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The loveably unpolished Bambino’s Pizza & Deli

A crowd-pleasing heart shaped pie in the middle of San Diego's sprawl

A heart-shaped pepperoni pizza from Bambino's Pizza & Deli
A heart-shaped pepperoni pizza from Bambino's Pizza & Deli

It was the heart-shaped pizza that brought me to Paradise Valley, a southeastern San Diego neighborhood roughly at the halfway point between National City and Spring Valley. Aside from single-family homes and apartment complexes, there isn’t much to see. I spot a few taco shops, a couple of auto detailers, and a massage parlor, tucked just behind the small pizzeria.

Place

Bambino’s Pizzeria and Deli

7720 Paradise Valley Road, Suite 101a, San Diego

There’s not much to look at inside Bambino’s Pizza & Deli, either. Outside the kitchen it’s barely a couple hundred square feet, mostly taken up by counter space and drink coolers. The walls are plastered with food photos, depicting items off the Bambino’s menu. I see hot sandwiches, pasta dishes, calzones, and chicken wings. And despite a misspelled, “pizzaria,” there are plenty of pizzas pictured on the wall, too. They range in size, up to a giant, 28-inch pie.

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Sponsored

There are mostly teens operating the shop this Friday evening, and they’re clearly related: it’s a family enterprise. Though not quite a family of restaurants anymore. The original owner still operates Bambino’s Pizza & Deli 2, in a similarly tucked away part of Chula Vista, but he sold this location, as well as Bambino’s Pizza & Deli 3, near highway 94 in Encanto (but they don’t talk about Bambino, no no no). Also a Giant Bambino’s Pizza, which serves mostly the same menu in Lakeside (Giant Bambino’s II, in La Mesa, closed last year).

A small counter shop in Paradise Valley

All the shops are like this one: small, sparsely decorated, hole-in-the-wall pizza counters. Low investment businesses able to produce a wide breadth of menu items using similar ingredients. And all operate in relatively low-profile locations. However, though they operate independently these days, they do all still have one important thing in common: each will bake you a heart-shaped pizza, if you ask.

A one-topping, 14-inch rendition of the heart-shaped pie goes for 10 or 12 dollars, depending which location you order from. And the Paradise Valley location will assemble one of every size, up to that 28-inch giant pizza ($37 for a heart shape).

A too flat torpedo sub

When it comes to most of the items I tried from this location, they’re about as good as you’d expect from a low-budget pizza counter in a fringe neighborhood — that is, they’re not too memorable. The torpedo sandwich ($13) stacks precious few Italian deli meats with provolone cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The meatball sub ($12) tastes okay, but doesn’t look much like its photo in the shop, with smaller and fewer meatballs yielding a flatter sandwich. The buffalo chicken wings (five wings for $8) do what buffalo chicken wings do.

But as my hungry family would soon discover, the pizza has more to offer than novelty shape. It’s thinner than deep dish yet thicker than New York pie. It’s similar to a pan-pizza or Detroit style, in that it’s got an almost focaccia-like crust, crispy around the edges but moist and chewy beneath the toppings.

A too flat meatball sub

We all enjoyed it more than expected, and none more than the kids, who insist that I order all our pizzas from Bambino’s from now on. And that they should all be giant. I’m sure they’ll mostly be round, but without a doubt, that heart-shaped pizza will be in play for Valentine’s Day.

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A heart-shaped pepperoni pizza from Bambino's Pizza & Deli
A heart-shaped pepperoni pizza from Bambino's Pizza & Deli

It was the heart-shaped pizza that brought me to Paradise Valley, a southeastern San Diego neighborhood roughly at the halfway point between National City and Spring Valley. Aside from single-family homes and apartment complexes, there isn’t much to see. I spot a few taco shops, a couple of auto detailers, and a massage parlor, tucked just behind the small pizzeria.

Place

Bambino’s Pizzeria and Deli

7720 Paradise Valley Road, Suite 101a, San Diego

There’s not much to look at inside Bambino’s Pizza & Deli, either. Outside the kitchen it’s barely a couple hundred square feet, mostly taken up by counter space and drink coolers. The walls are plastered with food photos, depicting items off the Bambino’s menu. I see hot sandwiches, pasta dishes, calzones, and chicken wings. And despite a misspelled, “pizzaria,” there are plenty of pizzas pictured on the wall, too. They range in size, up to a giant, 28-inch pie.

Sponsored
Sponsored

There are mostly teens operating the shop this Friday evening, and they’re clearly related: it’s a family enterprise. Though not quite a family of restaurants anymore. The original owner still operates Bambino’s Pizza & Deli 2, in a similarly tucked away part of Chula Vista, but he sold this location, as well as Bambino’s Pizza & Deli 3, near highway 94 in Encanto (but they don’t talk about Bambino, no no no). Also a Giant Bambino’s Pizza, which serves mostly the same menu in Lakeside (Giant Bambino’s II, in La Mesa, closed last year).

A small counter shop in Paradise Valley

All the shops are like this one: small, sparsely decorated, hole-in-the-wall pizza counters. Low investment businesses able to produce a wide breadth of menu items using similar ingredients. And all operate in relatively low-profile locations. However, though they operate independently these days, they do all still have one important thing in common: each will bake you a heart-shaped pizza, if you ask.

A one-topping, 14-inch rendition of the heart-shaped pie goes for 10 or 12 dollars, depending which location you order from. And the Paradise Valley location will assemble one of every size, up to that 28-inch giant pizza ($37 for a heart shape).

A too flat torpedo sub

When it comes to most of the items I tried from this location, they’re about as good as you’d expect from a low-budget pizza counter in a fringe neighborhood — that is, they’re not too memorable. The torpedo sandwich ($13) stacks precious few Italian deli meats with provolone cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The meatball sub ($12) tastes okay, but doesn’t look much like its photo in the shop, with smaller and fewer meatballs yielding a flatter sandwich. The buffalo chicken wings (five wings for $8) do what buffalo chicken wings do.

But as my hungry family would soon discover, the pizza has more to offer than novelty shape. It’s thinner than deep dish yet thicker than New York pie. It’s similar to a pan-pizza or Detroit style, in that it’s got an almost focaccia-like crust, crispy around the edges but moist and chewy beneath the toppings.

A too flat meatball sub

We all enjoyed it more than expected, and none more than the kids, who insist that I order all our pizzas from Bambino’s from now on. And that they should all be giant. I’m sure they’ll mostly be round, but without a doubt, that heart-shaped pizza will be in play for Valentine’s Day.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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