I've long relied on a network of tipsters to uncover exciting budget-priced restaurants. Friends, family, colleagues, and a few trusted amateurs on Chowhound and Yelp have led me to hundreds of great finds. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I'm now also connected to thousands of Boston restaurant cooks, bartenders, servers, managers, and suppliers. Think they might have some great cheap-eats tips? You bet they do. For instance, I'd never have stumbled across Victor's Italian Restaurant, a tiny joint in a residential corner of Saugus, without a nod from Anthony Caturano, chef/owner of the North End's estimable Prezza.
Victor's focuses on classic pastas and sandwiches in the genre I call Jersey Italian-American, with roots in Campania and Sicily but a century of adaptation on these shores. Ninety percent of such places are forgettable, but Victor's rises above the dull morass with exceptional care. After one bite of the veal-parm sub ($7.99), a big sandwich served on a quality roll with a housemade tomato sugo and melted parmigiana and mozzarella, I marveled, "Good god, this actually tastes like veal!" Turns out that Victor's pounds, breads, and sautés its cutlets to order, as it does for the similarly wonderful and staggering Essex ($7.99), chicken-breast cutlets with eggplant, sauce, and cheese, and for a half-dozen other cutlet-based sandwiches ($6.99–$8.99). The rest of the menu consists of pasta dishes likewise made to order, and big enough to feed two modest eaters, especially with the complimentary soft Italian bread. The fine, smooth red sauce, with its accents of dried herbs and good oil, appears on many of these, like spaghetti with meatballs ($8.99), featuring two fantastic, fist-sized pork/veal polpetti, a dish that could hardly be simpler or better. For the marinara-averse, chicken Romano ($11.99) tops those great breast cutlets with ham, fresh button mushrooms, and mozzarella in a just-sweet-enough Marsala sauce over a mound of linguine or ziti.
Shrimp fra diavolo over linguine ($13.99) boasts nine shelled, extra-large shrimp, though the sauce, bolstered with sliced onions, is tame even ordered "hot"; add red-pepper flakes for more heat. On weekends, linguine with clams ($11.99) accents 10 perfectly fresh littlenecks with a wonderful white-wine, garlic, and butter sauce. Drink options include a few canned American sodas and bottled water ($1.30). The sunny room is dominated by the open kitchen, just three four-tops with plastic checkered tablecloths; many customers do takeout. With its attractive prices, extraordinary freshness, and the super-friendly service of a genuine family venture, Victor's is a minor revelation — a worthy Italian-American trattoria masquerading as an ordinary sub shop. Many thanks for that tip, chef.
Victor's Italian Restaurant, located at 560 Lincoln Avenue in Saugus, is open Monday–Friday, 11 am–9 pm, and Saturday, 11 am–8 pm. Call 781.231.0532.