“There are smells that don’t let you forget,” says Marisa Furno, owner of Guido’s Pizza & Deli in Rancho Cucamonga. “When you take a fugazzeta out from the oven, that smell is Argentina. A pizza with cheese and onion is Argentina.”
Furno, 55, knows a few things about Argentinian cuisine. A native of South America, Furno immigrated to the United States in 2002 after spending the first 20 years of her professional life at an accounting firm in Argentina. Called to cooking and, eventually, to California, Furno has spent the second half of her life making the foods of her home country shine at catering gigs, home dinners, and, more recently, at one of greater Los Angeles’s only Argentine-Italian restaurants, where Furno’s pizzas reign supreme.
While Argentinian food may be more commonly associated with steak and Malbec, the country’s massive pizza scene — along with a range of other Italian-descended dishes — sits close to the cultural heart of Argentinians everywhere.
At Guido’s in the vast Inland Empire, Furno has created a space that honors Argentina’s dishes, while also adapting portions of her menu to fit not only the current California clientele but also the legacy of the Italian deli it inherited.
Furno’s love of Argentinian food has been a lifelong obsession, beginning with a childhood fascination with cooking. In 1997 she founded her first catering company, Mefisto, before eventually enrolling in Argentina’s Gastronomic Institute. But just a couple of months after Furno graduated from cooking school, she and her family were forced to leave behind their native Argentina due to the country’s economic crisis.
Even after trading Buenos Aires’s densely populated streets for the suburban sprawl east of Downtown Los Angeles, Furno knew that she wanted to continue working with food. “As much as I loved cooking for my family, especially tending to my children’s random requests for apple crepes at 12 a.m. on a Tuesday night,” Furno says, “I missed my old catering business.”
In 2004, Furno and her family moved to a condo on Arrow and Archibald, located right in front of Guido’s Italian Deli, a neighborhood favorite run by longtime resident Guido Sciortino. Furno quickly became a regular, frequenting Guido’s for her weekly ricotta and sausage fix, and befriended Sciortino, a Tunisian-born Sicilian who had been fueling the residents of Rancho with sandwiches, sausages, and other Italian deli staples for over half a century. Back then, the red sign outside of Guido’s deli still read “pizza,” though Sciortino and his staff no longer carried it on the menu. One day, Furno decided to ask why. “Guido explained that the shop had been founded by him and his brother and that they had only served pizza for two years, when his brother was still involved,” she says.
Furno, who grew famous among her friends and family for making pizza, saw a business opportunity, and promptly asked the aging Sciortino if he’d ever be willing to sell his shop. He simply smiled politely but gave no answer. She continued to insist. “I was very persistent with Guido... I would always ask him, ‘Don’t you want to retire?’ but he wouldn’t budge,” Furno says. Furno and her family eventually relocated to Fontana, and she stopped trying to persuade him.
In January 2014, she went to an Argentine-Mexican spot in Rancho Cucamonga, one of the few spots where she could source Argentine products in her area. Eager to buy choripanes (chorizo-chimichurri sandwiches) and milanesas (breaded veal or chicken escalopes), she found it had already closed for the day. Upset at the lack of Argentinian eats to serve her and the community, Furno returned to Guido’s on a mission. She asked Sciortino one more time about buying the business. That same day, he said yes.
After nearly a decade in the United States, Furno found herself in the kitchen, making pizzas. Sciortino’s retirement meant that Furno and her family had the blessing of the restaurant’s namesake to continue to run the well-loved deli, but that came with big shoes to fill, particularly when faced with discerning Italian customers used to Sciortino’s Italian and Italian-American fare.
Furno opted to keep the Guido’s name as an homage to the legacy Sciortino had left behind, adding a host of new dishes that built on sandwiches while adding her personal culinary twist. The most notable addition from those early days was Furno’s Argentine-style pizza.
As Argentine writer Ernesto Sábato wrote in his 1961 novel On Heroes and Tombs: “There are more pizzerias in Buenos Aires than in Rome and Naples combined.” Whether or not this fact is historically accurate, it speaks to the importance of the Argentine capital’s pizza culture.
With an influx of more than two million Italian immigrants between 1880 and 1930, it’s no surprise that pizza in Argentina – and Buenos Aires in particular – has held such an important role in the global Italian culinary consciousness. As is the case in cities like New York, Chicago, and Tokyo, the South American country has developed its own distinct styles and traditions that link back to their Italian roots, while offering something more.
