The pasta next door
Homestyle Italian cooking in Cambridge
319 Western Ave., Cambridge
Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. , and
Sunday 3 p.m. – 10 p.m.
After checking out one of the most famous Asian restaurants in Boston, I decided to try something totally different — a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in the heart of Cambridge.
Unless you spend your free time walking around the streets of Cambridge, you have probably never heard of Basta Pasta. Hidden in a residential area, the restaurant is about a ten-minute walk from the Central Square T station. After navigating through streets with nothing but houses, I finally spotted the restaurant and noticed the construction work around it. The street was being torn up, and traffic cones and fire trucks were everywhere. My first impressions were neutral at best.
My initial opinion changed very quickly. Walking into Basta Pasta, I immediately felt like I was in one of the many family-owned eat-in/take-out places back in my hometown in the suburbs of Boston. There are a few tables to the side, but the centerpiece of the restaurant is the counter and the menu board above it. It is the type of place where you choose your own table and serve yourself water.
At the recommendation of the guy at the counter, I ordered three pasta dishes. As I waited for my food, I noticed the constant stream of people coming in. For a small restaurant with an unimpressive exterior, Basta Pasta draws quite the crowd. It seems as if all the locals have known about this hidden gem for years, but have kept their secret from the hungry college students next door.
The first dish I had was the meatball pomodoro linguini. Normally not a huge fan of meatballs, I found these to be firm, flavorful, and very well balanced. Still, I was more impressed by the linguini, which was thin and cooked for the right amount of time. By this point, the restaurant was full and lively with conversations. The line to order was almost out the door, and I felt lucky to have come just before the crowd.
I then moved on to the chicken piccata linguini, which turned out to be my favorite. Just like the meatball pomodoro linguini, the pasta was perfect. What made this dish even better was the blend of different flavors. While the linguini itself was relatively bland, it was complemented by the strong, distinct flavors from the mushrooms and capers. Furthermore, slices of lemon gave the chicken and pasta an extra zesty dimension. In essence, each bite featured an unexpected combination of the various tastes, and it made me eager to finish the whole dish in order to try out all the different flavors.
Not many dishes could have topped the chicken piccata linguini, but the last dish — Bolognese fusilli — was no disappointment. Although I usually only get Bolognese when I feel particularly unadventurous, this dish proved to be quite special in that the fusilli was homemade, very chewy, and varied in length and shape. Altogether, it was a very different experience from eating pre-made fusilli out of a box.
By the time I finished my dinner, all of my first impressions had completely vanished. All I had in mind were the unpredictable flavors of the chicken piccata linguini. As someone who does not eat out at Italian places often, I am glad that I found Basta Pasta. Places like Basta Pasta show that you do not always need a big name or fancy decorations to be a great restaurant. If you ever have some time to venture out to the streets of Cambridge, I highly recommend stopping by Basta Pasta for some great Italian pasta.