Since opening his doors in 2008, the white-haired Mario has become a Shanghai fixture. Why? Here are a few things he likes, gleaned from many dinners at his place: his customers, giving out shots of limoncello, thin pizzas, even thinner cigarettes, watching sports on the TV, handshakes, smiles, the center table in the restaurant, and big, convivial dinners with friends. He’s not so keen on decor. His is the kind of tacky interior that gets shipped wholesale to fledgling Italian restaurateurs from New Jersey to South London – and he doesn’t pay much attention to anything on the menu that isn’t pizza (the soft, cheesy square of lasagna is the exception).
Pizza is where his strength lies. In the first month he was the guy teasing dough into thin rounds, topping it with a few simple ingredients and paddling it into the oven. He’s since traded out for a supervisory role, handing off the dough-teasing to a global pizza-maker archetype – skinny, awkward kid in a white undershirt – but the thin pizzas haven’t suffered. The napoletana still comes with plenty of oregano and pungent anchovies, the capricciosa isn’t missing any of its artichoke, fresh sausage, ham, or mushrooms, and the dough is as thin as ever, if a bit undercooked. It’s not fancy and the toppings aren’t gourmet and that’s the point. It’s a great neighborhood place. But what really makes Da Papa Mario is Mario. Where other owners seem scared of their customers, Mario clearly cares for his. He’s warm and friendly, and even if he’s not the guy making the pizzas, he’s still the one making sure you liked it and pouring you a glass of limoncello afterwards.