Review: Pasta Mia

If you live in DC you are most likely familiar with the perpetual long line that forms outside of Pasta Mia, a not so special looking establishment at the corner of 18th and Columbia. For over a year now, the line outside Pasta Mia has baffled me, and also made me insanely curious about the restaurant. Is it that good? I mean people wait in the rain to get into this place!

So I FINALLY went, only because it was gorgeous outside so I wouldn’t mind waiting in line outside. By some chance miracle, my sweetheart Matt(y) (who will blog one of these days) and I were seated immediately.

First impression: Our table was squeezed a little too close for comfort in between two others (like to the point that we were just sharing olive oil with the table to the left of us).

Second impression: Call it an authority issue, but I hate going to places with rules. Like, I am paying you for a service, I should not have to be following rules here! The first annoying rule was that they only accept cash, so I had to leave to go to the ATM. And it’s not like this place is cheap- I mean we each had one glass of house wine and a pasta dish and it was 40 bucks without tip. The second rule I discovered was through an elderly couple sitting to the right of us (so basically at our table). They were so cute, and all they wanted was to split a salad and a pasta dish, because they knew the portions were HUGE. The waitress said she’d have to charge them for two entrees if they did that! WHAAAA! So they ended up just getting their own.

After the jump, the stunning third, fourth and final conclusions of Pasta Mia

Third impression: THANK GOD they provide you with bread because you would go insane waiting for your food (especially if you have an unreasonable fear of hunger like myself). Plan on waiting at least an hour after you order, and longer if you order an appetizer or salad.

Forth impression: When your food FINALLY comes out, it’s divine. We both ordered Pesto Gnocchi, and it was very tasty. However, I find it hard to screw up pesto, and Gnocchi is just good in general. The portion side is obnoxiously HUGE (and I eat a lot)! I ate my leftovers for lunch the next day and I still couldn’t finish it!

In conclusion: I sound like I’m seriously bashing this place, and I shouldn’t – we had a good time, the food was good, it’s just the rules kind of rubbed me the wrong way. And I have to say, some of the other dishes that came out, it really looked like something you would make at home (if you were to make the entire package of pasta for yourself!). The other thing I wish they offered is whole wheat pasta, but that’s just me!

The line is still a mystery however. I mean the place is tiny, so that could be part of it. But I still don’t understand waiting in the rain to go there. I think it was 80 Proof that made the point that people come before it opens, which isn’t until 6:30, so it gives the illusion that there is a line to get in, which in turn attracts others to come… humans have such a herd instinct!

1790 Columbia Rd NW / Washington, DC / (202) 328-9114

(photo: Disney)

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  • Caroline May 9, 2008  

    I pass that restaurant a lot and was wondering what the deal was with it. Italian food is DC is generally bad, so I guess if there’s a semi-decent place people will descend upon it in droves.

  • Liza May 9, 2008  

    Yeah, come to think of it, I can’t think of an amazing Italian place I’ve gone to in DC – There is a place called Luigi’s at 19th and L, which is pretty decent.

  • JoeHoya May 9, 2008  

    “Cash Only” is less a rule than a statement. Maybe it’s their protest against the credit card companies’ transaction charges that eat into already thin profit margins. Or maybe it’s a way to facilitate turnover (no need to wait for the charges to process and then come back for your signature).

    Of course there’s always the chance that a cash-only policy is indicative of a less-than-dilligent approach to reporting sales for tax purposes…

  • jane May 9, 2008  

    I’m sorry, i think you need to stay home from pasta mia. you clearly are overthinking it and your list of complaints is really frustrating. It’s simple, it’s good, and if you think of it like the small family business it is you might feel more understanding about their rules.

  • gansie May 9, 2008  

    thanks for the detailed report, liza. i’ve also been terribly curious about this line-obsessed place. i usually get my pasta indulgences taken care of at Dupont Italian Grill. but pasta mia’s been on my list for YEARS.

  • belmontmedina May 9, 2008  

    I ADORE pasta mia. The line sucks, they’re kind of pasta nazis, but it’s totally worth it. I feel like I’m eating my Italian grandma’s food.

