You know about Che Fico, the big, bright Italian place on Divis that looks more like the set for a magazine shoot than an actual restaurant. You might have even stayed online until midnight a month in advance to get a reservation and blow your annual sock budget on dinner there once or twice. Then, they opened Che Fico Alimentari, a smaller restaurant right downstairs with equally good food. But it isn’t Che Fico Light and it’s not just a place to come when you couldn’t get a table at the original. It’s more low-key, and while we’ll still check upstairs for special occasions like celebrating a birthday or winning a Nobel Prize, for pretty much everything else, Che Fico Alimentari is our first pick.
The best part of the menu at this Italian place, and what you should be focusing on, is the pasta. There’s a cacio e pepe that’s the best version we’ve had in a long time, with the perfect amount of pepper to cut through the rich pecorino, and an amatriciana with big pieces of guanciale that are chewy and gamey in the best way possible. It’s the most affordable section of the menu with big portions that hover around $16.
There’s also a wide variety of cured meats (from the highly-visible meat locker upstairs) and cheeses, small plates like their incredible shelling beans that taste like a special chicken soup that Ina Garten only makes when Jeffrey is home, and larger mains like a suckling pig dish with skin so crispy, that people outside will be able to hear it shatter when you take your first bite. As good as they are, a full meal can get expensive here if you’re not careful. The large dishes range from $30-50 and most of the small plates are around $15 - you’d need to get four or five of them to make up for an order of bucatini. Still, it shouldn’t stop you from ordering a few dishes to go with your pasta.
When you’re not busy staring at the food in front of you, there’s a lot happening in this dimly-lit dining room - between the wine racks on the walls, open kitchen on the other side of the bar, and the sommelier zipping around the room. It has all the pieces of somewhere you’d go to impress someone, but Che Fico Alimentari still feels pretty casual. You’ll feel equally comfortable coming here to catch up with your friends who just had their first kid, popping in for wine and stracciatella with a client, or eating suppli and pasta on date number three. Maybe just try to leave the Nobel at home this time.
This focaccia almost melts away like cotton candy it’s so light, and the butter and olive oil it comes with are fantastic.
Suppli Al Telefono
You have to order these crunchy, cheesy, tomato-y rice balls one at a time, and everyone should get at least one, and then maybe another to take to go.
Mozarella Di Buffala With Speck Ham
Share this with someone if you’re just stopping in for some wine and a snack before dinner somewhere else. If you want to add on some more cured meat, we like the lonza.
Fresh Shelling Beans
Everything you love about chicken soup is in this dish, only you’re replacing the chicken with large, tender butter beans. There are lots of carrots, onion, and fennel in the super-concentrated broth and it’s a near-perfect side dish. The only thing missing is a piece of the ciabatta to mop up what’s left behind.
Spot Prawn Scampi
These prawns pack a lot of flavor, but the garlic and white wine don’t overpower the sweet shellfish. There aren’t a lot of prawns with this, but they’re strong enough that you’ll want to split them with someone. Again, make sure you have some bread to soak up the juice left in the shells.
Bucatini Cacio E Pepe
If you’re the kind of person who eats something and says, “I can make that at home, easy,” this is probably the time to keep your mouth shut. The cheese is salty and perfectly hangs onto the pasta, the pepper has some serious bite, but doesn’t blow out your sinuses, and the bucatini is the perfect fit for the thick sauce. Order this.
The sauce on the amatriciana has a good amount of heat, and the guanciale it comes with is both crispy and chewy. They could serve this at a place called Billy Bob Thornton’s House of Spaghetti and we’d be equally as excited about it because it’s a really great amatriciana.
Maialino Al Forno
The skin on this suckling pig actually shatters and the Yukon gold potatoes it comes with are so crispy that you might confuse it with the skin. The meat itself is cooked medium and perfect, and the parsley, roasted garlic, and lemon that comes on top cut through all the fat. If you’re getting a large plate, this is a solid bet.
There are a few desserts out there that can fully restore your faith in the concept of sticking around for dessert, and this is one of them. It’s a profiterole filled with lemon crema and topped with a big scoop of hazelnut ice cream and covered in salted chocolate sauce. The flavors seem like they would clash together, but somehow you can taste each separate one before it all comes together. Stay for coffee and order this.
There’s a ceiling that tiramisu can reach, and this version might just break through it. Life’s short, get this along with the profiterole.