Reviews: Magari by Oca Continues to Shape Perfect Pasta on the Drive

The much-beloved Oca Pastificio is now Magari by Oca, and the reimagined restaurant is as captivating as its previous incarnation.

The Vancouver restaurant industry exists on a high wire of thin margins and frequent closures, and as a consequence requires its denizens to develop a pretty thick skin in order to keep riding their fraught merry-go-round of a profession. But even this battle-hardened group was gutted by the news last year of the sudden passing of chef Greg Dilabio. Dilabio and business partner Antoine Dumont had opened Oca Pastificio on a sliver of a storefront on Commercial Drive in late 2019. It was the kind of mixture of unpretentious vibe and superlative cooking that elicited mad respect from their peers and unconditional love from their patrons. I count myself as one of the smitten—our review in March 2020 was, as far as I know, the first to be published singing their praises and from then to that horrible day last summer, I never had a meal there I didn’t absolutely love (so much for objectivity).

So I felt a mix a joy and trepidation when I heard last fall that Dumont and the rest of the Oca family were planning on reopening the restaurant as Magari by Oca. As is typical with Dumont, the event was low key: no PR, no news releases, just a simple change of the Instagram handle from Oca Pastificio to Magari by Oca and a short announcement. The parameters would be mostly unchanged: same room, open four nights a week, no reservations. But the ultimate factor—the food—remained a question mark. One of the ironies of Oca was that Dilabio, by all accounts shy and self-effacing, was front and centre, making the evening’s fare by hand. It was a situation born of necessity given the size of the room, but it quickly became Oca’s calling card. It tasted like the freshest pasta in town, and the proof was a mere 15 feet away from you.

Dish prep at Magari by Oca
Photo by Leila Kwok

Pasta by Magari by Oca

Anchovy salad at Magari by Oca

Walking through the threshold of the new restaurant feels completely natural—which simultaneously feels completely unnatural, an Inception-esque alternate reality where things stay permanently unchanged. The decor is the same, the crew is mostly the same, there’s the same chalkboard menu listing what’s on offer. But where Dilabio would normally be standing is chef Gus Dixon, a veteran from the Oca kitchen, and beside him is Robbie Barbeau as sous (he started apprenticing under Dilabio when he was just 19). It’s a cold Thursday, but the full room is buzzing with an eclectic mix: one woman is wearing an off-the-shoulder, Pininfarina-red ball gown, a bloom in a sea of Blundstones and Arc’teryx. The ages skew younger than on my past few visits, with Dumont later confiding that a lot of the diners had no history with Oca at all—they’re just coming to some new place called Magari that they’d heard good things about.

I figure the fairest path would be simply to order what I had on my last go-around—the pasta tasting menu, a carbfest of the highest order. The opening salvo is a simple but ample charcuterie platter, and even this now de rigueur starter has touches that bring a smile. First and foremost, they use the criminally underloved speck over ubiquitous prosciutto, a small but telling swap-out that tells me I’m among my peeps. Ditto the salad course—forceful fillets of sardines atop some crisp greens and carciofi alla romana. Neither dish is fussy, and Danny Meyer would lose his mind over the casual plating, but both have a vein of authenticity that causes one to say things like “carciofi” when you mean “artichokes.”

And then, the rotolo with squash and smoked caciocavallo cheese and sage butter: as close to a signature dish as Oca ever produced, famously on the cover of our Restaurant Awards issue three years ago. It’s essentially made to order by chef Dixon and it elicits that same hot damn feeling as it did the first time I tasted it. It’s structured and rich, with endless depth, and while so much of the fare at Magari lands in the realm of traditional Italian comfort, this dish is a star in any context.

The dishes that follow each have their own charm. On one end, there’s a stripped-down gnocchi with a light tomato aglione sauce from Barbeau that’s so minimal it would make Donald Judd blush; on the other an orecchiette with lamb ragu from chef Tom Durant (he’s the orecchiette master) that leans hard into the meat’s gaminess alongside the classic Puglian pasta. It’s all so in-a-zone that the only comparable would be that one meal you had in Tuscany while on vacation nine years ago that you won’t shut up about.

The one potential pitfall—that Magari will become the food equivalent of an Oca tribute band—seems to be missing the point. After dinner I look up what the word magari means: maybe. I like to think it’s in the forward-looking sense of the word—as in maybe this kitchen of real friends who aren’t interested in flash-and-dash, friends who came together to find a place where they can cook the type of food that makes them proud with its purity and focus, could be a place that brings joy. And Magari, its tragedies notwithstanding, seems to be the happiest restaurant in town.


Owner and general manager Antoine Dumont at Magari by Oca
Owner and general manager Antoine Dumont (above) and head chef Gus Dixon lead the team at Magari by Oca, where guests are more than willing to wait in line to enjoy the easygoing (yet exquisite) menu. Photo by Leila Kwok.


Dishes at Magari by Oca
Photo by Leila Kwok
Dish at Magari by Oca
Photo by Leila Kwok
Pasta dish at Magari by Oca
Photo by Leila Kwok
Dish at Magari by Oca
Photo by Tanya Goehring

Tomato gnocchi at Magari by Oca