Little Joe’s

Little Joe’s was a very famous Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. And it was located just where you’d expect to find a very famous Italian restaurant: In the middle of Chinatown.

The institution started life in 1897 as the Italian-American Grocery Company at the corner of 5th and Hewitt Streets. One account says its founder-owner was Italian-born Charley Viotto.  Another credits a man named John Nuccio, also an Italian immigrant.  Around the turn of the century, the city’s Italian immigrant community relocated to the North Broadway area and the market followed in 1907, settling into the ground floor of a three-story hotel at Broadway and College.  Eventually, the market turned into a restaurant and the hotel was torn down and replaced by a building that was just a restaurant — and a very nice one.

Along the way, the name was changed. After World War I, a number of Italian-American businesses changed their names to de-emphasize Italian heritage and some theorize that this prompted the restaurant to become Little Joe’s. In 1922, John Nuccio (who if he didn’t found the establishment seems to have acquired it by then) retired and sold out to his best friend, John Gadeschi. Nuccio’s son went to work there after serving in World War II and when he married Gadeschi’s daughter, control of Little Joe’s returned to the Nuccio family and remained there ever after.

In the forties, Little Joe’s became a favorite hangout of Hollywood stars. It is said that when W.C. Fields was staying at a nearby hospital to deal with alcohol abuse, he sometimes slipped out and hustled over to the bar at Little Joe’s for cocktails. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in the fifties, Little Joe’s became a big hangout for fans of the team. Located not all that far from the stadium, it was a place to go before a game or — better still — after, when players were known to stop in. If the game was being televised, some people would decide to not hassle the parking and just watch it at the bar in Little Joe’s.

Over those decades, the neighborhood morphed into Chinatown. Little Joe’s was eventually the last major business for blocks around that wasn’t Asian in ownership and/or commerce. Business declined. It may have been the city’s oldest Italian restaurant but it was not its most convenient. As the building came to need major renovation, the Nuccio family decided it didn’t warrant the investment and Little Joe’s finally closed down in December of 1998. It was announced that the structure would be razed and an apartment and retail complex called the Chinatown Blossom Plaza would be built in its place at a cost of $162 million. But those plans fell through and the last time I was down there, the old Little Joe’s building was still standing, signage intact, fenced-off and looking pretty sad. Reportedly, a new shopping plaza is finally being erected there now.

Click above to see a Little Joe's menu (PDF)

I was only there once.  For years, my family and I had heard of Little Joe’s.  It was a very famous place to slurp pasta and everyone in my family was eager to try it.  Everyone but me, that is.  At the time, my favorite Italian restaurant was Zito’s which was much closer and where we never had a meal we didn’t love.  So why travel all the way downtown to try a place which, at best, might be just as good? Good question.  And the answer was that my Aunt Dot was on a “try new things” kick, lecturing us that there was something wrong with a person who stuck with the same old, same old.  In 1969, on the day I graduated from high school, it was decided we’d follow the ceremony with a big family outing to some restaurant.  Somehow, though it was my Graduation Day, I didn’t have a vote in the matter.  We were going to Little Joe’s.

It was a long drive and a long wait for a table, and then the food failed to thrill us.  When that happens in a place like that, you wonder if something’s wrong with you.  After all, thousands and thousands of people have raved about the cuisine. It can’t be as bad as you think it is, can it?  How could they be open all those years and have such a great reputation with mediocre cuisine?  But they lasted a long time without, obviously, my business. Guess we just caught it on an off-night.

89 Responses to Little Joe’s

  • Suzanne Yankovic says:

    Thank you for all these lovely memories of Little Joe’s. I am married to Al Yankovic (Weird Al) and this was his family’s restaurant. (His mother was Mary Vivalda, niece to Little Joe) We have some dishes and an old calendar from the restaurant. Al uncle Joe, the nephew of Little Joe, used to work there as well when he was young and Al’s whole family were wonderful cooks. I sure wish we had the cookbook From Little Joe’s someone here mentioned! I took our daughter Nina there to see the sign one time when she was little and we were in Chinatown. I took a picture of her with the sign in the background and I’m glad I did because I didn’t realize it had been torn down. Thanks again for all these memories, so fun to hear.

