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Italian indulgence: Paisano’s serves large portions of exquisite food in an elegant setting

One of the most memorable – and filling – meals in Albuquerque can be found on Eubank at Paisano’s Italian Restaurant, a family-owned gem that’s been doing business since the 1970s.

There’s nothing better than a good fettuccini alfredo. It’s a classic dish, simple, delicious, and nearly as synonymous with Italian food as spaghetti and meatballs. It also varies remarkably, depending on how it’s prepared (and how recently), but the best, like Paisano’s, is always the simplest. It’s simple enough to be explained right on the menu: fresh semolina wheat, flour and eggs are mixed together and rolled out, then cut into strips and cooked al dente and smothered in a garlicky sauce.

Paisano’s chicken breast alfredo with fettuccini ($21.95) is among the best I’ve ever had. The noodles were thick and firm, twice as thick as most restaurant’s fettuccini, and cooked perfectly. The sauce, made with extremely rich Parmesan cheese and lots of cream, was so good yet so simple, it was a reminder of why so many restaurants include the dish on their menus.

The portion was massive, easily a meal for two people, though la carte half-orders are available on all pasta entrees. The regular order came with a delicious, garden-fresh salad with strips of peppers and a house Italian dressing that was slightly sweet. Most entrees come with your choice of a salad or a cup of the soup of the day.

Besides the gooey cheese sauce with bits of garlic and fresh herbs, the best part of the dish was the chicken breast. Paisano’s version came with high-quality, plump, perfectly cooked cubes of chicken pan-seared and mixed with the sauce. My waiter ground fresh Parmesan cheese on top and then left me to consume what was probably 2400 calories.

Paisano’s has larger tables and more private dining areas for big parties, as well as a heated patio, so it makes a great place for family gatherings or special occasions. It’s elegant, so it would also make a nice date spot.

Kids will find plenty to like on the menu, including hand-rolled pizzas with a variety of toppings. Diners with food allergies will find most, if not all, menu items are available with gluten-free ingredients. Lenten and vegetarian options are available too.

In true Italian style, Paisano’s saves the best for last: dessert. It has eight options, all made by hand from scratch in their kitchen, and all sound incredible. The usual suspects are there – cannoli and gelato and tiramisu made with espresso and Marsala wine, molten chocolate cake and traditional Italian wedding cake with cream cheese icing and tropical fruit – but I opted for a subtler finale.

A slice of the orange almond cake at Paisano’s Italian Restaurant. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

The orange almond cake ($7) was so good, I would order a whole one next time I go (because I certainly couldn’t make one on my own). It might be one of the best desserts in town, if not the universe, and it is absolutely the best non-chocolate-based dessert I’ve ever had.

It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, and it’s not a massive portion, just a pie-shaped slice of cake heaven. Made with ground almond flour, it resembles a slice of cornbread with a dollop of butter-colored icing on top, and when you bite into it, a burst of sugary orange liquor fills your mouth.

If you like orange, you will love this cake. And if you like rich, calorie-dense Italian feasts, you will love Paisano’s.

The service is excellent, even on a weekend evening, and the atmosphere is clean and homey. The place can get noisy during peak times, but smaller rooms help with the ambiance. Abundant private parking is available, and a lunch menu featuring Italian sandwiches and smaller portions is available on weekdays. And fans of the restaurant’s traditional marinara sauce can buy jars to take home for later.

Reservations are accepted but not required; I had no problem getting seated immediately, even on a Saturday evening, and service was prompt.

Diners with gluten allergies will feel particularly welcome at Paisano’s, with a huge menu of specially prepared options, even desserts, just for them.

Those of us who are fans of gluten, though, will love the assorted bread basket that greets diners when they’re seated. Any meal that starts with freshly baked focaccia bread and a dipping sauce made with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and chunks of garlic and herbs is bound to leave an impression.

These are not small servings. Paisano’s is the kind of restaurant you leave feeling gluttonous and guilty, so dress accordingly.

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