Dining at Italian Cafe does have its charms. Just pulling up to the small stand-alone restaurant, situated within a City of Falls Church that seems to grow taller and more compact, feels like a different type of dining experience. Stepping inside, diners are greeted by exposed brick walls decorated with copper cooking tools and novelty drawings and wall hangings of plump-cheeked chefs, which give a quaint impression. A sweet quiet fills the dining room, accented by the subtle sounds of wordless songs. And as diners peruse the menu, picking at a basket of bread and considering the many Italian dishes, they become a part of the decades-old tradition of this establishment, founded in 1978, and consider how much and how little things may have changed since then.
While these out of the ordinary traits lend to the endearing quality of the restaurant, when they extend to the menu the impact is not as positive. The restaurant touts its homemade Italian fare, but its take on homemade seems more kitchen than restaurant ready. The presentation of the food is without flourishes; the food itself is as expected, and without gourmet touches.
Among the more than a dozen appetizers offered are salads, seafood, and some fried options ready to be dipped into some accompanying house marinara sauce. Among this fried fare is the mozzarella sticks platter, an order of which brings a generous portion to the table for the $6.95 cost. Stringy, salty cheese is found beneath a thick herb-seasoned and cheese-dusted breading, and a bowl of marinara stands at the ready.
The entree options are extensive at nearly 50. An option for diners to create their own pasta dish at $12.95, combining their choice of spaghetti, linguini, fettuccini, rigatoni, or capellini noodles with various sauce and meat accents, expands those possibilities. The pasta selection offers the most affordable selections on the menu, all at less than $15. The Tortellini Alla Crema ($13.95) brings a modest portion of the round, meat-stuffed noodles to the table, coated in a simple homemade alfredo sauce.
Various meats – chicken, veal, steak, and seafood – become the focus of remaining entree options, cooked with a plentiful array of sauces and vegetables. The Pollo Alla Oreganato ($14.95) brings pieces of chicken and mushroom together in a tangy herb-dotted garlic and wine sauce. Also plated with the chicken and mushroom is a smattering of steamed vegetables and a nest of sauce-topped spaghetti, a tomato variety that competes with the wine sauce as they mingle on the plate.
Italian Cafe also crafts pizzas from its homemade dough, available in tomato, pesto, or white varieties, topped with selections from a brief list of meat and vegetable ingredients.
While the entrees may not stand out, the lasting impression at Italian Cafe is left by its desserts. The restaurant’s take on the classic Italian dessert Tiramisu ($4.95) is delectable. Rich espresso flavors burst forth from the layer cake’s base of soaked ladyfingers and its topping of espresso powder. In between, a tall layer of mascarpone cream is a lighter contrast, and pleasantly smooth. Another cake variety replaces espresso flavors with almond, and makes for a pleasant textural contrast when the cake is topped with the crushed nuts. A bevy of coffee drinks, from the standard espresso and cappuccino to more festive liquor-laced libations, can join these stand-out desserts.
While Italian Cafe may not have what it takes to satisfy gourmet palates, those looking for stellar desserts and a bit of simple Italian food can enjoy just that in the charming locale of one of Falls Church’s longest-serving restaurants.
Italian Cafe is located at 7161 Lee Highway, Falls Church. For more information, call 703-241-1829 or visit italiancafefallschurch.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 4:30 – 10 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday: 4:30 – 10 p.m.