This past Friday, I lost my WisCard, and it was impossible to get another one until Monday. That meant this weekend I couldn’t use my meal plan and had to exclusively spend my own money on food. It hurt.

Saturday, I had a burrito for brunch and sleep for dinner. Sunday, I had a bowl of oatmeal, which I ate cold because I forgot I made it, then later in the day I had a sandwich. By dinnertime Sunday, I was craving a cooked meal.

The only place suitable was Cento.

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Cento is not just an Italian place in Madison — it’s the Italian place in Madison. A stone’s throw from the Capitol, it does an excellent job serving a wide array of authentic Italian American food and an even better job at creating its own unique atmosphere.

The decor of hardwood floors, chandeliers and the like conveys an Old-World charm, but the people working there complement that with an enthusiasm to make your time feel like more than just a meal. Cento’s effort draws a diverse crowd of customers, making it a lively place to be.

What drew me to Cento was the promise of a decent chicken parmesan — my favorite meal — and because I wanted to splurge a little bit after barely eating for two days. The reason I’ll be going back is because I was given a stellar chicken parm,  accommodating staff and the fair prices.

This was the best chicken parm I’ve had since I last went to the Italian quarter in Boston — and that’s saying something. I hardly expected a restaurant in Wisconsin to be on the same level as those tiny, family owned places that have been going for almost a century. But it is!

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Unlike some places that are well-established, Cento is not stuck up at all. They are always willing to make your dining experience just as you would like it.

When I visited Cento Sunday with a friend, our waiter was extremely accommodating. Not only was the service sharp and friendly, she helped us resolve many arguments, such as whether olive oil and bread is an Italian thing, or whether Cento is pronounced Chen-toe or Shen-toe or Cen-toe among other important subjects.

I had a happy experience but felt like a thief by the time the bill came — have you ever bought a knock-off watch? Something for half price on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? I’ve done all three and when someone says, “Oh nice watch, Harry,” I always reply, “Oh thanks, it cost me $15,” and without fail they’re pleasantly surprised.

Or maybe they’re just in shock and judging me really hard for being a fraud? That’s beside the point. What matters is when I got the bill at Cento it felt just like that. I had gotten something, in this case a meal and not a watch, worth way more than the money I actually had to spend on it.

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I highly recommend Cento for your next meal.

If you need, here are some excuses: study break, celebrate the end of the semester, Friendsgiving, self care, you went to all your classes this week and deserve a reward, etc.

Don’t think you can afford it? Don’t worry! If you split the bill and don’t order steak or go for three courses it’s going to cost each person somewhere between $15 and $25, and if you split a pizza it could be as low as $10 each. It’s pricey but certainly worth every penny, if not more!

Cento will cost you, but don’t let that stop you. This is a meal you’ll be reminiscing about for a long time even if you don’t spend too much dough. I highly recommend you visit Cento with a friend or two as soon as possible.