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This Latino-Owned Pizzeria in Santa Ana is Home to The TikTok Famous Pizza Skull

It’s the time of the season, the season for all things ghosts, brujas, and skulls. And this pizzeria in Santa Ana is sure to satisfy Halloween enthusiasts and foodies alike. 

2:22 PM PDT on October 4, 2023

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

It’s the time of the season—the season for all things ghosts, brujas, and skulls. And Bari Pasta & Pizza in Santa Ana will satisfy Halloween enthusiasts and foodies alike. 

Bari Pasta & Pizza has been serving the pizza skulls of your dreams for the past eight years, offering skull-shaped pizza dough stuffed with gooey mozzarella cheese and pepperoni and served with their bloody-red marinara sauce.

But to indulge in their social media-famous skulls means diving into their history. Although the family-owned restaurant is known for its skulls, they have actually been serving Italian cuisine for the past 22 years. According to co-owner Maria Villegas, the mastermind behind the restaurant is her father, Juan, who founded Bari. 

“He’s always worked with Italian food," she said as customers walked in. "When he first migrated from Mexico to the U.S., he started working as a field worker, and shortly after, he got an opportunity to work in an Italian restaurant. That’s where he started to learn how to cook Italian food.”

Her father started as a dishwasher and eventually worked up to a management position before deciding to make his dream come true by opening his own pizzeria.

“He wanted more for himself and his family, so he opened his doors in 2001 and has been at this location ever since then,” Villegas said proudly.

Walking into their restaurant, you automatically notice its size. It’s small, and there are four or five tables on the left side, but the size does not matter here. The restaurant is filled with a warm and welcoming environment. Their hospitality and flavor have kept this family-owned business around for twenty-two years. In a city that has seen rapid gentrification and displacement of brown-owned businesses, this is a big deal.

Photos via: Maria Villegas Maria's father, Juan, pictured in the fields when he first arrived in the U.S. and him after happily tossing pizza dough in the air.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO. Maria is the daughter of Juan, the founder of Bari Pasta & Pizza. She handles all of the business's social media accounts.

However, the Villegas family describes themselves as entrepreneurs, and all are known for not giving up. So when the pandemic came and Villegas, who at the time was working elsewhere, was laid off along with 5,000 other employees, she did what she knew her father would do. Keep pushing.

“I’ve always said I wanted to be just like my dad,” she said of her father, who, when faced with adversity, always showed resilience. “My dad never wanted me to work with him growing up because he always wanted us to work somewhere else, but then COVID hit, and I saw an opportunity at the restaurant.”

That’s when she came into the picture. Aside from helping with the business side of things, Villegas has taken on the role of social media manager, posting creative reels on IG and TikTok to showcase some of their most popular items. Villegas said social media has played a huge role in garnering new clients.

“My dad always said he never thought that he would get to this point, and social media has opened a lot of doors for us,” she said. “He always thought that it was always going to be just one location but now he's seeing the possibility to expand.”

As for their food, it speaks for itself. Both Villegas and her brother, Manuel, are learning to perfect their father's recipes and also adding their own. 

And people love their food, especially their pizza skulls that capture the attention of everyone from kids to adults. The day we stopped by Bari, a group of students walked up eagerly wanting to tell L.A. TACO how much they love it.

“Baris is #1!” yelled one.

“I love their pizza!” chanted another.

They are regulars at the restaurant, and many of them said Baris is where they go when on their way home from school. The group's go-to order is always the skulls, and they make sure to take advantage of the restaurant's discount, given only to Santa Ana students. 

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.Bari Pasta and Pizza's signature Ma Ma Mia pasta.

When asked who in the family created their now famous pizza skulls, Villegas credited her brother.

“Only locals knew about them; they actually weren't even on our menu back then because my dad thought they were a little weird,” she said, laughing.

“They were just a seasonal item, but they are now available all year,” added Manuel.

As for the rest of the food, Villegas said the staff's favorite dish is their house specialty, their Ma Ma Mia pasta. A beautiful combination of creamy marinara sauce, mostaccioli, chicken, artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes.

The paninis are also a hit with locals and are made differently here. Instead of the traditional bread, they created their own hybrid pizza crust bread. The fillings depend on what you are in the mood for. They have pesto, veggies, deli-style meats, and more. And their marinara sauce. Villegas said it’s so good it’s ordered by the jar sometimes.

“Everything is made fresh; it’s made in-house so that you can taste the quality,” said the 29-year-old. “And there's a lot of love behind it. We make sure that every bite is amazing.”

And if you haven't seen their social media accounts, don’t be scared if you stop by and see Ghost Face chilling at the restaurant, sinking his knife into one of their pizza skulls. As for Villegas and her brother, you can catch them behind the register or strategizing their next foodie video. The two hope to continue making their father proud as they navigate their roles at the restaurant.  

“We think this is something we can take over so that my dad can settle down a bit,” Villegas said. “And thank you to everyone who has stopped by to try our food. We wouldn't be here 22 years later if it weren't for their support every single day.”

Visit @baripastapizza on Instagram for more information.

Location: 1640 E First St Suite A, Santa Ana, CA. Closest transit line and stop: OC Bus Line 64 - "1st/Lyon."

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