Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, there used to be a little, family-run restaurant in Encino called Toto's. It was unpretentious, affordable, but most importantly, AWESOME. We were regulars there until Toto's closed in the 90s, and I still regard their Puttanesca and Arrabiata sauces among the best I've ever had. Since then, my love affair with Italian food has taken me all over the city (with varying degrees of success), but on a recent jaunt to Culver City, I found myself in major flashback mode when i discovered Brunello Trattoria, another family-owned-and-operated joint that delivered quality, authentic Italian food, without putting the squeeze on your wallet.
Nestled on a quiet strip of Washington Blvd near La Cienega, Brunello boasts a small, but reasonably-priced Chianti and Supertuscan-heavy wine list (not like you were looking for Napa Cab anyway, right?), but the real star is undoubtedly the food. With Italian staples like pasta, pizza and hearty meat and poultry dishes (I ordered and fell in love with the Petto di Pollo al Limone, which had heaping portions and fantastic, fresh, clean flavors), and a Daily Dinner Pasta Special (my next trip will have to be on a Friday, with several people who will let me tell them what to order, because I want two of that day's specials: Orecchiette con Salsicce e Rapini and the Spaghetti Sfiziosi. You don't need to know what is in those dishes - just YUM!), there's definitely something for everyone.
Nothing on the menu is over $20 (the Ossobuco breaks the bank at $19.50), and the vast majority of these well-portioned dishes are in the $10-12 range, a steal considering the quality of food served! I dined with a friend, and we had two entrees, one app, a bottle of wine and an espresso for $89 (pre-tip), a veritable steal in Los Angeles.
SIGHTING: In case you're not convinced by my recommendation, I spotted well-known and respected L.A. food critic Merrill Shindler enjoying his meal, chatting with the owner, and departing with a hug. If he's a regular, it can't be a bad sign :)