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Piazza Italia

Name: Piazza Italia
Location: 1129 NW Johnson Street Portland, OR 97209
Contact information: 503.478.0619
Web address: www.piazzaportland.com
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: Most entrees around $12
Reservations Recommended: Definitely for groups, couples on weekends
Good for: Authentic Italian food served by real Italians
Insider tip: Best place in town to practice your backpacker Italian

Review: Piazza Italia is a place where you come for atmosphere – eating is just a bonus.

On my first visit, I waited at the entry for five minutes while the staff screamed at the football (soccer) match on t.v. Customers in the packed restaurant didn’t appear to mind the commotion and more than a few joined in.

After the match ended, we were greeted in Italian and seated at the only available table in the house. An abundance and oft-filled supply of bread, olive oil and vinegar were given to tide us over. The following two hour meal was one of the most charming I’ve had in Portland – from the Italian t.v. in the background, to the stunning display of wine, to the chefs shouting in the kitchen. The food is made by the atmosphere.

I’ve been back a few times since and continue to enjoy the ambiance. Piazza Italia is the least pretentious restaurant in the Pearl – or, maybe they just get away with it better because of the Euro-feel. Either way, I know I can always expect a waiter speaking to me in a mix of languages, a corner table full of old Italian men drinking wine and service that forces you to savor your meal and conversation with your companions (a nice way of saying if you want a meal lasting less than an hour, Piazza Italia is out).

Unfortunately, you can’t always count on the food. The mozzarella and tomato appetizer has a difficult time getting the tomatoes right and the pasta is sometimes closer to ‘uncooked’ than ‘al dente’. My favorite dish, mare e monti (shrimp and mushrooms in a pesto/oil sauce), varies wildly – on the last visit, the pasta tasted like it had been cooked an hour earlier and the sauce had actually dried in some parts from sitting out too long. It was also unfavorably cool. The family-platter style serving sizes can lack in consistency.

Piazza Italia is not appropriate for a formal, romantic date. Food choices are mostly limited to a number of simple pasta dishes, and the restaurant cannot easily accommodate big groups. However, for a casual, fun meal with feel-good fillings, Piazza Italia is a great place to visit.