We received a nice letter from a fan of Vittorio’s Ristorante in the Pacific Palisades. She raved about it so convincingly that I rushed over there with my wife Bonnie for dinner our first free night. Since I knew that the owner is from Brazil, I took my secret weapon along — our daughter Raquel speaks fluent Portuguese, and lived in Sao Paolo for two years.

Vittorio’s offers an extensive menu, and reasonable prices. The space is very pleasant, and we sat at a table that was partly indoors and partly outdoors, which was very comfortable on a summer evening. There were a number of families with kids, and a lot of take out going on, but the noise level was OK. It’s a nice neighborhood place to take the family.

Sure enough, they started with the garlic knots that the fan raved about, and they were plenty good, about the same as those served at C&O Italian restaurant on Washington Boulevard in Marina Del Rey. Since there were three of us, I ordered an assortment of dishes so I could report on a variety. First, the appetizers arrived: stuffed eggplant and calamari fritti.

We each took a bite of the stuffed eggplant and declared it delicious, at which time my wife put the plate in front of her and declared that this is what she was having for dinner. Raquel and I started on the calamari fritti. The squid, unfortunately, were grossly overcooked, and some pieces tasted like cardboard because of it. We ate a few pieces and gave it up.

Next came the main courses, lobster linguini (one of the most expensive items on the menu, at $19.50) and the fish soup. The fish soup was a surprise: less soup and more a tall pile of very nice mussels, clams and pieces of squid. There was plenty for two, and at the bottom was a clear broth with a touch of spice. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was very good. Personally I prefer the saffron based, more viscous fish soup served at Dante’s in the Palisades, which has fish in it as well as steamed mollusks.

Unfortunately, the lobster linguini was tasteless, and I don’t know how the chef managed to get the flavor out of the lobster, but he did, and the sauce was uninteresting. In general the sauces lacked flavor, and above all lacked garlic, for me an important part of Italian cuisine.

I went back another night for the pizza, billed as “New York style.” My personal preference is not New York style, but pizza with thin crust and a good balance of cheese and tomato flavor. But for a thick crust pizza with lots of flavor and lots of cheese, this was very good. At about $16.50 for the 14-inch size it’s not a bargain, but it’s mid-range in price. I ordered some crushed garlic in oil on the side to sprinkle on the pizza.

There are a number of good reviews on the Internet, and the fan letter raved about the friendly service. Maybe they were next door? Our waitress seemed aggrieved to be serving the food, and was quite unfriendly. We asked to meet the owner, and she came over and conversed a few minutes in Portuguese with Raquel, mostly about how hard it is for Brazilians to get a visa in today’s world of immigration problems. But she didn’t ask anything about us, or our names, and never came back to check on the food or to say goodbye. I didn’t feel that anyone really cared if we liked the food or not. Our fan mentioned that they serve a number of famous people, and I don’t doubt it, since a lot of famous people live in the hills above Sunset Boulevard.

When I went back for pizza I looked at the wine list (although I drank a couple of beers). There were no vintages on the list, so I couldn’t evaluate the prices, and there was very little of interest on the list. No Dolcetto, for example, which is what I often prefer to drink in a neighborhood family restaurant. There was one wine produced by people we know well, the Burlotto family in Verduno, Italy, and it seemed reasonably priced, but that might be because it’s a 2003 (I looked at the bottle), which was not a good vintage for the Piedmont region.

If I lived in the Marquez area of Pacific Palisades I no doubt would eat at Vittorio’s from time to time, and pick up their take-out foods regularly. With a large selection of Italian foods at reasonable prices, a nice setting, and — for locals — a convenient location, it’s a typical neighborhood Italian restaurant. And, if I become rich and famous, maybe they’ll remember my name.

Vittorio’s Ristorante

16646 Marquez Ave., Pacific Palisades, 90272

(310) 459-9316; www.vittoriosla.com

Dinner only, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Prices: reasonable. Pizza, $15-$22, salads $7-$10.50, pasta $11.50-$21.50; entrees $14-$19. Beer & wine.

Found: Tasty birria in SM

Last year I wrote about birria, the goat stew served in a number of Mexican restaurants. Most of these restaurants are in West Los Angeles, located either on Pico or near Santa Monica and Bundy. But now I’ve found a very good birria at Tacos Por Favor at 14th and Olympic. They have a standard menu, with a much larger breakfast menu than many similar restaurants, and the tacos are OK — with a nice salsa bar. But for me the weekend birria is the star. This is a rich goat meat soup with lots of meat (and bones) in it of different textures. I always take some flour tortillas with it and make a few soft tacos with some of the meat plus some hot sauce, and dip them into the soup. Small size $4.25, large $6.25. Mexican heaven!

Tacos Por Favor

(310) 392-5769, open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Love those hours), but birria only on weekends.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com

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