Pasta, pizza, plain or fancy. If you are in the mood for Italian food, you might try one of these recently reviewed restaurants. BENITO I (410 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (213) 275-7425). The proprietors' roots are in New York's Little Italy, so how can you miss? There are grapes and wine bottles on the ceiling, sawdust on the floor, and the portions are gargantuan. Highlights include Abbondanza and amatriciana (a very good pasta), made with a bacon and onion tomato sauce; linguine with clam sauce; and arrabbiatta, made with chiles in the sauce. The stuffed Italian fried rice balls can't be topped. Nothing here is fancy, but it's real good. Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat., Sunday till 10 p.m. AE, MC, V. Beer and wine. Reservations not required. Parking in rear. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$50. CAIOTI (2100 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 650-2988). Holed up in Laurel Canyon beneath the quaint Canyon Country Store, this inexpensive little room was frequented by Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum in previous incarnations. One appetizer, grape leaves stuffed with marinated goat cheese and served with roasted peppers and whole basil leaves, is the most delicious bargain in town. The pizzas here are wonderful; a few worth going back for include roast garlic pizza with shallots and onion and smoked Gouda, barbecued chicken pizza or smoked chicken pizza with roasted peppers and goat cheese. Open daily, 5 p.m.-midnight (delivery and take-out, too). Street parking. No alcohol. No credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$20.
CARDINI (930 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 227-3464). The chef at this elegantly modern restaurant fed the Pope when he was in town, and he will gladly serve you too. Recommended are the linguine with lobster sauce, or the penne with tomato and basil. A Northern Italian dish is called pizzoccheri ; it's made of whole-wheat fettuccine tossed with fontana cheese, little bits of potato, chopped cabbage and whole leaves of sage and butter. More simple fare would include the Sonoma free-range chicken with green peppercorn sauce or a simply grilled veal chop. End the evening in a wonderful way with some very pretty pastries from the cart. Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $50-$70.
THE DUKE (469 N. Doheny Drive., Beverly Hills, (213) 273-3844). Luciana Klosterman has taken the tiny Scully's, turned it into her own version of a restaurant, and named it after husband Don Klosterman, a former pro football executive who's called Duke by his friends. The food here has a homey quality. One appealing dish is spaghetti al bandiera , which comes in the colors of the Italian flag--red tomatoes and dried peppers, green parsley, white garlic and cheese. The salmon served in a light saffron cream sauce and surrounded by a circle of spinach is quite good, too. Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner daily. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$70.
IL GIARDINO (9235 West 3rd St., Beverly Hills, (213) 275-5444). If you want to secretly see celebrities but don't want the scene of Morton's or Spago, this is the place for you. Or you might come simply because the food is so good. Try the carpaccio, the tasty raw steak topped with thin slices of artichoke heart and flakes of Parmesan cheese. Bronzino , a perfectly delicious fish served simply grilled to a turn, might also be sampled. Pasta is wonderful. Lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner nightly. Beer and wine. Valet parking. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $45-$100.
RISTORANTE LIDO (15200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 106, Pacific Palisades, (213) 459-9214). This is a clean, stylish restaurant with a handwritten menu listing all sorts of delicious dishes. The appetizers are fresh, direct, stylish and tasty. Gnocchi with gorgonzola is so soft it simply melts in your mouth. Scampi "Portofino" is a mix of medium-size shrimp and some langoustines that melt along the edge of the plate. It's also swirled with garlic, little cubed tomatoes and basil. Have some superb espresso for the road. Lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner Tue.-Sun. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $38-$75.