Rocco’s Cucina is Rockin’ the Palisades

The Rocco’s Cucina Family is a family in perpetual motion. (l-r) Kristina Rocco Levy and husband, Jed Levy, who own and operate the business; Chef Vidal Arzate who was trained in all the original recipes and has been making the pizzas since 1985; and founders Frank and Marlene Rocco. Photo by Annemarie Donkin

After selling their legendary pizza place in 2004, the Rocco family business is still going strong as Rocco’s Cucina in the Palisades and they deliver to Topanga on Monday nights!

When Rocco’s in the Canyon closed, Topanga was left with one less cool place to eat and hang out. Within those cozy wood-paneled walls were decades of birthday parties, takeout pizza, meetings, and romantic dinners near the wood-burning stove.

If you still crave Rocco’s famous pizzas, their savory homemade sauces and salad dressings, or Marlene Rocco’s moist and delicious meatballs, don’t despair. In 2000, the family moved the business down the road to Rocco’s Cucina on Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, where you can still get their signature dishes, delivered to Topanga by Frank Rocco himself on Monday nights at 5 p.m.

Going into their pizzeria on Sunset Blvd. you see a family in perpetual motion. There, Marlene is busy making her meatballs and signature Caesar dressing and Frank makes deliveries in the Palisades nightly and to Topanga on Mondays. Their daughter, Kristina Rocco Levy, and her husband, Jed Levy, own and operate the place, and put their hearts into the business’ success down to every last detail.

In the back, by the ovens and still cooking pizzas as he has since 1985, is their venerable chef, Vidal Arzate, who was trained in all the original recipes by Frank and Marlene.

 

THE ROCCO FAMILY

“My mom and dad, Frank and Marlene Rocco, are from the Bronx, where my dad’s family had a pizzeria,” said Kristina. “We came to Topanga in 1978. My dad was working as a handyman for the late Joe Gerson (then owner of the General Store) at the time. Joe showed my parents the available space that once was the Old Post Office Inn, and the dream to open their own Italian restaurant was soon to become a reality.

Though the inviting hippie vibes and the charm of horses tied at the hitching posts outside were more than welcoming and made them immediately feel at home, the Old P.O. was a mess. Frank guided the family, and many volunteering friends, through a complete renovation over the next year and a half.

“We made the space beautiful and were finally ready to open. Then the flood of February 1980 came,” said Marlene. We had 14 inches of mud on the floor instead of customers, so we had to start over and fix up the restaurant again. We finally opened on September 7, 1980. Our kids waited on the tables, I made the entrées and Frank tossed the pizzas.”

Rocco’s in the Canyon was a hit and quickly became a center of activity in the community for decades to come.

“Topanga was very good to us,” Marlene said. “The community was always supportive; they were right there with us through thick and thin, up until the day we sold Rocco’s.

“We tried retirement, but Frank got bored and missed the activity of the restaurant, so he offered to help Kristina and Jed at The Cucina,” she said. “With the school lunch program growing fast, Kristina then asked me to come help out too.”

Now, even the next generation has stepped in to help at one time or another at the Cucina with Kristina and Jed’s kids: Chaise, 26, Lorenzo, 23, and Lila, 18.

 

SCHOOL LUNCHES

As if they weren’t busy enough with the restaurant, catering, and delivery, Rocco’s also provides school lunches.

“We were the first school-lunch provider to deliver in the Pacific Palisades,” Kristina said. “The company is called ‘Lunches with Love.’ We serve about 350 kids a day and offer a wide and varied rotating menu. Among more than 75 items, the choices can include gluten-free, dairy-free, and organic options. They are delivered to the school with the child’s name on it; we build a program around the school’s and kids’ needs.

“The lunch program keeps us busy,” Kristina said referring to the program she started in 2005 with Jed. “The lunch program started because Calmont School at Cali Camp requested us to be their lunch provider. We jumped at the opportunity, began delivering food every day and it just grew from there.”

Rocco’s delivers to Sotheby’s Parking Lot on Monday Evenings at 5 p.m. Now, whenever you have a hankering for the original Rocco’s pizza, pasta, salad, or garlic rolls, call The Cucina by 3 p.m., (310) 573-3727, or Kristina on her cell, (310) 995-1895, and Frank will deliver your delicious food and you can enjoy a nostalgic slice of Topanga history!

 

Rocco’s Cucina, 17332 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, (310) 573 – 3727; Roccospalisades.com

Sotheby’s is located at 369 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA, in the building that used to be the local video store. Remember that?

 

Annemarie Donkin
Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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