Bruschetta, crab, and avocado appetizer at Ristorante Pesto, 1915 S. Broad St.
Bruschetta, crab, and avocado appetizer at Ristorante Pesto, 1915 S. Broad St.

We all have our go-to South Philly Italian restaurants — the all-purpose, family-friendly, red-gravy destinations where you never leave hungry or wanting (well, wanting maybe a few Tums).

Inquirer critic Craig LaBan makes no secret of his affinity for Villa Di Roma and Mr. Joe's Cafe. My own short list includes the bustling Ristorante Pesto.

At Pesto, on Broad across from the old St. Agnes Hospital and around the corner from the East Passyunk strip, John and Connie Varallo have been pushing pasta for 15 years, and they even opened a pizza place a few doors away a few years ago. They started in 1992 at Ninth and Dickinson with a sweet little spot called Io E Tu.

There's a liquor license, yet it's OK to BYOB without charge. Prices are reasonable, as well — in the teens for pasta and chicken, in the $20s for most veal, fish, and beef.

Soon as you sit down, a sliced loaf of semolina bread and a bowl of balsamic carrots hit the table, followed shortly by a waiter spieling the specials.

Save the bread for now. Eat the carrots and listen up. That's when you'll notice a modern twist that's crept into Pesto since daughter Maria joined John's kitchen.

I refer to this gorgeous, Napoleonlike appetizer of avocado topped with layers of crab meat and bruschetta. Mix it up, and think of it as Italian guacamole — the bruschetta (chopped onions, tomato, peppers, and cucumbers, minced garlic, basic, olive oil) and chunks of crab enriching the creamy avocado layer at the bottom. There's a balsamic drizzle for extra sweetness.

Now take that bread and have a minifeast.

— Michael Klein

Avocado, crab, and bruschetta appetizer ($16) at Ristorante Pesto, 1915 S. Broad St., 215-336-8380.