Think of this decades-old Long Beach restaurant as Mother Wolf’s mother

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Back in January, TikTok food influencer Ashley Rodriguez posted a glowing video around La Parolaccia. “Someone wants to take you on an Italian date and you don’t know where to go? You have to tell them you really wanted to try La Parolaccia in Long Beach, California.” The post, which featured delicious pictures of the restaurant’s pasta and pizza, garnered nearly 400,000 likes and made it impossible to get into the restaurant for months — ironic, as it’s a place that eschews trends for tradition and has made a place for itself in Southern California’s crowded Italian space by maintaining its unwavering commitment to Roman cuisine.

In 2004, Stefano Procaccini, a native Roman who had brought his family to the Long Beach shoreline, knew he wanted to offer the Bluff Heights neighborhood something fairly simple: a taste of Rome — and a taste of Rome proper. And the location he chose was a storefront nestled between a saloon and an intercontinental restaurant called the House of Madame JoJo. La Parolaccia was born.

Stefano decorated the room in warm earth tones and various Italian memorabilia – a signed Totti jersey here, a giant photograph of the Positano coast there, a La DolceVita Movie poster paired with a Roman gladiator chest piece – and opens with a tiny but mighty set of 20 seats, reflecting many of the seemingly myriad cafes and restaurants that line Rome’s streets.

Pizza and pasta at La Parolaccia.

A pizza cooked in the restaurant's wood-fired Italian oven at La Parolaccia.

A pizza cooked in the restaurant’s Italian wood-fired oven.

A pair of tongs throwing spaghetti with egg yolk and bacon to prepare carbonara in La Parolaccia.

Toss spaghetti with egg yolk to make carbonara.

On the menu he deliberately highlighted unique Roman dishes. There were explicit tributes to Roman mother pasta such as amatriciana, carbonara and cacio e pepe, staples that endure to this day. Carciofini dorati (fried artichokes) and involtini di melanzane (eggplant roulades with homemade ricotta) held court on the appetizer menu. And Stefano offered specials that were common in Rome but not common for Italian places in Long Beach; Think venison steak in Barolo sauce or bone-in veal shank on creamy polenta.

And while those dishes have come to define La Parolaccia as Long Beach’s pillar of Roman excellence, it wasn’t necessarily an instant hit just outside the gates.

“People would come in and ask for chicken alfredo,” Stefano says, referring to the Americanization of Italian cuisine over the decades. “Or they want shrimp with carbonara. I like to put the shrimp on the side, but I don’t serve my carbonara with it.”

While it can come across as a little grumpy on the surface, Stefano’s charisma and respectful honesty to tradition is contagious. It prompted diners to trust his decisions, which allowed Stefano, and eventually his son and daughter Michael and Francesca, to successfully introduce Long Beach to Roman cuisine like no other restaurant in town has done since — and for long in front of Evan Funke’s temple to the Roman kitchen, mother wolfbecame a hard-to-secure reservation in Hollywood.

“Those first customers are part of our blood here,” says Stefano. “They came in with their little girl and now they’re having dinner to celebrate her getting a driver’s license. One of our bus drivers, Parker, came here as a kid and now he works here. It very much reflects what I experienced growing up in Italy.”

A father, his daughter and his son stand in front of a brick arch in La Parolaccia.

Francesca, Stefano and Michael Procaccini.

With this community connection came an expansion: in 2010, the restaurant was able to move to the east side of the building to include an Italian wood-burning stove. In 2014, it took over the space just off its west side to create a small enoteca focused on assagini (small bites). Recently, the family even scored the westernmost part of the building, which the Procaccinis are yet to decide how to use, with Michael hinting that “it will definitely be a more casual place, open earlier than the restaurant, like a coffee shop.” Regardless the family can officially sanction the entire property as Procaccini Country.

While Stefano’s vision and charm were big factors in the initial expansion of the space, under the proud oversight of his son Michael, the restaurant has boomed and become a respected authority on not just pasta but pizza.