  • Roger Ankenbauer says:

    I used to go here after Dodger games in the sixties with mu best friend Ronnie. His mother was a waitress at Little Joe’s for many years. We used to eat in the kitchen and one night she brought Tommy La Sorda into the kitchen to say hi to us. Does anyone remember Mrs. Loya? She was a great lady.

  • Al says:

    Tim & Kathy Trinkle having cocktails in Little Joe’s glasses…
    I too have a set. His and Hers! Never used them but,
    I fondly remember my grandparents taking me for dinners at Little Joe’s and recall a giant wheel of cheese and my Grandpa buying cheese there as well.
    Good times and good food!

  • Michael Chapman says:

    My dad was constantly going to LA Sheriff Dept functions at Little Joe’s for decades… & my dad’s MD Dr. Marco Rago was a famous doctor in Chinatown who treated many indigent people for little or free for decades… a different time & world……

  • Carol Osborn Pisciotta says:

    My mother was a waitress at Little Joe’s in 1943-44. She became pregnant with me during that time. I remember she and my Dad taking me there when I was little and they had sawdust on the floors. My parents were also restaurant owners in the area and owned Tis Ours in Leimert Park on Crenshaw.

  • Cheryl says:

    I went to Little Joe’s in the late 60’s with my family; I was probably about 7-9 years old and I still remember that night. My grandmother wanted to go to this legendary Italian restaurant for some special occasion. We waited quite a while for a table and then the food was mediocre at best. I remember my father saying, in reference to a meatball, “I should have brought a chainsaw”. We never went back.

  • john says:

    I have the recipe book from joes. I’m going to make meat sauce tomorrow which is why I happened to look up online. Must be from late 60s early 70’s. Best meat sauce ever. It has a picture of a smallish man in front of the stove cooking. Would put picture in but I must have left book in my other place.

  • Jennifer Darling says:

    To Pam Gram, we went to Little Joe’s on my dad’s birthday Aug 18, so we might have sat at a booth next to you. We also went on Dec 1 my birthday. We would go with cousins or other Italian & Irish families. We were there the night they closed! I remember in the 50s&60s We would go into the kitchen and bring home ravioli & bread. Johnny was there, and I remember a hostess named Lina? Small lady always there! My dad worked as aironotical space engineer, Bill Darling knew everyone at Little Joes. Going into deli and picking up Ravioli just for me! The best! Does someone have the receipt??
    I think they opened a Little Joe’s in Long Beach or somewhere in OC. But it wasn’t the same.
    I’d love some memorabilia if anyone knows where to get any.
    Little Joes has a special place in my heart, the smells, the people who called you by name. The red booths. The stairs, that awesome kitchen. Thank you to the family and to all of us that made it our favorite place to gather around the family table. Who can make that ravioli??

  • Mark Candilora says:

    My uncle Chuck Candilora was a long time bar tender at Little Joe’s. Lots of stories as he was slinging drinks behind the bar for years! Too bad they are both gone now!

  • Terry Bohme says:

    Well History has a weak memory- The owner was Joe Vivalda. Great Uncle to Weird Al Yankovic. Al’s mom’s brother, ‘the nephew’ Joe Vivalda was a worker there in the post war time he was a baseball player. Joe was his Uncle also. Joe, the restaurant owner came into the restaurant after WW1 and was there till his death when he left it to his wife in the 60’s, Marguerite Fiorina. She in turn left the building and place in trust to her brothers and sisters , they in turn, let the Nuccio & Gedeske run it. In the 70’s the earthquake renovation was so expensive the Fiorina family, sold it (too low) to the operating ‘partners’. Sad to say they never gave Joe the credit, it was his personality with everyone that made it special He was given a solid GOLD 18KT Battalion Chief Badge by the LAFD in the 1930’s era.

