Friday, May 29, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 13

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Stefono's Sapori D' Italia slings Chicago-style street food


California is great at a lot of things, but by and large, Italian food is not on that list, much to Chicago native Dante Stefono’s dismay. He landed on the West Coast a few decades back as an Air Force veteran and made a life here working as a painting contractor, but he kept finding himself on cross-country flights with a rumble in his tummy and Italian beef on the brain.

Dante Stefono serves up a big, beefy hot dog with classic Chicago-style fixings to one of his loyal customers, Bob Engel.

After his recent retirement from the contracting business, he decided that instead of going to Chicago for the food he loves, he’d bring Chicago here. Plus, it would give him the chance to create a family business he could pass down to his daughters. Now he wakes up at 4 a.m. to unload deliveries of sausage, beef, pickled peppers, and bread blown in from the Windy City.

“It just wouldn’t be authentic otherwise,” Stefono said. “You can’t find this stuff anyplace else.”

Roughly 70 percent of the food at Stefono’s Sapori D’ Italia comes from the same supplier that serves most of the restaurants in Chicago, he said. The rest he prepares from scratch every morning at his little food stand before opening for the lunch rush at 11 a.m. and closing down shop at 4 p.m.

“So much for retirement, eh?”

First-rate, second city
Stefono’s Sapori D’ Italia is located at 2340 Professional Parkway in Santa Maria, tucked around the backside of a medical/office plaza. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. They’re also available for catering and have a gelato/sorbet truck that can turn your favorite wine into a unique sorbet. Call (805) 332-7652 to reserve for your next event.

For my first visit on a lunch break, I ordered the spicy sausage sandwich with sweet and spicy peppers and figured I was obligated to try a simple slice of pepperoni pizza, too. I paid (only $12 for two lunches and a drink) and introduced myself to Stefono. While I waited, a group of his regular customers—large men sporting mustaches—busted my balls in true Chicago fashion. It was almost uncanny.

The sandwich came out in seconds, and by the time I took some careful pictures, chatted with those regulars a bit, and made my way through a third of the thing, my meal was falling apart. I’m not complaining. Mopping savory juices with billowy bread and a hard crust is one of my favorite pastimes. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t plan on ordering this grub to go and having a tidy snack at your desk. Stefono makes finger lickers, and you’re going to have to deal with that. The sausage was packed with flavor, the pickled peppers were tangy and spicy, and the bread was out of this world.

I’ve been a California boy most of my life, with a brief stint as an Oregon man. Where I come from, good pizza means creative toppings. Throw some feta and artichokes at it, maybe swap the marinara for barbecue sauce or pesto.

Stefono’s pizza slices are massive with a heavy coat of bold sauce, but for the first time in my adult life, I finally understood those people who say the crust is their favorite part. Seriously, so good.

Stefono’s pie was different. The cheese was relatively sparse, floating on a sea of bold sauce imported from Italy and augmented at home, and the pepperoni was clearly high-quality, spicy meat. But that dough! It wasn’t covered in herbs or drenched in butter or any of the other gimmicks I’m used to seeing to make dough pop. It was just fantastic. I’ve made pizza dough at home. It’s flour, yeast, and water with a bit of salt. I don’t know what they do differently back East, but they’re doing it right. I’ve never tasted a crust this good. Benissimo (Italian chef kiss gesture)!

Stefono talked me into coming back the next day for his meatball sub, which is based on his great-grandmother’s meatball recipe but shrunk down to fit between bread. It was phenomenal, and only $5. He also talked a big game about his Italian beef sub, which he said is thin-sliced, simmered in juices, cooked to perfection, and 1,000 times better than any tri-tip sandwich. But like a jabroni, I haven’t sampled that one … yet.

Nick Powell wants to savor that flavor. Send your newsy nibbles to

Powell’s picks


• Every third Tuesday, which is coming up May 21, a flock of five freaking food trucks gathers at Santa Maria Town Center for a makeshift outdoor food court. This month’s lineup includes Lido’s Philly Connection, Feed My Seoul, Cubanissimo Cuban Cuisine (pictured below), Beau’s Dogs, and AR Catering serving flavors from all over the map from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

Industrial Eats of Buellton recently stirred up some controversy with a Cinco de Mayo post on social media advertising one of their “Grandroom Dinners,” some delicious-looking chile verde, and a hashtag that triggered hundreds of comments from sensitive supporters of President Trump. It used the “F” word right next to his name! To think they’d have the nerve to direct that kind of language at such a dignified man (#sarcasm). I’m shocked and offended and hungry. Luckily, their next Grandroom Dinner will feature Texas barbecue and take place on June 12 at 6 p.m. Reserve one of 50 spots for $55 dollars by calling (805) 688-8807.

• Are you all enjoying those Michoacana ice cream and popsicle stores that are scattered all over this fine region? I’d never tried them until I moved back to the Central Coast last summer, but they’re a treat with tons of creative flavor options packed with exotic fruits and odd-ball ingredients like Fruity Pebbles cereal. Pro tip: Watch out for seedy fruits. They make for delicious popsicles, but they’re super hard to eat.

Nick Powell is often #sarcastic. Send your serious food news to

Weekly Poll
How would you like to see transportation officials try to make highways in the Santa Ynez Valley safer?

Add biking and walking paths along the highways to keep pedestrians away from traffic.
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