Photography by Konrad Odhiambo
When Mario Cardenas took over West Ave Pizza in 2021, he already had a rabid following, thanks to two decades at Schenectady’s Prima Pizzeria and Mario’s Restaurant in Niskayuna. But it took moving to Saratoga—and adding West Ave Chicken next door—to level up to a certain celeb clientele.
Yup, he’s fed Live Nation headliners (and their crews) such as Dave Matthews, Chris Stapleton and Wiz Khalifa, who love his mobile “Van Halen” pizza oven that churns out delicious pies such as his signature pepperoni with ghost pepper honey from Saratoga Tea & Honey. “That oven is iconic,” Cardenas says. “Everybody recognizes it, and it’s autographed by Wiz and 24kGoldn. When people at SPAC see it, they know it’s West Ave. We don’t bring signs or banners—just the oven.” And by “we,” Cardenas means his tight-knit family (think two sisters and his teenage son, for starters) who help run the actual restaurant as well as tirelessly run around town with him for their thriving catering business. Khalifa even danced with Cardenas’ precocious 6-year-old nephew, Dylan: “People come here just for that kid.”
There’s no telling what this summer will bring. Cardenas is already set to bring his rock ‘n’ roll oven to the Auto Museum and SPAC to serve his award-winning favorites such as fried chicken sandwiches, wings and of course, that pizza. “I didn’t want to do it like everybody else does it—that’s what it comes down to,” he says. “I use local ingredients, such as my pepperoni. It’s local and exclusive to me. It’s very, very special.”