Mario’s Italian Café has locations in cities throughout the Coachella Valley. But if you thought all of those restaurants were created equal, you’re in for a surprise when you dine at the newest incarnation just down the road from the Westfield Palm Desert mall.
You’ll still find the same huge menu filled with Italian specialties, and walls hand painted with beautiful murals — the ones in Palm Desert depict scenes of the Amalfi Coast — that local artist Allison Mason has done for several of the restaurants.
But the Palm Desert café also has a separate banquet room that holds up to 80 people. Dubbed the Venetian Room, it’s decorated with colorful murals of Venice landmarks.
“This location also has a full bar and lounge area rather than just a main dining room,” says Peter Del Guidice, one of founder Mario Del Guidice’s sons. (Peter and his brother, Matthew, flank Mario in the large “Father & Sons To Serve You” photo you’ll see on the back wall of the restaurant.)
“We make everything — soups, sauces, meatballs, sausages, pizza dough — fresh on the premises,” adds Del Guidice. “So we offer a home-cooked meal, but we don’t charge a lot. You can enjoy almost anything on our menu for between $10 and $15 a person.”
And as Del Guidice pointed out to me, you have a lot of options to choose from. Mario’s Special pizza, which has everything on it — sausage, onion, black olives, mushroom, green pepper and pepperoni — is a good place to start.
“Our most popular seafood item is Cioppino, with mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, and fish,” says Del Guidice. “It’s quite a dish.”
My friend and I went the traditional route — he ordered a flavorful, perfectly-cooked chicken piccata that came with a side of spaghetti marinara, while I couldn’t resist the draw of a big bowl of spaghetti topped with an equally large, fork-tender homemade meatball.
Del Guidice says their most requested pasta dish is the baked mostaccioli made with sausage, beef, garlic, fresh basil, mozzarella and ricotta cheese.
“It’s like lasagna,” he says, “but all tossed up together.”
“We also offer what we call our heavyweight contender because we refer to it as a half plate of food, but it really leans more toward a full serving. And all of those selections are $9.95 or less,” says Del Guidice. “It’s been the most popular category on our menu.”
The popularity of the new location is also gaining steam. “We greet customers every day who tell us how glad they are that we’re now here in the area,” says Del Guidice.
Mario’s Italian Café, 73155 Highway 111, Palm Desert, (760) 341-1130