Pasta

A $10 Plate of Pasta That's the Greatest Lunch in Seattle 

You might have to wait an hour, but it’s well worth it.

September 18, 2019

Whenever I travel, I make an extensive itinerary of restaurants, bars, and cafés I want to try, and plan my other activities around those spots. I once spent the entire day in the Le Marais district of Paris so I could buy bread from Poilâne for breakfast, and try the famed falafel sandwich from L'As du Fallafel for dinner.

My mother and sister still fondly (?) recall the time I dragged them across the city of Berlin to its trendy Kreuzberg neighborhood to sample vegan currywurst at the now defunct Yellow Sunshine Burger. (At the time, we were touring the Berlin Wall, aka nowhere close to the restaurant.)

But when I went to a two-week trip to the Seattle area earlier this month, the departure date snuck up on me and I didn't have time to make my signature list.

Nope. When I went to Seattle, I had no idea what I wanted to eat or drink—save for one thing: the pasta at Il Corvo.

The restaurant's been lauded by many: Eater, Serious Eats, Bon Appétit, and Lonely Planet, for starters. But the recommendation that held the most weight for me was that of my colleague (and bonafide Seattleite), Amelia Rampe: "It's my absolute favorite," she said. "Everything's amazing there."

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“I totally agree with your review but I have to say, don't sleep on the Bolognese at Il Corvo! Kenji's review made this mistake too. Of course, always get the daily specials if they sound good, because you can get the Bolognese any time. But, the Bolognese is actually incredibly delicious and the best Bolognese I've ever had. The recipe is published (if you Google "Il Corvo Bolognese" you'll find it) and it contains beef, pork, chicken livers, pickled peppers, a lot of red wine, and is braised like 8 hours. The daily specials are usually exciting but I'm confident in saying that the Bolognese is sometimes the better option!”
— Nathaniel P.
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Done deal.

The first indication you'll get of Il Corvo's superiority is the line that snakes up James Street, off of Seattle's historic Pioneer Square, and around the corner onto Third Avenue. The next is the incredible aroma emanating from its small, nondescript storefront and onto said street. The third is the satisfied, dreamy look from the patrons exiting the store after finishing their meals, hands gently resting on their stomachs, exhaling with contended sighs.

Opened in 2011 by husband and wife team, Chef Mike Easton, and Victoria Diaz Easton (who also own Alki Beach's Il Nido), Il Corvo does just one main thing, and does it brilliantly: fresh, handmade pasta.

The restaurant is only open for weekday lunch service, from Monday to Friday between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; per the restaurant's "About Me" page, this is due to Easton's "shifted focus towards...follow[ing] his passion for food but also achiev[ing] a work/life balance," after a series of fast-paced restaurant jobs around Seattle (including the beloved, and nearby, Lecosho).

Easton and his team offer just two shapes of pasta per day (all produced in a rare or antique pasta machine, according to J. Kenji López-Alt), and a seasonal sauce to accompany each. The restaurant also offers a third "plainer" sauce option, like marinara or bolognese, which pairs with one of the two daily shapes—I imagine this option gets used for the staff "family" meal, but this postulation is uncorroborated. To nibble on alongside the pasta is a rotating cast of antipasti, like fluffy focaccia, pickled vegetables and cured meats, and a marinated kale salad (which is, by the way, out of this world).

Because of the restaurant's near-singular focus, and very capable team, this means that the food is expertly hewn—near-flawless, in fact—and the long line goes by quicker than you'd expect. Which brings me to my visit at 11:30 a.m. on an unassuming Tuesday, when I found the restaurant fully and completely packed, with what had to be 25 groups ahead in line.

Balking at the anticipated wait, I almost opted to give up.

"We planned our whole day around this lunch," my boyfriend (a food-indiscriminate person who has nevertheless had to wait in a great many lines for food) said, "so we have the time."

