Fun Diego Family is on a quest to find the best pizza places in San Diego. To that end, we have classified pizza into four broad categories. One of the hardest pizzas to define is the one served at Carino’s in La Jolla. This is a funky place right down to the delicious pizza.
I have been going here since 1991. Since I introduced it to my wife it has become her favorite pizza place ever. In my opinion Carino’s has its own unique take on pizza that some people will love and some people will hate. I love it (but not as much as my wife), but I know to warn people to temper their expectations.
The basic pizza is more of a thin crust. They also offer a thicker deep dish which is my personal favorite (but not my wife’s). This place is in La Jolla right next to dealerships selling Lamborghini, Bentleys, Rolls Royce and other fancy cars. Carino’s is most definitely not an upscale place, but the prices do reflect the neighborhood.
A 12-inch cheese pizza is $15.75. A 14-inch is $17.75. The 9-inch deep dish is $21. Topping are about $2 each. I have found a 14-inch pizza can serve 3 people if you get salad. They also have pasta dishes and sandwiches which my kids love. I have never seen my son eat a meatball as fast as he did with the one at Carino’s. That is a good sign.
If I was really pressed to classify Carino’s pizza I would say it is a Chicago style thin crust. I have decided to label it in our fourth category, Good Old American Pizza Parlor style. I look at this as more of an Italian restaurant that also serves pizza.
On the downside, Carino’s is a dive. This place has been around for years and shows its age. There are about 6 booths and 3 tables, with overall seating for maybe 30. However, if that many people show up the place is likely to get slammed. The tiny bathroom requires walking through the crowded kitchen.
The service is almost always good but quirky. They have been here a long time and know how to take care of their customers. However, anyone expecting high-end American style service will be in for a shock. This reminds me of many of the small cafes in Europe. If you are patient and hang with it, the owner Tyler may just pop by to pour you some extra wine on the house.
I find this approach refreshing and I love the pizza. Many people will hate the lack of ambience, while others may find the pizza too greasy or weird. Others may complain about the price. Our family does not have issues with any of those issues and we come here at least once a year.
In terms of price, I would say it is pretty standard for an Italian style place. Similar to, but much better than the mega-popular Filippi’s chain. As a family of four we generally get a pizza, a couple salads and a spaghetti and meatballs. It is about $45 not including drinks (they serve wine and maybe one or two beers on tap).
Carino’s is a personal experience. It has been around for years and is a favorite for many people that live in the neighborhood (I lived here in 1991 and 1992). It is hard to know how to rank this in the grand scheme of things. Right now it is at the top of my category 4, Good Old American Pizza Parlor style. This is the category that pizza snobs will look down on, but many people enjoy. For more on rankings go here.