Ah, pasta. It’s easily one of our favorite foods—full of carbs, showered in cheese, and paired with sauce-soaked pieces of home-made bread. It’s hard to imagine a better combination of flavors. And when it comes to pasta, we don’t discriminate. We’ll take bowls of spaghetti tossed in rich Bolognese, angel hair coated in layers of olive oil and garlic, or plush pillows of ravioli stuffed with combinations of meat and cheeses that make our mouth water. While pasta is delicious around the globe, some of our favorite varieties are specialties from Italy, doused in the flavors that distinguish these dishes from neighboring countries.
For Valentine’s Day, we’ve got you covered. We’re grabbing our loved ones and channeling Lady & The Tramp vibes at the best Italian spots in San Joaquin County. If you’re still looking for a dinner spot for the most romantic night of the year, we suggest thumbing through these pages for inspiration, then making a reservation for two. Or, if you choose to stay in, order a couple of meals to go along with a bottle of vino. For a special treat, try making the restaurant’s best cocktails at home with the included recipes.
Angelina’s Spaghetti House
Lasagna is a classic dish, dating back to the Middle Ages, but it has been reinvented again and again as restaurant’s put their own touch on perfecting the decadent layers. “Our lasagna is made fresh daily with our meat sauce,” says Vanessa Holt of Angelina’s Spaghetti House. The recipe was created by Angelina herself with origins in Genova, Italy. At Angelina’s, it’s served with a side of garlic bread.
Best Wine Pairing: Vanessa suggests giving this dish a robust zinfandel, one that will stand up to the rich flavors of the lasagna.
Best Cocktail Pairing: A strong, classic cocktail is the best match for this equally classic dish. Order up a Manhattan or Old Fashion to sip with dinner.
The house-made alfredo sauce is creamy and fresh, poured over the home-made fettucine and combined with a mixture of fish—white fish, crab, and shrimp, with scallions and mushrooms.
Best Wine Pairing: Try a crisp pinot grigio or a fruit-forward rosé to complement the dish’s white cream sauce.
Best Cocktail Pairing: The key here is to choose something light and refreshing to combat the thick sauce. Angelina’s makes a Vodka Press that pairs nicely.
Try This Specialty Drink: Vodka Press
This is a simple recipe easy to make at home.
1.5 oz. vodka
4 oz. soda water/tonic
4 oz. 7up
Pour one shot glass (1.5 oz.) of vodka into a collins glass filled with ice. Fill remainder with half 7up and half tonic or soda water. Garnish with a lime wedge.
> Agnolotti Dal Plin
The Agnolotti Dal Plin is a pasta dish unlike any other in the city. The stuffed creation—perfected by Chef Ruby—is packed with rabbit, port, and swiss chard inside of a homemade pasta. The dish is bursting with flavor, finished in a brown butter, sage, and fresh Italian gremolata (a green sauce traditionally made of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic).
Best Wine Pairing: The sauce on this dish can accommodate either a light red or a more flavorful chardonnay. Try a pinot noir if you fancy red and a Napa Valley chardonnay if you’re craving white.
Best Cocktail Pairing: A whiskey-based cocktail like the Woodford Spire is fantastic for a dish featuring rabbit and beef, plus the lemon in this recipe compliments the butter sauce.
> Papapavlo’s Pasta
If you’re looking for something light, bursting with the flavors of a customary Italian dish, look no further than the namesake Papapavlo’s Pasta. This simple yet elegant plate features a house-made penne pasta tossed with butter, EVOO, garlic, and parmesan cheese, creating a satisfying meal for any pasta lover.
Best Wine Pairing: A butter sauce may cause many to reach for a glass of white, but Andy Pappas at Papapavlo’s suggests grabbing a pinot noir that is complex, layered, and flavorful instead.
Best Cocktail Pairing: Seasonally, Papapavlo’s whips up a Spiced Pear Martini that delights the senses and offers complex layers of spice and fruit that ramp up the flavors on the Papapavlo’s Pasta.
> Spaghetti Vongole
Spaghetti Vongole is a popular dish along the coastline of Italy, with different variations served from region to region and town to town. At its base, vongole is a seafood spaghetti made with clams. At Pietro’s, the served variation is typical of the Italian southern coast of Calabria. “Our version includes pancetta and Calabrian chili,” Owner Pete Murdoca says. Chili is used in large part because it is a staple of the Italian south centralized in the region of Calabria where the Murdoca family is from.
