BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT (CHEAP) (1999)
The mood is friendly and casual, the food familiar and comforting at the self-proclaimed oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in St. Paul. At this East Side establishment, the focus is on the Southern Italian-style basics--like your mom used to make, regardless of her ancestry. Diversity in the pasta dishes consists of what noodle shape you choose to accompany your meat, cheese, and red sauce, but the consistent quality will eliminate your longing for Alfredo. Monday nights feature all-you-can-eat lasagna for six bucks, and the Yarussos' pizza boasts a crust that somehow manages to be thin and crispy while holding up the extra-generous load of toppings. And you can wash it all down with a $1.75 glass of beer or a cocktail from the full bar. Bonus: In season, starting around May, the bocce courts outside are available free of charge to customers on weekends (apparently there is such a thing as bocce league play in the Twin Cities, so Monday to Thursday it's spectator night for us amateurs).