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Spaghetti Smackdown: Lupa vs. Malatesta

If you want homemade pasta in New York, there are a few restaurants whose names are bandied about like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck…. One of these rock stars of the pasta pantheon is the Roman osteria Lupa. I love it. I love the rabbit ragu over tagliatelle, I love the carbonara, I’m even kinda fond of the testa.

But the thing is, Lupa regularly hits you with a two-hour wait. Even on a Tuesday night. Thus, I end up eating there about once a year when I can fit in a late-day lunch (Lupa serves all day from noon to midnight). So what’s the alternative when you just want a big bowl of good mac on a weeknight without selling your soul? Malatesta Trattoria on Washington Street offers up homemade spaghetti alla chitarra, tagliatelle, gnocchi, piadini, and more with little wait and twice the service.

Be mindful that this is not a well-oiled Batali operation, so there are going to be some tradeoffs. On a good night, the warm, herb-oil-infused bread can rival Jim Lahey’s pizza bianca served at Lupa. On a bad night, you’re just getting Italian peasant bread sprinkled with olive oil and rosemary. It’s a toss-up, but I’m willing to deal with it to get to the rest of the meal. Free bread is icing on the cake in the long run.

Care must also be taken with the wine list. The carafes of house wine are surprisingly tasty but the cheaper wines on the bottle list can be a little harsh. If you want a bottle, try the Falanghina off the list of whites or the Primitivo off the reds.

But you’ll be a happy camper when you get to the main courses. The polpette, veal meatballs with excellently charred bread slices and marinara ($15), will leave you licking the plate. The aforementioned spaghetti alla chitarra ($12), also served with marinara and chunks of fresh mozzarella and basil, is a toothsome bowl of satisfaction. And the mussels are aromatic, brothy, and surprisingly plump.

Malatesta is straightforward, it’s authentic, it’s belly-filling and filled with charming, good-looking waiters, and you’re not going to have to kill yourself to get in. When you’re not ready to deal with the crowds, the eating at the bar, or any general hassle just to get to a good bowl of pasta, this is the place you need to go.

Lupa, 170 Thompson St. between Houston and Bleecker. 212-982-5089 or reservations on OpenTable (good luck).

Malatesta, 649 Washington St. at Christopher St. 212-741-1207; cash only.

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  1. You’ve got to be kidding, the mediocre doughy foccacia at Lupa bears no resemblance at all to Sullivan Street bakery’s Pizza Bianca.

    1. Lupa may have changed its supplier (as I mentioned, I get there no more than annually these days), but on two earlier occasions, it was confirmed to me that Jim’s pizza bianca was what we were being served.

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