Belmont Shore’s newest Italian restaurant, L’antica Pizzeria da Michele, opened in January and has drawn crowds of patrons willing to wait hours on the sidewalk for a table.

I visited for the first time on a recent Sunday with five friends — reservations are a must — and concluded it is worth the hype.

The Naples, Italy-born owner, Francesco Zimone, completely transformed the former dark, dreary space at the west end of the Second Street strip that once housed Papalucci’s Italian Restaurant (which I don’t miss) and Babette’s Feast bakery (which I do miss).

From left: owner Francesco Zimone, Pizza Chef Michele Rubini and Executive Chef Guiseppe Gentile as L’antica Pizzeria de Michele celebrates its grand opening in Long Beach, Friday Jan. 5, 2024. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The ambiance is airy and cozy at the same time, with tables and booths with bench seating and fat pillows for comfort. The dining area and outdoor patio are situated around the altar of an igloo-shaped stone oven.

The advantage of going with a group is being able to eat a little bit of a lot of food, starting with the meatballs ($20), fritto misto ($24) and eggplant involtini ($20). I’m not usually a fan of eggplant — it’s a hard thing to cook right and often winds up either mushy or rubbery — but I could have easily made a whole meal of this delicate, rolled appetizer with spices, parmesan and basil that was simple and full of flavor.

The fritto misto comes as a plate of tempura-coated calamari, shrimp, zucchini and fennel that tasted clean — it’s very tempting to say healthy — despite being fried.

Fritto misto at L’antica Pizzeria in Long Beach. Photo by April Servin.

The main event, of course, was the pizza.

We tried the pesto ($28) and the arugula and prosciutto ($30), which I’d skip next time if only to save stomach space; the saltiness of the meat clashed a bit with the salt in the pizza dough.

The pesto, however, was perfection. It comes with basil, garlic, walnuts, parmesan, olive oil, tomatoes, and a baseball-size mound of soft mozzarella in the middle. The ladies in my group are all chatty and polite, but for this entree, the table was quiet and the last piece was gone as soon as it landed.

Pesto pizza at L’antica Pizzeria in Long Beach. Photo by April Servin.

And of course, after stuffing our faces with a bounty of gluten and cheese, we went for dessert.

I’m a sucker for creme brûlée; the version at L’antica was nothing special but still hit the spot. We also tried the molten lava chocolate cake (get this) and an assortment of Italian cookies. We left sluggish and happy, with nothing but crumbs scattered on a table.

Molten lava cake with ice cream at L’antica Pizzeria in Long Beach. Photo by April Servin.

I will waddle back to L’antica soon; it’s worth the price — and the wait.

L’antica is at 4621 E. Second St. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call for reservations: 562-248-2320. 

Melissa Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-512-6354.