If you’ve spent any time in Costa Mesa during the past three decades, you know Pasta Connection—the hilarious logo of a young boy screaming, head covered by a bowl raining spaghetti; the encyclopedic menu listing seemingly every possible pasta created by Italians; the knowledge that a second location existed in Orange with even more pastas; the realization after years of dining there that Argentines ran the place and that they snuck in a couple of dishes you always promised yourself to try but never got around to because the Italian items were hefty, cheap and delicious. It was a Costa Mesa dining institution, as long-standing as the Omelette Parlor or Dick Church’s, and served as an unofficial city greeting due to its location near the southern end of the 55 freeway—and then it closed down last summer, the A-frame building that housed it unceremoniously knocked down to make way for a new development, and that was seemingly that.
But a little more than two months ago, the Rodriguez family quietly reopened Pasta Connection just a block away, up Harbor Boulevard in a location that has served as a graveyard for many restaurants over the years. Pasta Connection is already bucking this trend, and lunch and dinner see people of all ethnicities stop in, just like the old days, for a sandwich, some pasta, pizzas on the go—still hefty, yummy and cheap. But the main reason to visit this new incarnation is the same as at the old version: the Argentine specialties. Costa Mesa’s stretch of Harbor is turning into a Little Buenos Aires of sorts, with Pasta Connection, the wonderful Il Dolce Pizzeria, the vastly overrated Empanada’s Place and the Piaggio Gourmet on Wheels lonchera filling expats’ need for their cuisine. The other three focus on specific items, but at Pasta Connection, you can choose among porteño classics, from a proper parrillada (disguised under the name “grilled barbecue,” probably because there’s no other way the owners can make their wonderful blood sausage and sweetbreads palatable to Americans) to sandwiches bulging with juicy chorizo, buttery milanesa or matambre, that uniquely Argentine cut involving sliced flank steak containing pimentos, carrots and hard-boiled eggs. Throw in an alfajor for dessert and a fried empanada as an appetizer, wash it all down with Quilmes, and it’s like dining near the Plaza de Mayo.
Most interesting at Pasta Connection, though, is the fugazza, pizzas derived from Argentina’s Neapolitan immigrants who brought along with them a love of crispy focaccia topped with veggies. A pizza composed of onions and mozzarella is the epitome of earthiness, but that’s downright tart compared to the pascualina—a thin crust topped by spinach, white sauce and no cheese. It’s a Lenten classic, as hearty as meat, a dish best prepared by experts, as that yellowing Elmer Dills review in the lobby will remind you—as it did for ages, just a few doors down.
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Pasta Connection, 1969 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-3484; www.pastaconnection.net.
This column appeared in print as "The Return of the Native Pasta."