Basta Pasta is a small, "hole in the wall" Italian place that I would have called a best kept secret a year ago, except now the word has really gotten out. The restaurant sits on Western Avenue close to the intersection with Putnam Avenue in Cambridgeport. An Italian flag with the word "OPEN" hangs right outside the door inviting customers inside. The restaurant is small, containing only 3 booths and 3 tables.
The restaurant is owned by Reno and Altin Hoxallari, brothers from Albania. Reno spent about 10 years working in some of Boston's well known high end restaurants before finally deciding to branch out on his own. His attention to detail and insistence on fresh ingredients is apparent in all the food at Basta Pasta. The Hoxallaris roast all their own peppers (nothing from cans or jars!), create their own soups from scratch, make their own dressing (the Caesar salad dressing is excellent), and cook all the pasta dishes one at a time to order. The proscuitto is imported from Italy, and the hamburgers are freshly made on the spot from ground beef. French fries are created from hand-cut potatoes.
If you're lucky, they will be featuring a special. Reno creates amazing specials, dishes reminiscent of the type he used to make in the fancy restaurants across the river. These dishes are usually priced well under $20 - truly a steal at that price. Examples of specials we've had include meat dishes, such as roasted leg of lamb with broccoli rabe and risotto and roasted duck with mashed potatoes and asparagus; pasta dishes, such as homemade lobster ravioli, pasta with shrimp and tomatoes and pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe; and seasonal dishes, such as butternut squash risotto.
If there is no special that day, ("everything's special!" according to Altin) you can still order off the regular menu. Most of the regular dishes range between $6-$11. The sandwiches are around $6 and the pizzas around $10. These dishes are excellent. Homemade fresh pasta is usually our favorite option. Our favorites include the squash olives (fresh pasta tossed with a lot of garlic, olive oil, arugula, tomatoes, and olives), the bolognese (meat sauce), and the baked stuffed eggplant (layers of thinkly sliced eggplant baked with spinach, breading, and cheese - excellent dish). The chicken with broccoli dish with olive oil is also delicious - we often ask them to add a little bit of hot pepper flakes to it to make it spicy. We also love the arancini (deep fried risotto balls filled with cheese) and the calamari (not fried - squid stewed in a flavorful tomato sauce). Many of our friends rave about the garlic bread. The pizzas are also very good. They have several creative flavors, including a proscuitto and gouda pizza and also a pesto chicken pizza.
We love this place and go at least once a week. We will often order food for dinner gatherings as well. They cater and are actually able to make food for several hundred people. They are very willing to tailor any dish according to your preferences. As an example, we went with a Singaporean friend who really liked spicy food. Reno and Altin whipped out their hottest pepper that they had imported from Japan. The dish was super spicy but very flavorful - our Singaporean friend was happy, although sweating quite a bit during the meal!
You might ask if there are any negatives to this place. Well, they don't serve alcohol (so no wine with dinner), and they don't have ice. Drinks come from a refrigerator that contains a variety of bottled drinks (Coke, San Pellegrino, Nantucket Nectars, Aquafina). If the drinks happen not to be very cold, there's no ice to solve the problem. The general everyday menu does not include a lot of the seafood dishes you would typically expect at a North End restaurant, such as mussels, clams, shrimp, and fish.
Over all, however, the restaurant is excellent and the prices are very reasonable. The atmosphere is casual. You go up to the counter, order your food, and then pick it up from the counter when they call your name. You essentially bus your own table and get your own drinks. We continue to return because we think it's totally worth it for the food. Did I mention that we didn't visit the North End for over a year after we discovered this place?
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