Saturday, November 16, 2013

da Vinci's Pizza

Here's another review written by my boyfriend. 

 da Vinci's Pizza: Down from the Heights with upside potential

We first visited da Vinci's Gourmet Pizza back in July 2013.  At that time, it was tucked away in a quiet northeast Albuquerque strip mall on Juan Tabo.  


The restaurant could be easily missed by a casual passerby, save for the unmistakable aroma of freshly baked pizza wafting into the summer evening air.  We were, however, not here on a flight of whimsy.  Our quest to patronize Albuquerque pizzerias in alphabetical order continues: da Vinci's was next on the list.

Two wall posters with references to the restaurant's namesake Italian inventor hung near the front counter.  The small, cozy dining area provided customers with an enticing alternative to take-out. 


We ordered an extra-large pepperoni and pineapple and sat down at a table in the otherwise empty dining area.  As we waited, a steady flow of pick-up customers came in to collect their neatly boxed evening dinners.


We struck up an easy conversation with John, the store's owner.  He told us that he had been in the pizza business since a teenager and had learned the ropes on his way up.  Consistency was his keyword: make quality pizza, the same way, every day, and you will earn the loyalty of customers.  And their repeat business.  The big news was that he was opening a second da Vinci's pizzeria in the fall.  This one was going to be located at the corner of Indian School and Girard, next door to his brother's graphic arts business.  He was working on the paperwork to sell local micro-brew and perhaps more at the new place.

Our pizza was very good, but probably not of "gourmet" caliber.  At least not for pizza snobs like us.  Gourmet pizza is what you'll get at places like BJ's, Boston, or California Pizza Kitchen.  There are surely more high-end eateries in town, but we'll get to them later in the alphabet.  Our da Vinci's pizza experience was excellent and reasonably priced.

We decided to postpone the da Vinci blog entry until after the second restaurant opened, which happened in early November. Throughout the summer of 2013, we watched the shell of what was once an auto repair garage slowly morph into a pizza parlour.  We couldn't help but think that this would be a stellar location, with a huge supply of hungry UNM students just steps away in off-campus apartments.  da Vinci's nearest competitors are located about a mile south on Central.  These places are far enough away that they might dissuade the impulse buy, which likely accounts for the vast majority of sales.  Convenience, speed, and a tasty product are going to motivate the typical pizza customer. If da Vinci's can do a respectable job with this, they should have plenty of business.

Upon our arrival, we learned that the first shop had completely shut down just days prior to the grand opening.  The entire operation had moved to the new facility, including the Leonardo-themed wall posters.  That means there is still just one da Vinci's in Albuquerque. 

The word "gourmet" is no longer found anywhere on the menu, although it is still seen on their website (, which also lists the old location.  Far more noteworthy are their $12 Tuesday pizza specials.

We ordered a 14 inch pepperoni and waited in the restaurant.  It was a Saturday afternoon and it looked like business was booming.  Our server had worked at the original location and confirmed that the Indian School address was generating more customer traffic.  From our corner table, we could see the Albuquerque Tennis Club across the street along with lots and lots of apartment buildings.


  The pizza was the same as we remembered, so the desired consistency was indeed maintained with the move down from the Northeast Heights.  We think the new da Vinci's has nowhere to go but up. 

 Da Vinci's Gourmet Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cici's Pizza

My boyfriend has been kind enough to fill in as guest writer this time. Can't let his amazing writing skill go to waste.  The following is his post.
Cici's Pizza: Unremarkable

I can honestly say that I had reasonably high expectations for Cici's, if only because they've been around for decades.  The ultra-competitive nature of the pizza business would seem to suggest that an operation couldn't survive for as long as they have unless they're doing something right.  There are simply too many other quality establishments clamoring for your hard-earned dining-out bucks.

Just what Cici's is doing right is kind of hard to figure out. Perhaps it's no more complicated than providing customers with "all-you-can-eat-for-as-little-cash-as-possible".

We arrived about an hour before closing.  After collecting our cash, the friendly proprietor handed us our drink cups and we were then given the green light to grab a tray, get in the queue, and collect and eat as much as we wanted.

Since this was cafeteria-style, the pizza was obviously not going to be made-to-order.  We had a selection of four different toppings available.  Individual slices were parked under orange heating lamps, but it's any one's guess for how long.  There was also an assortment of salad, pasta, bread sticks, and various desserts.  Since it was close to closing time, we were told -- in as many words -- that we had better get while the gettin' was good.

