I kept reading about Noni’s Deli on all the Best Of lists but had never been. “Noni” is a derivative from “Nonna,” which means grandmother in Italian, and many of the recipes were originated by the owner’s Sicilian grandmother.

We went late after our Atlanta Executive Network meeting and were starving. I’m not in college anymore and I can’t do late night Taco Bell. Noni’s is an excellent alternative to the typical greasy after-hours gut bombs you get on Ponce. The place was full of urban hipsters, GSU and Agnes Scott students, and maybe gay couples – you can’t always tell these days. If you live in Midtown, it’s worth the drive.

The place used to be an old school grocery store but has transformed into a very relevant downtown destination that stimulates your eyes with architectural nuisances. This is an excellent first date place. You know that awkward first 20 minutes where you want to ask “what’s wrong with you?” but instead you make small talk? Say, “ I love the shiny jagged slate floor and I’m a sucker for red exposed brick,” and you’ll impress your date or long time partner. It’s always a good idea to have subjects rehearsed when the conversation lags.

Delicious Italian options

Noni’s Deli
357 Edgewood Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30312

Figo Pasta
1220 Caroline St.
Atlanta, GA

La Pietra Cucina
1545 Peachtree St. # 100
Atlanta, GA 30309

Now on to the food. It’s polished, classic Italian café fare that tastes like someone in the kitchen gives a damn. Noni’s is an excellent lunch spot with their artisanal pressed paninis, like the Noni served on ciabatta with rich imported Italian meats and scratch-made fries. Or try the classic muffuletta with salami and green olive salad on focaccia.

I don’t care if the militant gym queens hiss at me: I’ll always love pasta. You can go light and refreshing with chicken, basil mint pesto and whole wheat penne, or splurge with kitchen-made tagliatelle and pancetta — Italian bacon – cream sauce. I couldn’t speak while indulging in this bowl of love. I also adore the classic baked chicken and eggplant parmesan with melted cheese.  On a nice day, choose the patio with a soothing fountain. There’s also a unique Italian wine list.

We also tried the similar chain Figo Pasta. It was fine but not as good. The caesar lacked any discernable flavor until I squirted lemon juice on it and the Gnocci was slightly gummy. The mushroom cream sauce was pretty good. I only ate there once so I can’t give a definitive review. I did try a friend’s carbonara — pasta with bacon — which was delicious. I would go back because the prices are very reasonable and the service was efficient and friendly.

For upscale Northern Italian try La Pietra Cucina. This place has numerous glowing reviews and accolades for a good reason. It’s a special occasion place if you’re on a budget, but we ate lunch there and found it very affordable, plus we had a Scoutmob coupon. The chef-driven boutique menu has unique items you won’t find anywhere else like black spaghetti with rock shrimp, hot sausage and scallions. I had the creamiest, transcendental lobster risotto with big meaty chunks of Maine lobster.

I mentioned Scoutmob (scoutmob.com) and you should really sign up if you’re not a member. You will be emailed 50 percent off coupons for Atlanta restaurants. There is usually a $20 limit. You pay nothing to get the deals, so it’s a no brainer. They’ve saved me lots of money.

As a former server I must remind you to tip on the original amount and not the discounted amount. You don’t want to be labeled “coupon trash,” now do you?