Discover Bethesda, Maryland...365 Days a Year!

Day 127: Old Italy in Bethesda

La Panetteria - Little Old Italy in Bethesda

My mouth is still watering after a wonderful dinner this evening to celebrate Mother’s Day with 13 other family members at La Panetteria located at 4921 Cordell Ave.  Now I have had a LOT of Italian food in many cities and restaurants throughout my life, but I must confess that La Panetteria is one that truly left an impression on my palette!  Rich, robust, aromatic and surprising, the food is hearty and flavorful and offers what you would expect to find at a table in old Italy.  The name La Panetteria means “bakery” in Italian so as you might guess, the bread is fresh-baked daily and was warm and flavorful.

This evening I ordered Spaghetti al Pomodoro (good ole’ spaghetti and meatballs), but this was particularly tasty!  The pasta at La Panetteria is homemade and I could tell with the first bite that this was no ordinary bowl of noodles.  Perfectly al dente and full of flavor, I ended up eating far more than I should have because I just couldn’t help myself!  The tomato sauce was terrific – robust and fresh and it actually tasted like tomatoes as opposed to the high fructose, processed stuff we encounter so often at other places and of course from the “jarred” varieties at the store.  I meant to take a picture of my plate but I dove right in and forgot!  You’ll just have to go see it for yourself.

Brian shocked me by ordering Cozze Posillipo – that’s mussels in a tomato sauce over homemade linguine.  Of course, he HAD to share because I left him no other option.  As usual, he joined the “clean plate club” – my Mom would be proud of him.  🙂  Of course, I helped him accomplish that and found the mussels to be perfectly plump and coupled with a wonderful red sauce.  It’s actually making my mouth water right now writing about it and I wonder how that can be since I am still so full!  I guess one never tires of really good food.

Although the main courses were very nice, I found some of the accompaniments to be surprisingly fabulous such as the dressing that came with the dinner salad (I don’t even know what kind of dressing it was but I presume it was “House Italian”) and the delicate, “OMG-delicious” angel hair pasta with olive oil & “garlic-out-the-wazzu” that came with my sister-in-law’s grilled salmon.  It was so incredible, I nearly ate it all and it wasn’t even my meal!  And last, as a cheese lover, I always appreciate a huge boat of grated parmesan cheese with any Italian dinner and I was not disappointed tonight.  I sprinkled away to my heart’s delight! 

My favorite area of the restaurant

So in a nutshell, I liked the place!  We expect to go back and we will eat heartily – again – as we did tonight with our table of 14 people.  The atmosphere seemed lively at La Panetteria (although it’s possible it was just our wild table) and the decor was very quaint “old Italy.”  I particularly liked the part of the restaurant that looks like an outdoor patio with stringed lights and hanging plants overhead.  The facility can accommodate semi-private parties (up to 70 people!) which is perfect for parties and rehersal dinners and also offers a bountiful catering menu with free delivery to Bethesda and Chevy Chase for orders of $100 or more.   They offer valet parking plus there’s a garage just across the street, so it’s typically very convenient.

While the restaurant’s facade is rather quaint and humble from the street, it is pretty expansive inside and certainly a delightful environment whether you are out for a romantic dinner for two or a party of 14, like us.  It is cozy, casual and a place to go to enjoy great Italian cuisine and very good service.  I understand that the restaurant has had its ups and downs in our town where hundreds of places compete for the palettes of fickle Bethesdians and DC visitors regularly.  But I can see why this lovely little slice of Italy has survived for over 25 years through tough economic times and serious new competition.  It’s just plain good.  Try it for yourself.  Wear loose pants and be prepared for a food baby to come home with you!     ~Amy

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