12:35 p.m. Tue.-Sat.: Most Affordable Way to Enjoy the Least Affordable Italian Restaurant 

Oliveto

Okay, Oliveto is the obvious choice for best Italian restaurant in the East Bay. But that's because it's still the only local restaurant to transcend the Italian-food-equals-comfort-food concept all its competitors adhere to. From the pork belly to the pigeon, from the wild-nettle papardelle to the fresh-milled polenta, the food put out by the Chefs Paul -- Bertolli and Canales -- all make Italian cuisine exciting again. But it's easy to drop $80 to $100 a person for dinner. As Rockridge locals know, the best way to get a cheap thrill is to go at lunch, when the pastas ($10-$15), pizzas ($8-$12), salads ($4-$10) and, yes, sandwiches (less than $9) show off Oliveto's skill and technique in miniature. And even though the waiters are earning beer money off you instead of mortgage payments, the service remains friendly and refined.

Readers' Pick for Best Italian: Venezia

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