Tucked in a strip mall on Thornton Avenue in Stockton is one of the community’s most beloved Italian restaurants in the San Joaquin County. Dante’s Pizza & Café has been a staple since 1985. It’s owner, Jimmy, came to Stockton in 1984 after having spent time in the Tahoe area, working in the casino industry, where he met people from all over the world and learned how different cultures, particularly French, German, and Italian, cooked delicious, authentic, homemade food together, ate around a big table with lively and connected conversation, and paired everything perfectly with wine.
“We make everything from scratch. We’re consistent. You’re going to get quality comfort food every time you visit us,” Jimmy says of the eatery that’s been a part of Stockton since 1986.
With a name like Dante’s Pizza & Café, it’s easy to think the menu is all about the mouth-watering pizza. And while it’s not not about the pizza at Dante’s, it’s also about a whole lot more.
Pizza was first invented in Naples, Italy, as a fast and affordable meal for the working class. Some say that American soldiers ate it during World War II and sought it out upon their arrival home making it popular in the states, but this is debatable at best. It is more likely than Italian immigrants brought pizza to the states when they immigrated in the 1940s, though it wasn’t until the 1950s through the 1980s that pizza gained popularity by Americans, largely from Italian bakeries with minimal operating costs opening up all over.
Flash forward to 2022 with decades of pizza-making in America, and put yourself in Dante’s kitchen with the same spirit pizza’s first chef in Naples evoked while preparing pizza pies that reflect the flavor preferences, available ingredients, and styles of the local and surrounding cities. With pizzas on Dante’s menu such as the California Combo, Valley Delight, The San Franciscan, The Gilroy, Santa Barbara and Big Sur, to name a few, there is a way to travel to all of California without leaving Stockton, thanks to Dante’s.
The spirit of Dante’s Tahoe Style pizza celebrates Jimmy’s casino days. With generous bites of sausage spiced with dried fennel, thin rounds of tender pepperoni, thinly shaved and salty ham, fresh mushroom and whole black olives (olive-lovers rejoice, ‘tis a rare pizza experience!), baked to perfection on your choice of thin or thick French crust, every bite makes you grateful for Italians bringing pizza to the United States.
Dante’s takes their pizza seriously, preparing the crust’s dough with water between 68-74 degrees Farenheit so that it properly rises when baked, and replacing the dough every two hours, a step many restaurants resist. But Jimmy knows it’s worth the extra effort.
It doesn’t stop at pizza. The effort put into the rest of the full menu, including appetizers,—try the Calamari Sticks, they are like nothing you have tasted, a satisfying combination of fresh meat and savory fried batter, staying in tact with each dip into a tangy Tartar Sauce—fresh salads, entrees such as Spaghetti, cooked al dente with homemade meat sauce and big, plump meatballs, and sandwiches like the California Cheesesteak with juicy thin-sliced steak, onion, mushroom, mayonnaise, peppers, and mozzarella cheese, held together by a bread bun.
“Food is for enjoyment,” says Jimmy. “The entire team here works hard to make sure you enjoy your food.”