A Little Little Italy
Neither Fountain Valley nor Huntington Beach is known for its ethnic enclaves (outside Surf City’s Slater Slums, that is), yet you can find a veritable Little Italy in the area where they merge. From Lucci’s and Mangia Mangia in Huntington to Two Brothers and Nick’s in F.V., you’ll find many delis, pizzerias and sandwich shops, the types of places one or two generations removed from the old country, where the closest thing to a regional specialty available is jalapeños on a pie. One of the most revered is Joey’s Luparello’s Pizza (yes, both names have apostrophes), a Fountain Valley institution since 1983.
This is eating at its most neighborhoody: photos of youth teams spanning two decades on the walls, autographed action shots of Edison High Chargers who made it in the NFL, ESPN broadcasting from a flat-screen television, and an old Neo-Geo arcade in the corner in which to waste some quarters while your order gets made. The tables are small, the better to group them together after a team victory, but most people order to-go or pick-up. And only one or two cooks are there at any given time: small, homey, perfect.
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Joey’s Luparello’s offers spaghetti, lasagna and other southern Italian pastas, as well as hellishly tasty Buffalo wings, but the focus is rightfully on the pizza and sandwiches. It’s a rare Orange County pizza that truly impresses, and this is one: milky cheese, slightly sweet sauce, thin but crunchy from tip to crust, ensuring that your slice won’t droop as you lift it into your mouth. Even more impressive is this shop’s pizza-by the-slice philosophy: Instead of cooking a bunch of pies and keeping them under hot lights waiting for someone to request a slice (with a cursory shove into the oven for reheating), Joey’s will prepare a slice from scratch regardless of ingredients. It’s a time-intensive process, yes, but the only care the owners seem to have is for your appetite. At two bucks per slice for a plain (with 30 cents extra for more toppings), it’s almost as good a deal as anything you might find in Philly.
The sandwich offerings impress as well, made from freshly baked bread featuring a crust with the crunch factor of chicharrones and a doughy interior. No real surprises in ingredients—eggplant parmigania, sausage and peppers, you know the drill—but I enjoy how they split the loaf: not completely, but with a tapered-off end, the better to ensure your contents don’t spill out, as sturdy a vehicle for food containment as an ice-cream cone. Condiments on the counter, coupons for the taking and a smile with each serving: This is the prototype for Italian-American pizzeria heaven.
Joey’s Luparello’s Pizza at 9037 Garfield Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-1610.