Michael studied at the Sede Nazionale della Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Parma and is now an instructor for the school; He jokes that he was given the title Pizzaiolo at birth. The jovial joke also offers a glimpse of how Michael’s obsession with pizza has created a distinctly Roman pizzeria in a city where pizza exists in all its forms – from the 4th Horseman’s and Little Coyote’s out-of-the-box pie to to the Neapolitan giant Michael on Naples to chef Michael Mina’s rounds at Bungalow Kitchen – has become a booming category.

Having first dusted his hands with flour as a child while making pasta at La Parolaccia, Michael has long been navigating the deep waters of Italy’s carby standbys: now he can be seen making trays of focaccia , fills plastic tubs with round batter and a restaurant serves a wood-fired oven that reaches over 900 degrees. He follows a very special pizza philosophy: 100 different pizzaiolos come from 100 different pizzas – and you have to make that your own.

A man holds up a mortadella sandwich on homemade focaccia at La Parolaccia.

Michael holds up a mortadella sandwich on homemade focaccia.

Fresh homemade tagliatelle in a white bin at La Parolaccia.

Fresh homemade tagliatelle.

Drizzle olive oil on an anchovy-topped pizza at La Parolaccia.

Drizzle olive oil on an anchovy pizza.

“My pizza is always evolving — it’s not the same as it was two weeks ago, let alone five years ago,” Michael said. “I try different flours, from Italian overnight versions to locally milled. Our restaurant is now better than ever. And yes, people still want New York or Neapolitan, but we’ve always been what we are: Roman through and through.”

What does that mean? Fresh focaccia sandwiches filled with mortadella and burrata. Pizza in pala or “from the paddle”, a game of Roman pizza in Teglia, usually prepared in a sheet pan, but in the case of La Parolaccia thrown directly from the paddle onto the stone. There’s also tonda romana, sometimes called scrocchiarella, a wafer-thin pizza that magically bridges the line between full crunch and outright meatiness.

Of course, it took Michael years of not only learning to trust himself, but also learning to trust the spirit of La Parolaccia at a time when Roman food is all the rage and Americans are starting to really grasp that the Italian cuisine comes in many parts from many regions.

“Sometimes, I admit, I get caught up in this Instagram stuff and try to do crazy things,” Michael said, noting things like this blast on TikTok earlier this year. “But at the end of the day, the best pizza is the simplest. I’ll always indulge my curiosity, but I’m also chasing nostalgia: what I miss about my home in Rome is pizza bianca, pizza rossa, a panini with nothing but mortadella – simple things we don’t really have here, but which I would like to bring regularly to the fold.”

This simultaneous embrace of exploration while avoiding social media-driven hype food is something the Procaccinis, especially Michael, can easily avoid. The family, who share dual citizenship between the US and Italy, make many treks to Rome, and as Michael gets a firmer grip on the business through both pizza and social media, the years and years of building La Parolaccia keep coming back back to a concept just like Italian food itself.

Shower a bowl of Amatriciana with parmesan at La Parolaccia.

Pour Parmesan over a bowl of Amatriciana.

A man wearing a mask and gloves stretches pizza dough in La Parolaccia.

Stretch pizza dough.

A stack of ready-made thin-crust pizzas at La Parolaccia.

Ready made thin crust pizzas.

“My father was always right: La Parolaccia is not here to reinvent anything,” says Michael. “We do carbonara and amatriciana and pizza – things that a lot of people do. But why it stands out to so many people is that we don’t bring these things back to the States when we return from Rome. These are the plates my dad and nonna made for me growing up.”

In other words, La Parolaccia’s aura is neither kitsch nor trendy, nor is it just a strained grasp of “authenticity”. The spirit of the restaurant is a legacy of traditions that have been respected and challenged in equal measure.

“There’s a reason we’re almost 20 years old,” says Stefano. “And we have the heart to believe we can do it 20 more. What we do is share love and create through Italian food. My memories, the memories of my parents and children. We create love. Point.”

La Parolaccia is open from Tuesday to Thursday from 4pm to 9pm, Friday from 4pm to 10pm, Saturday from 2pm to 10pm and Sunday from 12pm to 9pm

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