Pizza Grotto a fixture in Vista

The only thing wrong with the otherwise wonderful Mama ‘n Papa’s Pizza Grotto is the ambiance.
The red and white tablecloths are great, the catty-corner seating arrangements lead to an intimate setting in what is essentially a barn-sized room, and the place smells like great Italian things are cooking, which they are.
But for me, it was just too darn dark. For some of my friends, too. Not for John, who really appreciated the “grotto” atmosphere. As a great philosopher once noted, “That’s why there are 31 flavors.”
But that aside, we have cited iced tea and soup as our “excellence markers” in previous reviews, and the Pizza Grotto scored high on both
“Friends from the courthouse come and order quarts of soup to take back to their offices,” Chef Charles Kuschel confided. He also told us he is a bona fide “foodie” who loves the Food Network and invents new specials daily.
The owner is Fred Mozzani, the “papa” of the title, and he is Kuschel’s stepfather. The place has been in the family for 23 years and was first building operating in the shops on 988 Escondido Avenue and probably was one of the first restaurants in town.
Why is it that Vista has so many inexpensive but excellent Italian restaurants? We ordered an antipasto salad and an eggplant parmagana, the latter a lunch special for $5.75. It was delicious and ample. John’s salad was pretty much the same price as Felicia’s, reviewed earlier, but without all the many deli offerings of Sam Felicia. Both are excellent in their own way and both are really different.
We decided it’s possible to keep the tab under $10 for two if we ordered a 12-inch eggplant sandwich, split it, and ordered a tea apiece. Alas, we went a bit over that budget because John loves antipasto.
On questioning, Charles told us that he heads a three-man kitchen, open to the right of the entrance, and that the cooks were long-timers. “One has been here for almost since we opened,” he said. Charles’ mama works there too, and is incredibly trim given her exposure to really good calories.
Our waitress Amy also indicated that at an almost three-year tenure she had not been there very long compared to the other servers. Are you getting the idea, as we did, that this is a venerable institution?
Charles’ part of the business is its catering, and he does annual events for Ocean Hills and other locations and events.
On the extensive lunch menu are 12 Italian favorites for prices ranging from $5 to $7, the latter comings with garlic bread or salad or both. They’re served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or, the diner can order a 9-inch personal pizza for $7.50 (includes salad). Other pizzas are a special for $9.75, the works for $8.25, and a vegetarian special for $8.25. That’s just another way to serve two for less than $10.
We vowed to come back, too dark or not. Some things don’t really matter in the long run.
For more information about Mama ‘n Papa’s Pizza Grotto, call (760) 941-3900.

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