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Join the Crowd for Pasta or a Pizza at La Vecchia

La Vecchia is a small restaurant that was designed to be crowded. Tables are tightly packed for maximum socializing, the ceiling is high to ensure party-level decibels, and the kitchen is smack in the dining room. It’s hard to imagine not having a good time here.

The food at La Vecchia, a spinoff of Il Forno, is exactly what you want to eat when you’re in a crowd--salads, pastas, pizzas--good, easy food that doesn’t require a lot of analysis. (Serious food people should note: The restaurant’s own fresh pasta is excellent; the pizza crust here is crisp, thin and delicious; and the fresh-baked house bread is terrific.)

Prices are easy here too. Pastas run $8 to $10; pizzas are $5 to $10. A little more gets you a hearty old-style entree--veal, scampi, filet mignon, even a version of chicken cacciatore.

La Vecchia Cucina, 2654 Main St., Santa Monica. (213) 396-9226. --LAURIE OCHOA

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