Vittorio Ristorante & Pizzeria Boasts Deep Roots in Marquez Knolls
By CHARLIE KAPINOS | Intern
For some, when they hear the word restaurant, they think of a place they went to on an awkward first date, others may think of their favorite fast casual spot.
When it comes to Vanessa Pelligrini, the association that comes to mind is “family.”
For the past three decades, Marquez Knolls eatery Vittorio Ristorante & Pizzeria has been run by Vanessa and her mom, Mercedes.
Following more than a year of restrictions and amendments due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Palisades favorite has managed to stay afloat.
In 1984, Vittorios was started by Giovanni Mazzola. Then, in 1990, Mercedes came to Los Angeles and started a cake business called Mercedes’ Continental Delights. Her cake business began to sell cakes to Vittorios, which became a ritual year after year.
“One day, after years of delivering her cakes, [Giovanni] asked her to be his partner,” Vanessa explained. “The rest is history.”
Once Mercedes became a partner, Giovanni left the restaurant as owner to start a new eatery in Malibu, leaving her to take over the restaurant. From there, Mercedes has nurtured and grown the business to what it is today, according to Vittorios’ website.
As Mercedes grew older, Vanessa began to take over the restaurant as owner, growing the business further into the charming space the community knows and loves today.
Vanessa, who lives in the Woodland Hills area, explained that business was running smoothly up until the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020.
“Nothing prepared us for what we were about to go through,” Vanessa shared. “COVID was all about keeping our staff and our customers safe, all the while, maintaining the same quality and service for the last 37 years.”
As the restaurant waded through the pandemic, Vanessa shared that she was frightened. She explained that at the time, she and the other employees had no prior knowledge of how to weather something like a pandemic. Vanessa described herself as feeling lost.
“There was no handbook on how to deal with the new life we were about to embark on—from our fear, virus misinformation, customers’ worry and government regulations that were being mandated on the fly,” she described.
Even with the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, Vanessa shared she was determined to fight through the year to keep safely serving her customers. As Vittorios stated on its website: “When you dine with us, you’re family.”
Vanessa believed that most during the pandemic times—just as one wants to keep their family safe, she wanted to do the same for her customers. Throughout the pandemic, the restaurant made sure to follow each and every Los Angeles City Health Department rule and regulation, as well as all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The restaurant also made sure to keep the environment as hygienic and clean as possible. As Vanessa described, Vittorios has “always maintained a super clean environment. It [was] just augmented with the new guidelines: hand sanitizer at every corner, clean used menus and pens, masks, face shields, etc.”
Despite her fears, Vanessa shared that there have been silver linings for Vittorios over the course of the past year. Further emphasizing the restaurant’s stance on feeling like the community is her extended family, she described the immense support the restaurant received from Palisadians.
Not only did they have a large volume of take-out and delivery orders, but members of the Palisades community took time out of their days to call the restaurant and let Vanessa know that they still support them and will continue to do so, no matter what.
With pandemic restrictions now amended and lifted in Los Angeles County, Vittorios is now able to welcome back its full capacity of customers for lunch and dinner.
“We love seeing everyone … it was the one thing we missed the most,” Vanessa said.
The restaurant is currently serving customers indoors and outdoors on a patio, as well as continuing to offer take-out and delivery orders.
One of the most popular items on the menu, Vanessa shared, is Vittorios’ lasagna.
“Our meat lasagna is one of our best and most popular dishes,” according to the website. “Made fresh daily, we make our own sauce and marinate the beef with our house recipe of seasonings and fresh mozzarella cheese to make this melt in your mouth.”
Other frequently ordered dishes are the Chicken Spinach Cannelloni with Porcini Cream Sauce—housemade pasta rolled and stuffed with fresh spinach and sautéed chicken, drizzled with a porcini cream sauce—the Italian Chopped Salad, Calamari Fritti and Linguini Pescatore.
“We have added a Roast Duck with dark cherry sauce, spinach and creamy mashed potatoes, along with a Pappardelle Alberto, which is a vodka sauce with gorgonzola cheese,” Vanessa said about recently added menu items customers can try.
When 90272 Magazine assembled its Best of Pacific Palisades edition in early 2020, many community members voted for Vittorios’ garlic rolls as one of the top dishes available at restaurants throughout town.
And, with deep ties rooted in the community, Vittorios uses the holiday season as a time to give back each year.
“We started this event in December 2010,” Vanessa said in an interview last year. “It was the same year I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus with brain involvement. Being a very spiritual and religious woman, my mother prayed to a Brazilian saint named Our Lady Aparecida. She is the patron saint of Brazil, and it’s been said that she performs miracles.”
Vanessa explained that she and her mother made a promise to do something for underprivileged children if she lived through the disease.
“Here we are 10 years later,” she said. “We have gifted over 2,000 kids in the last 10 years. Up until this year, we’d bus them in from the inner cities, feed them all the pizza, pasta and garlic rolls they could eat, and Santa would gift each child three presents for Christmas.”
In 2020, due to the pandemic, they pivoted to a virtual party for nearly 200 Happy Trails campers at the Carson Community Center on Sunday, December 6.
“All of our gifts are donated, and whatever toys we don’t have get donated we go out and purchase ourselves,” Vanessa added. “We wrap every gift at the restaurant with a team of dedicated elves, and these amazing individuals have been doing this since we started.”
The holiday luncheon is slated to return in 2021. This year, Vittorios will partner with a new organization: Claris Health.
“We will be updating our social media and website with an Amazon Wishlist link for anyone who wants to donate,” Vanessa explained.
Flyers will go out toward the end of October, with plans to have about 100 kids at the restaurant this year. Vanessa said that she and Mercedes are working on an outdoor version of the event to keep everyone safe.
As for the restaurant, Vanessa said that it is “still business as usual,” serving up fresh fare to customers both new and returning.
“Thank you to our Palisades village,” Vanessa shared of the past couple of years. “Thank you to everyone who called, stopped by, had take-out, delivery, curbside, an encouraging word … thank you. The days are long, and sometimes a kind word or an ‘elbow bump’ goes a long way.”
Vittorio Ristorante & Pizzeria is located at 16646 Marquez Ave. For a complete menu and current business hours, visit vittoriosla.com.
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