After befriending a mother-daughter pair from Phoenix and San Francisco, respectively, and getting into an extended discussion on modern transport culture and the rise of Uber (don't ask), we hardly felt the 50 minutes that passed before we reached the door of the restaurant, joining the very front of the line.

Upon entering, we noticed a few things: the charming antique kitchen tools that act as the restaurant's décor; the refrigerated case of to-go pasta and sauce flanking the front-left of the tiny, rectangular room (turns out you have to wait in line for takeout, too); and the chalkboard menu hanging right above that refrigerator, listing the pasta shapes and sauces of the day. We also noticed the speed at which dishes of pasta were exiting the kitchen, being consumed by restaurant-goers, and subsequently getting cleared up by the same restaurant-goers (Il Corvo follows a self-bussing protocol).

Ruffly mafaldine and frilly creste di gallo, just waiting to be devoured. Photo by Brinda Ayer

When we were finally close enough to the chalkboard to read the day's pasta choices, we were not disappointed. On offer were ruffly, lasagna noodle–looking mafaldine, with a Siciliana sauce and nori-flecked bread crumbs, and creste de gallo—a short, extruded tube pasta with a rooster's crest–like frill attached to it—with a sweet corn–roasted red pepper cream sauce.

And we discovered that, ostensibly, because of its narrow menu options and its sheer volume of customers, Il Corvo is able to keep prices unbelievably low: a mere $10.95 per plate of pasta, at the time of writing. (The wine was also just $4 a glass, in case you're looking to have a more relaxed kind of lunch.)

We ordered one of each pasta, plus a kale salad to share, and were quickly pointed to our table, where we squeezed next to another pair of diners. Not five minutes later did we receive our salad, and five minutes after that, our main dishes.

It was all sublime—the salad coated with a bold, bright, herbaceous blended dressing that I couldn't quite put my finger on (in a good way!); the mafaldine tender and savory, with a spicy, tomato-ey kick from the Siciliana sauce and a salty, umami-rich crunch from the nori bread crumbs; the creamy creste di gallo perfectly al dente, with an impossibly flavorful, roasty-cheesy-sweet cream sauce (and I don't even like cream sauce).

We finished our plates within 10 minutes, in part because our parking meter had already run out—but mainly because our lunch was so ridiculously good.

I know there are a ton of great things to eat in Seattle, but as far as I'm concerned, Il Corvo's pasta is the only dish that has a permanent place on my itinerary—I'll eat it each and every time I go back.

Visit Il Corvo

Il Corvo Pasta Ristorante
217 James St.
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 538-0999
Monday–Friday, 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

Have you ever been to Il Corvo before? Let us know in the comments!
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Brinda is the Books & Special Projects Editor at Food52, where she edits all of Food52's cookbooks and covers the latest and greatest books on the site (drop her a line with recs!). She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants. Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

3 Comments

dietjessg October 20, 2019
I’ve eaten at Il Corvo quite a few times during visits to Seattle. The pasta is sublime; I wish I could package up the entire restaurant and bring it back to Baltimore with me! Dress for the weather and be prepared to wait, you won’t regret it.
 
Nathaniel P. September 18, 2019
I totally agree with your review but I have to say, don't sleep on the Bolognese at Il Corvo! Kenji's review made this mistake too. Of course, always get the daily specials if they sound good, because you can get the Bolognese any time. But, the Bolognese is actually incredibly delicious and the best Bolognese I've ever had. The recipe is published (if you Google "Il Corvo Bolognese" you'll find it) and it contains beef, pork, chicken livers, pickled peppers, a lot of red wine, and is braised like 8 hours.

The daily specials are usually exciting but I'm confident in saying that the Bolognese is sometimes the better option!
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. September 23, 2019
Sounds so good, Nathaniel—I'm veggie, so the Bolognese is not quite in my wheelhouse, but I imagine it's a permanent fixture on the menu for a very delicious reason. I'll get my flexitarian boyfriend to try it next time.