Restaurant Review: Napoleone’s Pizza House is perfect for families who want pizza and pasta in a casual environment. They’ve got an old juke box and murals along the upper walls. The owner himself also makes the pizza right in front of you.
The only problem on the night we went: the pasta was a bit soggy and when you’ve lived in Naples, Italy for three years, you want al dente. The atmosphere and fresh pizza made up for the gaff.
I love the history of this family owned business that — in typical Neapolitan fashion — refuses to open a second or third restaurant. That means, it’s a “one-and-only”. You’ll just have to come to National City if you want a taste.
In September of 1958 two brothers-in-law (Mike and Joe Sardo) opened the doors to Napoleone’s Pizza House. They brought their nephew (Sal Crivello) in to be the dishwasher and soon he also started to make pizzas.
Eight years later Mike made Sal a partner. Joe and Sal then ran the Pizza House for three decades. The Pizza House became a hangout for Sweetwater High School kids and the National City Police Department, among others. By the early 90’s Joe retired and Sal brought in his son Peter to continue the legacy. That’s who you see behind the counter making pizzas most nights.
But don’t read the history, see it in pictures:
The San Diego Union Tribune featured Napoleone’s when, in 2014, Peter Crivello decided to hire friend and artist Augie Lugo (age 78) to create the story board cartoons. For 30 years Lugo had painted the outside windows of the restaurant for the holidays.
Lugo, who once had a sign business across the street from Napoleone’s and wanted to be a cartoonist all his life, began the cartoons with uncle Mike leaving his hometown of Naples. He also painted the high school, the police department and the once infamous “Mile of Bars” (today, the “Mile of Cars”).
Tom Waits Worked Here
The restaurant’s biggest claim to fame is that Tom Waits worked here starting at the age of 14. He continued on for 5 years (1963-68), at first washing dishes, then making pizzas. Napoleone’s inspired Waits to write the song Can’t Wait To Get Off Work.
Their website displays Tom Waits’ quotes about their restaurant:
In 1974, he said: “I thought high school was a joke. I went to school at Napoleone’s.”
Then, in 1974, introducing The Ghosts of Saturday Night, Waits said: “It’s about National City, which is primarily a sailor town, a suburb of San Diego, where the infamous Mile of Cars is on National Avenue and at the North end of National Ave. is the Burge Roberts Mortuary and the Golden Barrel, Escalante’s Liquor Store, sandwiched in between a Triumph Motorcycle shop and Burge Robert’s is Napoleone’s Pizza House, it’s been there for a good 25 years and I worked there when I was real young. I’ve worked since I was 15 there and I guess not till I was away from it for a long time I could really sit down and write something constructive about it. This is called Ghosts of Saturday Night or Looking Out From Napoleone’s.”
In 1975, he additionally said, “After I quitted (I was working on a Mobil station) and I was fifteen, eh, I started working as a dishwasher and a cook at a place called Napoleone’s Pizza House. And eh, worked there for years, for Joe Sardo and Sal Crivello, and eh it was a gas. Ehm well, like every night about eh 4 o’clock in the morning, all the white vinyl booted gogo dancers and all the sailors would come over about a quarter o’four. And eh just about that time Joe would go out in front just to check out the traffic on the street. You know, he would like leave his paper hat and he’d fold his apron and he would go out and stand in front of Napoleone’s. Across the street from The Gold Barrel and Escalani’s Liquor and Mari’s Pizza. There’s a Shell station right on the corner, and a Westerner and a Club-29, and a Melody Club, Phil’s Porno and Iwo Jima Eddie’s tatto-parlor. And there’s be a cab out there combing the snake…”
Napoleone’s serves traditional comfort foods: spaghetti bolonese, meat & cheese ravioli, and linguini with clams. Their pizzas come in cheese, sausage & mushroom, the works, vegetarian, Hawaiian and jalapeño. They’ve also got soups, salads, sandwiches and garlic bread. They serve some American favorites too, including Pete’s Wings and BBQ Sausage Sliders for “Nappy Hour”.
Finally, following the craft beer craze in San Diego County, Napoleone’s makes their own Nappy’s Ale.
Prices range from $11-13 for a full dinner and $6-7 for half orders. Small pizzas are from $7-9.25 for small to $11-16 for large.
Address: 619 National City Blvd., National City