The problem with young people is that they're too young. They haven't lived long enough to appreciate the simple pleasures of an uncomplicated life. That's too bad for them. Fortunately, I have gotten old enough to know the difference between a cool scene and a good place to eat. I have been to plenty of cool scenes. I don't like them. I do like a good place to eat. Sanfilippo's Italian Restaurant in Hillcrest is a good place to eat. It has been a good place to eat for 30 years, back before today's young people knew what a cool scene was.
When you walk into Sanfilippo's, you grow three gray hairs. It's that kind of place, the kind of place where the longer you've been around, the cooler you are. If your grandfather was a tuna fisherman, he would eat at Sanfilippo's.
It isn't easy to review an Italian restaurant. Bread, pasta, tomatoes, cheese, garlic, oregano, red pepper, some kind of dead animal-that's about it. Sanfilippo's has all those things and more. It has 6-inch and 9-inch sandwiches for lunch that range from $4 to $6.75 apiece. I am partial to both the chicken and beef parmigiana, and right behind those I like the torpedo. I hate eggplant, but they make a sandwich with that as well, for those of you who eat slimy purple gourds. For everyone else, there's Italian sausage, meatballs, ham, capicola (an Italian luncheon meat), provolone and salami. They're all very good sandwiches, and they're all more food than you really need.
In fact, just about everything on the menu at Sanfilippo's is more than you need to eat. A bowl of minestrone is a sufficient meal for a normal person. Even the small antipasto salad (which is outstanding) is enough to fill you up. The dinner salad is substantial, but you should come hungry and just nibble at your salad because you don't go to an Italian restaurant to eat salad. You can get a salad anywhere. You can't get a sausage, cheese and bell pepper casserole just any-old-where. You have to go to Sanfilippo's for that and I recommend that you do.
If a casserole doesn't interest you, you might try one of eight different dinner specials that include garlic bread and soup or salad for less than $15. I like the beef cotolette scaloppini and the chicken cacciatori. I am told the linguine with clams is fantastic with either the white or the red sauce. I haven't tried the fettuccini alfredo, but I plan to. I have had the pizza and I won't get pizza anywhere else. It's that good. Everything else on the menu is what you would expect from a menu at an Italian restaurant: spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, the whole salami. Get whatever you like. You won't be disappointed.
I suppose journalistic ethics compel me to admit that I am not without bias when it comes to my favorite Italian restaurant. Sanfilippo's is more to me than just a good a place to eat. It is also a part of my neighborhood's lore. From its garish yellow awning out front to its expansive patio dining area out back, the place is coated with history. Sanfilippo's is a part of what Hillcrest used to be, even if it hasn't quite caught up with what Hillcrest is becoming. And that's a good thing, because what Hillcrest is becoming is a vertically stretched, soulless, overdeveloped extension of downtown. It's sad.
There was a time, not so long ago, when there was little to do in Hillcrest but buy used books, buy used clothes, get your haircut, go out to eat and end up at a bar. That was a good time. There were more well-read, well-coiffed, well-fed, drunken oddballs per capita in Hillcrest than in any neighborhood west of Austin, Texas. That time is gone. Today Hillcrest has three Starbucks. Today, Hillcrest has not one but two new monster condominium developments about to soar skyward and blot out the sunset. Today, Hillcrest has Hash House A Go Go, with a two-hour wait behind a line of suburbanites for a Sunday brunch consisting of four pounds of food with a branch of rosemary sticking up out of it for half a paycheck. Today, Hillcrest is starting to suck.
Yet right in the middle of it all, Sanfilippo's stands defiantly to remind us of what didn't suck back when sucking wasn't so profitable. Tragically, there is no assurance that it will stand there forever. The building it has occupied since Gerald Ford was in office sold recently. It might not be soon, it might be years away, but the evidence suggests that the new owners have long-range ambitions to redevelop the parcel. They'll probably build a condo tower with a mortgage company and a nail salon on the ground floor. Whatever they do, it's going to suck.
So get to Sanfilippo's while you still can. You've been to enough cool scenes. You deserve a good place to eat.
Sanfilippo's is open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday. Entreés range from $8 to $15.
Sanfilippo's Italian Restaurant
3515 5th Ave. Hillcrest