Sometimes I crave an Italian restaurant fine-dining experience: the white tablecloths, immaculate service, a nice wine list and a menu of expertly prepared entrees.
Sometimes I want a simpler, less expensive Italian meal: Maybe just a bowl of perfectly cooked pasta — penne, ravioli or whatever — with a tasty red or white sauce.
Sometimes I want dirt-cheap Italian: a pizza for two and a couple of beers for $10 or less.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered I can get all three of these at La Stalla Cucina Rustica in downtown Chandler.
Located across the street from the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, La Stalla exudes an earnest charm.
Sure, the space in filled with plastic orange trees strung with white holiday lights, a faux-stone fountain plugged into a electrical outlet and stacked-stone walls with inset shelves reminiscent of the ‘70s-era “Brady Bunch” living room.
But there’s really no kitsch factor here — just an honest attempt by owner and New Jersey transplant Paolo Vetrati to make his dining room, filled with rustic wood tables and chairs, look as inviting as possible.
Appetizers, such as fried calamari ($6 at lunch, $10 at dinner) and Caprese salad ($7/$10), aren’t particularly noteworthy, but if the Prosciutto di Parma and creamy burrata is available, it’s a must-have. Apply both meat and cheese liberally to a slice of ciabatta, courtesy of Simply Bread, for a memorable taste experience.
Sweet potato ravioli with a gorgonzola cream sauce ($9/$16) are both delicate and decadent at the same time. It’s my favorite pasta dish at La Stalla, although the asiago-stuffed gnocchi (bite-sized dumplings) in a sweet tomato and basil sauce are a close second.
Some pastas, such as a cavatelli with sweet Italian sausage and tender broccoli ($9/$15), are plated. Others, such as cheese-stuffed manicotti in a tomato sauce ($8, lunch only), are delivered in earthenware still radiating the heat of La Stalla’s brick oven.
Twelve-inch pizzas also cater to all tastes. The simple Margherita, for example, is available two ways: one made with an even layer of store-bought mozzarella ($8/$10); the other a more “artisan” version with splotches of freshly pulled mozzarella ($9/$11).
For more variety, try the Quattro Stagioni, divided into quarters of artichoke, sausage, prosciutto and mushroom ($10/$12). All pizzas have a thin, cracker-like crust.
One of the best-kept secrets in town has to be La Stalla’s happy hour, which runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Not only are all appetizers just $5, but all pizzas are half-price.
That means you can get, say, a pepperoni pizza for $5.50. Add a couple $2 draft beers — eight handles include local craft ales like Four Peaks’ Kiltlifter and San Tan’s Sunspot, as well as Italian standards like Peroni and Moretti — and two people can enjoy a light supper for less than $10.
At that price, it truly is a happy hour (or two) at La Stalla.
La Stalla Cucina Rustica
Where: 68 W. Buffalo St., Chandler (south of Chandler Boulevard and west of Arizona Avenue)
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays except Tuesday, noon to 10 p.m. weekends.
Prices: Appetizers $5-$12, salads $5-$7, pastas $15-$17, pizzas $10-$14, entrees $17-$23, desserts $6-$10
Info: (480) 855-9990 or lastallacr.com