Some restaurant lovers feel a little skewed over indoor dining these days. And with good reason. With the Omicron variant still at large, now is not the time to indulge in long table dinners with people you have never met.
Fortunately, there are alternatives, including an old favorite in East Vancouver. The spacious Poor Italian Ristorante (3296 East 1st Avenue) across the street from Rupert Park has a large enough dining area to allow you to keep your distance from other guests.
Three things stand out among the poor Italian: tasty cooking in large portions; humble, eager to please service; and an elegantly designed room that feels more like Florence than Vancouver. In addition, there is plenty of free parking in front of the restaurant.
Let’s start with the food. Spaghetti & Meatballs ($ 24) look deceptively small in the dish, but wow, does that ever fill you up. Served simply with tomato and basil sauce, it is still full of zest, especially after the server has added a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese. It gives a greater punch than the spaghetti I’ve eaten most other places in Vancouver.
The Mixed Seafood Linguine ($ 25) comes with shrimp, scallops, clams and clams in a white wine and tomato sauce with a light onion flavor. It’s really homemade in a typical Italian way – simple, yet tasteful.
The linguine with pesto ($ 20) is milder than the other two dishes and will appeal more to those who do not feel like spicy food. It is prepared with fresh basil, ground roasted pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil. I’ve heard others praise Nonna’s Baked Lasagne ($ 24), so I’ll probably try it on my next visit. Meals come with a complementary bread basket to begin with. And you can end your meal with tiramisu ($ 9) for dessert. It is light, airy and big enough for two.
The gluten-free Venetian chocolate mousse cake ($ 11) is also adequate for two and will satisfy any chocolate visitor to the restaurant.
The warmth of the poor Italian is enhanced by its decor, starting with the terracotta planters outside. Inside, the Tuscan yellow and honeycomb colors on the walls and dark wooden tables and chairs, along with the lighting and pictures, create a sentimental vibe that takes diners back to Italy.
Founded by the Moscone family along with managing partners Francesco Mara and Angelo De Meo, the poor Italian’s original investment team also included longtime Vancouver news anchor Tony Parsons, whose photo welcomes guests at the door.
The menu pays homage to the history of early Italian immigration to North America, which was centered along Commercial Drive and East Hastings and East 1st Avenue in Vancouver. Dishes of the poor Italians like spaghetti and meatballs and cioppino were created by immigrants after they arrived.
They were admittedly poor, but they ate well, worked hard, and contributed greatly to the development of the city. And the poor Italian is doing what he can to ensure that this will never be forgotten.