Craving Italian Comfort Food

Jo McGarry
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Friday - October 27, 2006
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Auntie Pasto’s owner Ed Wary
Auntie Pasto’s owner Ed Wary

Sometimes there’s just nothing as comforting as an old familiar face - or a restaurant that’s been around a while. Some weeks I feel as if I’m just running from fancy new restaurant to even fancier, without taking a break to stop and smell the beef stew, and it’s no secret to anyone who reads these columns regularly that I’m at my happiest in restaurants that offer great food and good value. And while some of the new restaurants opening in Honolulu are exciting and different, there’s no truer testament to success than a place that’s been around a while.

Auntie Pasto’s owner, Ed Wary, isn’t trying to run the fanciest restaurant in town; what he does is offer Italian American food in an extremely welcoming environment, with a young, friendly and, for the most part, fast and efficient staff.

Auntie Pasto’s is one of my husband Bobby’s favorite restaurants - and he loves to go there on rainy nights. We stopped by, mid-downpour, the other night en route to the airport. Marinated mushrooms, water and bread appeared a minute after we were seated, and we settled in to people-watch. At Auntie Pasto’s, life is decidedly on the casual side. Look around as you sip a glass of wine and you’ll see an eclectic group of all ages. During our wait for appetizers I noted an older lady dining with a young male companion, a pregnant woman with her partner and two friends, two gray-haired, pony-tailed men, a family of five with three young children, a single guy sitting at the bar, a mother and her young daughter waiting for takeout, a group of six with two babies and a toddler between them, a 30-something woman alone and reading a book while she ate, and a middle-aged European man with a limited working knowledge of English having the menu explained to him patiently and pleasantly by the girl behind the bar. And that was all without turning to look behind me.

Tables turn fast at Auntie Pasto’s, and it struck me that people enjoy coming here because their expectations are met. They leave feeling that they’ve had the experience they came for - and that’s what dining out should be about, no matter how much or how little you choose to pay for your meal and service. I’ve often said that Auntie Pasto’s is one of the great first date spots in town, because of its reliability, food and easy ambiance.

In case you’ve been living with your head in the sand for the past 20 years, Auntie Pasto’s serves American Italian comfort food. There’s no pretension that this is authentic regional Italian food, it’s the kind of food that Wary - and millions of second and third generation Italian Americans - grew up with: spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and eggplant Parmesan. The menu is comforting in both its wide range of simple choices and its price point. Entrees start at about $9, and for $10.95 you can have a plate of spaghetti piled high with a selection of seafood.

I had the sausage and peppers with spaghetti for $8.95, we split a large Caesar salad, had a nice bottle of Chianti (the wine list has really improved in the past couple of years), Bobby had the seafood pasta, and I took the leftovers home for lunch.

With its red-checkered tablecloths, distinctive black-and-white menu board and noisy, open kitchen, Auntie Pasto’s on Beretania is a refuge for those who enjoy simple fare in a busy, vibrant atmosphere, rainy night or not.

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