Skip Olive Garden. Try these 10 unique pasta dishes at metro Phoenix restaurants instead

Andi Berlin
Arizona Republic

Pasta has always been there for me when I needed it. When I'm sad, a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. When I'm celebrating, a decadent heap of seafood linguine with blackened scallops in a white wine butter sauce. Pasta is my favorite dining partner and it never lets me down.   

I've been eating a lot of pasta lately. From the baked penne with n'duja at Pizzeria Virtù to an off-the-menu dish at Tratto. I've found noodles for every occasion and some favorites have risen to the top. This list even includes a few oddballs, like lush pesto gnocchi dumplings and a kimchi-laced spin on spaghetti served at a Mesa food stall.

There will no doubt be others in the future, but these are 10 of my favorite pasta dishes in metro Phoenix right now.

Spaghetti and meatballs at The Parlor 

Spaghetti and meatballs at The Parlor on Camelback Road.

Sometimes you just want a plate of spaghetti and nothing else will do. The Parlor prepares their spaghetti and meatballs ($17) from scratch, which gives the noodles a springiness that you just won't get with dried pasta. Rather than being sweet and saucy, the tomatoes offer a deep roasted flavor that dominates. The four dainty meatballs on top are rich and porky, bound together with milky breadcrumbs. The restrained dollop of spaghetti is worlds away from the plentiful portions at most Italian American restaurants, but just as satisfying.

Details: 1916 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix. 602-248-2480, theparlor.us.

Most pasta:A Michelin-starred chef makes homey Italian food at this neighborhood bistro

'Nduja arrabbiata at Pizzeria Virtù

Boy, do I love a plate of baked penne. And this elevated take on the Italian American classic has me swooning. The 'Nduja arrabbiata ($24) isn't the cheese bomb you might imagine, aside from that little sprinkle of parmigiana. At Pizzeria Virtù it's all about the deep, funky red sauce spiked with fruity Calabrian chiles and a spreadable fermented salami called 'nduja. You can barely taste it, but the spread adds depth to a simple but powerful affair. I could eat plates of this stuff and still feel good about myself.  

Details: 6952 E. Main St., Scottsdale. 480-663-9797, pizzeriavirtu.com.

Pesto gnocchi at Forno 301 

The pesto gnocchi at Forno 301 in Phoenix.

Gnocchi isn't technically a pasta, but this pasta-like dumpling is so good I had to include it. Forno 301 prepares its gnocchi ($14.50) and fresh pastas two to three times a week, making a small selection of four styles that includes a cavatelli in meaty Bolognese and sumptuous fettucine carbonara, also recommended. For the gnocchi, pillowy potato orbs are bathed in a rich and creamy housemade pesto with just a touch of garlic. Olive oil seeps around the sides. It's ethereal.  

Details: 1616 N. Central Ave., Suite 104, Phoenix. 480-787-5654, forno301.com.

Skip the pie:This Phoenix Italian restaurant is known for its pizza. But don't miss the pasta

Cacio e pepe at Tratto 

Spaghetti alla chitarra cacio e pepe at Tratto in Phoenix.

It's not always on the menu, but this peppery pasta dish is a fan favorite at Tratto, so ask and you'll most likely receive. Chris Bianco's take on the Roman staple cacio e pepe ($22) is practically legendary at this point. The housemade spaghetti is tossed in generous amounts of butter and black pepper and finished with a salty combo of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses. It's not heavy on the sauce, because the dish is all about the noodles themselves; supple yet firm, with a toothy bite. Classic. 

Details: 1505 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix. 602-296-7761, trattophx.com

Pasta for the win:This restaurant made the NY Times 'America's favorite restaurants' list

Elote pasta at Valentine 

The elote pasta dish at Valentine restaurant in Phoenix.

This luscious elote pasta ($20) is chef Donald Hawk's Southwestern nod to the cacio e pepe from Tratto. He starts with a thin tagliarini egg pasta made with durum wheat flour from BKW Farms in Marana. It's tossed in a corn butter sauce that packs a black pepper kick from a blend that includes numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The loose little bundle of pasta is topped with grilled corn kernels and a grassy "goatija" cheese from Crow's Dairy. Much like Tratto's, the pasta is light on the earthy cream sauce, which directs attention to the texture of the al dente noodles. It's a unique ode to a Phoenix icon.

