When you think of Italian food in Boston, your first thought is probably of the dozens of trattorias, pizzerias, and cafes that dot the city’s North End. But one of the area’s best Italian restaurants—Carlo’s Cucina Italiana—has been wooing diners to Allston with its southern Italian cuisine for four decades. The Boston Globe has proclaimed it one of the city’s 10 most underrated restaurants.
From the outside, Carlo’s looks like your average Italian restaurant serving typical linguine and chicken parmesan. But inside, you’ll find an inviting home-style atmosphere rare to Allston.
We stopped by on a Saturday at noon to find the small restaurant nearly empty. Authentic Italian music and the smell of fresh-baked bread greeted us as we took in the many awards hanging on the walls—testament to Carlo’s sterling reputation among food critics. (Note: the restaurant is often packed at night, so expect to wait for a table.)
As soon as we sat down, we were served the restaurant’s famous Italian bread. We could see the steam rising from the loaf as we tore off pieces and smothered them with butter.
Compared to the more extensive dinner menu, the lunch menu is fairly simple, but it was exactly what we wanted. Carlo’s offers a handful of salads, paninis, pastas, and meat dishes, all reasonably priced between $9 and $13. There is an extensive wine list as well.
We began our meal with the Caprese salad ($9.99) as an appetizer. It was served on a large plate with four tomatoes around the edge, topped with mozzarella and basil, with a bed of arugula and radicchio in the center. Between the tomatoes’ sweetness and the saltiness of the cheese, the salad struck just the right balance.
It was the ideal segue to our main course.
For entrees, we ordered chicken parmesan ($10.99) and linguine carbonara ($9.99). The portions are enormous, and one entrée could easily serve two.
At first, we were skeptical that the chicken parmesan would be anything but standard, but the first bite told us otherwise. The tomato sauce was phenomenal, and the cheese complemented the sauce nicely. The chicken was cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of breading. It came with a bowl of penne pasta topped with the place’s deservedly famous tomato sauce.
The linguine was served in a large bowl, studded with small chunks of pancetta and with a deliciously creamy white sauce. The noodles slid off our forks the way well-cooked pasta should. The sauce was rich and eccentric, but not overbearing.
As large as the portions were, we had to end the meal with cannoli to make it a true Italian experience. It was a fitting ending to a great lunch. The filling was creamy and cheesy with chocolate chips at both ends.
In this fast-paced world, it’s nice to find a place where you can slow down on occasion and enjoy a good meal at a reasonable price. If you’re looking for a great home-cooked Italian meal, Carlo’s is as good as anything you’ll find in the North End.
Carlo’s Cucina Italiana is at 131 Brighton Ave., Allston; hours: Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday, 2 to 10 p.m.; phone: 617-254-9758. View the menu here. The restaurant accepts cash, Visa, and MasterCard, but not Discover or American Express. By public transportation, take an MBTA outbound Green Line B trolley to the Harvard Avenue stop or the 57 bus to Harvard Avenue.
This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comments section below. Check out our list of lunchtime tips on Foursquare.
Isaac Chipps Teich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.