1. Honestly friendly service. Not the kind where you can see the training wheels rotating in a comatose server's head, but real people engaged in their work.
2. Efficiency. Dinner, from calamari appetizer to lasagna to banana split, 45 minutes.
3. Value. The American family's staples — pizza, pasta, salad — in generous amounts for the price. A very satisfying if not gourmet dinner for two, including wine, tip, and leftovers for another meal and a half, $60.
Oregano's was another Italian-American restaurant when Keyvan Nabavizadeh took over in 1996. It is pleasant enough, with light tile floors, homey knickknacks, and platoons of wooden tables. But diners don't come here for the decor.
They come for the enthusiastic greeting, even if they aren't known personally to the staff. And then a basket of hot pizza bread with foil-wrapped sweet butter. The lovely bread is baked here twice a day.
All pizzas are 10 inches, and there are no substitutions unless you don't want cheese. The menu promises that "Our pizzas will satisfy an individual's healthy appetite."
For sure. The thin New York-style crust has a puffy rim you can get a grip on, and fold your slices to keep toppings on board. The wood-fired oven gives the crust's bottom a slightly charred flavor.
On the basic Margherita ($9.25) you get fresh tomato and chopped basil. On the signature barbecued chicken ($10.99), fresh basil and wood-fired, almost caramelized, red onions.
Oregano's hosts a United Nations of chicken pizzas. Besides barbecue, the countries of Brie, pesto, fajitas and hot Thai sauce are represented.
Vegetarians may want to direct their attention to Oregano's salad ($8.95), green salad built on a foundation of cheese pizza. The caramelized pear salad, spinach-mushroom pizza, Vegetarian Fantasy pizza, and vegetarian calzone also beckon non-meat eaters.
The meat calzone ($10.49) is so full of bacon, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese, it will satisfy more than one individual's "healthy appetite."
Oregano's Pasta ($12.49) features a semi-spicy secret sauce, capers, cream, green onions, chicken and perfectly cooked corkscrew noodles, but you really have to like oil and salt. Lasagne ($11.59) is the kind you could make at home, though again the pasta (thin and soft) is cooked just right.
A children's menu sets entrees at $6.25 tops, including a drink such as milk.
You may notice tiny red splotches attached to a few menu items. They are megaphones, with Barbie-sized type saying "New'' — not "Hot."
Appetizers will satisfy a bar crowd's healthy appetites, from hot wings ($7.50) to onion strings ($7.50) to a whole wood-fired roasted garlic ($4.75). A big portion of fried calamari ($7.99) arrived crispy and hot, with fresh parsley, lemon slices and cocktail sauce. Garlic fries ($4.99) have a following.
If you don't want pizza or pasta, Oregano's offers eggplant Parmesan and chicken Parmesan. And for lunch, burgers and sandwiches.
Five draft beers including the fine house pale ale ($3.75) jazz up the usual bottled beers. The wine list goes heavy on Chardonnay and Cabernet, but also serves four good wines from Sonoma's Kenwood at reasonable prices, plus three from Italy.
Should dessert be an option, the gang's all here. Tiramisu ($5.99), of course, and brownies, apple crisp, cheesecake, even a root beer float. They max out at the banana split ($6.99), which must be shared.
The only beef I have with Oregano's is the name. Americans discovered oregano and made it a posh spice for a while, but the '80s are over. More grievously, the restaurant doesn't belong to Mr. or Ms. Oregano, so why the apostrophe?
But after 10 successful years, affable Mr. Nabavizadeh isn't keen on changing the name.
Oregano's Wood-Fired Pizza
4546 El Camino Real, Los Altos
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
(Lunch hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday)
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