If you don't say stop, the Parmesan piles up. Spaghetti and meatballs. Mamma Teresa.
  • If you don't say stop, the Parmesan piles up. Spaghetti and meatballs. Mamma Teresa.
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Mamma Teresa

13305 Poway Road, Poway

I've eaten lunch in Poway a lot over the years, and have even walked past Mamma Teresa a few times, sometimes on my way to the Five Guys next door, or to the Japanese restaurant on the other side. I never really thought to go in because, let's face it, Italian restaurants don't seem that exciting. We all grew up eating spaghetti, and ordering pasta in a restaurant is widely considered the worst bang for your buck because the ingredients cost so little and the results so simple to achieve at home.

That said, pasta makes a great comfort food, so I finally made my way into Mamma Teresa's last week. Every day since, I've been kicking myself for not going sooner.

It's not trying to compete with the burger chain next door.

What I hadn't realized is that this is a legit Italian restaurant, owned and operated by friendly folk who learned about cooking and eating and enjoying life back where such things were pretty much invented. As if their accents weren't enough to lend an air of authenticity, they swear by their ingredients, including sauces, spices, oils and prosciutto di parma (thinly sliced, dry-cured ham) shipped across the Atlantic for Poway's enjoyment.

The prices don't necessarily reflect this. An $8 lunch nets you salad, entrée and bread service — not in huge portions but enough to fill me up. The bread arrives warm and soft, glorious when dipped in a bit of olive oil.

I felt silly and stereotypical doing so, but I had to go with the spaghetti and meatballs. I was here to be a critic, after all, and what better way to judge an ethnic restaurant than to order its most Americanized dish?

No regrets. Not for a minute. Well, maybe for about fifteen seconds, when at first glance I thought they gave me way too little pasta to spread around the generous heaps of meatball and what Tony Soprano would call "gravy." Then I tasted it, and by the end of my meal I was spooning up every last bit of that sauce.

There's nothing like terrific ingredients to show the error of heavy handed cooking. I'm always impressed when a sandwich has seven or eight toppings, for example, because my mental calculations insist more is bound to be better. But the truth is, if you build a dish around one or two really delicious things, the results are unbeatable.

This meatballs and tomato sauce dish just needed a couple herbs to produce some of the best Italian food I've encountered in San Diego, and certainly for the price. Thanks to Mamma Teresa for bringing a little Italy to Poway.

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