Mario's Pizza and Italian Restaurant was opened in 1964, and is still in the family. The grandson, Ronnie Facciolla, took over from his parents, and his grandmother still works a few nights a week. "She has a devoted following" he told me. "There are customers who call ahead and won't come in if she's not here."
Who wouldn't want to be doted on by Grandma?
When I first walk in, I note the sunny yellow walls, black-and-white checkered tablecloths, and vintage posters on the walls. Ronnie walks me through the menu, asking me how I feel about garlic. I get the sense he gets asked about this a lot. He points out which dishes are spicy, tells me the pomodoro ($12.95) has a light, fresh feel, and that the most popular dishes on the menu are always the lasagna ($14.95), chicken parmigiana ($16.95), and chicken marsala ($16.95).
I decide on the linguine with pesto ($14.95). Ronnie reappears in moments with the complimentary garlic bread. It's actually their pizza crust rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with cheese. Their pizza crust recipe hasn't changed since his grandparents opened Mario's, and it's popular. I munch on the crust, somewhere between thin and medium, with pleasant chewiness, and my complimentary soup appears: white bean and vegetable. My bowl is filled with white beans in a savory broth and I'm dipping and slurping when my giant plate of pasta arrives.
My linguine is fresh and the sauce is a verdant bright green that verges on creamy with hints of garlic. I eat for a solid 15 minutes and hardly make a dent in the generous portion. Between the garlic bread, soup, and pasta, I am stuffed. Rounding out the meal is a little slice of sheet cake. Nothing fancy, just a small thank-you for dining with the family.
Meanwhile, Ronnie and the other servers have been filling pizza delivery orders, and I watched a man eagerly demolish an order of garlic bread while he waited patiently for take-out lasagna. Ronnie also explains the finer points of breading fish (including finding the right temperature for the olive oil and the importance of using fresh bread crumbs) to an elderly couple finishing their meal.
Throughout the meal, my drink is refilled, the waitresses smile, and they offer to box up my meal when I'm done. A slice of lemon for my water? More bread? I almost feel like I'm at the spa instead of eating by myself.
I also ordered a pizza for take-out ($10.95). The crust was chewy, the sauce not too sweet or spicy, with plenty of cheese and generous toppings. They also offered me soup or salad with my pizza, just like a regular entree. I found the size of the personal pizza to be good-sized, just like everything else I ordered, and their varied menu, complimentary appetizers and desserts make them a great place to bring the family or a large group.
The only drawback to Mario's is the hours. It's not open for dinner, except on Thursday and Friday nights, and closed on the weekends. Ronnie explained that they often cater for local companies, including NASA, Symantec, and Lockheed, and that takes up their time on the weekends and many evenings.
But if you are downtown for lunch and can't decide where to go, keep heading down Castro, and make a right on Leong Drive. You'll be glad you did.
Mario's Pizza & Italian Restaurant
861 Leong Drive
Mountain View, CA 94043
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Dinner: Thursday-Friday 5 p.m.-9 p.m.,