I am a pop culture fanatic who consumes film and television with intensity. I am guilty of inconspicuously working six-degrees of Kevin Bacon and the pop culture decks on Heads Up into way more social outings than I care to admit, all so I can dazzle with my savant-like knowledge of stars of stage and screen from decades before I was even born.
My love of film and television lead to my desire to chase some of the imagery and backdrops of the fictional worlds I’ve been obsessed with. On my first trip to New York, I sought out the blue, Greek key coffee cups carried by every NYPD officer in every movie and episode of “Law and Order.” I doubt I am alone. Who hasn’t dreamed of finding their very own Central Perk, or red-boothed diner with coffee stained mugs a la “Pulp Fiction” and “The Big Lebowski”?
Naturally, I was transported to some of my favorite films as I entered my latest expedition, Mario’s Italian Deli in Glendale. Mario’s is an Italian bodega-style Italian market, deli and sandwich shop in business for more than 50 years. It is the exact conceptualization of a neighborhood market painted in my head in hundreds of films.
Maybe it is my own mental gymnastics after seeing an autographed headshot of Jack Nicholson behind the counter, but I have a theory that Mario’s inspired the opening scene of “The Departed” where at a bodega with a similar aesthetic Nicholson’s mob boss Frank Costello first corrupts a young Colin Sullivan, by buying him bread, cold cuts and a comic book.
There are three culinary components to Mario’s. Behind the deli counter you can order any number of made-to-order sandwiches, pastas, or pizzas to be enjoyed in their modest dining area or to be taken to-go. They also have a variety of deli meats, prosciuttos, salami, cheeses and salads that can be sliced or weighed to your specifications. Their market section is fully stocked with some of their own pasta sauces, desserts and pastas all packed tight to be prepared later.
Upon entering, the sights and scents you might expect of an Italian market delight. The authenticity is palpable. Traditionally, they use a take-a-number system for prepared foods and the deli counter. There is a separate register where you can purchase any of the market items.
On my visit, my dining companions and I tried three sandwiches and brought home a premade lasagna and tiramisu to share later.
The bad boy sub ($12.49) is one of the quintessential Italian combos served with a choice of hot pastrami or honey maple turkey and barbecue mesquite chicken served hot with all the traditional accompaniments: lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, honey mustard, avocado, spicy Italian peppers and toasted bread.
The rib-eye steak sandwich ($12.99) features slices of the tender, flavorful steak layered with tomato, grilled onion, mayo, fresh chopped garlic and seasoning on Italian bread. Confession: I put the whole thing away and it was delicious.
The favorite was the S.O.B. named for spicy sopressata, oven roasted chicken and balsamic vinegar. This spicy, toasty combo with the vinegar bite is everything a deli sandwich should be. The bread is crusty on the outside, spongy and light inside, the meat is sliced deli thin and piled high, and of course the sandwich is as big as your forearm. Tip: add avocado and omit the middle bread.
The walls of Mario’s are nearly devoid of a blank space, plastered in signs and autographed photos of celebrities. Menus and signs exist in different shades of white and ecru, layering each other as if each hue points to a specific decade in the deli’s history. These long held favorites have stood the test of time. Classic combinations and Mario’s own recipes exist side by side on the deli menu that literally boasts something for everyone.
The wall behind the deli-counter is information overload, lined with enough words to fill my entire column, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t read every single menu option up there in fear of missing out on one single thing this place had to offer. Side note: I’d have to visit dozens of times to eat everything I wanted to order.
Mario’s is so comically modest for the mainstay they have become. They have a four foot tall blown up version of the article from 2001 written about them by the New York Times’ LA edition. Their website is a basic HTML page that looks like it has not changed much since the early internet days. Mario’s is the equivalent to the billionaire that drives around in a Honda Accord. They have done everything so right and so well for so incredibly long they have no need to put on airs about what they do. There are 50 years of confidence behind Mario’s, which in the fast-paced, one day here, next day gone LA restaurant scene is more like 150 years.
Walk into Mario’s any day at lunch hour and it is bustling, understandably so. For their speed and overall high quality Italian food, there is not a better place to go for a lunch break. And grab something for later too. All of the refrigerated and frozen items are labeled and include quality ingredients and zero preservatives. The lasagna and tiramisu made for a great mid-week dinner. Pop it in the oven for 35 minutes and you’ll feel like your Italian grandma has been cooking all day. The tiramisu was some of the best I’ve ever had. The custard was rich and creamy, the spongy lady fingers layered throughout had the perfect texture and the chocolate shavings over the top gave it a sweet finish. I’d go back just for the tiramisu but there are plenty of reasons to revisit Mario’s.
740 E. Broadway, Glendale