Italian Food: A Student’s Guide

Story By: Madeleine Caraluzzi 

Steph Koko, a junior business administration major, just got out a grueling four hour class called ‘Business Analytics’. She’s tired, grumpy, and, to complete the trifecta, hungry.

“There’s something about staring at a spreadsheet full of jumbled numbers that’ll make you ravenous." Koko said. "Unfortunately, the only things I can cook well are chicken and eggs. Not the most hearty.” 

Luckily, Koko knows only one way to bounce back from the mind numbing nature of Excel, eat some Italian food; margherita pizza, il formaggio (cheese), focaccia bread, lasagna, spaghetti, rigatoni, i frutti di mare (seafood, literally translated to fruit of the sea), risotto… the list quite literally could go on forever.

For those of us not versed in the art of cooking, eating out is habitual and choosing where to eat sometimes feels like the mental equivalent to choosing a spouse.

So, if you’re looking for a good authentic Italian(-American) meal, here’s a compiled list of the tastiest restaurants around Chapman to cater to your, and Koko's, growling tummies.

Marinara meter is on a scale from 1-10: 10 being tomato sauce straight out of the 900 population town of Atrani, Italy and 1 being red paint.

Click Here for a My Family's Amazing Marinara Recipe 

Francoli – 100 S Glassell St. Orange, CA 92866

Marinara meter: 7

On the corner of S Glassell in the Circle, we have Francoli.

A swanky establishment, the dress code is casual-elegant. The restaurant is compact, noisy depending on when you go, and always filled with the smell of cooking garlic and buzzing conversation.

The Caprese Salad
The bruschetta and caprese salad are perfect appetizers to start with; light but with all the tomato-olive oily wonderfulness of Italian cuisine.

For dinner, the many pasta dishes are most popular. They’ve got a variety of different dishes from many of Italy’s regions. If you’re a seafood lover, the penne al salmone is light and fresh, and a customer favorite. For meat eaters, you can’t go wrong with their traditional spaghetti and meatballs or the cannelloni di magro.

“I did the cliché Francoli-anniversary dinner with my boyfriend of four years here, and the atmosphere really made it feel like our first date. That’s cheesy, I know, but they have a great wine list, and really, really great pasta.”

francoli pasta
Simple Tomato Basil Pasta
Finally, il dolce, the most important part of the day.

Francoli has the classics like homemade tiramisu and panna cotta, but they also have traditional Italian desserts like cassata Siciliana, a pink and green marzipan covered sponge cake soaked in fruit juices and layered with ricotta cheese, candied fruits, and an either chocolate or vanilla filling similar to cannoli cream.

Francoli is a great restaurant to take someone on a date or just your parents when they come visit. Either way, this is an upscale restaurant. I’m sure you will ooze collegiate expertise when suggesting it to the group.


Café Lucca – 106 N Glassell St. Orange, CA 92866

Marinara meter: 5

On the other side of the circle is Café Lucca.

The interior décor strives to be Tuscan-esque. It’s actually more like Southern California than Tuscany, but it’s comfortable. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the staff is incredibly kind which is always a plus.

A favorite is the manicotti: layers of noodles, cheese, tomato sauce, cheese, pasta noodles, and cheese. Truly comfort food.

Other popular dishes are the rack of lamb, shrimp scampi, and the eggplant parmesan.

There’s a gelato counter that detracts from the full sit-down restaurant experience, but, the gelato is bomb. They’re more than happy to let you taste as many as necessary before choosing one, and choosing is fun with interesting flavors like: Capn’ Crunch, churro, and blueberry, to name a few.

Part of Cafe Lucca's Gelato Case
“I go there for gelato. It’s really a quaint cafe with a nice laid-back atmosphere. The stracciatella flavor is perfetto,” said junior Psychology major Amber Pardes,

In the end, don’t come here for a formal dinner, but simply a good meal with good company.

Conca D’Oro – 776 N Tustin St. Orange, California

Marinara meter: 6

Located on Tustin, this restaurant is small, dark, and reminiscent of your grandma’s house. It’s truly a family affair; the restaurant was opened in 1960 by the family who still owns it, and most of the dishes are family recipes.

Although the service is pretty slow, the portions are large and delicious, so it’s not too upsetting.

Calamari Appetizer
To start, they give you delicious grilled bread, slathered with garlic and olive oil, right when you sit down. If that doesn’t make you want to stay, try the calamari (pro-tip: always put a good amount of lemon on your calamari). They’re light and fluffy, and the red sauce that comes with it is perfectly chilled.

For your entrée, recommended dishes are the pepperoni and sausage pizza, eggplant parmigiana, and linguini puttanesca. The portions are big and can be shared, but the leftovers taste just as good the next day.

concadoro (2)
Eggplant Parmesan

If you’re looking for a relaxed, slow dinner, Conca D’Oro is the perfect restaurant for you.


