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For World Cup fans, plenty of fare play

Grafton Street in Cambridge celebrates Argentina with grilled skirt steak with chimichurri. Grafton Street in Cambridge celebrates Argentina with grilled skirt steak with chimichurri. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Lisa Zwirn
Globe Correspondent / June 16, 2010

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Early World Cup viewers will be tuned into the 7:30 a.m. matches (host country South Africa is six hours ahead), while everyone else can catch the 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. games. To really get in on the action, you have to surround yourself with like-minded fans. That means finding an establishment where good food and drink add to the fun or will, at least, temporarily, distract you from disappointment. World Cup soccer runs until July 11. The best local viewing spots are where the food is filling and the drinks are flowing.

The North End will be hopping as locals descend to watch Italy’s finest defend their 2006 championship. At Caffe dello Sport — with six screens, it’s aptly named — a European breakfast will kick off at 6 a.m. to fuel fans for the early matches. Housemade croissants, pastries, and coffee will be followed by more substantive fare mid-morning, when a full lunch is available. Panini and salads here are named after present and former players. You can order romaine, tomato, mozzarella, and black olive salad named in honor of world renowned goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon; a meatball sub with tomato sauce for midfielder Daniele De Rossi; or grilled chicken cutlet sandwich with provolone, tomatoes, and roasted peppers for coach Marcello Lippi.

The Italians, always a passionate bunch, draw inspiration from the colors of their flag. Artu restaurant is serving a special pasta trio “alla bandiera’’ (of the flag), featuring gnocchi with pesto, fettucine with cream sauce, and homemade spaghetti with San Marzano tomatoes, all on a large rectangular plate. At Caffe Graffiti, it’s a thin-crust pizza topped with tomato, cheese, and pesto, coined the “Azzurri’’ after Italy’s team.

Also in Italy’s honor, Bina Osteria at Downtown Crossing is offering special pizzas, such as black olive, arugula, and cherry tomato; prosciutto, arugula, and pecorino cheese; and Italian sausage with peppers, all of which can be washed down with Italian Peroni and Moretti beers.

For ravenous British fans, the Irish pub Phoenix Landing in Cambridge opens for the early games with a full Irish breakfast. Even though Ireland didn’t qualify for the Cup this time around, you can dine on a plate full of bacon and sausage, egg, black and white pudding, baked beans, and home fries. General manager Dolores Ferry-Henry expects, as always, “a big mixed crowd of all different nationalities’’ viewing on their nine screens. Jacob Wirth in Boston kicks off each morning at 9:30 with a free breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and cornbread. Otherwise, the menu boasts hearty, game-watching fare, such as bratwursts, knockwursts, and weiner schnitzel, as well as burgers and beer-battered fish and chips.

All month, Ariadne in Newtonville is featuring a meze of chicken souvlaki, grilled baby octopus, stuffed grape leaves, and kofta (meatballs with bulgur wheat). With these tasty Greek appetizers, diners can sip a potent ouzo-orange martini. “Even if Greece falls out, we’ll offer [the meze plate] in support of the other Mediterranean countries,’’ says chef-owner Christos Tsardounis.

Soccer fans will be rooting for the Brazilian team at Cambridge’s Muqueca while feasting on chef-owner Fatima Gomes’s cod cakes, fried yuca with dried beef, frog’s legs, and fried shrimp. When Mexico takes the field, Ole Mexican Grill, also in Cambridge, is adding fresh fish ceviche with cactus, tangy beef barbecue tacos, and baked whole pompano with guajillo chili sauce to the menu. “These are very typical Mexican dishes and lighter foods for the summer,’’ says chef-owner Erwin Ramos.

Fans at Grafton Street can pledge various allegiances by sampling the Cambridge pub’s all-American BBQ with burgers and beers during US play; grilled skirt steak with chimichurri, rice, and beans when Argentina is kicking the ball around; ale-battered fish and chips for the Brits; gnocchi al pomodoro for Italy’s champions.

For as long as Japan is in the running, Basho Japanese Brasserie near Fenway Park will serve three themed cocktails — Tokyo Cosmo, Dragonberry Martini, and Asian Pear Martini — with a complimentary California maki roll. The Local, a gastro-pub in West Newton, is technically “unaffiliated,’’ so its focus, at least for the first two weeks, is on the host country. Owner Frank Santo is offering South Africa’s Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc and Castle lager. “As the bracket unfolds, we’ll bring in some of the qualifying countries’ beers and wines,’’ he says.

In America, sport is dominated by baseball, football, and basketball. Having the spotlight shine on the sport the rest of the world favors is an opportunity to learn something new — on the field and on the plate.

Lisa Zwirn can be reached at lisa@lisazwirn.com