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Good pasta @ reasonable prices in Cambridge?

  • m

I was craving pasta the other night but could not think of a single decent Italian restaurant in Cambridge.
Recommendations please!

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    1. Basta Pasta is certainly reasonable prices and has a lot of fans here (I haven't been in ages but at that time it was an improvement over a lot of the other options). The Il Panino Express in Harvard Square is not fresh pasta, but for pretty simple quick cooked marinara based dishes is decent (calamari fra diavalo, mussels, etc). Carlos Cucina in Allston isn't far, nor is Somerville or Medford for other options. Pulcinella has redone their menu recently (and a pretty big redo), is Italian, but priced on the higher end.

      6 Replies
      1. re: itaunas

        Regarding the Pulcilella menu could you expand on the big re do. Have been a fan for sometime.

        1. re: psirah

          The actual differences and how recently it changed was something I was going to ping the board as I haven't eaten there since. However, while I was used to them changing a few things seasonally, part of their menu has been the same for ages with them usually offering about 2-3 each of appetizer/main specials. When I looked at the current menu in the window a few weeks ago, it looked like they changed the assortment of dishes and perhaps modernized it a bit more. I walked past with a family member a bit later the same day and they had exactly the same impression. I haven't eaten there since so don't know if they had a kitchen change, but the same FOH staff was there preparing the restaurant. I was thinking that Gran Gusto has given them a bit of a run in the neighborhood and maybe the felt the need to change things up. Next time I am by, I will crib some notes or will just eat there soon :-)

          The Village Kitchen nearby also has some pasta offerings and is in Cambridge, and is more reasonably priced....

          1. re: itaunas

            They did have an owner-somewhat-change a year-plus ago, as some of the previous owners disbanded their co-own to start Pescatore in Ball Square. I don't actually know, but my strong impression is that it was a friendly split.
            If I were in charge, it'd take me more than a year to get around to renovating, but that's just me :D

            1. re: itaunas

              If my experience in June was typical of issues they were having at Pulcinella, this could explain something behind the re-do.

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/525959

              1. re: itaunas

                This is probably deserving of a longer reply, but in the interest of typing a quick report...

                Walked in last night to re-try. Menu seems much more interesting (disclaimer: only went once before and a long time ago at that). Started with 2 salads - a warms shrimp with lemon, EVOO, on arugula and a warm beet, fennel and spinach salad. Both very good. Good size portions. Bread was blah. Light tomato dipping sauce a nice touch. Mains - got a risotto with butternut, pancetta and sage; DP got a pasta with squid and some spicy red sauce. Both tasty. Risotto was quite buttery/rich, so I brought half home for lunch. Service was quite slow (e.g., table next to us sat down after we did and finished their mains before we got ours, though they also had apps like we did), inattentive (not asking how things were and losing opps to sell us more wine) and we waited interminably for the check. For reference, other menu items included a special of whole grilled branzini with citrus, about a half dozen pastas, a number of interesting meats, cioppino, grilled sardines, contorni. Apps were pretty obvious (e.g., carpaccio, mozz salad, butternut squash soup- the daily soup) but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be good. Overall, I did enjoy the food and despite the very slow service would give them another try soon as the menu seems to have several appealing options.

                1. re: chilibaby

                  Thanks for the quick report, although at some point we should pull this into another thread (I am hoping to get there toward the end of the month). The Bronzini and sardines were a couple of the things that caught my eye as different. It reminded me a bit of how the menu at la campania evolved, but really glad they are trying something new. Was the carpaccio before wild boar (I think it might of been, they also once had venison carpaccio but I think as a special)

          2. Basta Pasta - on Prospect or River (whichever one heads away from Central Sq.)

            In Davis, Alfresco just a bit up Highland -

            Also in Somerville, L'il Vinny's

            5 Replies
              1. re: Prav

                I think you're right - it's Western 'cause you know...it's heading west...Aha!

                1. re: Prav

                  cosign on basta pasta. awesome cheap place.

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    I love Basta pasta's homemade pasta. But obviously it's not quite as good when it's not available. I would call and check before going or picking up.

                  2. Cambridge has very few Italian restaurants, and almost none that are reasonably priced. I'd try Gran Gusto or Il Panino if you have to be in Cambridge; otherwise, look into Somerville or Medford...

                    1. It's not fancy, but it's very reasonably priced--I love the linguine and meatballs at Guido's on Belmont St. in West Cambridge. Really nice people there.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: butterfat

                        Guido's used to be a hangout of mine a few years back (I used to work around the corner). Decent Italian-American food, cold beer, interesting people-watching. That's where I watched the first Super Bowl parade of the Tom Brady era....ahhh, good memories...

                        1. re: butterfat

                          Wow...that place serves food for real? I'll have to check it out! I wonder how they feel about their new neighbor, Sofra?

                          1. re: Bob Dobalina

                            I'm thinking the Venn diagram doesn't overlap too far with the aforementioned eateries.

                            1. re: finlero

                              Heh, you're probably right. For some reason, I picture the movie "Caddyshack" when I think of these two places. A good analogy might be: Sofra is to Guido's as Judge Smells is to Al Czervik. :-D

                              1. re: finlero

                                You're so right - besides which the Venn diagram at Sofra costs $6.50 / lb.

                              2. re: Bob Dobalina

                                Guido's seems to be playing along with the inevitable gentrification of the neighborhood--witness the new awning, and the cheery sign out front with their menu posted. (They also cleaned up the back of their building significantly when new condos were built behind them.)

