Rudolfo's pizza

From the outside, Rudolfo’s Cafe in Pacific Grove appears humble. Inside, too—a model of modest informality.

Chef and owner Rudolfo Ponce prefers to let the dishes do all the boasting. And they are not bashful about it—fresh, hand cut pasta, burrata surrounded by ripe berries, foraged mushrooms tossed onto pizza.

“We’re trying to work a seasonal menu,” Ponce explains. So he visits the farmers market for vegetables and whatever else he can find.

But it’s not all local, seasonal. And that’s very much OK.

A pizza with salami, Calabrian chile, honey and rosemary traces your palate with sweet heat. The honey also brings a grassy bitterness that blends into the herbal sprigs. Salami carries a piquant zing that suits the chile and, with the blushing sauce, lends depth to the simmering sweetness.

All of this plays out on a remarkable crust, so light and airy it reaches for ethereal—at once there and not there. It disappears into the cheese, except around the edges where the pie blisters, yielding a smoky char that rises from a nutty calm.

Ponce uses the silky 00 flour, buffed up with a little coarse semolina. But the secret is a sourdough starter that has been kicking for at least eight decades, passed along from chef to chef. He was gifted the prized starter before opening Rudolfo’s in May of 2021.

The menu includes more than pizza, but it is hardly extensive—two burgers (one of them meat-free), maybe 10 or 12 small plate and salad options and paninis. The focus is on pasta and pizza, and even so he limits the kitchen to four red sauce and three white sauce specialties.

“Most places have many different pizzas,” Ponce says. “Here we’re keeping it simple.”

Since opening, Rudolfo’s has become a standby. The restaurant quickly became popular, even though dishes made from scratch adds to the anticipation.

“It takes a little longer,” the chef says. “But Pacific Grove has been good to us.”

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