You’ve probably eaten your weight in LaRosa’s pizza if you grew up in Cincinnati, which is why it’s interesting to learn where Mark LaRosa, president and chief culinary officer of the local pizzeria chain, likes to dine when he’s not in the test kitchen working up new recipes with his team.
Mark is the son of Buddy LaRosa, the original founder of LaRosa's Pizzeria. Buddy was born on Aug. 25, 1930, the son of a Sicilian immigrant. He opened his first pizzeria on Boudinot Avenue in Westwood in 1954. The restaurant was originally called Papa Gino's before Buddy eventually changed the name and turned LaRosa's into a family business with his sons Mark and Michael. LaRosa's now has dozens of pizzerias across the region.
Mark sat down with CityBeat to discuss the retail launch of his company’s “Diablo Sauce,” a tangy, slightly spicy dip that seems to go on everything. During our discussion, he also highlighted his favorite local spots for drinks and dining (noticeably devoid of pizza).
CityBeat: What’s the last great meal you had in Cincinnati and who served it?
Mark LaRosa: We are so blessed right now with so many incredible restaurants … but Sotto, Sotto is pretty stellar meal after meal. If we have special occasions and birthdays, the cacio e pepe pasta and the branzino at Sotto is pretty damn memorable and craveable and it's just really simple and really well prepared. The quality, the flavor; Sotto is very special.
CB: What is your go-to carryout spot?
ML: We love chili and we are loyal to practically all, we'll pick up chili from Skyline, from Camp Washington, from Dixie and Goldstar. We kind of get in a routine or a mood of which kind of flavor we're looking for. But those four, pretty readily available for a quick pick up. Right behind chili would be Kung Food AmerAsia over in Covington. More recently they remodeled and expanded the dining room setting during COVID … that was a go-to for carryout, really just hits the spot for authentic, creative, craveable variations of different Chinese dishes.
CB: Favorite place for a drink, alcoholic or non? This could be a coffee shop or a bar, or wherever you like.
ML: I am a huge fan and frequent customer of Collective Espresso, Coffee Emporium and Urbana Café, but the coffee I’ve really been enjoying recently is Deeper Roots down on the western edge of fourth street.
CB: What’s your drink?
ML: Café au lait. I love 50/50 steamed milk and coffee.
CB: So, I think you kind of answered this one with your go-to carryout spot, but this is a pretty divisive question with a lot of folks: which is Cincinnati's better culinary export, chili or goetta?
ML: I am a huge fan of both. I think … gosh can I even say this? I think goetta is more unique. Every region of the country has its take on chili and people are pretty familiar with what Cincinnati's take is, but goetta is kind of in a category all unto itself. So I think I lean more towards goetta.
CB: How do you like your goetta prepared? Do you like extra crispy or do you like it cooked a little more delicately?
ML: Extra crispy with a little drizzle of syrup just to cut against the richness of the flavors of the the pork and the pin oats, but crispy and well done.
CB: Who's got the best soup in Cincinnati?
ML: I'm a fan and I've been a longtime fan of Izzy’s, whether it's the barley soup or the cabbage soup. Their matzah ball soup is pretty darn good and, I know there's probably dozens of other places that it's warranted to mention, but I don't think I've ever been disappointed with my soup selection at Izzy’s. They’re hearty and really stick to the rib, really good soups.