If you grew up in Los Angeles, you were probably introduced to your first Italian market some time in elementary school. At some point during your formative years, you took a silent oath of filial piety to never cheat on the first Italian market owners in your life by even looking for another one.
Whether or not you're Italian, there's something about these mom-n-pop shops that engenders loyalty and nostalgia. Perhaps it has do with characters like Rosario Mazzeo, owner of Roma Italian Deli and Grocery in Pasadena, who is known for being fiercely opinionated, generous and dedicated.
"I've been here for fifty-seven years, seven days a week," he says. He gets a gleam in his eyes when we notice the chunks of hard pork fat in the fresh sausages he makes daily. Mazzeo's work ethic, encyclopedic knowledge of ingredients, and exhaustive pantry of imported foods deserve our unwavering monogamy. So, we feel a little guilty suggesting trysts with other Italian markets in our round-up. But we're going to do it anyway. Turn the page...
We focused on Italian delis and groceries that are at least thirty years old: Little family owned businesses that have weathered storms of demographic changes, survived gentrification, or remained steadfast beacons during periods of neighborhood disinvestment without the help of online social networks. Roma, Sorrento and Tony's don't even have websites. And as far as we know, none have plans to roll out a food truck.
16 Favorite Italian L.A.-area Delis and Groceries, in no particular order:
16. Roma Italian Deli and Groceries: Accept Mazzeo's sage advice about everything in his market deli including "the sandwich", a relatively minimalist rendition of three different deli meats, provolone cheese and bread drizzled with olive oil. 918 N Lake Ave., Pasadena; (626) 797-7748.
15. Eagle Rock Italian Bakery & Deli: Located on the same strip as Tommy's, Oinkster and Casa Bianca Pizza, locals rave about the cakes, cookies and cannoli as much as the deli sandwiches. 1726 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 255-8224.
14. Mario's Italian Deli and Market: Home of the over-stuffed, triple-decker Italian sub. While your there, buy some bottarga for Spaghetti alla Bottarga and ricotta salata for salad. 740 E Broadway, Glendale; (818) 242-4114.
13. Monte Carlo Deli and Market Pinnochio Restaurant: If you grew up in Burbank (we didn't), Pinnochio's was quite possibly your family's favorite red sauce Italian restaurant. Whether or not you're Italian-American, your family went there for Sunday gravy any day of the week. The deli portion of the business is called Monte Carlo, which is also a gelato shop, a wine shop, and a market. 3103 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank; (818) 845-3517.
12. Eastside Market Italian Deli: A downtown landmark, established in 1929, in a residential section of Los Angeles's historic Little Italy, south of Dodger Stadium and west of Chinatown. Don't be afraid of the lunch rush, long lines move briskly and there's plenty of seating in the large dining room. 1013 Alpine Street, Los Angeles; (213) 250-2464.
11. Claro's Italian Market: Six locations in Arcadia, San Gabriel, Covina, La Habra, Upland and Tustin, and a cyberstore that stocks the usual pantry items, as well as cookware and digestive remedies. Everything you need to prepare a feast and recover from it.
10. Frumento's Italian Deli: The original was established in 1928 on the corner of Ord and North Broadway by Gerolomo Frumento. A second generation Frumento's was established by son Anthony in Montebello thirty years later. 214 West Beverly Boulevard, Montebello; (323) 721-2071.
9. Tony's Italian Deli: Montebello may seem like an odd choice now for two Italian delis, but Tony's opened decades ago when the city was home to a large Italian-American population. 2012 W Whittier Blvd., Montebello; (323) 721-0637.
8. Cavaretta's Italian Deli: Expect a heaping portion of nostalgia with your sandwich. The picture wall is wallpapered with photos of dedicated customers and historic photos of the San Fernando Valley. 22045 Sherman Way, Canoga Park; (818) 340-6626.
7. San Carlo Italian Deli and Bakery: At age thirty-six, this is one of the youngest delis on our list. Patronized for it's pre-Mozza era pizzas, huge subs and party platters. 10178 Mason Avenue, Chatsworth; (818) 727-0890.
6. Domingo's Italian Deli and Grocery: A "Super Sub Menu", priced by the foot ranging in length from three to seven feet, promises to serve five people at a mere $3-$4 per head. 17548 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 981-4466.
5. Italia Bakery and Bread: Customers get a choice of hard roll or soft roll, which of course leads to endless debates about which texture of freshly baked bread goes best with various fillings. Located in a shopping center with a Trader Joe's, Italia entices customers with a more specialized selection of Italian and Mediterranean products including pizzelle irons and anise seed oil to flavor the waffle cookies. 11134 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills; (818) 360-2913.
4. Italia Deli & Bakery: Yes, Italia Deli and Bakery and Italia Bakery and Deli are owned by different branches of the same extended family. The bread here is also baked fresh, but this Agoura Hills off-shoot prominently offers Boar's Head Brand sandwiches. If anything, Italian delis seem to thrive by tweaking to neighborhoods tastes. 5657 Kanan Road, Agoura Hills; (818) 991-4838.
3. Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery: Established in 1925, making it possibly the oldest existing Italian deli in Los Angeles. Customers who prefer the sandwiches here most often cite the crusty breads, which are baked fresh every twenty minutes. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-395-8279.
2. Sorrento Italian Market: Perhaps, former mayor of Culver City, Albert Vera, who died last year, was better known for his vibrant personality and political career, than for his sandwiches. Sorrento's sandwiches seem most noteworthy for their inexpensive prices, than distinguishing characteristics. 5518 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City; (310) 391-7654.
1. Giuliano's Delicatessen & Bakery: The focus here is on bread, over 400 different kinds, which are delivered nationally. There are three deli locations in Redondo Beach, Gardena and Torrance.