Franco’s Pasta Cucina shines like a pearl in the sea of heat-lamp and chafing-dish food court mediocrity that is Irvine, says elmomonster. Although photos of Franco with the likes of Stallone and NYPD Blue’s Dennis Franz plaster the walls, the man himself is unassuming, dressed in crisp chef’s whites and presiding over a kitchen no larger than a prison cell.

But he works magic with what he’s got. Up his sleeves are such unexpected delights as salmon, feta, and yellowtail, which he juggles with rigatoni, fettucine, linguine, and gnocchi. Tossed in a sauté pan, and coaxed by his deft hand, these disparate ingredients coalesce into masterpieces worthy of a thousand Mario Batalis. But at $8 for a pasta dish, salad, garlic bread, and soda, his creations are offered for a price that won’t even cover valet parking at Mozza.

One favorite is linguine, perfectly cooked, in a light spicy clam sauce—generous fistfuls of chopped clam in a buttery, sweetly garlicky sauce and dotted with fresh parsley. Spicy yellowtail linguine is the best pasta I got nothin has had since coming back from Italy.

But watch out, there’s a little bit of Pasta Nazi in Franco. Want extra cheese/sauce/salad dressing? You’re wrong, it doesn’t need any. Franco knows best.

Sadly, it’s all over by 2 p.m., when he closes up shop.

Franco’s Pasta Cucina [Orange County]
2222 Michelson Drive, Suite 206, Irvine

Board Links: Great pasta in an Irvine food court–whodathunk?!

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