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Dec 16, 2009 08:56 AM

Il Dolce Pizzeria- Costa Mesa....finally a real deal unpretentious artisanal pizzeria

After driving past this new building being built practically every day, I was extremely intrigued when heard it was going to be an authentic Italian pizzeria. I have wanted a great pizzeria in my area ever since I tasted great pizza in Italy many years ago. I know that Big Al’s and The Pizza Oven get much respect, but these are more American/New York Style pizza.

Rumor was that the chef/owner is a trained baker and has been working the pizza oven for Wolfgang Puck over the past year while his restaurant was being built. A couple of weeks ago a saw someone inside and even though it wasn’t open I pulled in anyhow and talked to the owners. The owners are husband and wife named Roberto and Ferndanda. They were incredibly sweet and took the time to tell me about the place. He has indeed been working with Puck as there is a picture of him on the wall next to a framed certificate from the Verace Pizza Napoletana, which I guess is an academy that certifies you as a trained maker of Naples style pizza. Roberto also told me the he imports the flour from Naples and that they will be making their own mozzarella everyday.

The couple is from Argentina and looking at the menu I saw a few non-Italian items I was excited about like empanadas and grilled skirt steak w/ chimichurri sauce.

I went with my wife and another couple a few days after they opened and had a great experience. We started with the meatballs, which were very tender. We also ordered both the beef and chicken empanadas. Wow! These were the best I have ever had. Totally the real deal! Way better than Empanada Place or House of Empanadas .

Then the real feast began. I took a menu for reference.

The Pizzas;
Polpetta - Pesto sauce, mozzarella, meatballs w/ tomato sauce and fresh basil

Patata - Chili oil, mozzarella, gruyere, pancetta, fingerling roasted potato and fresh rosemary

Salciccia - Garlic sauce, pancetta, fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage, caramelized onion, rapini, Italian parsley and basil.

We also had the Chicken Picatta which was done very well.

All of the pizzas were very delicious and the crust was not the afterthought like so many other places. It has nice texture and flavor. I usually like pizza dough more crispy and charred so I think the next time I go I will ask for it more cooked, but over all I highly recommend this place. I can’t think of any artisanal style pizza place in Orange County that is better and I have been to Pizzeria Ortica and Canaletto…besides those places are too fancy pants for pizza. This place is very casual and relaxed.

The address is:
1902 Harbor Blvd (and 19th St)
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

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  1. Thanks for the review as always. I'll certainly try this out as I trust your recs but, I want to point you to the following: Pizza e Vino in Rancho Santa Margarita of all places. It's the real deal.

    1. i just came from there. i raced over there at 9:30 from corona del mar, hoping they'd be open. it was kick ass. i highly recommend it and i concur with everything you said (except maybe the part about the crust needing to be more well done. by far, i don't think it's too limp, but i wouldn't hate it if it were a bit burnt, too :)


      edit: btw the attached photo is the arugula and prosciutto pizza.

      2 Replies
      1. re: landru64

        Yes..I should have added that my wife likes the crust softer. It is definitely a personal preference.

        I should have added to my review that they also have a bunch of tasty looking pasta, salads and antipasti. They are also open for lunch. I don't remember exactly but the menu is mostly the same but there was a bunch of delicious sounding paninis as well.

      2. Thanks for the report. I've been meaning to go to Pizza E Vino, but it's pretty far and this is much closer, plus sounds a bit more casual. How was the fresh mozzarella? According to the menu, it's made in house.

        1 Reply
        1. re: groover808

          I checked out the website for Pizza E Vino and it does look quite good and looks like more of a formal sit down, but Rancho Santa Margarita might as well be San Diego when I am chilling in West Newport wearing flip flops and wanting a local casual italian meal. The next time I find myself in down there I will for sure check it out.

          I only had the fresh mozzarella on the pizza and it was very good. I don't remember if they had a caprese salad on the menu.

        2. decor and "fancy pants" aside, are you saying that the pizza is superior to Ortica? I found Ortica to be embarrassingly mediocre and certainly not worth a return visit so the bar to beat that place is set quite low, but it would be nice if there was an artisanal place in OC that can deliver the culinary goods.

          2 Replies
          1. re: OC Mutt

            Ha Ha. Good point. I did not enjoy Ortica that much. Although I enjoyed the pizza more than the other items on the menu. I only mentioned Ortica because that is what it is claiming to be along with its "300 year old starter dough".

            Ortica and Il Dolce are miles apart as far as pretense and decor. I love supporting the family owned local places so I recommend giving Il Dolce a try.

            1. re: cdmedici

              I used to feel the same way about Ortica, but just went back recently after a year absence and thought the food, service and general feel of the place had improved significantly.

          2. Went there this week as well- I live right down the street and this area screams for a decent pizza place.

            I liked the menu the choices and what they are trying to do. I will definitely go back, but there are three problems they need to address.

            1. Their wine list is weak. It's like something you'd see at Mimi's restaurant. How about a few special Italian wines- medium priced and seeing as how they have an Argentinian slant a few wines from Argentina as well.

            2. While I liked the taste of the crust it is WAY too tough. It may need:
            a. more time to develop
            b. a hotter oven- I agree with a poster that the pizza needs some black char- perhaps less time in the oven will keep it moist- or it needs some oil in the dough. the dryness of the crust adds to the difficulty in chewing it and it made me want to dip it in oil. At least it's not soggy like Ortica.

