Finding good pasta in LA is no longer the chore it used to be. We’ve got big-deal Italian restaurants in the Arts District, red-checker table cloth spots in Hollywood, and a temperature-controlled glass room in Venice dedicated to the art of making the stuff. But finding a good neighborhood spot where you can saddle up to the bar, sip a glass of wine, and twirl excellent bucatini? That’s still a bit tricky. It’s also why the arrival—or re-arrival—of Cento is so exciting.
The West Adams wine and pasta bar is where such simple pleasures occur nightly, but it’s also home to more than just the usual neighborhood comforts. It’s where you’ll find some of the city’s greatest pasta.
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Now, we say re-arrival because, although Cento’s space on West Adams Blvd. is new, Cento itself is not. The pasta specialist first appeared in 2015 as a daytime-only pop-up inside a Downtown wine bar. It was a place where you could show up at 12pm, order $14 uni-topped spaghetti and a glass of Beaujolais at the bar, chat up the eccentric chef who was busy tossing pasta on portable burners, and be back at your desk by 1pm. It was one of the most unique dining settings we’d ever experienced in LA, and our original 9.0 review reflected our excitement. The new version of Cento is different, but every bit as special.
Cento no longer resides in a 10-seat wine bar, but the new—and much bigger—space is still warm and cohesive. There are two main areas to sit (outside and the bar), and you’ll get to pick your preference when making a reservation. For date night or something a bit more intimate, go for the lush, string-lit front patio. Otherwise, head inside where you’ll find a rowdy communal table and a wrap-around marble bar with prime seats to the pasta-making show. If making this decision dredges up every inherent anxiety within you, just remember that no matter where you sit, you’re going to be served the same memorable food.
Cento’s menu also got beefed up with the move from Downtown to West Adams. There’s now a full antipasti section with standout dishes like decadent chicken liver crostino and hamachi crudo in coconut milk. There’s a rotating list of big plates such as grilled orata and beef osso buco, and a dessert section home to a banana pudding tiramisu that puts a sizable dent in solving world peace. We recommend filling out your meal with these dishes, but under no circumstance should they ever replace room—both on your table and in your stomach— for the star of the show: pasta.
On any given night, you’ll find five to six bowls on Cento’s menu, and outside of rolling in solo, there’s an argument to be made that your party should order all of them. Indulgent? Sure, but hardly irresponsible. There’s a beautiful simplicity to Cento’s pasta, whether it be their famous beet spaghetti with whipped ricotta or spicy pomodoro with basil and chili, that allows you to pick, sample, and graze over several bowls at a time without ever feeling like it’s time to lie down. It’s also why meals at Cento tend to stretch on longer than anticipated. It’s simply what happens when you’re busy sipping wine, chatting with the servers like they’re already part of your friend group, and eating some of the most inventive pasta in town.
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This pasta is the best thing on the menu at Cento. In fact, it might be our favorite pasta we’ve ever eaten in LA. The bowl comes filled with thick, conch-like noodles tossed in creamy, bright-orange pomodoro that's topped with a giant dollop of ricotta and basil. It’s spicy, sweet, and herbaceous with just the tiniest kick of truffle at the end. If you get just one dish here, make sure it’s this one.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
The dish that put Cento on the map all those years ago has made its way to West Adams, and it’s still every bit as good. The sweetness of the whipped ricotta and brown butter elevate the earthy, dark purple noodles to create one of the most unique bowls of spaghetti you’ll ever eat.
Go to 10 restaurants in LA right now and nine of them will probably have hamachi crudo on the menu. Cento’s version is one to prioritize. The fish itself is soft and meaty and matches up perfectly with the sweet coconut milk and citrusy passionfruit on top.
Chicken Liver Crostino
Topped with a sizable helping of creamy chicken liver and sticky raisin agrodolce, this is easily the most substantial antipasti option. It’s also delicious, but if you’re alone or hoping to concentrate more on the pastas, our recommendation is to skip it until you can split it with a few other people.
Squid Ink Mafaldine
This is Cento’s most complex pasta and one that should absolutely make it onto your table. It’s briny with a little bit of sweetness from the shrimp and a whole bunch of heat from the ‘nduja and serrano. You’ll be taking plenty of swigs of wine with this one.
Sea Urchin Spaghetti
The sea urchin is another classic Cento dish, but if we had to leave out a pasta from our order, it’d probably be this one. To be clear, the pasta is cooked to al dente perfection. The issue is the main components (sea urchin, burrata, and the saffron noodles) are a bit separated from each other and snagging a bite with all the correct ratios is fairly difficult.
Banana Pudding Tiramisu
We would come to Cento just to eat this dessert. The tableside reveal is plenty stimulating on its own, but then you bite into this Kahlua and Nilla wafer-filled beauty, suddenly everything that’s been aggravating you lately mysteriously dissipates.
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