Everyone has a movie they can watch over and over again. Ours is The Goonies. We mouth every line under our breath, anticipate minute plot points several scenes in advance, and most importantly, know exactly when we can take a bathroom break (anytime it’s just Mama Fratelli and her a**hole sons on screen). It’s not the greatest movie of all time, but that’s not the point. We watch it because we know exactly what we’re going to get every single time. There’s comfort in that familiarity.
That’s the reason we keep returning to Maccheroni Republic, too. The family-run Italian spot in Downtown is one of the area’s longest-standing restaurants, and even if they don’t serve the best pasta in LA - or even in the neighborhood - we still love them, because they’re dependable, familiar, and, above all else, comfortable. They’re basically our Goonies, but in restaurant form.
Maccheroni Republic has been open since late 2012, which in Downtown years, is a lifetime. Casual neighborhood spots are rare beasts in this part of town, and the fact that Maccheroni Republic is routinely packed is a testament to their importance to the area. Bankers grabbing a few glasses of wine after work, USC undergrads excited to be eating off-campus for once, and locals who walked from their apartments just because they were craving a specific a bowl of pasta - the dining room here isn’t just a social hub, it’s a microcosm of the neighborhood itself. And even if it takes an hour to get a table (they don’t take reservations), you’re more than happy to wait. Not because you can grab a drink across the street at Bar Clacson, but because you know that once you do get seated, you’ll be treated to the kind of homey meal that’s becoming increasingly uncommon in LA.
Whether it’s your first time to Maccheroni Republic or your 50th, the second you walk onto the string-lit patio, you’re immediately a regular. The waitstaff greets you with a hug and razzes you about a stain on your shirt, someone you recognize from the grocery store waves at you, and before you know it, piping-hot pasta starts arriving at the table. With around 18 different bowls to choose from, there’s no lack of options here, but we recommend starting with the bianchi & neri and the veal shank agnolotti. They’re not only the two best pastas on the menu, they’re also proof that, despite the simple surroundings, there are still plenty of interesting things happening here.
The bianchi & neri is made with thin vermicelli noodles and comes topped with shrimp, mushrooms, and roasted pancetta in a cream sauce. It’s a tremendous bowl of pasta, as well-balanced as it is unique. We love the veal shank agnolotti because the pillowy agnolotti are massive and the salsa verde on top provides a kick that you don’t usually get in home-style pasta. From there, pepper in as many other bowls as you’d like. Everything hovers around $15, so even if you over-order (a technique we consistently employ), no one’s going to be breaking the bank.
As you finish up an olive oil cake for dessert and box up your inevitable leftovers, you’ll be hit with the same twinge of sadness you feel when the credits roll on your go-to movie. You got exactly what you came for, but now it’s time to head back to the harshness of the real world. Not to worry though, you already know you’ll be back next week. And you know Maccheroni Republic will be exactly the same when you return.
This bowl of black and white pasta is Maccheroni Republic’s signature dish and a must-order every time you come. The pasta itself is thin vermicelli noodles that are topped with perfectly cooked shrimp, mushrooms, and roasted pancetta in a cream sauce. It’s a decadent dish, to be sure, but if that’s not what you’re in the mood for, you came to the wrong place.
Maccheroni Republic has a number of antipasti to choose from, but if you only get one (a strategy we recommend), make it this plate of baked eggplant rolls stuffed with mozzarella cheese. These little guys are gooey, cheesy wonders, and if you can limit yourself to a single order, you’re stronger than we could ever dream of being.
The first thing you’ll notice about this dish is the sheer size of the agnolotti themselves. The second thing you’ll notice is the perfectly braised veal shank and marrow stuffed inside them. The third thing you’ll notice is how quickly this dish disappears from your table.
We tend to find the gnocchi a bit soft sometimes, but this is still a solid plate of pasta, and one that never makes it to the leftover box.
The cuffie pasta itself is perfectly al dente, but the saffron fish ragout on top is simply too sweet and doesn’t mix well with the brininess of the squid ink. You can bypass this dish.
We have leftover room in our stomachs about 10% of the time for this dish, but still end up ordering it 100% of the time we go to Maccheroni Republic. Apologies if that sounds like the start of an SAT equation, but math is math.