Travel bites: Is this the best pasta named after a sad popstar ever made?

Travel News from Stuff - 04-12-2023

Before I even get to Il Pastaio I’ve heard the stories: it’s a Beverly Hills institution, a place to see and be seen. Stallone and Schwarzenegger love it. You can eat a there.

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You can do what to who there?

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No, Il Pastaio does not serve soft-boiled pop star. Paccheri alla Justin Bieber was named in honour of the Canadian singer, who – legend has it – when he was living at the (before it was remodelled into the ultra-luxe Maybourne).

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“It was in his sad phase,” a local tells me. “When he didn’t want to be at his own home. Before [his now wife] Hailey.”

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Naturally, it’s the first thing on the restaurant’s extensive menu we order.

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There are six of us dining at the restaurant on the corner of Nth Canon Drive and Brighton Way tonight. We’re seated at a big round table outside on the footpath, under an awning strung with fairy lights. The restaurant is packed when we arrive and still packed when we leave – a testament to the fact Beverlinos consider it their local. The atmosphere is convivial, buzzy.

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“Is it the best pasta in the world,” another local and frequent Il Pastaio diner says to me, with a non-committal shrug. “Maybe not, but it’s always good. It’s consistent.”

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The menu is a little overwhelming – there are more than 70 dishes on offer – so the regulars with us step in and order a highlights package of pasta and risotto.

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We start with calamari fritti (US$22.75 (NZ$38.67)), which comes with a spicy tomato sauce, and arancini (US$17.95), which are delightful little balls of rice and peas.

Risotto funghi with carnaroli rice and porcini mushrooms (US$29.95) follows, along with spugnette Don Lillo, a sponge pasta with onion, peas, haricot vert, fava beans, spinach puree and pecorino (US$25.75), tagliolini al tartufo (more about that later), and paccheri alla Justin Bieber, an artisanal wide rigatoni pasta with “pink sauce” (US$25.95).

It’s the Biebs as a soft, pillowy rigatoni slathered in a rich tomato and vodka sauce. Like the pasta version of a pop song, it’s simple, and yet so, so catchy – or should I say moreish?

Turns out, simple and catchy is Il Pastaio’s wheelhouse.

The name means the pasta maker, and the pasta maker here is Giacomino Drago, who opened the restaurant about 30 years ago, offering authentic, Italian, hand-made pasta dressed with fresh seasonal ingredients.

Drago learnt his trade at his nonna’s knee in Galati Mamertino, Sicily, working at the family business, restaurante Portella Gazzana. In those days, the Dragos made everything from scratch, including the cheese.

Cheese is also the star of Il Pastaio’s signature dish: tagliolini al tartufo, fat strings of pasta served with truffle fondue sauce and shavings of fresh truffle (US$39.95)

The dish is prepared table-side; a little moment of dinner theatre where a waiter artfully tosses piping hot pasta in the bowl of a giant wheel of cheese, before dressing it with a mountain of truffle shavings. If that doesn’t get the juices going, nothing will.

The flavours are simple, salty, nutty, warm and umami. The ultimate comfort food. I’m going to feel a little pang of yearning for this dish for months to come, I can tell.

To finish we share a slice of tiramisu, and a wedge of cheesecake. The tiramisu is a little underwhelming, to be honest, perfectly edible, but nothing to sing about. The cheesecake, on the other hand, is delightful. Think dense and creamy with top notes of vanilla. Simple and honest. Il Pastaio to the core.

Despite sitting on one of Beverly Hills’ most high profile corners, Il Pastaio is affordable. Dishes on the antipasti and insalate menus start at US$14 up to about US$40. Truffle dishes are a little pricier, starting at US$55 for spaghetti with black truffle.

A chef’s tasting menu is available for $64 per person.


You can reach LA directly from Auckland several times a week on , Air New Zealand and Delta. Beverly Hills is about 45 minutes from LAX.

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