Back in January, TikTok food influencer Ashley Rodriguez posted a glowing video about La Parolaccia. “Someone wants to take you on an Italian date night and you don’t know where to go? You’ve gotta tell them that you’ve been dying to try La Parolaccia in Long Beach, California.” The post, which showcased mouthwatering images of the restaurant’s pasta and pizza, garnered nearly 400,000 likes, and made the restaurant impossible to get into for months — an irony, because it’s a place that eschews trends for tradition and has carved out a spot for itself in Southern California’s crowded Italian space by sticking to its staunch commitment to Roman cuisine.
In 2004, Stefano Procaccini, a Rome native who had brought his family to the shores of Long Beach, knew he wanted to offer the Bluff Heights neighborhood something rather simple: a taste of Rome — and a taste of Rome proper. And the spot where he decided to do it was a storefront nestled between what was a salon and an intercontinental restaurant by the name of House of Madame JoJo. La Parolaccia was born.
Stefano decked out the space in warm earth tones and various Italian memorabilia — a signed Totti jersey here, a massive photo of the Positano coastline there, a La Dolce Vita movie poster paired with a Roman gladiator chest piece — and opened with a tiny-but-mighty set of 20 seats, echoing many of the seemingly countless cafes and restaurants that line the streets of Rome.
On the menu, he intentionally highlighted singularly Roman dishes. There was the explicit honoring of the Roman mother pastas like amatriciana, carbonara, and cacio e pepe, staples that remain to this day. Carciofini dorati (fried artichokes) and involtini di melanzane (roulades of eggplant with house-made ricotta) held court on the appetizer menu. And Stefano offered specials that, while common in Rome, were not ordinary for Italian joints in Long Beach; think a venison steak slathered in a Barolo sauce or a bone-in veal shank atop creamy polenta.
And though these dishes have now come to define La Parolaccia as Long Beach’s pillar of Roman excellence, it wasn’t necessarily an instantaneous hit right out of the gate. “People would come in and ask for chicken Alfredo,” Stefano says, referring to the Americanization of Italian cuisine across decades. “Or they want shrimp with the carbonara. I’ll happily put the shrimp on the side, but I will not serve my carbonara with it.”
Though it can come off a bit curmudgeonly on the surface, Stefano’s charisma and respectful honesty toward tradition is infectious. It prompted patrons to trust his decisions, allowing Stefano, and, eventually, his son Michael and daughter Francesca, to successfully introduce Long Beach to Roman food in a way that no other restaurant in the city has done since — and long before Evan Funke’s temple to Roman cuisine, Mother Wolf, became a hard-to-secure reservation in Hollywood.
“Those first customers are part of our blood here,” Stefano says. “They came in with their baby girl and now, they’re having a dinner celebrating her getting a license. One of our bussers, Parker, came here as a kid, and now he works here. It is very much a reflection of what I had growing up in Italy.”
With this community connection came expansion: In 2010, the restaurant was able to push into the east side of the building to install an Italian wood-fired oven. Come 2014, it took over the space just on its west side to create a small enoteca that focused on assaggini (small bites). Recently, the family even scored the westernmost section of the building, which the Procaccinis are still deciding what to do with, with Michael hinting that “it will definitely be a more casual space that’s open earlier than the restaurant, like a coffee shop.” Regardless, the family can officially sanction the entirety of the property as Procaccini Country.
While large factors in the space’s initial expansion were Stefano’s vision and charm, it has been under his son Michael’s proud watch that the restaurant has boomed and become a respected authority in not just pasta, but pizza as well.
Michael studied at the Sede Nazionale della Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Parma and is now an instructor for the school; he jokes that he was given the title of pizzaiolo at birth. The jovial quip also provides insight into how Michael’s obsession with pizza has created a distinctly Roman pizzeria in a city where pizza in all of its forms — from the out-of-the-box pies of the 4th Horseman and Little Coyote to Neapolitan giant Michael’s on Naples to chef Michael Mina’s crafted rounds at the Bungalow Kitchen — has become a booming category.
Having first dusted his hands with flour as a kid while making pasta at La Parolaccia, Michael has long been in the deep waters of carby Italian standbys: He can now be spotted making trays of focaccia, filling plastic tubs with dough rounds, and manning a wood-fired oven that reaches over 900 degrees. He follows a very particular philosophy when it comes to pizza: With 100 different pizzaiolos comes 100 different pizzas — and that is something to be embraced.
“My pizza is constantly evolving — it’s not the same as it was two weeks ago, let alone five years ago,” Michael said. “I explore with different flours, from Italian versions overnighted to locally milled ones. Our restaurant is better now than it’s ever been. And yes, people still come in wanting New York or Neapolitan but we’ve always been what we are: Roman, through and through.”
What does that translate into? Fresh focaccia sandwiches stuffed with mortadella and burrata. Pizza in pala, or “from the paddle,” a play on Roman pizza in teglia that is typically cooked in a sheet pan, but in La Parolaccia’s case is thrown directly onto the stone from the paddle. There’s also tonda Romana, which is sometimes called scrocchiarella, a paper-thin pizza that magically straddles the line between full-on crunchiness and outright meatiness.
Of course, this took years of Michael not only learning to trust himself but learning to trust the spirit of La Parolaccia in an age where Roman food is becoming trendy and Americans are beginning to truly grasp that Italian cuisine comes in many parts from many regions.
“Sometimes, I admit, I get caught up in this Instagram stuff and I try to do crazy things,” Michael said, noting things like that explosion earlier this year on TikTok. “But at the end of the day, the best pizza tends to be the simplest. I will always exercise my curiosity but I am also chasing nostalgia: What I miss about my home in Rome are pizza bianca, pizza rossa, a panini with nothing but mortadella — simple things which we don’t really have here but I want to bring into the fold regularly.”
This simultaneous embrace of exploration while eschewing social media-driven hype food is something the Procaccinis, especially Michael, can easily avoid. Sharing dual citizenship between the U.S. and Italy, the family takes many treks to Rome, and as Michael takes a firmer grip on the business both through pizza and social media, the years and years of building the La Parolaccia always returns to a concept often as simple as Italian food itself.
“My dad has had it right all along: La Parolaccia is not here to reinvent anything,” Michael says. “We make carbonara and amatriciana and pizza — things a lot of people make. But why it stands out for so many people is that these aren’t things we’re bringing back to the States when we return from Rome. These are the plates my father and my nonna made for me while I grew up.”
In other words, the aura of La Parolaccia isn’t kitsch or trend, nor is it solely about some strained grasp at “authenticity.” The spirit of the restaurant is about a legacy of traditions that have been equally respected and challenged.
“There’s a reason we’re almost 20 years old,” Stefano says. “And we have the heart to believe we can make it another 20. What we do is share and create love through Italian food. My memories, the memories of my parents and children. We create love. Punto.”
La Parolaccia is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.