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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant

Mona Lisa's dining room (AJC Staff)

Mona Lisa's dining room (AJC Staff)

Okay, people, red sauce. Pretend for a moment that I’m Paulie Walnuts staring at a plate of squid ink tagliatelle and saying, “Hey, I can’t eat this [expletive] . Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?”

We tend to talk about the same handful of Italian restaurants where the chefs cook in a contemporary style, but we ignore the scores (if not hundreds) of red-sauce places that hunker down in every strip mall throughout the land.

On a reader tip, I visited Mona Lisa Pizzeria in John’s Creek, which turned out to be directly across the street from the oft-cited contemporary Italian restaurant, Di Paolo.

It was dark and hyper-air-conditioned inside. There was easy-listening music and a waiter with a gruff-likable Northeastern attitude running the joint. The food made me think of the Italian diner my family always stopped in on the way to Jersey Shore. The acid clarity of that tomato sauce, the cardboardy flavor of breadcrumbs, the fennel zing of sausage, the thin blankets of melted cheese over everything.

IMG_7866A pounded-out veal chop parmigiana arrived over a bed of soft linguine and tasted very much like something Paulie would’ve approved of. I think some fresher breadcrumbs would elevate this dish to craveworthy status. A sausage and peppers parmigiana sub was a knife-and-fork affair for a hearty eater.

Our favorite was a “Bronx cheer” pizza, which had a nicely chewy crust and a topping of roasted peppers and basil. The cheese blend seemed to contain a fair amount of tangy provolone, which went well with the sweet peppers.

I wouldn’t drive for this restaurant, but I could see putting it in rotation if I lived nearby.

Do you have a favorite strip-mall red-sauce Italian restaurant that isn’t fancy but really good? And if you have any photos, please send them to, and we’ll post them. Thanks.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

5 comments Add your comment


August 1st, 2013
12:17 pm

coming to La Tagiella in the METROPOLIS building soon?


August 1st, 2013
12:49 pm

Pasta Vino on States Bridge Rd. in Alpharetta. They have consistently put out reliable, and often delicious, Italian food for well over a decade. The chicken dishes are all very good with the chicken breasts pounded until they’re the size of a small hubcap. Thanks for the Mona Lisa tip; it’s not all that close but I’ll give it a try.

FM Fats

August 1st, 2013
3:48 pm

I miss the places of my youth. Main Leo’s in Corona, Dante’s on Union Turnpike, Mario’s on the LIE service road, the Gable Inn on Northern Boulevard, Secundo’s Villa in Fresh Meadows. You could even get soul warming entrees in some of the slice joints all over Queens…


August 2nd, 2013
6:00 pm

Art you are right on about Pasta Vino. Having spent 10 years in Philly and eating REAL Italian food, nothing I have tried in Atlanta comes closer. Their pizza is among the best in town. I hate to create a larger line by getting the word out, but I love to brag on them and friends always thank me for the referral.

Jason Downey

August 4th, 2013
11:14 pm

This is EXACTLY what Macon is missing: what I call a NY/NJ style Pasta House. Jackson and Griffin have a couple of decent places south of Atlanta, but we have nothing like this as far as something locally owned, and just good comfort Italian food.