No other cuisine calls my name like Italian food so when I heard that Secret City Tours was leading a Los Angeles Italian Food tour, I was in. My friends John and Laura Bwarie led the excursion. Twenty-nine hungry people boarded a black “rock star” bus at the Universal City Metro Station and sped away for a morning and afternoon of complete gastronomic indulgence.
We visited 6 LA hideaways that featured “authentic Italian food.” Not all of it was “healthy,” in the classic sense, but certainly mouth-watering. Italians know how to eat and many lead long happy lives.
So let me take you on my little tour. You’ll be drooling by the time you get to the end.
Note: There were astounding numbers of guys named Vito on our tour.
Los Angeles Italian Food Stops
Eastside Market Italian Deli
1013 Alpine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
The Eastside Market Italian Deli is located near Chinatown. It was established in 1929 and is considered to be an LA landmark. Los Angeles used to have a Little Italy section that started in the 1800s near Olvera Street and Main. Its clientele is mostly civic workers, lawyers, policemen and others who work in the area. They have a thriving lunch business. Currently, it’s owned by Johnny Angiuli who was born in Adelphia Italy and came to the US in 1956 at the age of 12. He worked at the restaurant for 15 years before becoming the owner in 1974. The restaurant’s most popular sandwich is the hot roast beef and pastrami #7.
The first sample we had was one of those juicy and amazing sandwiches.
We started our food fest at about 11 am. I’m one of those people who would gladly have dinner or lunch item for breakfast, so I was in heaven. Eastside Market is known for their “big” sandwiches and has a loyal customer following.
Angiuli’s philosophy of life:
“Work every day.” (He still works 7 days a week) But also, “Enjoy your life. Enjoy it immensely” He regrets only focusing on work for most of his life to support his family. “Keep on eating the #7. Don’t worry about your weight as long as you feel good.” Well, I don’t think I could maintain my weight eating one of those large sandwiches every day, but I enjoyed every last bite.
Nonna Pizzaria (now closed as of 10/2018)
Our next stop was Nonna Pizzeria where we were almost overwhelmed by being served one amazing pizza after another. We started off with their famous garlic knots.
The fragrance of the garlic enveloped in warm and savory knots was mouth-watering. There was fresh tomato sauce to dip them in. About 95% of Nonna’s ingredients are imported from Italy and picked up at the Port of LA. You can tell by the taste.
We moved on to:
- Thin crust pizza with spinach
- Pizza rolls – Stromboli, spinach
- An Eggplant dish that was amazing.
- Double layer pizza
- Stuffed Pizza
I was given a box to take some home. YUM!
The family business began in Naples, Italy in 1890 and has spanned 5 generations of family members. Antoinette, who is a family member, told us that pizza makers are viewed as chefs on the East coast but are not as valued in the West. She also gave us her version of the story of how the Pizza Margherita was created.
In 1889, Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I, came to Naples for a visit. A local chef, Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi, was commissioned to create a special pizza for her. He made one out of pork, fat, cheese, and basil and another with garlic, oil, and tomatoes. According to Antoinette, a young boy in the village who had his face covered, (because of his age), created a pizza that resembled the Italian flag. The pizza was red (tomato), white (mozzarella), and green. (basil) The queen liked it so much she asked to have it delivered to the Palace. After that, it was called the Margherita Pizza. No one ever knew who the boy was and the chef received all the credit.
Margherita pizza is a protected food, meaning it must be prepared in a certain way to bear the name. The emphasis is on using fresh and wholesome ingredients and high-quality bread dough.
I may have OD’d on bread yesterday but, because the ingredients were so high quality, I never felt bloated or uncomfortable.
Roma Italian Deli & Grocery
918 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91104
Roma Italian Deli and Grocery is located in a strip mall. It’s a small grocery store filled with Italian food supplies and a wonderful deli. Rosario, who is now in his 80’s, has been behind the deli since 1955. When we arrived, he was slicing cheese. He’ll give you samples of the over 70 varieties of cheese they have available. All you have to do is ask. He came to the US from Sicily and moved to Pasadena.
I was astounded by the varieties of pasta the store has on display. They were all imported from Italy and made with the finest ingredients. I wish it was closer to where I live because I would be there every day.
As we boarded our bus, we were a cold cut sandwich made by the deli. I had to box it up to save for later because I was already stuffed. At home, I had the sandwich and the leftover pizza from Nonna’s for dinner that night. I promised myself to eat salad for the rest of the week. LOL
155 N. Raymond Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91103
We did a “liquid only” stop and tasted two wonderful Italian wines at Everson and Royce, a trendy looking wine bar located next to the Armory in Pasadena. The first selection was a white Pinot Grigio and then a red Valpolicella. They were both fabulous. Owner Randy Clement, also the owner of Silverlake Wine, was on hand to help us with the tastings.
Everson Royce has weekly tasting events on Tuesdays and Friday Nights. The location can also be rented out for private parties.
749 E. Altadena Dr.
Altadena, CA 90001
There’s nothing better than Italian Gelato! This little dessert shop was a real find, located hidden away in a shopping center in Altadena. They make all their desserts from scratch using only natural and fresh ingredients. All 29 of us squeezed into the shop eagerly waiting for our tasting of Pistachio Gelato. OMG! It was as good as any in Italy!
The Italian dessert shop is owned by Leo Bulgarini, from Rome, and his Pasadena-born wife Elizabeth. It’s been voted “best gelato” by Los Angeles Magazine and deservedly displays many other glowing reviews on its walls. The owners make frequent trips to Italy for ingredients and also handpicks fruit from local Southern California farmers. The pistachios come from the volcanic region of Catania and are pure Sicilian air-dried. They import cocoa from Santo Domingo, macadamia nuts from Hawaii and hazelnuts from Oregon.
During the evening in the summer, they host foreign films projected outside the shop.
Menu items include Gelato, Sorbetto, Affogato, Expresso, Granita, and Torta di Gelato. They also do Event catering, and wine pairings with Gelato.
They have another shop in Culver City and provide mobile carts for events.
Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli
1726 Colorado Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Last but not least, we stopped at the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli. The shop was busy and we were a little late arriving but we were given samples of the shop’s astounding cannoli’s to eat on the bus. Wow! I don’t have a sweet tooth but I wasn’t able to resist eating the entire cannoli. It was orgasmic!
In addition to desserts, the bakery also offers sandwiches, bread, cheeses, and other delicious items.
Our Los Angeles Italian food tour was a success!
Secret City Tours can be found on Facebook here. Tours are sporadic, so if you’re in LA make sure to LIKE their Facebook page to find out when the next outing will be. John makes the tour fun along the way by having trivia contests with raffle prizes on the bus. I didn’t win anything but we all had a blast trying.
Taking a food tour through your city is a fun way to learn more about your local area.
What food tours or culinary events have you participated in? Please leave a comment below.