This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

You want fresh when it comes to Italian food—pastas recently bent or rolled into shape, sauces served steaming and spilled onto meatballs that mooed just a couple of days ago. You don't want buffet—unless dining at Main Street Pizza Pasta, that is. Here lie the stars of this tiny strip-mall sit-down: luscious cannelloni, creamy penne, tortellini bloated with ricotta cheese and beef, and many other pastas not on the menu. You can order these meals only when they're available, and there's no set schedule for their appearance. I asked the young manager why these items aren't in regular rotation, but he shut me up with a slab of garlic toast.

There are more than enough excellent pastas listed daily on Main Street's menu to make you forgive the oversight. This restaurant presents the best of the modern-day Italian-American experience—you can enjoy a bucolic mural showcasing Mama and her daughters preparing dinner on one wall, or catch ESPN on the flat-screen TV on the other. The cooks and owners aren't grizzled immigrants but their Americanized grandchildren, whose only ties to the motherland are olive skin and East Coast accents. And, of course, the food is the kind Americans expect from paisanos. Main Street bakes quite a pizza: big slices heavy on the sauce and cheese, light on the grease and doughiness. They have cutesy names—Godfather, Italiano, Butcher—but one bite, and all is forgiven. Order one fresh, or select your special slice from a hot plate that twirls within a glass case—for some reason, the option's usually just ham and pineapple.

Most of the regulars—a good number of them scrubs-bedecked nurses from St. Joseph's Hospital and the Children's Hospital of Orange County across the street—order pastas or subs, and it's easy to see why. The sandwiches are feats of excess—even the six-inch choice yields leftovers. All pasta selections come with a simple salad (mostly lettuce and your choice of dressing) and buttery garlic bread. More important, the pasta helpings are huge, if just a bit too subdued in flavor. Angel hair looks like an exploded ball of twine, but I wish it included a bit more basil. The penne arrabiata has some kick, but not enough for my Mexican-bred palate. The creamy, cheesy fettucine alfredo, though, is just how Mom makes it—and if you think that last comment is a misprint, then welcome to post-amnesty America, cabrones.



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