Downtown Dining: Pino’s Pizza al Centro

Photos by Evie Carpenter

Grade: B

Pino’s Pizza al Centro, located just north of downtown Phoenix on West Thomas Road, is a convenient pizzeria that treats its customers like family.

What Pino’s lacks in sophistication it makes up for in humble charm. Posters of Italy’s cities and sights adorn the walls, and patrons are often greeted by friendly waiters with strong Italian accents.

With plastic tables, cheesy jazz music and a shopping-plaza atmosphere, the restaurant is devoid of style. But customers come to Pino’s for great food, not to lounge around. The food and the convenience are good enough to turn anyone into a regular. It’s the Thai Elephant of pizza.

The menu features pizza and pastas with quality ingredients for reasonable prices. Pino’s advertises itself as the kind of place that makes food for its customers the way it would for family members, and it backs its up.

Upon entering, I was seated by a friendly waiter with a gray mustache and a thick accent — a little Italian and a little French. Throughout the meal he attentively asked how the food was and frequently made jokes, once saying the four-cheese pizza was limited to three cheeses that night.

Pizza lovers should try the Quattro Formaggi Pizza, with mozzarella, gorgonzola, provolone and Parmesan cheese. The Parmesan cheese gives it a distinct, bitter taste that separates it from average pizzas. The pizza’s cheese melts in your mouth and has a thick, bubbly crust. Fold it in half to keep the cheese from falling off.

A friend let me try a few bites of the Penne Primavera, a medley of pasta and vegetables. The zucchini and carrots stood out as tasting particularly fresh and crisp.

I tried the tiramisu for dessert and was surprised by the sweet, creamy taste and the smooth texture. Unfortunately, I was also surprised by the excess of chocolate powder and choked as soon as I inhaled while eating. This dish might choke you if you’re not careful, but it would still probably be worth it, especially since it’s big enough to share with at least one other person.

Pino’s has a small, unimpressive menu of nonalcoholic beverages but also serves wine. Coke products and sparkling water are the only soft drinks.

A large pizza costs between $13.95 and $17.50 and is easily filling enough for two. Make room for leftovers in your refrigerator when ordering a pizza, even if you’re sharing with a friend.

Pino’s leaves customers with a full stomach and a happy conscience. It’s easily worth the money, offering expertly crafted food with fast-food convenience. But most importantly, it’s a true family business, the kind of place where you could meet the owner. In fact, as I left Pino’s after my first visit, Pino himself said goodbye.

Mon. through Fri.: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.

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