    If I had an Italian grandma.

    That being said, Al Tiramisu on U street is my new go-to for Italian food.

  • Stefan May 9, 2008  

    I have to disagree that there is no such thing as bad pesto…there is plenty out there. Totally agree on the lack of good Italian though. Otello’s, just south of DuPont on Conn isn’t bad for the price. I have a mental block against high priced Italian places. I don’t care if you make the pasta by hand it’s still just pasta and there is no reason to be charging $30 for it

  • Terry May 9, 2008  

    The staff here reminds me of a chain of Pappas restaurants. They serve hugh portions. My last visit was very enjoyable because the waiter did not give the the “is this all your are ordering?’ after a hugh appitizer and $9.00 glass of wine.

  • Terry May 9, 2008  

    some family member will be upset that I spelled appetizer incorrectly!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • BS May 10, 2008  

    the line issue has always bugged me. It’s totally a herd instinct. There’s no good reason why they can’t take reservations or take your name at the door and tell you how long it’s going to be. Well, there is a good reason, so that people form a line at the door, and more people get on the line after that.

  • amy lynn July 16, 2008  

    i was not impressed by the service, the food, or the staff at pasta mia. i got there early but hungry with my friend and his family. we were the first group ushered into the restaurant. we waited thirty minutes for water, thirty more for bread and an hour for salad. two of us are vegan and so we politely asked the waitress which vegetarian items had cheese. she gladly asked the chef and came back explaining that the items we had ordered could be made without cheese. even better, she came back and explained that her son was vegan for a year before going back to her home country (assuming argentina because of her description) and she knew all about it. sure enough, after our outrageous wait of two and a half hours, the food comes out and it’s chock-full of cheese. i explained that i could not eat it to the gentleman who served it to me. so then i see the waitress again. she brings the chef out to yell at me and keeps saying that she told us it had cheese. i could not believe the attitude. i asked for the same dish as my friend and it came out in 10 minutes. the pasta and the sauce are mediocre at best. i’ve had better italian food at macaroni grill. i’m all for supporting family owned businesses, but not this one.

  • jlynn December 2, 2008  

    Well, our pasta dishes, once they arrived, were good to very good, but it was quite a long and annoying wait: Policies like no reservations, cash-only, and a $14 minimum per person whether you share a dish or order your own (even for our 3 year old daughter!), servers randomly removing items from our table to give to other customers without even a “do you mind?” Ridiculously sized entrees–they could serve 2 or 3 people, which would make it a reasonably priced place–if only you were allowed to share without paying $14/person. We won’t be returning.

  • Alex February 3, 2009  

    I’ve always wondered about the line but not enough to do anything about it. People will stand in line for no other reason than herd instinct. In a place like Adams Morgan where there are so many choices, lining up for anything is kind of ridiculous.

  • Stephanie September 17, 2009  

    If you have ever been to Italy and stopped at a whole in the wall, then you would have a better appreciation and understanding of Pasta Mia. My husband and I uses to live in Adams Morgan and frequented this establishment. Each time we went it reminded us of being in Italy and felt as is we were an ocean away on vacation. The first time we went, we happened to stand next to a couple who had moved to San Fran and had to stop in for a meal while visiting. They kindly told us the rules and we decided to return the favor to all other firsttimers on our subsequent visits. The portions are quite large, but I just made multiple meals. I am sorry if you didn’t like this resturant, but of you like good Italian food and have a while to spare, you will love this place and want to go back for more!! I hope you go again without ant expectations and truly enjoy yourself.

  • Davida February 23, 2011  

    I think the rule about every person having to order an entree must be fairly new. I haven’t been to Pasta Mia in a while, but it used to be that you could satisfy the minimum by ordering two appetizers and an entree to share. I even remember having to be careful about who I went with, to make sure we would be able to agree on what to share!

    Being able to share the family sized entree was what made Pasta Mia such a good deal. I think that era was when the mystique began, and it has been perpetuated ever since.

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