Few things in life make me happier than a robust plate of handmade pasta. Rigatoni, fusilli, tortellini—you name it, I’ll eat it. And I’ll eat a lot of it. So when a friend informed me that the best Italian grub she’d ever consumed—ever—was in a tiny eatery tucked into a nondescript strip mall in Boulder, I was planning a dinner date before she’d finished talking.
Il Pastaio (which means “pasta maker” in Italian) is the kind of place you don’t know about…unless you know about it. Owned by Giuseppe and Marta Oreamuno, the space is so small that if you blink, you’ll miss it. But the authenticity of the cuisine and service is unsurpassed. We settled in at one of the 10 or so high-top tables and ordered the soup of the day: cups of fresh gazpacho so cool and perfectly seasoned (our server hand-spooned us a trio of chopped green pepper, cucumber, and white onion to top off the already-divine purée) that we requested more house-made bread to soak up the last tangy vestiges. For $6, a bowl of the stuff could have sufficed as a deliciously light meal all by itself.
We worked our way through a refreshing Caprese salad, but the best was still to come. The back of the restaurant houses an actual pasta factory where the Oreamunos themselves whip up dozens of pastas and as many sauces from scratch. The idea: Mix and match. Or, choose from the separate ravioli menu: everything from traditional favorites like Italian sausage and spinach ricotta to creative recipes such as asparagus, zucca (squash), and salmon. The beet ravioli was a table favorite: Filled with a creamy puréed beet mixture, the al dente pasta pockets, purple in color, burst with earthiness in each bite.
I was delighted to see I could order a traditional entrée and still get my pasta fix; each entrée comes with a side of pasta and sauce. The tilapia Marechiaro, a white fish simmered in a broth flavored by mussels and clams, was cooked to tender perfection—bested only, perhaps, by the heaping side of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi drenched in arrabbiata sauce. Heaven on a plate for just $16.
As we tipped back the last of our Chianti and savored a decadent yet airy slice of house-made tiramisu, I had second thoughts about letting Denver in on Boulder’s best-kept secret. As it is, there’s frequently a line of regulars out the door. But alas, it’s just too good to keep to myself; I’ll take my chances waiting for a table any time. Il Pastaio, 3075 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-447-9572, www.ilpastaioboulder.com