As with many transplants to North Carolina, you sometimes miss certain types of food that you could find in your old hood. Whether you’re talking about bagels, sushi, Mexican, or NY pizza, most folks that move to the NC Triangle have some things that they miss. While I try to stay away from that discussion, I have to say that I really do miss good Italian food in the area! We’ve got some good options but they tend to be on the pricier, fancier side of things and sometimes I just want to hit up a small mom-and-pop restaurant that serves up some great pasta and appetizers. So I was glad to finally make it out to Tesoro in Carrboro for a couple of visits because it brings a different type of Italian dining experience to the Triangle!
Tesoro in Carrboro – Location, decor
First, if you’re going to dine at Tesoro, you need to be prepared! Given its location in the very busy section of Carrboro across from Weaver Street Market, you’re unlikely to find street parking nearby, but thankfully there are a couple of public lots within a couple of blocks distance. And also given the size of the dining room (approx. 20 people), you’ll likely need a reservation. But Tesoro is worth the effort!
The Tesoro storefront is small and basic, plate glass windows overlooking Weaver Street and you’ll be greeted by a staff-member up front for seating. Given that it’s mostly smaller 2-tops inside, the bar is a good option for dining in this bare-bones space. Polished concrete floors, open kitchen, and a marble-topped bar define the dining room in a simple but functional fashion.
Tesoro in Carrboro – Food, menu, prices
The menu at Tesoro is pretty seasonal and primarily Italian even though I believe the chef-owner dabbles in some French and Croatian-influenced dishes. So what you find on the website may not match up to what’s available for the evening. But from what I’ve experienced so far, it’s all going to be very good, appetizers are in the $10 range with pasta dishes in the $20 range. Wine, beer, and desserts are also available for diners.
For starters, you don’t want to miss the focaccia bread. And I know what you’re thinking, focaccia is something to get excited about? And for sure, you’d be surprised here. The focaccia at Tesoro is super puffy and light with a crunchy exterior laden with olive oil, delicious! Dip it into the salted-butter olive oil mixture on the side and you get a hit of flavor and textures. The arancini (fried risotto balls) at Tesoro are large, well-fried, and served with a side of traditional marinara, another nice choice.
But the magic here at Tesoro is focused on the in-house pastas. If you sit at the bar, you can see the bundles of fresh noodles in single portion sizes. They are quickly cooked in hot water and finished in a skillet with the sauce and some pasta water to al dente. The pork ragu bucatini is really nicely done, featuring a white ragu and topped with buttered bread crumbs. The bread crumbs are a nice touch and a pop of textural contrast for the dish. And I recently tried the classic broccoli rabe with sausage pasta dish which is served with cavatelli instead of the usual orecchiette. This pasta was loaded with excellent sausage and nicely braised greens for flavor contrast. Pasta portion sizes at Tesoro are just right, large enough to be your main dish with an appetizer.
Tesoro in Carrboro – Conclusion
Given the size of Tesoro, you would expect great service and you definitely get it here. They actually have a LOT of people in the front of the house for a small space so you will be properly attended to and checked in with. When I saw the sign for Tesoro going up in Carrboro, I honestly did not have high expectations given the college sensibilities of the Carrboro-Chapel Hill area. I was expecting another red-sauce joint with checked tablecloths and candles on the tabletop but thankfully, Tesoro is anything but that. Offering up regional Italian cuisine that’s chef-driven and more casual but not inexpensive. It’s a different type of Italian food experience for the area, the most similar comparison would be a smaller Gocciolina, one of my faves out in Durham. But I think you’ll really enjoy your meal at Tesoro if you appreciate high-quality Italian cuisine that takes a bit more effort to enjoy in downtown Carrboro. Bon appetit!