Our Food Critic’s Five Favorite Pasta Dishes Around DC Right Now

It's time to move on from cacio e pepe!

Bucatini and Clams at the Salt Line. Photograph by An-Phuong Ly.

It’s been the year–no, the half decade—of cacio e pepe. Few pastas have had such a hold on our collective palate for so long. In the past month alone, I’ve sipped a cacio e pepe martini, made with Parmesan-­infused vodka, at the Alexandria branch of Thompson Italian and noshed on cacio e pepe pizza at Stellina. Even the Cheesecake Factory now has a riff on the peppery Roman pasta.

Friends, it’s time to move on (and if you miss it, make it at home—it’s absurdly simple). These five recent favorite dishes sit at the other end of the pasta spectrum: They’re far more complex than their comforting flavors suggest.


Baked Ziti at Alta Strada

location_on 465 K St., NW

language Website

Photograph courtesy of Alta Strada.

Chef/owner Michael Schlow says his Italian American classic “screams nostalgia” for him. It’s a dish he grew up on in New York and Jersey, but it didn’t appear on his Mount Vernon Triangle restaurant’s menu until the days of Covid, when customers were looking for comfort food and chefs were pivoting to dishes that carried out well (not much pasta does). His version of Sunday gravy is made with, of course, lots of garlic and San Marzano tomatoes but also with crushed meatballs, fennel sausage, and bits of short rib or pork ribs. The sauce is generously draped over ziti noodles, and the baked result bubbles with so much mozzarella and Parmesan that every bite is a cheese pull.


Oxtail Pappardelle at Bronze

location_on 1245 H St., NE

language Website

Oxtail with pappardelle is a menu mainstay at Bronze. Photograph courtesy of Bronze.

Keem Hughley, the owner of this sleek H Street restaurant, calls his bestselling dish the “anchor” of his menu, which showcases ingredients and dishes from the African diaspora in new ways. Its starting point is traditional: a Jamaican recipe for oxtail passed down through consulting chef Toya Henry’s family. But the dish gets its intense umami from a jus that Hughley makes separately, conjured from short rib and dashi. The hunks of meltingly tender oxtail are served on the bone—a bold move for a pasta dish, but one that works thanks to Hughley’s perfectly calibrated braise. Caruso’s Grocery chef/owner Matt Adler taught him to make the thick ribbons of pappardelle, which are chewy enough to stand up to the meat. A hint of Scotch-bonnet chilies helps cut the richness.


Koginut-Squash Tortelloni at Thompson Italian

location_on 1024 King St., Alexandria

language Website

Thompson Italian’s not-too-sweet squash tortelloni. Photograph by Steve Vilnit.

Here’s the thing I love about several of the pastas at this family-run Old Town dining room: They’re crunchy. Often, the kitchen uses toasted breadcrumbs to add texture to its noodles, but for this dish you’ll taste crumbles of Amaretto cookies and bits of fried sage. The kerchiefs of pasta are filled with Koginut squash that’s been roasted in butter, then mixed with ricotta and Parmesan. They’re then gilded with a brown-butter sauce enriched with Parmesan stock. If only every autumnal pasta could balance savory and sweet so well. Try it on Mondays, when the restaurant lets you pair any pasta on the menu with any glass of wine on the list for $30.


Bo Kho Pappardelle at Nue Vietnamese

location_on 944 W. Broad St., Falls Church

language Website

Photograph by David Dang.

A recent trip to Italy—and a memorable short-rib ragu—got Tuyet Ni Li thinking: How about pairing thick strips of pappardelle with his mom’s recipe for bo kho, the robust Vietnamese beef stew? The result is now one of the main attractions at his upscale, flower-filled dining room, which specializes in cross-cultural takes on Vietnamese classics. Li’s short-rib ragu pops with lemongrass and spice-driven heat, and it’s livened up even more with pickled carrots, lime, and crumbles of toasted croissant.


Bucatini and Clams at the Salt Line

location_on 7284 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda

language Website

Photograph by An-Phuong Ly.

Purists will have an issue with this strapping plate of bucatini: It commits the sin of adding cheese (a dusting of Parmesan) to a seafood pasta. To that, I say take a bite of this clams-casino-inspired creation and tell me if you care. The littleneck clams are served in their shells, and their briny juices mingle beautifully with peperonata, the bell-pepper stew that here gets a distinctive complexity from anchovies, crème fraîche, Calabrian-chili paste, and fish sauce, among many ingredients. Herbs, bacon smoked in-house, and bacon-fat-crisped panko finish it off. Another thing that sets it apart: Many kitchens rely on dried bucatini, but this one makes the extruded noodles fresh each morning.

This article appears in the January 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.