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Night Food: We Love Love Verona

The pizza and pasta cart serves up an unexpectedly good midnight salad

Portland once had a night food scene. Now we’re lucky if a restaurant stays open until 10 pm. This new column, Night Food, is about a sincere love for the food we eat in the early hours of the morning. The workers, the ragers and the anxious all need sustenance. And this column will seek to raise the profiles of the eateries that serve them.

If you order takeout after midnight in this town, you are familiar with Love Verona’s excellent, crispy 10-inch pizza pies. You might even have ventured into its coma-inducing pasta dishes: cheesy lasagna or fettuccine baked into deep pie tins.

What you may not know is that at 1 in the morning, Love Verona will sell you a spinach salad that—to be real—is better than most of the salads you can get anywhere else, period. The Verona Salad comes legit—spinach in better shape than you’d see at a Whole Foods salad bar, generous quantities of bacon cherry tomatoes, artichokes and feta.

Everything Love Verona sells is way better than a midnight eatery needs to be, but even now owner Mariano Sto has his eye on higher-quality dishes.

“We’re getting very popular,” he tells WW. “We’re breaking the quality now because we’re so busy.” During the interview for this column, he revealed that the downtown location will soon move near Portland State—into the former Joe’s Burger’s space at 540 SW College St. “They gave us a good deal just to be there,” Sto says. “Many of our customers are college kids so it made sense, but it will be bittersweet. The cart is where I started.”

That first year, working the cart by himself, his mom made the pasta, Sto says. “I worked 14 hours some days. Still do that, but I have help now.” He began at his family’s restaurant in Bulgaria when he was 6 or 7. He hated it at the time, but now he’s grateful for the strong work ethic he gained there.

Love Verona opened at the Alder Street pod in 2015. But when the carts received notice they would have to move to make way for a Ritz-Carlton hotel, Sto became nervous.

In 2019, he opened a St. Johns brick-and-mortar location as a backup plan before securing a place for Love Verona among the 3rd Avenue carts.

All through the pandemic and the protests, Love Verona never closed. “We never have a problem with the protesters,” Sto says. “They were customers. Many people start talking, ‘Oh no, so scary, they’re gonna break.’ They never did.”

After the cart’s move into the PSU storefront in the next few months, Sto plans to begin a new venture to bring back the city’s beloved—long gone—entertainment and dining spot Greek Cruisina. You know, the one with the infamous inflatable purple octopus?

Sto is in talks to buy the recipes and business model from John Papas and move the whole enterprise up to St. Johns. “I just wanna bring back entertainment,” Sto says. “Same recipes, same entertainment. I think it’s what people need.”

EAT: Love Verona Pizza & Pasta; 218 SW Harvey Milk St., 971-295-9090; 8436 N Ivanhoe St., 503-285-8033; loveverona.com. Downtown cart: 4 pm-2 am Sunday-Thursday, 4 pm- 3am Friday-Saturday. St. Johns: 10 am-midnight Monday-Saturday, 10 am-10:30 pm Sunday.