Caffé Delfini

147 West Channel Road
Santa Monica Canyon
Price: $$


The first thing I noticed when I arrived outside Caffé Delfini on an unusually warm December night in Pacific Palisades was the sound of affable chatter emanating from behind the hoary wooden windows that frame the restaurant’s old-world entryway.

The small, charming trattoria nestled on Santa Monica Canyon’s ever-so-quiet West Channel Road was alive and bustling with sonorous booms of conversation between the clinking of glasses and calls for more bread.

For me, a second-generation Italian American, Delfini’s roaring clientele only added to the restaurant’s outdated, although charmingly nostalgic, decor and robustly rich smells, making me right at home inside the restaurant’s lively dining room.

Speaking of smells: With regional offerings spanning from the rural Tuscan hillsides made famous for their meats and cheeses, to the Manila clams and bottarga of olive-soaked Sicily, Delfini’s open air kitchen plays culprit to the multitudinous mix of sensory delights wafting out to hungry dinner patrons, and offers an exclusive glimpse into the finely tuned machine that has been spooning out penne to plate for nearly three decades.

Hailing from Pomezia, a suburb of Rome, childhood friends Alessandro Ercoli and Gianpietro Silardi opened the restaurant in 1990 after the pair immigrated to California.

Combining their passion for food with hospitable personalities that come naturally to natives of the boot, the restaurateurs have brought their own slice of Italy right here to the Palisades.

Grilled calamari

But what keeps locals coming back to the traditional trattoria— despite the numerous Italian joints that have sprung up across town over the years—may surprise you: Going against the grain, the Pali staple is known for its zinguini, a pasta made from fresh zucchini, which Ercoli said almost always sells out.

The zinguini can be served under any one of Caffé Delfini’s distinct mother sauces, and here, the Pasta Bolognese—a hearty and complex tomato sauce made with lean veal—is king.

Reminiscent of the bolognese my nonna used to craft every Sunday in the basement kitchen of her Chicago bungalow, Delfini’s classic red sauce is authentically pure Emilia-Romagna cuisine done right.

If it’s something lighter you crave, the eatery offers a wide array of small plates from their Insalate – Antipasti menu, including Bruschetta topped with sweet, sunkissed vine tomatoes and a towering Grilled Calamari platter that will put any local seafood joint to shame.

But where Delfini truly hooked me was with their Branzino Mediterraneo—Mediterranean striped bass, baked with white wine, a touch of rosemary and garlic, served with roasted rosemary potatoes and spinach sautéed with garlic and red chili flakes—a dish I’ve tried at several restaurants from coast to coast, but, more often than not, have been left feeling aggrieved by my seafood choice.

Branzino Mediterraneo

(The last time I tried branzino I had been served more bones than fish, and trust me, there’s nothing less appealing than spending $40 to cough up your meal in front of your dinner mates.)

All of that changed when I tried my first bite of Delfini’s Branzino after Ercoli recommended the dish despite my apprehension to give it another go.

Delicate yet packed with flavor, this fork-tender dish is an unpretentious choice that will leave your mouth watering for more. And do be sure to let the white wine and lemon oils find their way over to your potatoes—you won’t be dissatisfied.

Sweet endings include classics like Homemade Tiramisu and Budino—an Italian custard made with kirschwasser—and unexpected gems like fresh Lemon Sorbet that comes packed into a frozen, hollowed-out whole lemon and topped with Amaretto whipped cream. 

Bottom line: Caffé Delfini proves that Italian food can be complex, healthy and budget-friendly. Stop inside for a glass of vino (or two) and ask Alex “cosa bolle in pentola?” (what’s cooking) at this beloved family trattoria.

Buon appetito!

Caffé Delfini is open for dinner Monday through Saturday beginning at 5:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. on Sunday. The restaurant offers delivery service and take-out as well as holiday and event catering either at your place or in its private banquet room.