  • Noelle H Murphy says:

    Sliced tomatoes topped with celery and scallions finely chopped and a sharp red wine vinegar dressing Yum.

  • Larry Kiger says:

    I worked on building the New Otani Hotel back in the 1970s, and would go over to Little Joe’s for lunch on a regular basis. I always had the butterflied halibut with spaghetti, and absolutely loved it. I have tried to duplicate the recipe for the butterflied halibut, but have only come close. I now am retired and living in Washington State on Whidbey Island, where we can get some fresh halibut.
    Does anyone know where I can get the recipe for Little Joe’s butterflied halibut?
    If so, I would greatly appreciate getting the recipe. In exchange, I will send to you the best way to grill fresh salmon.

  • M Victoria Leon-Bianchi RDA says:

    I used to work there when I was 18 and boy the things I could tell you! I remember Henry Alfaro would come in every day and order the bacon-wrapped sirloin steak and the butterflied halibut was a popular item on the menu as well with everybody! What an experience! I got to go to the Dodger games in The Dugout I remember when lottery tickets came out while I work there, just a whirlwind of everything for a young lady! Fabulous! Harriet and the kitchen actually liked me because I did it just the way she liked in regard to putting my change on the tip tray because it was very busy and crazy in that place especially in the kitchen! But it was awesome! I was out there recently for a water event and strolled over to the area and saw that they had redeveloped it. I strolled through Chinatown no more Madame Wong’s but the memories still live on…

  • Delight Elaine Blackman Schwartz says:

    I ate at Little Joes only twice but found out that it was my late parents’ go-to place for ‘date night’ in the 1950s while they were dating. I absolutely loved the spaghetti and the atmosphere; wish I’d had the opportunity/time to try all the other things they served.

  • al carreon says:

    I Loved Lil Joe’s. Used to go there with Family after Church in Lincoln Heights.
    I remember the sawdust floor, bread sticks and the best Spaghetti and Meatballs. WOW that was about 45 years ago.

  • kathleen slaton says:

    so many wonderful LA hangouts like Little Joe’s to remember. Does anyone recall Joe Mann’s downtown?

  • Barbara Pennington says:

    Little Joe’s is now a apartment building. Where my son lives. It is elegant it is modern. The apartments are loftstyle. The first floor will have a wine bar and a jazz restaurant/café , Both these establishments are not quite open yet, but we are looking forward to them opening soon! There is also a very nice art gallery.

    I used to go to Little Joe’s when I was small. I was born in the 1950s and I’m a native Angelino. I thought Little Joe’s was about as chic as it got . When I found out my son would be living in an apartment built on the spot where Little Joe’s was? I was overjoyed.

    My son is blind. He’s been blind for five years. It was devastating to him when it first happened, and he was very depressed, This apartment building…it’s history and it’s location? has saved his life. He loves living there he loves the Chinatown experience. And I tell him about Little Joe’s now and then. So something good has be born at the location formerly known as little Joe’s!

  • Marilyn Blanck says:

    I loved their ravioli! Ate at Little Joe’s many, many times and always enjoyed it. Liked shopping at the deli afterwards, too. Miss this place!

  • Brenda S. says:

    My grandfather, Victor Campanelli, was the Vice President of Little Joe’s Restaurant. I have so many fond memories of my grandfather, the restaurant, the food, the people who worked there and the many friends of Little Joe’s. It was like one giant, happy family. We spent a lot of time at the restaurant, but I especially loved running around the place when it was closed. My grandfather took us with him sometimes on Sunday mornings when the restaurant was closed, and while he worked in his office the three of us (my brother, my sister and I) ran around exploring. As kids, the restaurant seemed enormous. He would frequently supply us with exotic Italian candies and salami from the deli. Until the day he passed away, my grandfather kept a framed Christmas card on a wall in his home that was signed and given to him by W. C. Fields. It included a crisp one dollar bill (also framed). He was very young and working in the deli at the time Mr. Fields often frequented Little Joe’s. I miss my Grandpa Victor … and when I think of him, I almost always think of Little Joe’s too. It was a special place.

