Local chef and restaurateur Chris Palmeri didn’t plan on opening two new, different eateries at the same time. It just happened that way.
Palmeri is the man behind Naked City Pizza Shop, the locals’ favorite set inside the dive bar Moon Doggie’s (3240 Arville St., 368-4180). His Buffalo, New York-style pizza, sandwiches and wings generated enough buzz to earn an appearance on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives last year, and the place has been packed ever since.
Palmeri has been planning a Naked City expansion for some time now, and his east-side location should be ready to open by the end of the year. The second shop will be adjacent to Office Bar on Paradise Road and Naples Drive, following in Palmeri’s successful pattern of partnering with one of his favorite watering holes. “It’s close to home. I was there all the time anyway,” he jokes. (His original Naked City location was next door to Dino’s, another beloved local dive.)
Naked City 2 will have all the same tasty menu items, from the Suicide Fries to the Guinea Pie, with some flavorful expansion tossed in. “I want to have a pasta section and make two or three fresh pastas there, and try to do some other stuff I might not have had space for at Moon Doggie’s,” Palmeri says. “It’s important to add in a few different things, because I want this place to be a little different from the original location.”
Back at that original location, something entirely new is coming in the shopping center behind Moon Doggie’s: Desnudo Tacos. Palmeri’s tiny taco shop—which will also feature the cooking of Christian Dolias, founder of social club Cutthroat Culinary—is “pretty much done” and could open before December 1, pending routine approvals.
If it’s a surprise to see an East Coast guy famous for great pizza and wings dishing up authentic Mexican food, don’t forget that Palmeri was the opening executive chef at the former Diego at MGM Grand. To get ready for that gig, Palmeri spent a lot of time with consulting chef Rick Bayless, considered by many the most acclaimed and trusted American chef when it comes to Mexican food.
“We worked on a lot of regional authentic stuff, Yucatan, Oaxacan, Veracruz,” Palmeri says. “I’m going to stick with a lot of that stuff, like cochinita pibil and mole, and with Christian being the chef there, we’re going to let him put his stuff on the menu that’s more like border food, Southern California stuff. At the core, it’ll be authentic, and there will be a lot of stuff that changes monthly.”
Palmeri believes the continuing development of restaurants serving approachable, comfortable food—like his—can lead to a big boost in the local dining scene. “This is the what people want to eat most of the time,” he says. “We’ll always have fine dining for special occasions, but these kinds of places are not looked down upon anymore. They are popping up all over and it’s going to be very cool to end up with neighborhoods of restaurants, creating little pockets in the city that are real destinations.”