                                When we first moved in around the corner--3 years ago--it was a sketchy looking dive with just a handwritten sign in the window saying "Tripe on Saturdays." It took some nerve for us out of towners to go in there for the first time. But the people are super-nice, especially the bartender Moose who makes the Eggplant Parm.

                                Some of the food on the menu is less than appetizing, but they make their own meatballs and sausages and both are worth trying in my opinion.

                                And if you sit at the bar you're guaranteed some interesting conversation with old-school local Cambridge types.

                                1. re: butterfat

                                  I find that most rough-looking pubs in the Boston area are more or less safe, friendly places. There are exceptions, of course (Dennis Lehane's fictional bucket-of-blood bars DO still exist in some parts of Boston), but overall, they aren't the scary, dangerous places that people might think. Some examples: Guido's, La Hacienda and The Paddock (Somerville), Newtowne Grille (Cambridge), Monte's (Lynn), Alumni Cafe and Cronin's (Quincy), Costello's (JP), Waterfront Cafe (North End), New Brown Jug (Chelsea), Conley's (Watertown), Martini's (Weymouth), Corrib Pub (West Roxbury), Kelley Square Pub (East Boston), the Corrib Pub (Brighton and West Roxbury), New Bridge Cafe (Chelsea), Salem Wood and Highland Cafe (Malden), Sadie's (Waltham), The Paddock (Walpole), etc.

                                  God, I guess I really do spend way too much time in bars...

                                  Back to the main topic, it might be worth jumping over the border to Somerville, as there are two good spots that are owned by the same family (Vinny's at Night and L'il Vinny's, as Bob D mentioned earlier). I find both to be consistently good, and Vinny's at Night also has great takeout subs and sammys if you want to bring food home.

                            2. The best pasta I've had in Boston came from Gran Gusto. They're known more for their pizza but the pasta dish that I tried (I believe it was tagliatelle with a red meat sauce) blew me away. I've only had it once but it's worth checking out again.

                              1. Thanks everyone!
                                I have got some good walking distance and also T-worthy pasta places to visit! I will just add that I wish there was a Daily Catch here. I LOVE their squid ink pasta.........but confess that love has languished. been years- are they still up to snuff? My Italian students said yes.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: miiki

                                  For seafood and pasta in the approximate area, you might look into Pescatore in Ball Sq Somerville (same general area as Lil Vinny's). I have always done fine with the Hanover Daily Catch for an at least bi-annual bath of olive oil and leave pleased, I did even do fairly well with the old Northern Ave location but haven't been to Fan Pier which gets panned. They did briefly have a Cambridge restaurant in the Kendall Sq area, but that has been long gone and the Brookline branch (a bit hit or miss, especially service) closed a while back.

                                  1. re: itaunas

                                    Does anyone know if you can bring your own wine to Basta Pasta?

                                      1. re: shopgirl

                                        I'd call or stop in and ask. I'm pretty sure I've seem people byob while the local Cambridge blues were dining in, with no problem, but that may have changed. Make sure you let Basta know you are of age when you ask.

                                        1. re: shopgirl

                                          Yes, you definitely CAN bring your own wine to Basta Pasta. I am not sure if it is an official policy, and too many calls regarding it could get it curtailed. We have brought wine there on several occasions as recently as this summer. Be low key, and no problem.

                                        2. re: itaunas

                                          Yes to Pescatore! I had a simple and excellent spaghetti fra diavilo with shrimp there that really impressed me. $15. Very basic decor.

                                          1. re: jajjguy

                                            My DC's fettucine Alfredo was really good recently, simultaneously light and rich, with fresh-grated nutmeg. (My tuna puttanesca special was excellent, rare tuna with a light but pungent topping.) For the database, the $6 mesclun salad feeds 2-4. My idea of "basic decor" is closer to sub shop; their is simple but quite nice. A great neighborhood place where you can have a quiet conversation even when it's full.

                                          2. re: itaunas

                                            intaunas re Daily Catch

                                            Thanks for the update
                                            Sorry I missed the Kendall Sq location
                                            Seems like a trek to the North End is due

                                        3. You should check out the East Side Bar & Grill on Cambridge Street. It's North End quality in a relaxed atmosphere (Sinatra always on)...try the chicken marsala or country pasta.

                                          http://www.yelp.com/biz/eastside-bar-...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: emac11

                                            Emac11 if you have some recommendations and reviews of East Side Bar and Grill (higher-end red-sauce and (flavored) martini bar), I would be curious to hear more details than what is on Yelp. FWIW, I have been there 3-4 times and wanted to like it, but had really inconsistent execution on the food. I thought it should be a lot better than la Hacienda (which is better for bar pizzas than pasta), but LH was more consistent... and Pugs has a similar marinade and better grilling on the steak tips. I have wanted to try their pizza, but with only 18-19" size its never been feasible.

                                            For Red Sauce Italian there are a lot of options around Cambridge (Lil Vinnys/Vinnys Somerville, Gregs/Grappa Watertown, Pastalinas Medford, Chelsea/Everett/Malden/North End for others).... Since you mention chicken marsala and there has been some discussion about take out, I have been pretty impressed with Bob's in Medford's for takeout. About $8, 2 cutlets and a decent serving of their fresh pasta (doesn't compare to La Bella nearby, but decent).... And the best local marsala dish is possibly the monkfish at the Daily Catch... But with the original poster's request I still think Pescatore might be the best bet, although Il Panino Express also does a lot of seafood decently but not exactly in the Daily catch style.