Details: 4130 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix. 602-612-2961, valentinephx.com.

Review:Valentine is a love letter to Arizona. Here's how it won over this skeptical critic

Seafood linguine at Dick's Hideaway 

Dick's Hideaway makes really big food and this heaping seafood linguine ($32) pasta is no exception. I was downright upset that I'd eaten so many carne asada cheese fries by the time they set down the massive bowl of linguine. It came in a white wine sauce with a generous serving of blackened shrimp and the most heavenly scallops. Could you make it at home? Maybe. But that homemade quality is exactly why I love it so much. 

Details: 6008 N. 16th St., Phoenix. 602-241-1881, richardsonsnm.com/dicks-hideaway.

Black campanelle at Mora Italian

The black campanelle pasta at Mora is tinged with squid ink.

Celebrity chef Scott Conant has a serious pasta program at both The Americano and Mora Italian. I've tasted most of his pastas and my favorite is the black campanelle ($29). The little bellflowers are tinged with squid ink and stacked with plump pieces of clams, shrimp and calamari. The ink doesn't add much flavor, but boy is it stunning, especially when topped with a pop of bright green basil breadcrumbs. 

Details: 5651 N. Seventh St., Phoenix. 602-795-9943, moraitalian.com.

Review:Scott Conant's Scottsdale steakhouse is a wild, hedonistic romp. At times it's spectacular

Gramigna Boscaiola at Pomo Pizzeria

The best thing on the menu at Pomo is the gramigna boscaiola ($17.95), a classic Italian dish also called woodsman's pasta. Bulbous strands of regular and spinach-flavored flours are shaped into long macaroni that twirl like edible ferns. The yellow and green noodles are presented in a luscious cream sauce with crumbled sausage and parmigiana cheese. I love bucatini, but the lesser-known gramigna made inhouse at Pomo is even fatter than the fattest bucatini. Gramigna boscaiola may be hard to pronounce, but it's very easy to enjoy.  

Details: 705 N. First St., Unit 120, Phoenix. 602-795-2555, pomopizzeria.com. Check website for other locations. 

Orecchiette con broccoli e salsiccia at Andreoli Italian Grocer 

Andreoli Italian Grocer in Scottsdale is effortlessly charming and serves some of the Valley's best Italian food, hands down. I still remember how much I loved their sumptuous ravioli as a teenager, but my new favorite is the orecchiette con broccoli e salsiccia ($24), little ear-shaped pastas that taste even better when they're bathed in nothing but olive oil and tossed with a little garlic, some crumbly homemade sausage and broccoli. Don't get me wrong, I love a chunky red sauce, but Andreoli's plate lets the chewy pasta shine. 

Details: 8880 E. Vía Linda, Scottsdale. 480-614-1980, andreoli-grocer.com.

Kimchi pasta at Asiana Market 

Seek out this kimchi carbonara pasta from the Katsu kiosk at Asiana market in Mesa.

Take the best parts of Italian and Korean food, meld them together and you'll have the kimchi pasta ($13.99) served at Katsu, a food kiosk inside Mesa's Asiana Market. The dish is a powerhouse of bouncy spaghetti noodles bathed in fermented cabbage and spicy Sriracha cream. Sauteed with bacon and plump little shrimps, the pasta is almost like a carbonara, but, dare I say it, better. Who knew kimchi, cream and bacon would be such a perfect combination.

Details: Katsu at Asiana Market, 1135 S. Dobson Road, Mesa. facebook.com/katsuaz.

You need to try this:The kimchi pasta at this Mesa food court is fusion done right

Reach reporter Andi Berlin at amberlin@azcentral.com. Follow her on Facebook @andiberlin,  Instagram @andiberlin or Twitter @andiberlin

Thank you for subscribing. This premium content is made possible because of your continued support of local journalism.