  • Susan McKelvey says:

    I live in Whittier growing up and my favorite restaurant was Little Joe’s. We went there every one of my birthdays. I have been trying to hunt down the ravioli and meat sauce recipe for forever because it was so different. I’m now 73 and still can remember Their wonderful food and how much I enjoyed it. I was so disappointed when we won’t want to go there one year and it was closed.

  • Donny Brook says:

    I used to date a Italian girl who’s father’s hangout was Little Joe’s. He used to encourage me to drop in and he would pay for dinner for me and my girlfriend. My girlfriend’s old man was smart; I figure he just wanted to keep tabs on me and make sure I knew he was keeping me in line.

    Tommy Lasorda was a regular there and he would always make some remark to me (because he knew my girlfiend’s father); Lasorda would say, “hey kid, when you going to marry that nice girl and invite me to the wedding?” Then Lasorda would laugh and say something like, “no pressure kid, it ain’t like you are pinch hitting bottom of the 9th with a 3 run deficit— relax and enjoy your meal, you’ll digest it better!” Funny remarks like that and then he would grin and give me a slap on the back.

  • sherida petrucci contreras says:

    i worked at little joes in the early 80s the nuccios were very good people to work for the food was exellent have alot memories of people and freinds i met sorry to see it go thank you sherida Petrucci

  • Dan says:

    My first fetucine alfredo was at Little Joe’s. You never forget your first, and no subsequent serving ever lives up to it.

  • Vern Bauerle L.A. County CSWIII Retired says:

    Interesting to me that nobody except Eve has mentioned any details about the atmosphere. I remember it was a delicatessen as well as a restaurant, with sawdust wood shavings all around on the floor. The aromas were amazing. The food was awesome, and the menu above notwithstanding, the coffee was a dime a cup. Want another cup? Another dime. 3 cups for 30 cents. I was so impressed with the flavor of the mocha java, and learned something about the thick crockery mugs. I bought one because when the just brewed scalding hot coffee is poured into one up to the top, the cold mug takes the sting out if it, and gets hot. From that moment to the last drop the crock returns the heat gradually to the coffee and keeps it in the goldilocks zone between 145 and 155 degrees f. I bought a mug, took it home and used a cup measure to discover that it held exactly 8 oz if filled to the rim. It was my favorite coffee mug for years until I was in a hurry to get to work (I always brought it with me), and left it on the roof to put my briefcase and papers in the car. got in, closed the door, put on my seat belt, started the car and turned it into a memory, like Little Joes, but good ones.

  • Deborah Gibson says:

    My name is Deborah Gibson as a child little Joes was my favorite place we would go school shopping and go there that was my annual place to eat after that and for birthdays and for Sunday Dinner love it .The last week it was open a lot of nurses worked downtown and went there wonderful memories

  • Eve Young says:

    In the late 40’s, my father was an announcer at a Los Angeles radio station. We lived in South Pasadena. Several times a month my mother would take my brother and I downtown to meet Dad after work for dinner. We frequently went Olvera Street, China Town, and Little Joe’s. I seem to remember that there was a mural of wild animals on at least one wall with stuffed animal heads protruding from the wall’s painted pictures. I still seem to recall a black panther’s body painted on the wall with a stuff panther head attached to the paintings neck. Does anyone else remember this feature or am I mixing it up with another LA restaurant?

  • Ivan Minarik says:

    What a great a old LA place it was. And to be right in the
    heart of China Town . Lots of good times ,open late always,
    great food sometimes . For me the ultimate early 70’s place.

