Some restaurant lovers are feeling a little skittish about indoor dining these days. And for good reason. With the Omicron variant still on the loose, now is not the time to be indulging in long-table dining alongside people you’ve never met.
Fortunately, there are alternatives, including an old favourite in East Vancouver. The spacious Poor Italian Ristorante (3296 East 1st Avenue) across the street from Rupert Park has a large enough dining area to allow you to keep your distance from other guests.
Three things stand out at the Poor Italian: tasty cooking in large portions; humble, eager-to-please service; and an elegantly designed room that feels more like Florence than Vancouver. Plus, there’s plenty of free parking in front of the restaurant.
Let’s start with the food. The Spaghetti & Meatballs ($24) looks deceptively small in the dish, but wow, does it ever fill you up. Served simply with tomato and basil sauce, it’s still full of zest, especially after the server adds a couple of spoonfuls of Parmesan cheese. It packs a greater punch than the spaghetti I’ve eaten in most other places in Vancouver.
The Mixed Seafood Linguine ($25) comes with prawns, scallops, clams, and mussels in a white wine and tomato sauce with a light onion taste. It’s truly home-cooked in a quintessential Italian way—simple yet flavourful.
The Linguine with Pesto ($20) is milder than the other two dishes and will appeal more to those who don’t have a hankering for spicy food. It’s prepared with fresh basil, ground toasted pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, and extra virgin olive oil. I’ve heard others praise the Nonna’s Baked Lasagne ($24), so I’ll probably give that a try on my next visit. Meals come with a complementary bread basket to begin. And you can wind up your meal with the tiramisu ($9) for dessert. It’s light, fluffy, and large enough for two.
The gluten-free Venetian Chocolate Mousse Cake ($11) is also sufficient for two and will satisfy any chocohalics who visit the restaurant.
The warmth of the Poor Italian is reinforced by its décor, starting with the terracotta planters outside. Inside, the Tuscan yellow and honeycomb colours on the walls and dark wooden tables and chairs, along with the lighting and images, create a sentimental vibe, taking diners right back to Italy.
Founded by the Moscone family along with managing partners Francesco Mara and Angelo De Meo, the Poor Italian’s original investment team also included longtime Vancouver news anchor Tony Parsons, whose photo greets diners at the door.
The menu pays homage to the history of early Italian immigration to North America, which was centred along Commercial Drive and East Hastings and East 1st Avenue in Vancouver. Dishes at the Poor Italian like spaghetti and meatballs and cioppino were created by immigrants after they arrived.
They were certainly poor, but they ate well, worked hard, and contributed mightily to the development of the city. And the Poor Italian is doing what it can to ensure that this will never be forgotten.