Mario’s Italian Deli is a happiness explosion, a 45-year-old market as crowded as a Wilshire bus, heroic dives for the Take-a-Number machine, and subs, mammoth subs, stuffed with mortadella or spicy sopressata, eggplant parm or meatballs, or in my case big wads of garlicky roast pork augmented with fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers, a sandwich that thrills me to the toes. This is not fast food — I have seen a Ford assembly line build an F-150 truck in less time than it does for the Mario’s guys to assemble a prosciutto and cheese sandwich during the lunch rush — but while you wait you can browse the Italian sodas, shop for pasta and dried mushrooms, and ponder the differences between the 50-odd olive oils for sale. 740 E. Broadway, Glendale, (818) 242-4114.When FDR was in the White House, these isolated blocks of Alpine Street — not yet cut off from the rest of the city by Dodger Stadium and the streaming four-level interchange — could fairly be called part of what passed for Little Italy in Los Angeles. Eastside Market is about all that is left of the neighborhood, a sandwich shop parked in an Italian delicatessen, and although it has only been around in its current form since the ’70s, the place feels as if it has been steeping in spilled beer and marinara sauce for more than a century. There are three-Tums slabs of lasagna on Thursdays, but mostly there are deli sandwiches of which the primary exemplar is a squishy, sloppy, spicy meatball sub whose aura will decorate both your lap and your breath for the rest of the afternoon. 1013 Alpine St., L.A., (213) 250-2464.Bay Cities Importing is a staggeringly busy Italian deli in Santa Monica, a super-sized delicatessen that was slinging fresh pasta and roasted peppers 30 years before the average Westsider could tell you the difference between bombolini and Barolo. If you grew up in the neighborhood, this was where your parents shopped for Parmesan, ziti and Toscano salami, but it was mostly where you hoped they’d pick up a few subs on the way home from work. Bay Cities makes a decent turkey sandwich, a loud, greasy meatball sandwich and a very respectable hero, but the sandwich of choice here is a gigantic sub, a straight shot of Philly, called “The Godmother,” which includes a slice of every Italian cold cut on Earth. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279.How can you tell when the Christmas season is in full swing? By the sheer mass of elderly women crowding the aisles at Claro’s, snatching up bottles of the syrupy housemade vino cotto to flavor their sfogiatelle, battling over the stinking, rock-hard slabs of salt cod that go on sale that time of year. It’s not a bad place to pick up a tray of lasagne or a dozen freshly stuffed cannoli, and generations of San Gabriel Valley Italians swear by their links of hot sausage. 1003 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 444-4957; other locations in Arcadia, Covina and Temple City.
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