Tino’s Pizza Café
509 South C Street
Oxnard, CA 93030
M-Sa, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Su, 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Slices, sandwiches and pasta: $5.50-7.25
Whole pizzas: $10.95-19.95

It took many more months than expected to open, but Tino’s Pizza Café in Downtown Oxnard was well worth the wait. It’s just a shame that owner Tom — who named the pizzeria in tribute to the bygone Tino’s Pizza location on Saviers Road — had to endure as many delays as he has faced opening the restaurant. Tom isn’t the only one who lost out to delays … so too did diners in Oxnard who haven’t had a chance for his simple, homemade pizza, sandwiches and other specialties.

On a recent visit to Tino’s, which occupies a sliver of space near the South Side of Oxnard’s Plaza Park, I arrived to the scent of well-seasoned chicken cooking on the grill. Working alone, Tom was preparing about a dozen chicken breasts for his barbecue chicken sandwiches and Caesar salads, as well as his rice bowls. As I prepared to place my order, I took the cooking chicken as a sign Tom put effort into preparing his fresh ingredients as well as cooking his pizzas and running his business.

I didn’t end up ordering chicken as all morning I was craving traditional pizza, so I chose a lunch featuring a slice of pepperoni, a slice of sausage and a Coke. At $5.50 for the combo, the price is competitive with fast food restaurants. More importantly, though, that price bought me two great pieces of pizza.

As I sat at one of the four tables gazing across the park toward the nearby movie theater, my taste buds lingered at the taste of the pizza dough. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of pizza crust. I tend to find most too starchy and dry and prefer thinner, crunchy crusts. During this lunch, though, I realized that I was enjoying the crust as I would a well-baked piece of bread. The toppings were so-so. Granted, I hadn’t picked the most exciting options and they were just about the quality one would expect, but it was the dough and the generous amounts of cheese I found myself savoring.

Overall, my visit to Tino’s was pleasant and Tom was friendly. In a small restaurant like Tino’s, proprietors and customers walk a fine line in the amount of conversation they exchange. Talk too much and you risk annoying a customer or distracting an employee from his or her work. Talk too little and you’re an insensitive jerk who doesn’t understand social pleasantries. Tom walked that line adeptly. Allowing me to enjoy my meal, but making me feel welcome at his restaurant and engaging me in conversation when he sensed I would welcome it.

Pizza is such a strange food. It can be so good, so satisfying and comforting, or it can be so boring, stale and disappointing. Fortunately, Tino’s falls in the former group. It’s a relief to know whenever I go to Downtown Oxnard to see a film, visit the Studio Channel Islands Art West gallery or the Carnegie Art Museum or hang out in the park I’ve got an option for a cheap, easy meal. There are certainly some nice restaurants Downtown, but sometimes you just want some nice slices of pizza or a sandwich (among the hot sandwiches, Tino’s offers a Philly Cheese Steak, Italian sausage and meatball subs, and barbecue chicken and beef sandwiches, as well as a beef dip). The menu also includes cold deli-style sandwiches, rice bowls, salads and a soup of the day. Tom insists all his offerings are homemade. So far, officials have prevented Tino’s from securing a wine and beer license, arguing that the neighborhood is too saturated as it is. In doing so, they’ve also prevented Tom from making decent money by preventing pizza lovers of that ageless combo: beer and pizza.

Nonetheless, Oxnard has Ventura beat here, with a pizza joint steps away from the movie theater and other Downtown businesses. Hopefully Tino’s opening is a sign that life is slowly but surely coming back to the neighborhood for small, local businesses that might also attract new customers to the struggling theater.

Hopefully it’s not too late.