Orange County doesn't have many restaurants that seem to have been around for ages, but Nick's Pizza is one of them. And it has stuck around for a reason: It's sheer heaven for lovers of good Italian seasoning.
When Nick Fodera and his wife, Lisa, opened the Costa Mesa restaurant in 1968, it was a hole-in-the-wall place in the J.C. Penney shopping center on Harbor Boulevard. Diners at mismatched tables beneath rickety latticework draped with plastic vines could hear Nick's voice booming from the kitchen while they ate the best pizza in town.
That pizza, with a thick, chewy crust, spicy sauce and fresh toppings, is still outstanding, and patrons can still hear Nick's voice bellowing when he isn't out chatting with them, but nearly everything else has changed.
Over the years, pasta, chicken, seafood and veal dishes have joined the pizzas and sandwiches on the menu. A year and a half ago, the restaurant expanded and took on an Art-Deco-meets-Italian-Renaissance decor.
Prices here are extremely reasonable, and portions are generous. For lunch, one can get a mini cheese pizza for $4.50 (a bit more with toppings) or a variety of pastas for $5. Sandwiches are $4--the meatball or eggplant parmigiana are good choices. The two most expensive dishes on the menu (veal) are only $10.95.
While not trendy, the menu at Nick's does offer a nice variety. For example, he makes a mean Pasta Alla Vodka. Pasta here comes with plenty of the well-balanced sauces and is cooked just right.
One of the things that sets Nick's restaurant apart is his careful attention to details and the pride taken in his work.
"They are all recipes from Italy here," Nick boasts. "I use everything imported except for the salt."
In addition, he grows many of the vegetables and all of the herbs and spices on his ranch in Temecula and makes all the gnocci, ravioli and manicotti on the premises.
Nick and his son, Joe, do all the cooking, and Lisa takes orders and sees to other details. Someday soon, Nick says, Joe will take over the family restaurant he has been working at since the age of 7.
"We are just like a mountain," he says. "We go up and then we go down. I decided to go down, and it is my son's turn to go up."
Nick's Pizza, 2300 Harbor Blvd. (in the rear of the shopping center), Costa Mesa. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. (714) 549-1511.