Sometimes I miss Philadelphia—specifically, the historic Italian Market with its endless meat and deli counters, outspoken produce vendors and make-you-feel-right-at-home charm. As much as I enjoy the hidden nature of the many ethnic restaurants in the Silicon Valley, when I first moved here, I made it a point to find a great Italian deli. That’s how I discovered Paradiso.
With the deli counter to my left and various dry goods and macchinettas for sale to my right, I momentarily felt like I had stepped inside Philadelphia’s famous Di Bruno Bros. in the ‘50s. The pasta roller and coffee-maker boxes are yellowing, and the pull-lever espresso machine behind the counter appears to be older than I am. It’s obvious the moment you step inside that there’s a story here.
Paradiso Delicatessen opened in 1947, and from the food to the decor, it has stayed virtually the same ever since. Dishes like ravioli and lasagna are made by hand from unchanged family recipes, as is the custom spice mix in the sausage.
The current owners are Tony Paradiso and his sister, Teresa, and although Tony is in his 80s, he’s as dedicated as ever. He personally prepares Paradiso’s signature sauce every morning—and by morning, I mean he’s there at 1am every day to start the cooking process. When I asked him when he sleeps, he just shrugged and said, “Around 6pm.” To call him modest would be an understatement.
The store is divided into two sections. The front deli counter is organized chaos, with hand-written menus posted on the back wall and various types of olives, cheeses, salamis and deli meats behind the glass. Near the deli counter are bulk herbs and teas featuring everything from Bourbon vanilla beans to French tarragon and lapsang souchong. Paradiso also sells San Francisco’s Capricorn Coffee by the pound right next to the Moka espresso makers. The deli counter can be busy at certain times, but any tension is easily diffused when they slice a little extra prosciutto for the customers in line to snack on.
The hot bar in the back has a totally different atmosphere. It’s a lunch line setup with cafeteria trays and plastic plates. Daily specials range from roast beef to eggplant Parmesan, but perhaps the most popular choice is the meatball sandwich. A softball-size meatball chopped and smothered in provolone and peppers on a soft roll is a lunch that seriously sticks to one’s ribs. Another favorite of mine was the lasagna, which is generously spiced with tarragon and served with a side of intensely garlicky broccoli florets. Paired with some sangria, this is exceptional comfort food.
The seating area in the back is delightfully kitschy, decorated with antiques and family photographs. It really feels like a well-loved dining room with most of the tables seating six or more. During lunch, it’s common to see patrons that came alone for lunch sitting at a full table, chatting with someone who had been a stranger to them until only a moment ago.
Since it is located in an industrial area, Paradiso draws a weekday clientele of mostly construction workers, with a few older folks who appear to be devoted regulars and the occasional businessperson on a lunch break. The weekends see a larger crowd, including families filling up the deli counter and relaxing on the back porch. Be sure to check out the wall by the doorway for a touch of vintage Metro history—Paradiso won a “Best of” award back in 1988.
You can always expect a warm welcome at the counter from the staff, who are always eager to express pride in the food they serve and the longstanding history. Paradiso is the kind of place where patrons are treated like family from the minute they walk in the door. And I do mean family—it’s not uncommon for folks to get a playful scolding if they ask for dessert without cleaning their plates.