If there’s anything Vallarta could use more of, it’s good pizza.
Sure, you can get a hot circle of cheesy cardboard around almost every corner in the city, but for me the list of decent pizza places in the area is pretty short….when Costco makes the top 25, the situation is pretty bleak. That’s why I was just so damn pleased to discover La Notte, stationed a few dozen cobblestones away from Playa Camarones on Calle Honduras just south of the sports complex.
The Vibes: As I ambled past the streetside seating on a chilly winterish evening, the unmistakable aroma of wood fired crust met me at the front doorway. It’s the best way to prepare a pizza and I really don’t see where there’s a discussion to be had about it. I managed to ignore the intoxicating scent long enough to take a quick walk around the space, including the European-style beer garden in the back.
Eventually I could no longer resist my impulses, and after being set up with a cold German dunkelwiezen I browsed the menu as if I hadn’t decided on pepperoni before I even picked up the menu.
A television perched on the wall showed pizzas being lovingly handcrafted in slow motion, a mesmerizing display. Casting a blazed gaze at the screen, I wondered idly if it was stock footage until owner Gabrielle brought a friendly face and some tasty insights to the table.
“Yes, almost everything we use here is made fresh, the dough, the mozzarella, the sauce…we put a lot of care into our food.” Gabrielle explained. “Every year our chef Rafael visits Italy to refresh his skills and keep track of trends from the country, get inspiration from the source…this restaurant is more of a passion project than a way to make profit, we take pride in giving people that come here the best.”
The Vices: The focus on creating a memorable experience for everyone to come in hungry and curious made itself even more evident as I placed my order straight from an 8-year old’s birthday party. After acknowledging that pepperoni was a perfectly safe choice, she suggested that I try one of La Notte’s signature selections on half the pizza instead.
As a professional, I was obligated to roll the dice, and decided on a pie featuring shrimp, sauteed greens, and white wine to show how mature I was.
Before long my half-and-half came out of the kitchen, and taking one look at the perfectly crisp crust topped with ample sauce I knew I had a winner. The pepperoni was baked to perfection, each of them showing off that slight upturned curl and tiny pool of flavor that is the hallmark of the finest specimens.
I took a quick taste of the predictably delicious pizza joint standard (well, maybe I shoved an entire slice in my mouth but no one can prove it) before turning my attention to the specialty slices: Buttery sauteed garlic shrimp partnered with the subtle tang of the white wine to create a deliciously decadent combination I was definitely glad I didn’t miss out on.
“Billie Jean” synthesized itself over the speaker as the pizza got smaller and smaller, and in the midst of my dance-eating session Gabrielle approached the table again with a secret in her smile. “I know you came here for pizza, but one of our seasonal specialties is rabbit and our chef would like you to try it.”
To that point in life, I had eaten as many rabbits as Elmer Fudd…that is to say, none. Still, in this line of work I pride myself on a near-absence of dietary restrictions, and if the chef wanted to showcase his skill, who was I to refuse? The tender, flavorful meat arrived on a firm bed of seasoned potato…thanks to Chef Rafael, I had discovered yet another member of the animal kingdom I would be happy to eat any time.
Stuffed to the seams, I sat back in my chair and enjoyed a glass of grappa, a traditional Italian digestif made from Moscato grapes. By the time La Notte’s 11pm closing time rolled around, I had savored not only one of the best pizzas I’ve had in my time here, but one of the better meals overall. Guess the secret is out.
The Verdict: It is said that man cannot live on tacos alone–look, you just read it–and so although La Notte is right next door to a popular street stand in 5 de Diciembre, it’s well worth a visit if you find yourself wandering down Calle Mexico. In fact, with 20 percent off pizza on Saturdays, it seems like an ideal place to fuel up for a full shift at the nearby beach clubs..maybe I’ll catch you there.
Info: Honduras 115, 5 de Deciembre