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Watch: Michelin-endorsed Vancouver restaurant rebrands following 'heartbreaking loss' of chef and co-owner

This summer, the city's culinary scene reeled from the unexpected loss of one of its leading chefs. Now the team he left behind has regrouped and is re-opening the restaurant.

This summer, the city's culinary scene reeled from the unexpected loss of one of its leading chefs, when Oca Pastificio co-owner and chef Gregory Dilabio passed away at just 38 years old. 

The Commercial Drive restaurant, beloved for its tight menu of handmade pasta served in an intimate setting, opened in December 2019, and last October was ranked by the Michelin Guide as a Vancouver "Bib Gourmand" selection, a distinction that reflects excellent value and quality outside of the fine dining realm. 

Immediately following Dilabio's death in July, Oca closed its doors, and as revealed through an Instagram post on October 4, the remaining restaurant team have been contemplating what to do with the restaurant without their "dear friend, exceptional chef, and co-founder."

"Our friend's passion for food, hospitality, and life was the heartbeat of the restaurant, and his absence has deeply affected us all," shares the Oca team.

The resulting decision is that the restaurant will re-open "under a new name, with a slightly different menu, but with the same heart and soul that has defined Oca Pastificio for all these years." The new restaurant is now called Magari by Oca.

'We are sincerely grateful for your patience and understanding as we navigate this new chapter'

"Our friend's passion for creating unforgettable culinary experiences was contagious and has been deeply ingrained in each one of us. We intend to carry that spirit forward, and promise to keep his legacy alive by continuing to provide the high-quality food and warm, welcoming service that Oca Pastificio has always been known for," elaborates the Magari by Oca team. 

The announcement continues: "Our grief has not been easy, but the outpouring of support, warmth, and heartfelt condolences from you, has been a beacon of light during this challenging time. We are sincerely grateful for your patience and understanding as we navigate this new chapter."

Magari, like Oca, is likely to continue to operate as a walk-in-only restaurant, though specifics about the refreshed concept have not been shared. The Instagram account's description now indicates "This is not Oca Pastificio anymore," and that they offer "Fresh pasta, Wednesday through Saturday 5:30 p.m. to late" and have no phone. 

"As we reopen our doors, we invite you to join us in celebrating the memory of our dear friend, to remember the joy his culinary creations brought to our tables, and to look forward to the new memories we will create together. We will strive to continue his culinary journey with the same love, passion, and dedication that he demonstrated every day," continues the Magari by Oca team. "From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for standing with us."

Dining at Magari by Oca: How to get a table and what to order

Magari - as it was with Oca - remains one of the hardest restaurants to get into, unless you are diligent and patient. Your best bet is to arrive at 5:30 p.m. and put your name down for a table; the restaurant will give you a time and text you when your table is becoming available.

Fortunately, it's easier now than ever to make a fantastic night of "crawling" The Drive should you wish, with stellar cocktails and snacks available at several spots on the block, including the Flamingo Room, La Mezcaleria, Pax Romana, and Bar Corso

However, should you have your eye on Magari's popular "tasting menu" option, be careful not to pre-game too hard with delicious food at neighbouring spots. While guests can order a la carte from the chalkboard (wall) menu that frames the kitchen workspace, the tasting menu is seven courses and costs just $70 - an incredible value for the quality and experience. 

The tasting menu begins with antipasti (a selection of cured meats and pickles with bread) followed by a simple seasonal salad. Then comes four courses of pasta, none of which are among those listed on the daily menu. The tasting menu allows you to enjoy a range of freshly-made pasta dishes. On one recent evening it began with a plate of long, thin, flat tajarin noodles cacio e pepe, followed by pillowy gnocchi in a simple tomato sauce with creamy burrata, a hearty spaghetti with sausage, and, lastly, a campanelle (a short, flower- or bell-shaped pasta with ruffled edges) with a lamb ragu. 

The six savoury courses are capped with a slice of almond semifreddo slice (made even better if you get a pour of amaro added on top). Speaking of meal add-ons for imbibers, the wine selection at Magari is fantastic. They have several Italian wines by the glass or bottle, and the savvy staff can steer you toward the right choice for your palate, meal, and budget. Similarly, if you enjoy ending a meal with a digestif like an amaro, they have several on the shelves from which to have a pour. 

The restaurant is simple, intimate, and lively, and the staff kind and welcoming. The space is tiny but feels like a comfortable home - a sharp contrast to its actual location and exterior. While you eat, you can watch the pasta being made at a table set up just beyond the small bar area, adding to the excitement and immediacy of the evening. 

Magari may be the toughest table to land, but for the tenacious, it can be well worth the wait.

Watch: Trying the tasting menu with four courses of pasta at Magari by Oca

@forkingawesomevia This is one of the hardest restaurants in Vancouver to get into but it is definitely worth the wait. 4 courses of pasta with antipasti, salad, and dessert. 🍝😍#forkingawesome #vancouverbc #vancouverfoodie ♬ Light hip hop beat / 10 minutes(1451578) - nightbird_bgm

This article was originally published Oct. 5, 2023, and has been updated.

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