  • Adrian Velasquez says:

    It’s funny I am only 25 years old and had a feeling that this place was famous well I looking at this old I mean old Jeep in the junk yard and found some interesting matches in a little box matches to light up your cigarettes with little Joe’s Italian restaurant in Los Angeles with address and everything I wonder if they are worth money can someone plz tell me if they are 818 626 2078 my name is Adrian

  • Jackie Eyer says:

    I so miss Little Joe;s this was our family getaway for the years in the 60,s and 70,s. My late husband started going there when he was a child from about 5 years until his death in 1970, Many good memories. We would go there before or usually after the USC games.

  • Johnny Vegas says:

    Many,many memorable nights at Little Joe’s. I was just a kid, but Joe the bartendar and Mary? at the front desk were so nice. The butterflied halibut, the ravioli, the sauce, oh that sauce. Met Dodgers galore, from Sutton, to Neidenfuer to many more. Miss this place!

  • Clyle Alt says:

    My parents went to Little Joe’s on dates in the late 1930s. Dad worked at Westinghouse & mom worked at Union Hardware on Alemeda. Other than the WWII years, they were frequent customers throughout the ensuing decades. I remember dinners there before Ice Capades performances at the Sports Arena as a child. I took my mom there for one last time before it closed. Loved the pasta. Usually ordered half & half as a kid. Half spaghetti & half ravioli.

  • Louis Zelenak, Livonia, MI says:

    at least I have their recipe for their spaghetti sauce, we still make it.

  • Darryl says:

    I met my wife there. She was a waitress and her dad was the head chef. I loved the food, the atmosphere and the staff. Memories that will last forever. :-)

  • Tim & Kathy Trinkle says:

    Having a cocktails tonight from Little Joe’s Glasses we bought there during a great dinner before a Dodger Game in 1967!

  • Ann Stout says:

    I grew up going to little more I am so sad to find out it was closed when I was little they would take me in to the kitchen to see my friends my grand parents were friends of the owners evrry time my family would ask where I wanted to eat I said littlejoes if u never went you missed the best Italian f

  • Ron Surber says:

    Little Joe’s was often frequented by LAPD officers, both uniformed and plain clothed detectives from PAB (Police Administration Bldg and later named Parker Center) and other surrounding LAPD Divisions. My dad, who was on LAPD from ’47 to ’77, often spoke of the good meals he and his partners would have at Little Joe’s. When I was in my teens, he finally took my brother and I to Little Joe’s where we sat with a group of on-duty officers taking their lunch break. I don’t know which I enjoyed more, the war stories told by this group or the food, but both were great. Wonderful memories.

  • Keith says:

    Fond memories of going there with my Dad in the late 70’s before and after Dodger games, he loved the veal scallopine, I would get the ravioli. I remember we there one night when Lasorda showed up after a thrilling Dodger win and held court with the regulars, it was awesome. I know we also went to a cool little Chinese place across the street in Chinatown called General Lee’s I think was its name. Man I miss those days. Miss you too Dad. Thanks for this incredible website. I love reading all the memories of an LA long gone that we all seem to miss so much. Don’t care for the current version too much.

  • Alaskan Princess says:

    So sorry Little Joe’s is gone. What a treat it was to eat there! I worked for international trash company, and one of commercial salesman recommended Little Joe’s. He also used to tell me where NOT to go (LOL!) This was the ‘hot spot’ – local pol’s, movers and shakers, etc., frequented this establishment — the food was great! By the time I went there, it was in middle of Chinatown – the area around it had changed from original occupation. Please, please, make sure this piece of history, complete with photos and videos, is well documented and saved!

  • Jimmy Fischbeck says:

    Little Joe’s was my favorite restaurant growing up! My father often ate there while working a sales job in Chinatown. I’m sorry to see that it’s gone. The best day of my life was an early lunch a little joe’s , and then off to see Sandy Koufax pitch in 1964 for my 7th birthday present with my parents.

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