To say that Padrino's is an old-style neighborhood pizza place would be an understatement.
When it opened in 1981, Potomac Mills mall or the suburban sprawl that now stretches from Interstate 95 west to Padrino's in Dale City's Center Plaza did not exist.
The dozens of trophies filling ledges around the dining room tell the story of the restaurant's longtime involvement in local sports organizations, from softball to soccer. The fake plants look a bit bedraggled, and the booths show years of wear.
But diners arrive at Padrino's for the pizza and other authentic Italian dishes; it's not about the decor.
Once there were four Padrino's locations, all owned by the same family, but over the years the separate restaurants were sold to different owners. Carmelo and Maria Naro now operate the original location on Dale Boulevard in Dale City. (Carmelo's brother-in-law runs the other Dale City location on Smoketown Road.)
Carmelo Naro, a native of Sicily, came to this country in 2001 and purchased Padrino's a year later. He is only the third owner in the restaurant's quarter-century history. Maria presides over the dining room and serves patrons.
The trademark feature of Padrino's pizza is that it is all homemade. The dough is made fresh daily and is chewy. The crust of a regular-style pizza is somewhere between that of a cracker-style crust and a deep-dish version. But Naro also serves up a Sicilian-style pie that is extra thick and almost square in shape.
Naro or one of his cooks stretches out each crust by hand before topping it with Padrino's homemade pizza sauce, which is not too spicy and is redolent of good tomatoes. Toppings are fresh, and the servings are generous.
White pizza is also a specialty. Made without tomato sauce and available with or without ricotta cheese (the ricotta adds a nice extra bite), the pizza is heavy on the garlic. It makes a great appetizer for diners ordering dinner entrees.
A small pizza here is what might be considered a regular size in Italy -- 12 inches, or the size of a very large dinner plate. The large is 16 inches, and there is an even larger version, the family size that tops off at 20 inches. All pizzas are presented at the table atop a metal stand and with a wedge-shaped spatula that makes it easier to serve the slices.
Pizzas from this original Padrino's location repeatedly have been voted the best in the area by local residents.
But pizzas are only part of Padrino's extensive menu, which includes all the classic spaghetti house favorites. Dinner entrees such as veal cutlet parmigiana and chicken limone are served with side orders of spaghetti (meat or tomato sauce) and garlic or regular bread.
The garlic bread, rich with butter, is also topped with a thin layer of mozzarella cheese, but it's no match flavor-wise for the heady portion of garlic.
Appetizers include Italian standards such as fried mozzarella and crispy calamari as well as more American fare, including french fries and jalapeno poppers.
Beverages are mostly soft drinks and sweetened or unsweetened tea (you can tell by the color of the plastic glass), though there is a small selection of beer and wine.
There are also a small children's menu, daily lunch specials and special prices on pizzas if you purchase two at a time.
Desserts include cannoli, a Sicilian favorite, tiramisu, chocolate mousse and New York-style cheesecake.
--Nancy Lewis (Feb. 22, 2007)