We like to think that the age of a restaurant says something about its quality; that the years have organically imparted solutions to all the little problems that can sink the ship.
Problem is, we've all had plenty of mediocre meals in places whose age bumps against (or extends beyond) the mid-century point. So we set out to darken the doorways of a few standards of local cuisine, some of them roughly three times as old as this newspaper (we're 18).
There are, of course, other long-timers that we didn't get to this week; when we do, they'll face a high bar set by these three. Strictly by coincidence, we ended up eating two versions of a traditional Italian pasta.
3005 N. Nevada Ave., 635-1806
Fifty two-year-old Roman Villa is legend, and I can see why after my first, very belated visit. The Biondi family's small, low-ceilinged dining room is like a warm Italian hug, and every inch is dominated by wonderful scents blasting from the active half-open kitchen.
A pizza-rolling machine groans, ladles bang against pot rims, and the crisp Italian house salad spiked with pepperoncini and heaped with blue cheese crumbles (complimentary with an entrée) dissuades you from raiding from a neighboring table.
I'd asked for the most popular dish and received the house-made tortellacci ($12): ricotta, Romano, asiago and cream cheeses and spinach inside a soft pocket, covered in a peppery, bright orange, cream-fortified tomato sauce, slightly sweetened by lightly caramelized onions. Simply excellent all around. — Matthew Schniper
947 S. Tejon St., 632-7339, luigiscoloradosprings.com
On a recent weeknight, I sat down at 53-year-old Luigi's and essentially found myself inside the famous scene from Lady and the Tramp: checkered tablecloths, empty Chianti bottles and faux vines decorated a place where Italian classics like tortellacci ($15.85) are still in demand.
Bread and a small, Italian-dressing-heavy salad came first, while our main entrée arrived with a large, house-made meatball, instead of the requested (and likewise house-made) sausage. We wound up sampling both: The link was heavily spiced with anise, but overcooked and chewy, while the meatball was tender, but boring. The pasta was packed with cream cheese, Pecorino Romano and spinach, then topped with soft béchamel and a mild tomato meat sauce; a rich, heavy but satisfying meal that could've easily been shared. — Bryce Crawford
4660 N. Nevada Ave., 598-3033, senormanuel.com
In business 41 years, with servers who've been there more than a quarter-century, Señor Manuel's is a time-tested legacy spot. Our server informs us of the "tortilla factory" downstairs, where the Hernandez family makes tamale masa, corn and flour tortillas and corn chips.
Those chips deliver a strong, roasted, almost burnt flavor, and come complimentary with a piquant house red salsa. We'd have liked the deep-fried flour tortilla on the chimichanga ($8.95) to have been crisper, and for the beef's seasoning to have had more depth, but a lovely, spicy chile verde mostly compensated.
On a combo plate ($10.95) with a pleasant bean tostada and cheese enchilada, the family's creative chile relleno version excels with Monterey Jack and the mild pepper engulfed by an egg soufflé and chile con queso puddle. — Matthew Schniper