I couldn't help but compare this experience to a similar all-you-can-eat buffet offered at the ubiquitous Pizza Hut empire. Cici's represents a distinct step-down in freshness and quality. It's not that Cici's food is bad, it's just -- unremarkable.  I think it's reasonable to say you could do as good or better by heating up a frozen pizza purchased from your favorite grocery store.  The quality of some frozen pizzas is very good and you'll save money by doing it yourself at home.

In summary, Cici's isn't bad, but it's really not worth it.  There are much, much better choices for your pizza dollars out there.

Cici's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chuck E. Cheese's

My parents claim to have taken me and my brother to this pizza place when we were young, but I have no recollection of it. I remember them taking us to Peter Piper Pizza and another place called Pistol Pete's, but never Chuck E. Cheese's.  In fact according to me I'd never stepped foot in a CEC's before.

Tuesday, June 11th, it was as if we were entering a dance club, when the employee had to approve our entrance. I think we might have even gotten a stamp on our hand, I can't remember.  A salad booth next to the cash register caught my eye. We walked up to the counter to place our order, the sound of loud video games blaring in the background.

An overly friendly cashier took our order and money. Our usual pepperoni and pineapple, was the choice for the night. Hardly anyone was present that evening.  During the weekends I could just imagine the place filled with small children, running from one end of the arcade to another, begging their parents for change to play one extra game. But that was not the case, we practically had the place to ourselves.

We took our seat at a far east empty section facing a robotic animal concert.
The song being performed was "The Cupid Shuffle." My boyfriend asked a worker if the replayed concert ever got on her nerves, she said she had learned to tune it out. We laughed. 

Minutes after walking the arcade area we saw the same cashier place our pizza on the table. We filled our drink cups and made our way to the booth.

Just by looking at the pie, I was reminded of Peter Piper Pizza. The look was identical but the taste was  not the same, and the sauce made the difference. It consisted of a bland tomato taste, with hardly any crust to even comment on. The pepperoni and pineapple were good and fresh. Of course we finished our large pizza. All in all it was good.

As we were finishing our meal an employee was wiping down tables around us. She found a cup of  tokens left behind by a previous customer and gave them to us. 

I'm not exactly sure how long we played, but I'd say it was about an hour. Being that every game only cost one token, we were there for a while.  Most of our tokens were spent on Skee Ball and a Baseball game.

Before leaving we gathered our earned game tickets, placed them through the ticket counter and took the printed receipt to the front prize cabinet. There were plenty of toys to pick from but I went with something useful, three book markers and a straw. 

For being two adults at a kid's restaurant, we sure did have fun.  The colorful lights, clean booths and decorations had a way of raising our spirits.

 Chuck E Cheese's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Caruso's Italian Restaurant

Tuesday June 4th.

I'd seen Caruso's many times, while driving east on Menaul. There it was, less than five miles from home, one of the better tasting pizza places in the city, and I had no idea.

We arrived late that evening, an hour before closing time, eager to enjoy a fine pizza dinner. Flickering candles on top of tables provided light and evoked a dim romantic setting.  Red checkered cloths covered table tops. A waiter asked us to pick any seat. We gladly chose a booth by the west wall. New Mexico map place mats caught our eye. Craving a change from our usual toppings, we asked the waiter for his recommendation. He suggested a pizza topped with sausage and green chile.

As our food was being prepared, I couldn't help but analyze the place. Caruso's is a quaint little restaurant adorned with outdated decor. But the restaurant's cleanliness makes up for its lack of modernity.  

After a  fifteen minute wait our medium pizza was brought out.  I first took a bite out of the crust. I was surprised at the delectable homemade taste.  It was as if the finest ingredients. had been chosen especially for our pie and It was evident that whomever prepared our dinner was skilled at his or her craft. It was just simple good old fashioned pizza. 

We spoke with the waiter after eating our meal. "Caruso's is on the top of our list." we told him. He seemed pleased to hear that.

Since then, we've become frequent customers.  Before running races we carbo-load on their half-portion spaghetti, a dish as good as their pizza. 

 Caruso's Italian on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 17, 2013


I remember walking in wondering if the restaurant was still open, all dining tables were unoccupied. It was Tuesday, May 14, only one man sat at the bar watching the NBA playoffs. The bartender came out from the back hallway and told us to pick any seat.   

We chose the high table against the south wall. Promptly, the bartender brought out the menu. Our regular choice of toppings (pepperoni and pineapple) on a large pie, was our order. Sitting too far from the television screens, we began to have a conversation.  The place was dimly lit.