If You Love Shrimp, Click Here for a Delicious and Easy Shrimp Scampi Recipe


Mascarpone’s – 1448 E Katella Ave. Orange, CA 92867

Marinara meter: 6.5

For great old-school Italian, look no further; Mascarpone’s has got your stomach.

Interior of Marscarpone's
Often a little packed (I suggest making a reservation), the restaurant has intimate low lighting and walls lined with antique plates and vintage Italian photographs and posters. There are always large families enjoying a meal together, as well as first- and one hundredth- time daters.

“It's incredible, they make all their own sauces and the atmosphere is both romantic and homey,” said sophomore Creative Producing major Abbey Hirsh, “I love the chicken piccata, but you can't go wrong with anything that has Mascarpone’s signature white sauce.”

Highly recommended dishes are the mozzarella en carozza (it’s kind of like a pizza sandwich, fettucini pesto, penne al espagnola, and the meat lasagna.

The cheesecake menu is a trademark of the restaurant. With over 35 different flavors available,

Choosing, can be difficult. It even says on the menu if you don’t see a flavor you like, they’ll create a special for you. Cheesecake favorites are plain, chocolate, and pineapple coconut.

Mascarpone’s is an entertaining experience, and you definitely won’t leave hungry.


Claro’s Italian Market – 1095 E Main St. Tustin, CA 92780

Marinara meter: 10 (they import sauces from Italy!)

This one’s not technically a restaurant but worth a visit for any food lover, especially if you enjoy cooking.

If the smell of garlic and cheese are this heavenly when you first walk in, you know you’ve found a good market.

“It’s really hard to find good Italian products on the West Coast, but Claro’s has really great fresh foods that you can’t get at any grocery store,” said junior screen writing major Nick Viscounty.

Claro's Meat Selection
It’s about a fifteen minute drive from campus, but if you’re wanting to prepare an authentic Italian meal, they’ve got everything you need. From imported vinegars, canned goods, wines, olive oil, pasta noodles, pickles, breads, sauces, olives; plus, a *stacked* deli of Italian meats and cheeses, and two huge cases of mouth-watering pastries. I’m getting hungry just writing about this place.

If you’re not looking to cook, they’ve also got a variety of prepared foods, custom take-out sandwiches, and frozen meals.

claros italiansub
Claro's Italian Sub

This place is popular, and there’s often a line at the deli, but that’s just an indication of the quality of food Claro’s provides the community. 


Buon Appetito!

                                                 Marinara Tomato Sauce

YIELD:   approx 2 qts.


AMOUNT:      UNIT:             INGREDIENT:


2                      Tbl.                  Olive Oil

1/2                   Cup                  Red Onion finely chopped

1                      Tbl.                  Garlic – finely chopped

2                      tsp                    Salt

1/2                   tsp.                   Black Pepper

1                      each                 Bay Leaf

2                      tsp.                   Dried Oregano

2                      tsp..                  Dried Basil

1                      tsp.                   Red Pepper Flakes

2                      cans                 Italian Plum Tomatoes – look for a designation of San Marzano Tomatoes on

                                                 the can – either chopped in the can or put through a food mill


  1. Heat oil in heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat –  add the onions and gently sauté for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and gently sauté 3 more minutes – Do not allow the garlic to burn.
  3. Add the salt, black pepper, bay leaf, oregano, basil and red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 more minutes.
  4. Add the plum tomatoes and bring to a gentle boil occasionally stirring – lower to a gentle simmer and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Puree to degree of smoothness with a hand blender if desired or leave chunky.


Note:  If the sauce is thin (due to the tomato consistency) add approximately 3 ozs Tomato Paste at the same time the spices are added.


Shrimp Scampi appetizer

Serves four people.


AMOUNT:        UNIT:                 INGREDIENT:


1                          lb.                        Shrimp. Medium sized, shelled and deveined.

6                          Tbl.                     Butter

1/3                      cup                      Olive Oil

1/4                      cup                      Lemon Juice

2                          Tbl.                     Shallots, finely chopped

2                          tsp.                      Garlic, finely chopped

1/2                      tsp.                      Salt

1/8                      tsp.                      Pepper

2-3                      Tbl.                     Parsley


  1. Melt butter and olive oil in sauce pan on medium heat.
  2. Add shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Slowly cook without burning for 3 minutes, stir occassionally.
  3. Add the lemon juice and shrimp. Turn heat to high.
  4.  Cook shrimp and toss for 5 minutes, or until cooked through. Do not overcook. Make sure they’re well coated with the mixture
  5. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges and sliced baguette.


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