Argentine pizzas are most notably differentiated by the usage of local muzzarella, a product distinctly different from the Italian mozzarella. The former is a saltier, fattier version of the staple Italian cheese, and difficult to find in the United States. Argentine pizza expert Pietro Sorba, author of the book Pizzerias de Buenos Aires, says that the abundance of bubbling muzzarella, along with Argentina’s preference for a notably thick dough, makes this regional pizza “almost pornographic.” Though there’s minimal tomato sauce, the pizza is usually pretty strong in flavor, meant to match the extraordinary amounts of cheese. Furno says she had to try various different types of muzzarella, until she finally found one sourced from Texas that most closely resembles Argentinean “muzza.”
An Argentinian pizza dough typically requires a short fermentation process and generally reaches at least two centimeters in height. Pizza de molde — arguably the most popular variety served in Buenos Aires — has a very thick alta masa (high-rising dough) that’s placed in a pan (“molde”), and is said to resemble an almost focaccia-like base once cooked. Pizza a la piedra, the style that Furno serves at Guido’s, features a thinner media masa (half-dough) base. Rather than being cooked in a pan, each pizza is baked on stone in a wood-fired or gas oven, the preferred method for a shorter, crispier crust — a somewhat lighter pie by Argentine standards, though still served with plenty of cheese.
Argentina also has a fair share of what Sorba calls “pizza hybrids,” or typical Argentinian pizza dishes that trace back to various Italian specialties. One of the most popular is fugazzetta, descendant of the Genovese fugassa (a type of focaccia from the region). Arguably the most popular variety, which Furno serves at Guido’s, consists of two thick slabs of pizza dough stuffed with copious amounts of cheese, topped with a generous heap of thinly-sliced onions, and finished with a sprinkle of olive oil and parmesan.
There are various other traditions present within the Argentinean pizza repertoire, like pizza de cancha (a cheese-less tomato sauce slice traditionally served at soccer stadiums) or fainá (a chickpea flatbread, which originates from the Genovese farinata). But when crafting her menu, Furno decided to keep it simple and straightforward; she spent an entire month perfecting a select number of recipes and techniques before making her debut. Guido retired on May 31, 2014, and Furno took over the shop the following day. The pizzas quickly became a hit, drawing Americans, Argentines, and other Latin American customers to her deli-pizzeria.
“People feel at home here,” Furno says. “A lot of Argentines will even get emotional when they try the food. They’re happy to finally have Argentinean options in the Inland Empire.”
American customers have also found a lot to love on Furno’s menus, though she admits that she quickly realized a need to tweak some of her dishes to fit the more common American mood. “The Americans wanted pies with the more ‘classic toppings’ they were used to,” says Furno. “They wanted pizza with pepperoni, sausage, chicken, [and] pineapple.”
To adapt to this demand, she decided to add an “American pizza” section, which features the same Argentinean pies but with more “American” flavor combinations, like a “Meat Lovers” pizza, which comes packed with pepperoni, meatballs, ham, and sausage.
Soon after, she started getting requests for fugazzetta, but stuffed with ingredients that no Argentine would ever dare combine. “I have a regular group of brewery-goers stop by before going for beers who always ask for fugazzetta, but filled with things like pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage,” Furno says. “In the beginning, we thought it was crazy,” she adds, chuckling. “My kids didn’t want to serve them.”
Various other menu items have slowly evolved over the years, in order to continue to cater to customer tastes. Ultimately the success of the business won out, and the newfound attention (Argentinian or not) has enabled the family to expand the Guido’s menu to also include more regionally specific foods they missed.
“We started adding everything from facturas (Argentine pastries), to Argentinean-style lasagnas, choripanes, and milanesas,” says Furno. Nostalgic for the foods of Buenos Aires, Furno ended up using Guido’s as a way of being one step closer to home.
“I’ve missed Buenos Aires every day since I’ve arrived,” Furno admits. “The things we do here are always with Buenos Aires in mind. Guido’s is a way to immortalize Argentinean cuisine and culture and also pass it on to my kids.”
In a way, Furno’s menu at Guido’s Pizza & Deli in Rancho Cucamonga reflects how the owner herself has navigated and negotiated the changes in her life, traveling through and learning from Argentina, California, and the rest of the world. Just as Argentina’s unique cuisine has been enriched by generations of outside influences — while still maintaining a strong sense of identity — the food at Guido’s is alive and ever-shifting. This is the restaurant that has given Furno her dream back, the very same restaurant that has allowed Furno and her family to look outward, carving out a small space for Argentine culture and customs in Southern California.
“We try to serve a little piece of Buenos Aires in everything we sell at Guido’s,” says Furno.
Guido’s Pizza & Deli is open at 9755 Arrow Route Suite G in Rancho Cucamonga from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.