The best Italian restaurant I ever found, Zito’s, closed on Pico Boulevard (just west of Westwood) in 1969, the same year I graduated high school. Those two events may have been connected because Jo Anne Zito, daughter of the owners, was in my class and she graduated at the same time. With no evidence whatsoever, I’ve always thought that the Zito family was just waiting for Jo Anne to get her diploma before selling the restaurant and moving out of Los Angeles.
A new Italian restaurant named Anna’s moved into the building, at first keeping pretty much the same decor. I ate there once, resented the place for not being Zito’s, and decided not to go there again. I believe I had spaghetti and meatballs and wasn’t impressed. That’s what I usually order the first time I go to an Italian restaurant — spaghetti and meatballs. I figure if they can’t do that right, there’s no point in trying anything else.
A few years later, enough friends had told me how great Anna’s was that I decided to go give ‘em another try. I was glad I did. I still wasn’t wild about their spaghetti but they had other things on the menu that were quite wonderful…especially the Cannelloni Napoletana. You got two large crepes stuffed with ground beef, cheese and the tiniest bit of spinach, all covered in a red sauce or a white sauce. It was one of the best dishes I ever had in a restaurant and it prevented me from sampling much else on the Anna’s menu. I mean, why bother? It wasn’t going to be any better than the Cannelloni Napoletana.
The other thing I liked best about Anna’s was walking up to it. It was on the corner of Pico and Kelton. On Kelton, there was a large vent from the kitchen and to walk past it was like being in a garlic sauna that could have melted Count Dracula on the spot. It was really an arresting sensation to get that burst of warm, garlic-infused air. Every time I took someone there, I made sure to steer them past the vent and to alert them to get ready. They all inhaled deeply and said, “Now, that’s how an Italian restaurant is supposed to smell!” I miss that as much as I miss the Cannelloni Napoletana.
Lastly, an honorable mention for the waiters. Anna’s had great ones. They were career professionals, not outta-work actors, and some were there 20+ years. They could be surly at times, especially with folks who’d peruse the menu for a half-hour then ask, “What’s good here?” But the service was first-rate and they really cared about you liking your food.
Anna’s was there 41 years…until June of 2010. The owners received an offer they couldn’t refuse from another restaurant that craved the real estate…so they sold. Good for them. Bad for lovers of good Italian cooking.