26 May 2010

Italian Comfort: Trattoria Alberto

Photo by María Helena Carey

We’re all very excited about having an upscale and fresh new Italian restaurant in our midst, I know.  And judging from the long lines and booked nights and weekends, it seems like all of you in the community know this as well.  We’re all into great food around here, and some of us have lamented more than once the fact that the Italian restaurants around the Hill are not up to par with either the offerings of other towns, or of other areas within DC.

But is that really a fair assessment?  After all, while it is true that some restaurants have more gourmet offerings and breath-takingly flawless presentation than others, is good food alone a reason to frequent a restaurant?  While I leave you to ponder that philosophical statement, let me tell you about an Italian restaurant some of you love, and some of you love to hate: Trattoria Alberto.

Alberto’s is located at 506 8th Street, SE, in the heart of Barracks Row.  It’s nestled in a gray Victorian, which hides a happy couple of rooms painted in cheerful Tuscan yellow.  When the weather is nice, tables beckon you from the outside.  I had always walked by the place and been intrigued by it, but it wasn’t until a recent conversation in which both love and disdain for Alberto’s were professed that I decided I needed to go see for myself on which end of the spectrum I fell.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that my dining needs are a little trickier than those of many: I come with a two-kid-under-five entourage, which requires things single diners or those with an all-adult party may not be looking for.  I appreciate a place that can offer quick service — or quick bites to start– and I especially appreciate flexible, gracious staff willing to accommodate my brood and me while not making us all feel self-conscious.  In this particular area, Alberto’s shines from the very start: the staff is seasoned, sweet, accommodating and courteous.  Right away, our family felt welcome: there is no better feeling, other than knowing that someone else is cooking and cleaning up, than feeling comfortable in a shared space.

The menu (both lunch and dinner versions are available for your perusal online) is varied but does not try to encompass an overwhelming array.  They are also happy to adjust menu items, especially offering half-portions of pasta for the wee set or for those who are watching a special element of their diet.  The food is flavorful and comforting; the presentation is not elaborate, but rather it’s more family-style than other newer venues around the area. It also comes out very promptly, which as I mentioned earlier is a winner with my three-ring circus.  This month, through the 31st, Alberto’s is also offering a free Tiramisù with the purchase of two entrées: as you all know, shared calories simply do not count.  Finally, Trattoria Alberto offers carryout service, for those days in which you need your comfort food fix but you really, really don’t want to deal with reminding your fellow diners of their manners every thirty seconds, which, I realize, can also be a hazard after an especially happy Happy Hour.

If you have never dined at Trattoria Alberto, you may want to give them a try.  And if you’ve been, won’t you share which end of the spectrum you fall into?

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18 responses to “Italian Comfort: Trattoria Alberto”

  1. Annie says:

    My husband and I really like Alberto’s. We are both Italian (I’m half and my husband is 3/4), and it reminds me of the simple Italian food that my family cooks. I love the pesto cream sauce over the fresh, homemade pasta, even though I’m sure it’s super caloric.

  2. Kyra Deblaker-Gebhard Kyra Deblaker-Gebhard says:

    I will admit, publicly, to my love of Trat. Alberto . We love the restaurant and we especially love the staff, who take excellent care of us from the minute we walk through the door.

    We have been going there since we moved to the Hill, and the restaurant has been host to family get-togethers, anniversary dinners and even my baby shower. The wait staff and owner love seeing my daughter and even ask when will be bringing a fourth to dinner.

    And, much like Annie, the food reminds me of something my grandmom would make for our legendary family dinners on Sunday afternoons.

    Albertos is not fancy by any means, but the food is good, the house chianti rocks, and the folks that work there–from Sergio on down–are wonderful.

  3. Katie says:

    We’re fans. I haven’t been there in ages and when I walk down 8th street the staff recognizes me and asks about my son. We used to be regulars. I’ve had better meals there than at other big meal Italian places. Okay so the stand out of bad meals at a ‘fancy’ place was during restaurant week, but when the gnocchi came out cold in the middle I couldn’t help but think I’d have rather been at Trattorio Alberto’s. Also, if you like seafood the seafood linguine special on Saturday (I think) is a wonderful deal. It’s 1/2 a small lobster, muscles all the way around the plate, so much seafood you could almost forget there was pasta coming with it. As I recall, they make their pasta there so it’s a good deal for the price.

    It may not compare with the places of wonderous decor and the like, but it’s definitely a go-to neighborhood kind of place.

  4. Hidden for my protection says:

    Alberto’s is a treasure for the hill. Some may hate it because it is not faux-fancy, trendy, nouveau-traditional, or pretentious. It is comforting, good, friendly, and reliable, and has been a stand-by on 8th for what feels like decades. It’s like a time capsule for a small Italian-American family restaurant. It’s something authentic to itself.

  5. Kate says:

    I’m going to have to be the voice of dissent here. My husband and I visited about a year ago when we were looking for Italian on the hill and didn’t know about Bistro Italiano. We went for an early dinner and it is one of the few times we have both wanted to leave a meal early. We had poor service (I felt like I needed a semiphore to flag down my server), the food quality was poor, and the atmosphere left much to be desired (such as the music playing: Christian light rock. I don’t expect the Godfather theme or a Verdi opera but really?) We haven’t been back since. It has always baffled us to see it busy but I guess everyone has different expectations when they dine out.

