March 12 2012 07:45 PM

Standouts include house-made mozzarella and a well-balanced panini

Via Moto covers the three p’s (pizza, pasta, panini), plus the all-important b (beer) and w (wine).
Photo by Marcus Ligons

Maybe this is overstating things, but I feel it's our right as Americans—nay, as human beings—to have access to a decent slice of pizza regardless of where we live. And I'm not talking about getting bogged down in pizza snobbery (I've stated before that I'm not interested in debating the merits of imported dough water); rather, I think every neighborhood should have a joint turning out pie with just a touch more sophistication than your average Hut.

That's why I was pleased to discover the cavernous confines of Via Moto in Santee. The sprawl of Mission Gorge Road may not be the hippest of locales, but if you're looking for something tasty that starts with the letter “p,” be it pizza, panini or pasta, this is the place in East County.

Via Moto has been open since last June, serving seated patrons (the large patio has a tiny fireplace but humble charm nonetheless) and offering an express takeout service, as well. On a night when you don't feel like cooking, ordering pizza is nice, but picking up a takeout order of pasta seems just that much more special.

Take a seat at the not-too-large bar and wash your garlicky bites down with a local brew. After nine months of pregnancy, as well as a few months of pre- and post-partum alcohol abstinence, a sip of Manzanita Red with my meal made my head spin with delight.

Garlic bread is hardly something to write home about, and I've found plenty of differing opinions on how it should best be enjoyed. I found Via Moto's simple ciabatta to be a great start to my meal. The chewy bread had a nice touch of char and was fingertip-licking hot. The slices are slathered in butter, tiny minced nibbles of garlic and a little touch of fake parmesan. Yes, the powdered stuff hardly seems restaurant-worthy, but I let it pass and enjoyed another buttery bite of bread.

I find all sandwiches taste better when toasted (though eating Quizno's makes me feel like I'm going to quizno into a garbage can), which is why I can't pass up a good panini. Via Moto does the classics well, mixing temperatures, textures and flavors to create a yummy sandwich experience. Dig into one with cold red and yellow roasted peppers (I love their sweet sliminess). They contrast nicely with a thick pile of tissue-thin prosciutto di Parma, creamy goat cheese and a tangle of greens.

The pizza's homemade crust is light and chewy and a tasty, if somewhat forgettable, base for toppings. I really enjoyed the Pizza Moto—a hearty showcase for mozzarella, tender turkey meatballs and smooth ricotta. I won't be writing sonnets to the Margherita, but—and this might be blasphemous to say—I've never found any margherita pizza to be that mind-blowing. As a light snack, sure, Via Moto's is lovely, but as a hearty beer-soaking meal, I want more.

The pizza arrives blazing hot from the oven, rich with sauce and toppings. Ten points to Via Moto for making  mozzarella in-house. To compete with the big boys, like the gourmet tastes of Blue Ribbon in Encinitas and the don't-mess-with-me attitude of Luigi's, an easily missed Santee pizza restaurant needs to be serious about serving a quality product.

It may not have the flash or panache of the trendier joints (since when do “panache” and “Santee” generally appear in the same thought?), but Via Moto's churning out satisfying stuff in a pleasant atmosphere.

Write to and Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.


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