Welcome to Dining On A Dime, a feature in which Lucas Kwan Peterson surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive and, well, quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
A frequent comment on Eater LA articles goes something like this: "Once again, the subhuman bags of garbage at Eater have completely forgotten about the Valley." Even in my recent attempt to rectify this error (this is, lawyer-style, not an admission of guilt) the mere suggestion that the Valley did not have a reputation as a culinary Mecca was met with waves of harsh electronic invective. And it hurt.
It is important that we all push past this, however, for the good of the wonderful culinary institutions that do call the Valley home. And there are plenty — especially in the deli category. Jewish delis like Brent's in Northridge and Mort's in Tarzana are too-oft overlooked in favor of their brethren to the south (Langer's, Canter's). With regards to Italian delis, Bay Cities in Santa Monica has near-constant attention and love heaped upon it. The accolades are well deserved, sure, but other outstanding institutions may sometimes be left feeling a bit underappreciated.
Cavaretta's Italian Deli need not feel that it is standing in anyone's shadow, however, as it is as good (or better) as any Italian deli in Southern California. First and foremost, it just feels like a good deli when you go in. What does that mean, exactly? It means there's pictures everywhere. It means the shelves are packed and teetering precariously with imported oils, vinegars, pastas and canned vegetables. It means that the staff are knowledgeable and friendly; busy but not brusque. When I asked, they knew which products were made in-house (the meatballs, the marinara, the cannoli filling) and which were brought in (the pasta, the sausages, the cannoli shells). It's got the feeling of a place that's been around since Eisenhower was president (Cavaretta's opened in 1959, and has had the same owner for 31 years), and has the knick-knacks, photographs and clutter to prove it. A cute, telling touch of the employee camaraderie is a row of Coke bottles, each with the name of an employee (from Coke's new "Share a Coke with [your name here]") sitting behind the counter.
The food is, of course, exceptional. Sandwiches are made to order, meats and veggies are fresh, and the bread (which, as any sandwich aficionado will tell you, makes or breaks the sandwich) has a perfect exterior crispness and interior chewiness; not too much of a crunch to chafe the palate and not doughy to the point of insubstantiality. The signature sandwich, "The Italian," comes loaded with capicola, provolone cheese, Molinari and cotto salamis, and fatty, melt-in-your-mouth mortadella. A small will run you $6.95 and will satisfy a large, hungry person. Large sandwiches cost $8.45 and may entail some degree of shame/regret if eaten alone.
The meatballs are divine. Too often I encounter dense hamburger leftovers rolled into well-done balls of mediocrity. Cavaretta's are perfectly done, almost disconcertingly fluffy and moist, and drowning in their simple but excellent house-made marinara. Lasagna is made from scratch daily, as are fresh antipasto and caprese salads. Sausages, while not made on-site, are also winners. There is a seating area in the back as well as a large, but not exhaustive, grocery section— if you're looking for a particular kind of ricotta or canned tomato, they most likely have it, but better to call first.
— Lucas Kwan Peterson
Cavaretta's Italian Deli is located at 22045 Sherman Way in Canoga Park. It is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
· All Dining on a Dime Coverage [~ELA~]