Photo by Amy TheligYou probably slap together half of Paesano's menu at least once a week for dinner: sauce-drenched entrées such as mostaccioli, spaghetti and lasagna that aren't so much Old World as they are Hoboken. So why bother visiting this 26-year-old eatery? Meatballs.

Meatballs soft like lace, big as a baby's fist. Meatballs of density, meatballs that are powerfully herbed, meatballs that don't immediately crumble into beef pebbles like so many Olive Gardens. With spaghetti, the strands swirl around the meatballs in deference to their majesty; on top of the bitter mostaccioli, the meatballs impart the proper zest that nudges the dish from the pedestrian to buttery, chewy bliss. The meatballs at Paesano's roll at you from all sides: pasta dishes; in epic, wonderfully cheap subs; shoved inside billowy calzones; crumbled and spread across snappy, New York-style pizza.

Paesano's meatballs are the finest in North County, minced together daily—that is, when the gray-haired owner isn't outside holding court with the regulars while smoking (he sometimes takes his habit indoors). Just as illustrious, however, are the other meats at Paesano's. Like its meatball brethren, Paesano's kitchen staff packages the sausage in-house, which explains its great snap—get the sausage in a sub, which comes with succulent grilled peppers and onions. Paesano's Italian sub, meanwhile, stuffed with folds of salami, mortadella, ham and pepperoni, looks like an environmental-impact report crammed between two loaves. And you can also ask them to toss in some bits of meat on the world's perfect garlic bread—loaves sliced in half, smeared with some herbed butter, melted with mozzarella on top, toasted to that elusive point between crunchy and burned.

Now, some advice: Paesano's advertises a couple of family-style dinner specials on its menu, but your clan better be versed in the ways of the goombah if you want to eat there. This ain't no place for kiddies or a blind date. Imagine, instead, an Elks Club circa 1979: stuffed elk's head on the wall, well-worn leather booths, patrons who flirt with the restaurant's waitress/bartender by warbling in tandem with whatever K-EARTH tune might screech over the speakers. Want soda? Go behind the bar, scoop up some ice and help yourself. While back there, admire the sign that urges all to “Support Your Local Hookers”—but only ogle the meat on your table, please.



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