in partnership
(Image: Gretchen Bossio / Seattle Refined)

The perfect Italian meal exists at Portland's La Buca

This summer my husband and I celebrate our 13th anniversary. As we brainstormed how to best celebrate - definitely a night away, definitely good food - I tossed out the idea of trekking south to Portland. We lived outside the city for a few years and have fond memories and many favorites in the City of Roses, one of the top being La Buca Italian Cafe.

If I had to eat one food genre for the rest of my life it would be a hard toss up between Mexican and Italian. In the end, I’m pretty sure Italian would win, specifically, La Buca’s twist on Italian.

This restaurant in NE Portland is a must dine location for all Pacific Northwesterners. It’s truly the best Italian fare I’ve found and I’ve visited my fair share in the area! I mean, it was my #1 request for my anniversary weekend. And, confession, not only did I enjoy my meal there that night I asked my husband to pack along our heavy duty cooler so I could order a second meal to go to enjoy a day or two later once we were home.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what two dishes drew my tastebuds four hours south as my anniversary date night of choice. And of course I’ll share! Along with all the runner’s up that I’ve enjoyed on previous La Buca visits.

For starters - my husband and I shared a caesar salad. La Buca doesn’t make just any ol’ caesar though. They have homemade dressing AND homemade croutons that take it up a notch. Had I had room for more greens I definitely would have ordered the gorgonzola salad too. Romaine with apples, roasted walnuts and homemade creamy gorgonzola dressing can practically make a meal in and of itself. We also shared calamari. That’s the best part of dining with family and close friends - you can share menu items and taste more! This was the first time we had La Buca’s calamari and my husband declared that he “could drink the lemon aioli” that was served on the side as a dip.

For the main course I chose my all-time favorite - the pasta perfection called Vegetariana. It’s rare that I select a vegetarian meal but this penne dish is scrumptious! Summer’s freshest - roma tomatoes, broccoli, and roasted yellow red peppers - are tossed in garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil, and finished with a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts. It. Is. Amazing.

Vegetariana filled me up for sure, especially after sharing a salad, calamari, and complimentary rustic bread, but remember, I had schemed to take a meal to go! I opted for Abituale where once again penne stars but this time it’s coated in a roasted garlic tomato cream sauce and tossed with spicy Italian sausage and parmesan. Good, great amazing! I snuck two bites before packing it up to enjoy later. I’m telling you, ordering two meals is genius plan when you visit a favorite far away restaurant. Highly recommend.

Lest Vegetariana and Abituale don’t tempt you, I stand behind quite a few other meals. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, when we lived down south I visited La Buca often! Pesto Basilico is a classic (but better) pesto pasta dish and Al Forne is hands down the best baked lasagna-esque dish. I always add chicken to that one. La Buca is also where I learned to love risotto and appreciate all kinds of bruschetta.

Sadly, we were full to the brim before dessert, because isn’t it the truth that you can either find room for a starter or a finisher? But, if you go the dessert route you cannot miss La Buca’s bread pudding. It comes with a whisky cream sauce that has never been replicated in my never ending bread pudding quest. The tiramisu is, of course, another decadent choice.

If a jaunt south to Portland is calling your name, don’t leave Oregon without experiencing the perfect Italian meal at La Buca. No doubt you will become a lifetime fan of this quaint cafe.

La Buca offers dine-in - both indoor and outdoor seating - as well as take-out. They open at 5 p.m. each day for dinner.