancier joints, chef Andrew Bernardo keeps prices to a minimum at this neighborhood favorite. Those who are in the know flock here for the "true hero" sandwiches ($10 each and enough to feed two people), but pizza ($9 to $12) and pasta platters ($12) also find room at the table. Chances are good you'll be offered a free sample of the mozzarella that's made on-premises: Take it. Another thing you should be willing to take? A bit of friendly ribbing and a TV set that's been playing the same looped, fuzzy copy of The Godfather for more than five years.
Mizner Plaza in Boca Raton is typically not at the forefront of one's mind as being a go-to spot for good food on the cheap. But Villagio, particularly as a lunch destination, is surprisingly bargain-priced. Stick with a pressed sandwich or salad for your midday meal and you'll still be able to order a glass of house wine and walk away without feeling the pinch. The breadbasket appetizer, served with a lightly marinated tomato/garlic/onion spread, would make a worthwhile addition to any meal and comes gratis at every table.
The fare at this neighborhood standby is anything but light; cream, garlic, and buttery accents are the norm. Il Mulino's is a formula that has drawn its fair share of detractors over the years, but devotees swear by the long-running joint with its friendly atmosphere and beyond-reasonable prices. Although specialty dishes can creep just beyond the $20 mark, all of the pasta dishes ring in at less than that, with most clocking around $12.95 to $13.95.
In the heart - if it can be called that - of West Palm Beach's CityPlace, this beacon attracts diners with its fountain-adjacent setting and affordable price points. Stick to the antipasti ($8.95 to $12.95), salads ($7.95 to $14.95), and pasta ($13.50 to $21.95) and you can get away with spending around $40 or so for a three-course dinner. If a meal isn't a meal without protein, know that all of the chicken dishes come in at less than 20 bucks, and even the veal scaloppini is reasonably priced at about $23.
More "pizza parlor/Italian specialty shop" than sit-down restaurant, this under-the-radar neighborhood destination is easy to overlook in its humble strip-mall setting. But regulars congregate in the cramped space to indulge in toppings-laden pies and pasta entrées in the $15-to-$22 range (each one comes with a house salad and garlic rolls). Seafood, stromboli, and calzone also are available.
No huge surprise that frozen Italian treats get all the attention, but Sonny's also offers a fairly extensive menu of Italian subs ($6.95), panini ($3.75 to $7.95), and salads ($6.50 to $7.95). Looking to carbo-load? Find nearly a dozen pasta entrées -- including lobster ravioli and gnocchi with prosciutto -- none of which costs more than $20. Most of the seating is on an outdoor patio that, while it faces busy Federal Highway, is a fairly pleasant place to take a meal of stick-to-the-ribs Italian fare.
Like most places on Las Olas, your dinner bill can get away from you if you're not mindful. Still, pasta entrées can be had for a reasonable price - $14 to $22 - and dinner-worthy grilled paninis are $15 or less. The big draw at Noodles Panini are Aunt Marion's meatballs (ground beef, veal, and pork), which are available on a panini ($15), atop spaghetti ($22), or by the quart for takeaway ($21).
Appropriately named -- piccolino translates roughly to "little one" -- this slip of a restaurant is easy to overlook in the cluttered restaurant landscape of downtown Boca. Pastas, like the gnocchi of the day or the spaghetti with clams, can be had for around $16 or $17, and main plates, with choices like chicken Milanese and veal marsala, range from $16 to $21. A pleasant atmosphere and ambiance belie prices that rival the big "family" chains.
Dubbing itself as the "meatball truck," this on-the-go Italian food stand touts an online "Ball of Fame" where fans of the mobile food vendor are showcased chowing down on homestyle Italian goods like meatball subs and chicken parmesan. The truck - which makes frequent and regular stops in southern Broward County and beyond - also is known for its "smasher": two meatballs, mozzarella, and sauce placed between two pieces of garlic butter toast and "smashed" to grilled perfection. Easy on the wallet, if not the waistline.
Chef Guiseppe Messina's Italian-by-way-of-Brooklyn sausage-and-pepper heroes are a big hit with the NYC ex-pat crowd in South Florida. This food truck, a frequent standby in Broward and Palm Beach roundups and rallies, has a limited menu of no-frills favorites, like the aforementioned hero or the Italian sausage platter (the sausage is made with an old Sicilian recipe) or a cheese-steak hero. Every item is less than $10.
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