  6. hill resident says:

    from my yelp review:

    after holding off for a year or so my girlfriend and i finally decided to give this 8th street italian eatery a chance. we encountered the same cold, store-bought bread, foil-wrapped butter, and limited menu that other reviewers pointed out. however, there were a few surprises.

    she ordered their ricotta, spinach, and prosciutto ravioli special. they refused to put it in a white wine sauce, claiming it had never been done before (how innovative!). so she settled for their mixed marinara/cream sauce after they insisted on it. when they brought it out they requested that she try it in front of them and tell them how good it is. friendly? i guess, if you like performing on command (by the way: she didn’t enjoy the sauce).

    i stuck with their sausage, peppers, and pasta dish. the marinara wasn’t that good, and they smothered the whole dish in it. i think the food trucks in philly (specifically, the one at 34th and walnut) do a better job with this entree.

    during the entire meal our servers would yell to us from across the restaurant or from the upstairs level. also, they left all the doors open so the cool air from outside/noise from the adjacent fire station filled the restaurant. near the end i noticed that they (accidentally?) added $10 to the bill, which took about 10 minutes to correct.

    the best thing about about new italian food coming to the hill is that this place will have competition. they won’t be able to get away with this poor quality of food simply because of proximity.

  7. My experience was like Kate’s. The food was just not good, the music made no sense, there was nothing comfortable about it at all. It had nothing to do with pretentious, or how fancy it is. I LOVED AV’s when it was around and it certainly wasn’t any of those things. I just want good Italian food and what I was served at Alberto’s was not it. Maybe they just had an off night, but I know I’m not alone in my opinion, so I haven’t thought to rush back to give it another try.

  8. mappo says:

    I admit that the staff are friendly and attentive. But come on, the food is barely a step above Stouffer’s-grade.

  9. Awads says:

    This is all very interesting to me. i’ve lived on the hill for nearly 20 years and have never stepped foot into this place. and i’ve never known anyone else who has. i figured it was a drug-front! now i’m interested to try it. i have a toddler, so we’re not looking for fancy. i thought AV was totally over-rated, so maybe this place is under-rated? will check it out and report back (one day).

  10. Kim says:

    I guess I’m odd in that I don’t have strong feelings either way about Trattoria Alberto’s. I’ve only been there three times and everything, from the service to the food, was just either just good (but not great) or just OK. I’ve always sat outside when I’ve gone, so the atmosphere has had little effect on me. I guess if I was out with a friend who suggested we go there, I’d go, but I probably wouldn’t suggest it. Toscana Cafe is my go-to for good Italian on the Hill.

  11. R says:

    The food is less than gourmet, but the lasagna is a pretty solid bet.

    For our family, it is the welcome arms given when you have a child in tow that compel us to chose it over other options on a whim.

    Bistro Italiano has better food in my opinion, but the size of the dining room precludes kids and I never feel guilty disturbing other diners at Albertos as they have enough room to place the kids in an area where we can have our family chaos without dirty looks from others having their dinner interupted by squealing toddlers face painting with red sauce.

  12. DB says:

    I’ve been eating at T. Alberto’s for decades. It’s warm, friendly, moderately priced, and serves Italian comfort food. And I’ve never had a problem suggesting an adjustment, a special tweak on a dish on the menu. Sometimes you can even get a dish off the menu.

    Does TA occasionally misfire. Well, yea. That happens at every restaurant.

    That said, if you’re looking for foodie food, cilantro on your veal marsala, or a single’s scene, stay away. TA is none of those. And it means more tables for the rest of us.


  13. Count me in the “ick” camp. Granted, I’ve eaten there twice, but both times might as well have been the Olive Garden (and that is NOT a good thing). Marinara tasted thin and metallic (fresh out of a can perhaps) and the pasta was overdone and gummy. I love red sauce Italian places and I don’t need anything fancy, but I’d like it to not remind me of a suburban chain (in a bad way).

    I prefer Bistro Italiano. It’s nothing spectacular either, but it’s cozy and the food is better. It reminds me of any of the dozens of places just like it where I grew up, where being Italian and Catholic are practically requirements for moving there. (the only difference is that everyone at Bistro Italiano doesn’t know my Dad!)

  14. Marybindc says:

    I used to love this place, I first went there in about ’83. 10-15 years ago it had good basic food, great prices, and great service. Then they upped the game a bit with innovative sauces and specials that were truly special, not just what they were trying to sell. Then they upped the prices, but I guess that’s okay since the food was better. But they kept upping the prices and the food went back to serviceable and basic. The prices are just out of line with the quality of food being served. The last time I was there the food wasn’t even very good. This was a few years ago, and I haven’t been back.

    I actually like their food better than Bistro Italiano’s, though I go to the latter because the prices are lower (as I recall). I notice Trattoria Alberto doesn’t list their prices on their website.

  15. Annie says:

    I’ve never heard Christian-rock played there, but that would be odd.

  16. Maria says:


    Thank you so much for your comments, insights, and candor. I must also agree that Christian rock is indeed an odd choice for background music; that would not exactly whet my appetite.

    And Awads– please report back whenever you end up going!

  17. monkeyrotica says:

    Alberto’s is alright, but Bistro Italiano is much better. I still think Famous Luigi’s is still worth the extra effort. The cooking comes closest to AV, which is either great or lousy depending on how you feel about AV. I miss the old red check tablecloth places. I like a nice boar cheek ravioli with barolo as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just want a big bowl of meatballs and red gravy and a glass of chianti. Looking forward to the Carmine’s that’s coming to Penn Quarter.


  18. Rukasu says:

    This place is terrible. Food is extremely overpriced and uninspired. You’re better off making it better at home.

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