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I really love pasta. I know I am suppose to be conscious of the fact of the massive amounts of carbs that are in pasta noodles, but as a food addict, I often can not care so much for that.

Pasta has been a staple in Italian cuisine. It is usually made with wheat flour in to different shapes: spaghetti, maccheroni (tubes), lasagne (sheets). There are dried and fresh pasta. Usually dried pasta are made without eggs so they can be stored for long term while fresh pasta are meant to be eaten within a few days.

Pasta can come in all size, shape and form. It is now extremely easy to cook pasta. All you have to do is pick up your favorite kind of pasta style in the store as the dried pasta are packaged in a box. Then you add that to a pot of boiling water, 10-12 minutes later, you have ready to eat pasta, just add your favorite sauce.

In Ann Arbor, you can find pasta in many places. The more classy, main street  restaurants such as Gratzi and Palio tend to range on the more expensive side for college students. Two places I tend to go to get pasta are Noodles and Company and Za’s.

ATMOSPHERE

Noodles and Company have two locations in Ann Arbor. One is in the Arborland shopping center and the other is right at the intersection of state st. and N. University on central campus. When you first step into noodles, the space isn’t very large, but very brightly lit. A long hall leads up to the order station. There’s smaller group seating that are fit for 2 – 4 people on the first floor. Upstairs, there’s more space for larger groups to sit.

Za’s Italian Cafe, located on E. University, was first introduced to me by a friend of mine who told me it was a popular gathering place for math majors. It doesn’t have a very large door front, which is often missed. Inside the lights are always very dim, very opposite to the feeling you get from noodles. Za’s attracts a lot of people because of its option to customize your order of pasta, pizza, panini, and salad. There is a long hall with small tables for you to fill out your order as soon as you walk in. The rest of the space is filled by mostly tables that seats 4-6 people. There are the booth against the opposite wall of the entrance, some high seats toward the front of the restaurant near the windows, and wood benches in the center of the restaurant.

SELECTION

Noodles has three basic types of noodles they serve, there’s Asian, Mediterranean, and American. Over the years, I have always gravitated toward mediterranean, but I have also tried their mushroom stroganoff, mac and cheese, and pad thai. Sometimes during special seasons, noodles and company will come out with new dishes. Recently they are offering two signature salads.

What first attracted me to Za’s was their customizable menu. For each type of food they offer (pasta, pizza, panini, salad) there is a separate order form. You have the option of selecting from their list of set traditional dishes (listed on one side of the form), but on the back of every order form, you have the option to make your own. For pasta you pick the type of pasta you want (fettuccini, multi-grain rotini, multi-grain penne, spaghetti, and cheese tortellini), choose up to 4 add-ins from a list of over 25 choices, choose your sauce from a list of more than 15, and lastly you can pick your cheese. There are thousands of combos you can do with all the choices.

TASTE

One of my favorites at noodles and company is pesto cavatappi. I really love the combination of pesto sauce with my pasta. This dish also contains mushrooms and parmesan and I like to add parmesan chicken to the dish. The dish total comes out to $8.47.

Here I have pesto cavatappi to go without the chicken, which was $5.93. The portion is decent. I was definitely full before I was able to finish the entire dish. The noodles are nicely cooked, maybe just a little past al dente, but they still have a good bite to it. The pesto sauce is clean, not greasy. The parmesan is nice a melted. Who doesn’t like melted cheese? The dish sometimes can taste a little light on seasoning. If you prefer a saltier flavor, you would probably need to add some salt/pepper. If there were more vegetable or other add-ins in the dish, it would probably be even better.

As for Za’s, my favorite combination to order here is: Multi-grain penne, chicken, mushroom, green peppers with parmesan cheese and pesto sauce. Every pasta order comes with a nice piece of garlic bread (truly addicting I tell you). There’s definitely more food than I can finish with every order, definitely satisfying for those heavy college student appetites. The flavor at Za’s tend to be heavier. Sometimes it’s better if you have a glass of water with your dish. The pesto sauce is slightly greasy sometimes, but overall still quite tasty. The pasta is cooked al dente and well seasoned, not bland. The garlic bread is soft and soaked with that strong garlic flavor.

WHO REIGNS SUPREME?

Za’s Italian Cafe

The food tastes more authentic. It is affordable and the portion sizes are generous. Even though the extra grease is a setback, but I like having the options and being able to make my perfect dish. There are always ways around the grease such as picking a different sauce or ask them to go light on the sauce. Sometimes the service can get a little confused and screw up the order, but usually they will always fix the problem if you let them know. In terms of variety and taste I still prefer Za’s.

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