Best Italian in Boulder: Il Pastaios homemade pastas are a treat

We’re sending people to space, perfecting self-driving vehicles and buying refrigerators with cameras inside them. Meanwhile, the invention of the future that I’ve most longed for is, as far as I know, stalled somewhere in the planning stage.

It’s a customized taste-bud analyzer that would read your tongue to determine your ideal flavor combinations. This is revolutionary, right? Life changing! People would be so happy that wars would cease, we’d all become good samaritans, and peace would reign over the land.

But alas, we just keep sending billionaires into space and get alerts when we’re low on milk.

If this device did exist, I’m pretty certain that the little palate analyzer would tell me that Il Pastaio’s aurora sauce is my taste buds’ perfect food. Il Pastaio is a tiny restaurant in a large, King Soopers-anchored strip mall in Boulder, and I’ve been visiting it for about 20 years, since I lived there for college. Its aurora has all the tang of a tomato sauce but is cut with cream, and I like it best hugging wide, trailing noodles, like pappardelle or fettuccine.

For me, that’s the perfect dish, and I imagine the little taste-bud analyzer lighting up like a Christmas tree when I take a bite.

Il Pastaio opened in July 2000, the same month I got my first boyfriend, the one who would take me to the restaurant for the first time. It was started by owners Giuseppe and Marta Oreamuno, who have an interesting pedigree. Giuseppe is the Italian, whose family comes from Pisa, and Marta is Costa Rican. Their son, Mariano, works the tiny dining room most nights, while Marta runs the business side of things and Giuseppe and daughter Ahagata stay busy in the kitchen.

If you go

Il Pastaio: 3075 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-447-9572; ilpastaioboulder.com. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; closed Saturday and Sunday.

Stay busy they do; all the pastas and sauces are made in-house at Il Pastaio, and there are a lot of pastas. Each day they roll and cut at least 50 pounds of rigatoni, capellini, linguini, fettuccine, fusilli and more. They stuff ravioli with lamb, mushroom, shrimp, beets, sausage and, well, more fillings than you can shake a stick at, if shaking sticks at ravioli is something you’re into.

I don’t see why you’d order anything besides the pasta with aurora sauce, but if you do, their entrees are pretty great, too. There’s pollo parmigiana, tilapia alla vongole and lasagna. The pollo alla Francese is a beautifully thin, pounded breast in a pool of lemon, butter, white wine and parsley. Oh, and all the entrees come with a side of pasta and sauce (your choice), so you don’t have to choose between protein and carbs.

Il Pastaio’s hand-crafted dishes cost more than you typically pay at a strip mall restaurant (most are $20-$25), but they’re better than you typically get at a fancy downtown spot. Lunch costs less and is served buffet-style, with your pick of entrées, sides, salads and rolls for $15.

But be aware: Il Pastaio is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. So make that date night on a Friday, or skip cooking on a Tuesday and check it out.

At the end of your meal, you’ll be presented with a slip of paper and a pen and asked to enter the nightly wine drawing. This has been going on since day one, which means Il Pastaio has given away thousands of bottles of wine in its 22-year history. Somehow, I have never won, but no matter. I’ve already won by finding my perfect food, the one that the palate analyzer would create for me if only we’d better focus our technological advancement priorities. The one that lights up my taste buds and brings me peace, at least until I finish my plate of noodles.

Editor’s note: This is an installment in our new series, Hidden Gems, in which we take a look at those restaurants you should know about but may not. (They are either tucked away in strip malls or otherwise off the beaten path.) Try them out; if you like what you eat, spread the word. Read the latest in the series:  J’s Noodles and New Thai is a hidden gem tucked in a strip mall on Parker Road in Denver

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