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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant


Mon–Sat noon–10:00pm
Sun noon–8:00pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines, outdoor dining, veg-friendly
Bar Beer, wine
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


Pearl District
1129 NW Johnson St.
Portland, OR
(503) 478-0619
Piazza Italia
A charming, lively restaurant with one foot in the New World and one in the Old

This great Old World place feels like just like a trattoria in Rome, complete with an absolutely charming, older, full-blooded Italian owner who like to dance with guests and staff to big band music. There are TV sets everywhere (World Cup alert!) and kitschy Italian items, but instead of looking like a tragic Buco di Beppo, it’s both authentic and gimmicky. Sidewalk tables, when candlelit, are totally romantic.

Many of the servers are the owner’s children, and seem to really respond to the personalities of their tables. They can be exceedingly friendly or chilly and impersonal—think of them as living, reacting Rorschach tests. As an integral part of the ambience, they’re often entertaining, putting on acts to amuse diners (or, perhaps, themselves). Despite the festive atmosphere, however, food service is uneven. Larger parties might see dishes come out five minutes apart.

The food consists of the more classically recognizable Italian dishes, mostly pastas: pomodoro; arrabbiata; amatriciana; lasagne al forno, made (as it should be) with béchamel; and fresh and simple linguine with clams. You won’t find anchovies, lamb, or whole roasted branzino here. But while the pastas are of the ilk popular with mid-century Americans, they aren’t done in that heavy-handed fashion. They are lighter and more subtle.

A Bolognese sauce is delicious, cooked slowly to infuse all the elements, but it’s served with big rigatoni instead of tagliatelle ribbons, changing the textural balance.

Bresaola and prosciutto di Parma (not always available) are fine antipasti, and thankfully, melons aren’t served out of season. It’s hard to argue with the classic, good salads—you may not find bufala on the Caprese, but you won’t find a silly non–Italian Caesar either.

The mostly-Italian wine list includes Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos and every other super-priced celebrity DOC poised on the lips of American diners, but there are also some great-value wines from lesser known regions. It’s not a carefully chosen list so much as a perfunctory one, but like everything else here, it portrays Italy in a flattering if somewhat exaggerated light.

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