Restaurant Review #270: D'Amore's Famous Pizza, Thousand Oaks

Margherita slice and meat-lover's slice

D'Amore's looks like a hole in the wall in a busy strip mall on TO Blvd., but it's actually a small Southern California chain with nine restaurants from Tustin to Camarillo and one location in Vegas. The hook is that it's a Boston-style pizzeria owned by 100% Italian Joe D'Amore, who relocated from Boston to SoCal.

D'Amore's claims to have been importing its water from Boston since 1987 in order to make the crust crispy, and that it's now importing water from the Italian Alps. I'm not sure I buy that the water would make all the difference, but the crust is indeed crisp, quite unlike your typical thin-crust slice.

They say the other secrets to their success are using extra virgin olive oil, not lard, in the crust, and only using July tomatoes, the sweetest of the year with no added sugar, in their sauce. Too bad my entire slice had maybe one teaspoon of sauce, so I couldn't taste it. They also use a low-moisture, low-salt, part-skim mozzarella made in Wisconsin and cook their pizzas in a brick oven.

D'Amore's also claims to be the No. 1 rated pizza in America, according to a 2002 Citysearch poll that has it handily beating institutions like Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, and Ray Romano has called it his favorite pizza in LA. And D'Amore's has done a nutritional analysis of its pizza showing that a single cheese slice has just 166 calories and is remarkably low in fat, quite an accomplishment for a piece of pizza.

Slices are $4 each, which sounds like a bargain, but one slice of margherita pizza wasn't nearly enough to fill me up, and I'm a light eater. Whole pizzas ($19 to $26) seem pricey by fast-food pizza chain standards, but are typical of pizza parlors and are a much better value. You can choose from one of their specialty pizzas (also sold by the slice) or build your own at the usual hefty price per topping (45 cents each on slices, up to $2.35 each on a jumbo pie).

If I'd ordered a lunch special that came with a garlic knot and a full-sized plate of salad (romaine, mozzarella, tomatoes, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and olives), I would have been fine. They also serve a few soups, salads, pastas, chicken dishes, calzones, and desserts, but the focus is clearly the pizza.

I enjoyed the crispness of the crust, the flavorful cheese, fresh basil, and lack of grease, but the tomatoes were mealy (they almost always are at restaurants, but that doesn't make it okay) and the sauce was almost nonexistent. The toppings on the meat-lover's slice were generous and the quality was above average, though it could have used more sausage. I waited at least 10 minutes for my order, which seemed like a long time for a simple slice of pizza.

The restaurant is long, narrow and dark with a TV tuned to a sports channel on the back wall, so D'Amore's is best for a casual bite or takeout. The service was fine, but you just order and pay at the counter and they drop your meal off at your table, so there isn't much to judge. If you ask for water, you get only a tiny plastic cup, which doesn't generate goodwill (or make me want to pay for a soda). Overall, the experience was fine, but it wasn't anything I would go back for.

D'Amore's Famous Pizza
2869 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
D'Amore's Famous Pizza menu
D'Amore's Famous Pizza website


Restaurant Review #269: Chego, Chinatown

The beefy T, $9

How can a bowl of fried rice be so addictively delicious, especially to someone like me who doesn't care for rice? Put Roy Choi in the kitchen and load up that rice with high-quality meat, spices, fresh herbs, fried shallots, garlic chips, and a fried egg.

Chego's rice and noodle bowls are a much-needed reinvention of the sad chicken teriyaki bowl and its bland, mushy rice topped with overcooked veggies and processed chicken and dressed with not enough bottled sauce. Here, you can get a bowl with veggies only, fried tofu, spam, pork belly, prime rib, or grilled chicken and an explosion of carefully selected condiments. If you want a snack or a side, there are also meatballs, seasonal veggies, cheese fries, and salad.

The portion sizes are generous, too: I only got through half of my beefy T bowl for lunch. (If you have leftovers, eat them soon; the stuff gets mushy after a couple of days in the fridge.)

The restaurant is super casual. Order at the counter and get a number, then grab a seat on a stool at the bar-style tables indoors, or outside at a picnic table in the courtyard of the Far East Plaza.

Parking in Chinatown is easy on weekdays but chaotic on Saturdays. There are plenty of $4 parking lots, but if you keep your eyes peeled you can find the narrow entrance to the Far East Plaza's underground garage. Chego validates parking for 1 hour with a $10 minimum purchase. I was there a little over an hour and only paid 60 cents.

Chego's food is incredible and costs the same as the food at those fast-casual chains you're tired of. Go.

727 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Monday closed
Tuesday through Sunday 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Chego website and menu