            3. The mozzarella needs to be in dollops. On the Margarita pizza the cheese spread out in this really thin layer like soup and barely led any textural variance or taste to the pizza. By the way the sauce seems pretty good, and I liked the potato pizza better.

            I will be back this week- I will try the Empanadas- the asparago pizza, the pasta and bisteca...

            I think it has potential. Hopefully the read the early reviews

            9 Replies
            1. re: meltedcheese

              Yes..the wine list was on the small side. Great idea about Argentinian wine. I have been drinking some amazing bottles of Malbec from Hi-Times Wine Cellar lately. Great pricing as well.

              Hopefully they will add more wine as they figure out there customer base.

              1. re: cdmedici

                First I want to provide the correct telephone number (the one in the digest is wrong). It is 949-602-6161. We went (based on the digest) for lunch today. We have been to Ortica and tend to agree with the earlier posters. OK, but we won't be back. I have been to Naples and I have been to Pizza Antica in Marina Del Rey. Il Dolce Pizza has the potential, but today, they fell short. We ordered the large Faro salad. It was very good, but (even my wife agree) needed a touch of salt and pepper, neither of which were on the table. Because (I hope) the salad, being chewy, is eaten more slowly, our pizza margherita arrived before we were finished with the salad and, onsequently, sat for a while before we could begin eating. I lifted the crust and it seemed a little pale to me with few to no char spots. Sitting on a plate, of course, the crust began to sog. While it was chewy, there was no crispness anywhere to be found. The mozzzarella was not chunky and, indeed, had melted and spread across the breadth of the pizza. Basil was very sparse and the tomatoes were not very flavorful (given the time of the year, I guess that's to be expected).

                The big question is: Will we go back? The answer is: probably. There are a lot of interesting looking dishes on the menu. When's the last time you saw a prime hamburger for under ten bucks? Maybe next time I'll 'shoot' the oven with my infrared thermometer to see if, maybe, there temperature is down. I didn't see the VPN sign, but really wasn't looking for it. they do have Birra Peroni Nastro Azurro, one of my favorite beers.

                To me, the true test of an Italian restaurant is the crust of their pizza, the bread for their sandwiches (the ciabatta looks gorgeous) and the texture and flavor of their meatballs. Next trip: Meatball sandwich.

                Il Dolce Pizzeria
                1902 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

                1. re: REFFI

                  I'll pile on with the remarks about the almost-but-not-quite-there crust. The crust had the distinct, lactic smell of a well fermented dough. So did the housemade bread. There is enough moisture in the crumb, but the bottom of the crust needs a higher oven heat to char correctly.

                  The house made fior di latte must be too wet. It leached out a lot of water on my margherita pizza, which looked like a big soupy mess. The idea of house made mozzarella is better than the execution. The cheese needs a more thorough pressing to expel moisture, I'm guessing.

                  Overall - it wasn't bad by any means, but I'd like to see some tweaks to get the final product dialed in.

                  1. re: REFFI

                    Many of us have long had the habit of requesting Southern California pizzas "well done" or "crisp" (or "delivered from New Haven" ;-).

                    Despite the claim of house-made mozzarella, it sounds like they use thin slices from a manufactured loaf. Watery cheese could create a wet pizza but would not necessarily melt into a very thin layer. Of course, with slices, you can see the seams. So maybe the mozzarella just has a wimpy structure.

                    I eagerly await your report on the meatball sandwich, because I haven't found a good restaurant meatball anywhere in Southern California.

                    1. re: Harry Nile

                      Good advice in ordering pizza "well done" or "crisp" in southern CA. It's inexplicable why crispness of crust and caramelization of cheese and toppings is generally shunned by pizza makers out here (laziness? impatience? bad taste?), but it is unfortunately quite common. Seeing sickly white, barely melted cheese on top of a pale crust is all too prevalent. BTW, Ortica's was wet and dissolved in places - it was gross.

                      1. re: OC Mutt

                        I went back today for lunch and am happy to report back that there is a big improvement on the crust. I noticed a secondary fire in the oven so I walked over and asked the owner. Apparently it is a gas fired pizza oven, but he now also using wood. Just as I was talking to him a man walked into the store delivering wood. He said it was almond wood. I noticed the digital temp of the outside of the oven read 797 degrees.

                        I ordered a pizza called Pizza al Funghi which as the name implies is mushroom. To be more specific it had sauteed wild mushrooms with mozzarella and fontina cheese. It was very good. I even took a pic with my cell phone.

                        1. re: cdmedici

                          i went back again today as well! the crust was indeed better--more bubbles, more char. he mentioned that maybe this time the crust had been allowed to develop longer. having just gone to mozza on christmas eve, i can say that this pizza is closer than just about anything i've had (i have not been to ortica) around so cal. true, the crust still gets soggy quickly in the middle. i personally find the mozza crust to be a little bit too airy and light, and certainly lighter than anything i have ever had in italy! but the mozza crust was crisp in the center, even in the face of dautingly oily ingredients like those in the bianca pizza i had there.

                          the il dolce pizza this time around was the patata pizza. similar in concept to the bianca at mozza, it was bland, but i still enjoyed it, mostly because of the crust. i need to try the prosciutto and rucola pizza again.

                          good progress. i like this place.

                          1. re: cdmedici

                            Good to hear, I'm going to go tonight. Would you say the pizzas are personal sized so just 1 per person, or can you share like your other type of pizzerias?

                        2. re: Harry Nile

                          Me too - all pizza I order is ordered well done. For that matter, French fries and onion rings, too. The little bit of extra caramelization on the toppings really enhances the flavors.