Best Wine Pairing: The pancetta and chili make a lighter pinot noir a good accompaniment, as opposed to the drier pinot grigio you may find with most seafood pastas.
> Gnocchi Cotto
“The Gnocchi cotto is our take on the traditional Italian pasta ‘panna,’” Pete explains. The word panna means cream in Italian, and while panna is not something generally found in restaurants in Italy, it is a staple in every Italian home. The Gnocchi Cotto at Pietro’s consists of a homemade potato gnocchi, cream, prosciutto cotto (an Italian version of cooked ham), and black pepper.
Best Wine Pairing: This is a heavy dish, and it needs a robust wine that can hold its own against the strong pepper, heavy cream, and potato dumplings. Pete recommends an oaked chardonnay to compliment the dish’s cream or an Italian soave.
De Vega Brothers
> Pasta Del Mare
We love the lightness of this pasta dish. A base of rotelli pasta—colorful spirals—is tossed in a white cream sauce but balanced by a trio of seafood—salmon, shrimp, and scallops—sautéed in olive oil. A collection of vegetables only adds to the lightness, with bell paper, tomato, garlic, and onion, finished with a lemon zest.
Best Wine Pairing: With an effortless dish such as this one, you’ll want to avoid anything too bold. Instead, opt for a chardonnay to play against the cream sauce, or, if you prefer red, a lighter pinot noir.
Best Cocktail Pairing: Again, you’ll want to order something light that doesn’t overpower this dish. Anything with a vodka or gin base will suit it best.
> Shrimp Asparagus Rotini
Rotini pasta is the cute spirals sometimes offered in a variety of colors and other times monochrome. At Garlic Brothers, the rotini is sauteed in a white wine cream sauce, accompanied by robust tomatoes, red onion, crimini mushrooms, and asparagus, plus shrimp.
Best Wine Pairing: Fruity whites such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc pair well with seafood and cream sauces, as does a prosecco, which is especially festive for a celebratory night out. A red wine low in tannins is another option, such as a pinot noir, cinsault, or grenache.
Pairing Wine with Pasta
If you’re a novice at pairing wine and pasta, take these simple rules into consideration when serving.
Tomato-based pastas pair best with medium-bodied reds. In Lodi, we like to choose a local Zinfandel to complement the acidity of the tomato. Or lean into the Italian roots and opt for a primitivo.
Cheese Pastas. A stuffed ravioli or four-cheese penne will work well with either a full-bodied white that provides more complexity than a lighter white or a light-bodied red that won’t overpower the dish.
Vegetable-based pastas. If you go vegetarian, reach for a light-bodied white wine such as a sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, or albariño.
Seafood pastas. Again, a seafood pasta, especially one tossed in a cream sauce or olive oil, will pair best with a lighter white like the ones mentioned above or a grenache blanc.
Herb pastas, or those with a green pesto sauce, are best suited for lighter whites. Vermentinos and herbaceous sauvignon blancs are both good choices.
Red pesto. Less popular, a red pesto has a different flavor profile than a green pesto. Go for a medium-bodied red with this wine, perhaps a merlot or sangiovese to complement color and taste.
Spicy or pepper-heavy pastas. This is another dish that will complement a local zin well, but we also recommend trying Italian wines such as a Sicilian red or primitivo.
Pastas with beans or lentils. If you ever see beans or lentils listed as ingredients, feel free to match to those instead of some of the other elements. Chiantis from Tuscany are a good choice. And for white drinkers, an earthier white will stand up just fine.
Cream-based pastas. Sicilian whites and chardonnays best balance creamy sauces found in fettucine alfredo or carbonara pastas.
Mushroom pastas. Regardless of the sauce, mushroom-based pastas or pastas with a heavy dose of mushrooms (mushroom ravioli for example) are good for red drinkers. The umami flavors are complemented well by a merlot or pinot noir.
Crab and lobster pastas. The heavier, buttery shellfish need something a bit bigger, so it won’t taste bland against the wine. Full-bodied chardonnays and butter chardonnays are good choices. For an exclusively Italian varietal, reach for a soave, a dry Italian white from northeast Italy.
Pepper pasta. The most famous peppery pasta we know is the Cacio e Pepe, which literally translates to cheese and pepper. To match the cheese of the dish as well as the strong pepper, an acidic rosé with no tannins will work best.