Somebody mentioned to me that the establishment is owned by Joseph Carraro,the state senator. I'm not exactly sure if that's correct, but the restaurant's name points to "yes".  About 15 minutes passed, and the server brought out our pizza, refilled our glasses, and left us alone with the pie.

It had a decent flavor. The crispy crust appeared to have been rolled or twisted leaving perfectly cooked ridges along the top end. Pepperoni and Pineapple were properly distributed atop the cheese. With zero complaints we finished every slice. 

Before departing, I noticed a group of people exiting from a back hallway. I wondered what was back there, but didn't care enough to go investigate. I later learned that the back portion of the restaurant is a bar/dive known as Joe's Place. Perhaps that's where all the people were hanging out.

The comfortable atmosphere restaurant is walking distance from the University.  It's a popular college hangout, whose pizza is well priced and tasty. 

Carraro's Pizza & Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria

In my head, I heard Dean Martin singing his popular 1950's song, when I read the name of Nob Hill's newest pizza place. Amore opened its doors around the first week of July. It is located on the corner of Girard and Monte Vista, were Bailey's on the Beach once was. 

This was once a surf themed restaurant, but is now an Italian Neapolitan pizza eatery. On July 18th we decided to stop by and pay a visit.
We walked into a warm room and a long line to the front counter. 

Hearts and henna-tattoo style designs were worn on the back of employee uniforms and wall posters. From reading the back of our menu, we found out their big red oven had been shipped in from Italy. Front windows had to be taken down, in order to fit the oven inside. Local arborist provide reclaimed wood for the fire. 

Neapolitan style pizza originated in Naples, Italy and it takes about 60 to 90 seconds to cook in a 905 degree Fahrenheit wood-fire oven. Amore is the only Neapolitan style pizza place in the state of New Mexico. The owners certified in New York City as Neapolitan pizza chefs.
Our pizza order included one called "il Duke" and  a "Margherita." After receiving a student and educator discount we got our order number and walked upstairs. We sat out on the rooftop, where it was less packed. 

 Within minutes of taking our seats, we were served.

Charred spots lined the crusts of our personal sized pizzas. A majority of tomato sauce was visible as mozzarella cheese was only sprinkled on certain spots, and minimal toppings were scattered above. 

The bold burnt crust taste overpowered the light sauce and toppings. It was delicious. We were introduced to a new gourmet pizza flavor, that evening, and we enjoyed it.  With quick service, comfortable atmosphere, and excellent tasting pizza it would be extremely difficult to give Amore a bad rating.

 Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 12, 2013

California Pizza Kitchen

April 30th. 

My boyfriend and I waited for my brother outside of the California Pizza Kitchen at ABQ Uptown. People dinned at the patio tables while couples walked down the store fronts holding hands.   
My brother arrived and suggested we sit inside. A man dressed in a black restaurant uniform directed us to a booth. I immediately noticed the open kitchen lay out and casual environment. The establishment's design was modern and posh.

In 1985 two attorneys, opened the first California Pizza Kitchen in Beverly Hills. The company's vision was to introduce a different kind of pizza that would give competition to the popular NY and Chicago styles.  

Menus were brought to the table by a waitress who offered to take our drink order. My brother and boyfriend went with a local draft beer and I chose a margarita. 

What sets California style pizza apart is size and toppings. These are personal sized pizzas and examples of their non-conventional toppings are avocados, BBQ chicken, peanut sauce, Thai veggies, and carnitas. 

Our pizzas of choice for the night were original crust Hawaiian, Pepperoni and BBQ Chicken. 
Toppings looked as if they had been carefully placed above the cheese and tomato sauce. The pizzas looked perfectly cooked. Sauce, spread out evenly on the soft flour-speckled crust.  We shared and tasted a slice from each pizza.  Instead of tomato sauce the BBQ chicken pizza was topped with BBQ sauce, giving it a very tangy flavor.
It was a different taste, one that needs some getting used to. 

Someday I'll be adventurous and try one of their uniquely topped pizzas, but that night I kept it safe and went with the Hawaiian. No complaints with the service either, our waitress did a good job. 
 My brother, who was in the process of purchasing a home,  discussed the topic of real estate, with my boyfriend. I sat listening in on the conversation, catching a small buzz off my alcoholic beverage.With the energetic atmosphere, we remained in our seats long after our dirty dishes had been taken, chatting the night away.
Before receiving a bill, It was explained to us that if we downloaded the California Pizza Kitchen app, called Pizza Dough, to our smart phone and clicked on the  "check-in" button, we'd receive our appetizers for free. So we did.

California Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon