When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Dino’s Napoletana
Location: 710 West Montecito Avenue
Open: Two months
Eats: Neapolitan-style pizza
Price: $10 per person
Hours: Changes weekly, but are always posted on its Instagram
If you enjoyed pizza parties as a kid — the kind with all your friends and music and maybe some picnic-style seating — then Dino’s Napoletana is your kind of scene.
Part of the Restaurant Progress culinary family, Dino’s Napoletana is a late-night food stall, only firing up its pizza operation (literally) after sunset in the Melrose District. That’s because Dino’s whole deal depends on a couple of factors — it’s located behind a bar and it’s always outside.
That bar is the two-month-old Thunderbird Lounge, which shares the ‘30s-era Wagon Wheel Building with Restaurant Progress and Melrose Pharmacy. Thunderbird offers a backyard-style patio found by entering off Turney Avenue. That's where you'll find Dino's.
As well as the dining area, Thunderbird and Dino’s share a birthday — April 20. That means the Dino’s team has been honing its three styles of pizza back there for just over two months. And they've gotten pretty good.
The three kinds of pizza offered have a little bit of range. First, the standard margherita — hand-tossed dough topped with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Next is the salami, or pretty much the margherita sans basil with little dots of salami. Last is the zucchini, ricotta, pistachio, and mint-topped pie — an eye-catching pile of green unexpected in this setting but utterly enticing.
The pizza is chewy, salty, and hot. The thin pizza is weighed down by a generous amount of tasty toppings of tomato and cheese, which is appreciated considering some Neapolitan-style pizza places love to lay it on light. The salami adds more chew, the basil some fragrance.
Your hands and fingertips come away gritty from the freshly fired dough. The crust, darkened in spots thanks to the blackened domes, is good but unmemorable — especially if you’re making a night of it at the bar.
Dino’s setup is an order podium, a prep table, and a wood-fired oven. A small team of order-takers and pizza-makers shuffle by one another. Keep an ear out for your name, or try to over the DJ music, and then you’re free to pop back to your patio table or inside the lounge with your boxed pizza.
Need anything else? Three shakers of Parmesan, oregano, and crushed pepper sit out for customer use. And that’s about it.
Portions would be considered personal, though an order could be split. But let’s just say if it’s time for a meal, you can easily take one of these down in one sitting.
Dino’s Napoletana is cash only, just a heads-up. The margherita is $8, the others $10. But if you’re strapped for actual cash, the ATM inside Thunderbird spits out fives and singles just for this occasion, and for the tip jar.
The fire is going here Thursday (often Wednesday) through Sunday night, though operating hours changes on a weekly basis. It’s always smart to check its Instagram before heading out, not that you couldn’t kill time here with a Montucky or bag of Jays potato chips if you missed the boat.
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