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Food

What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Jonesing for Cheap Eats

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Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.

When I was a UCLA student many moons ago, one of my favorite places to eat was Buck-Fitty (also known as Roll Inn Sandwich). I am somewhat dating myself in that I remember when the good-but-not-really-that-good sammiches actually cost $1.50, instead of the $3 or whatever they charge now. Point being, as a poor starving college student, I could get an awesome meal for under $3 (after you threw in the incomparable $1 Diddy Riese ice-cream sandwich, before they raised prices to pay for the fancy signage) and spend less than $6 for a Friday night date.

These days, though I am not quite as poor and not starving as often, I still have an affinity for reliable restaurants with cheap meals (and thus cheap dates) that are wholly satisfying, if not somewhat tasty and surprisingly good for being not “gourmet fine dining”. Doria’s Haus of Pizza in Costa Mesa is one of the spots in suburbia that meets this need for me.

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Owned and operated by the Doria family since 1974 (at its current location since 1981), Haus of Pizza is a simple, no-frills restaurant with a straightforward menu of pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches. The dishes are comprised of simple recipes that Mom would make, that is, if my mom was Italian and I was named Luigi. Pastas are served with marinara or meat sauce, and with an add-on option for meatballs or sausages. What’s great is that everything but the most “exotic” pasta dishes (i.e., fettucini alfredo and tortellini) is between $5 and $7, which includes soup or salad and some super-buttery garlic bread reminiscent of the fried cheese toast they serve over at the Sizz-lah (yum!). Pizzas start at $6 for a 10” pie. In other words, you can feed a family of four for less than $30 with tax and tip.

The namesake product, the pizza, is made New-York style, with doughy crust, greasy mozzarella cheese, and enough chili pepper in the tomato sauce to give it that extra kick. I really love the fact that the pizza is served straight out of the oven with the cheese browning and bubbling over, burning the top of your mouth like a good pizza should. They also have a cool plastic pizza cutter/spatula contraption that I’ve decided is the second-best kitchen utensil after the spork.

Another one of the popular dishes is the panzerotti (essentially a deep-fried calzone, filled with meat and oozing with mozzarella cheese and served with meat sauce on the outside), which is only served on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It just may be the perfect food, covering all four food groups, and it’s fried, but not super heavy or greasy (or at least as light as fried dough, meat, and cheese can be).

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The pastas are just as you’d expect, hearty and consistent. The lasagna leans more on the mozzarella than the ricotta and doesn’t contain a ton of meat, but is a lot more saucy than you’d find in a nicer Italian restaurant. And the spaghetti (which costs $3.90 on Monday nights as part of Haus of Pizza’s daily pasta specials) is, well, spaghetti. It’s pretty hard to eff that up.

Because of its reasonable prices, as well as its prime location by three schools (Orange Coast College, Vanguard University, and a Paul Mitchell school next door), Haus of Pizza attracts more than its fair share of Velcro-walleted college kids that thrive off of the cheap-eats. However, the restaurant really brings in a diverse crowd, from single old white men to middle-aged Filipino couples to young Latino families. It’s got the classic red and white checkerboard tablecloths, with walls adorned with Crayola drawings from its younger clientele, just like Mom’s refrigerator door back home. No one is going to mistake this place for Valentino’s. But it’s a lot more fun and personal than going to the great-breadsticks-but-sterile-atmosphere Pat & Oscar’s or the lackluster-food-but-we-still-try-to-pretend-to-be-classy Olive Garden. And it’s a hell of a lot better than me boiling up water and opening a jar of Ragu. I mean, why would I burn an hour on prep, cook, and clean when I can get a heaping portion of spaghetti and meat sauce with salad and garlic bread for less than $5 in fifteen minutes? (Yes, I speak as a single guy)

Bottom line, you don’t go to Haus of Pizza to have your taste buds wowed. You go to have your stomach filled, because you know it will be at the end of the meal. You go because you can, because it feels obscene to get a good meal for that cheap and you want to keep taking advantage of it before the Doria’s wake up and raise their prices. You go because while the world around us changes, and people shell out $3 for a friggin’ cupcake or $6 for yogurt-flavored fake frozen yogurt, some things stay the same.

Doria’s Haus of Pizza
1500 Adams Ave. #108
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Photos by Ryan Young for LAist