In many ways, David’s Pastas & Pizzas is your prototypical red sauce Italian joint. Tucked away in a stretch of working-class Richmond populated by auto shops and unmarked warehouses, the restaurant has built up a strong local following for its thin-crust pizzas and heaping platters of chicken parmesan and fettuccine Alfredo. It’s the kind of place where the whole family can fill up on nostalgic, comforting carbs for $40 or $50.
Of course, this is the Bay Area, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the kitchen team working behind the scenes is entirely Latino—or, in this case, that the whole restaurant is owned and operated by a Mexican American family with deep roots in the Richmond-San Pablo area.
Co-owner David Guillen, Jr. says the way his father, David Guillen, Sr., got into Italian cooking is a classic immigrant tale: Shortly after arriving in the United States in the late ’90s, the Jalisco native landed a job as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant in Orinda—a gig he secured thanks to the recommendation of some Salvadoran neighbors that he’d befriended. David Sr. had never had any particular interest in Italian food prior to that, but he started studying the recipes in earnest, slowly working his way up the line until he became the lead cook. Eventually, In 2017, he and his brother opened their own restaurant, Famiglia Italian Restaurant, in Pinole.
Now, David Sr. has split off to open a small Italian family restaurant of his own. David Jr. works the front of the house and manages the business side of things, but the recipes are David Sr.’s alone—a culmination of his 20-plus years of slinging ravioli and spaghetti carbonara. Open since December of last year, the restaurant also occupies a somewhat rarefied niche here in the East Bay: The menu focuses almost exclusively on the kind of red sauce classics that dominate the Italian American enclaves of the East Coast but have become something of an endangered species in these parts.
So, one of the most popular dishes at David’s Pastas & Pizzas is its extra-creamy, extra-garlicky version of fettuccine Alfredo—the kind of retro pasta dish you’d be hard-pressed to find at any of the Bay Area’s stylish temples of Cal-Italian or hyper-regional Italian cooking. Another is David Sr.’s own invention, the “Richmond Special,” which coats a massive portion of penne, sausage, chicken and shrimp with his signature creamy marinara (i.e., marinara sauce spiked with lobster bisque). The restaurant also serves a hearty and satisfyingly workmanlike version of chicken parmesan—a couple of enormous, oozily cheese-laden cutlets piled atop a boatload of red sauce penne.