Aglio e Olio: No frills, hearty Italian food in Seattle
I think it’s safe to say that I’m pretty well-known for my love of Italian food, yeah? One of the things I miss about the Northeast is the incredible variety of delicious Italian. It could just be that we don’t go out to eat as often as we did back in the day, but there aren’t as many Italian restaurants in Seattle that are really noteworthy. (That’s not to say that there’s NONE – I do love Volterra, La Rustica, Cafe Juanita, and Pomodoro.) However, we recently discovered Aglio e Olio this past Summer, and I cannot get enough of it.
Sometime over Summer, we had decided to go to Cafe Flora for brunch, as we’ve often done. Cafe Flora is a well-known vegetarian restaurant in the Madison neighborhood that’s delicious but expensive and almost always crowded. Sometimes we get lucky and arrive when there’s no wait. Most times we have to wait 10-20 minutes, which isn’t horrible. But this one particular day, there was a 45 minute wait, and I wasn’t having it. I was HUNGRY, so we started wandering down the street, debating whether we should continue waiting or go somewhere else. Just as we were about to cross the street to go to Luc, we had a record-scratch moment: I spotted a small sandwich board sign on the sidewalk that said, simply “Italian food” with an arrow pointing left.
Husband spotted it right as I did and immediately veered left. He knows me well!
And that is how we discovered Aglio e Olio, a small, no-frills Italian joint tucked away in the tiniest plaza-like area, next to a dry cleaner and an Asian Bistro. We would have missed it completely (which, in fact, we did do for the past few years) if not for that sign they put out that day.
Rob (owner and chef) greeted us the the second we walked in and I instantly fell in love with this place. As I think anyone who’s been to Aglio e Olio knows, you can’t talk about it without mentioning Rob. He’s loud, welcoming, and clearly passionate about what he does. He exudes the kind of warmth that makes you feel like old acquaintances. There are exactly four people that work there, and they’re all wonderful. But it has to be said – Rob was off two of the times we’ve been there, and it’s just not the same without him. He is a major component of what makes this place so fucking amazing.
So. The place itself is, as I said, no frills. It’s a small, family-style spot where you can expect to chat with people around you. The food is not the fussy, elegant style Italian food that you might find in other parts of the city. It’s hearty, comforting, fill-you-the-fuck-up basics done well. We’ve found that people in Seattle have little concept of how much good food really costs, and complaining about prices is a sport… but no one can complain here. Husband and I were shocked at how low our bill was for myself, Husband, and the Kid. (No kidding, it costs less for all three of us to eat there than a typical night out for just Husband and I – and that’s WITH appetizers and drinks.)
I love going at lunchtime and getting the “pasta bowl”, which is their pasta of the day (or another pasta of your choosing), small caesar salad, garlic knot, and, for me, the giant meatballs. (GIANT. Two of them.) I am very partial to pasta with some type of red sauce and meatballs, but I’ve also had their pasta with pesto and the carbonara. Occasionally, at other places, I’ll get fish or shrimp or chicken, but at Aglio e Olio, I only do pasta. Pasta, pasta, pasta, because pasta is the greatest food on earth, as far as I’m concerned. Kid always gets pizza, and husband is all over the map – pasta, steak, Italian-style sandwich… he’s never had anything he hasn’t liked.
Wine and beer selections are limited, but solid. (I love my Prosecco!) We often get the caprese salad to start, and we always get the polenta fries. Holy hell, these things are delicious. I mean, the fries themselves are good but the sauce is mind-blowing. (Know what it is? Melted gorgonzola and cream. That’s it. Ridiculously simple but man, polenta fries with Gorgonzola is perfection. I’m as big a fan of anything with cheese as I am of Italian food.)
We have a really pleasant time every time we go here. Normally, when we go out, I want to be left the hell alone, ya know? But here, it’s best when Rob hangs out to talk or we strike up conversations with other patrons. (Usually those conversations revolve around how good the food is and what a great find it is.) It’s cozy and inviting and, best of all, it’s the kind of place we really love to support. The owners previously worked at a well-known Italian spot in Pioneer Square. They keep their overhead low with just the four people cooking (and owning), they don’t spend much on advertising or signs… the well-deserved praise and word of mouth has made them pretty popular on a Friday night! (So if you plan on going during the weekend, I highly recommend calling for reservations.)
Aglio e Olio
2743 E Madison St
Seattle Wa 98112
If you’re up for a show with your Italian food, I’ve also raved about the iconic Pink Door’s food, down by Pike Place Market. The show is ok, but the food is phenomenal. If you want a better show, head over to Can Can (not Italian food, but they do have some kick-ass truffle parmesan fries.)