If they can make it there, they'll make it anywhere.

I can't get Frank Sinatra's voice out of my head as I think about Joe and Myrah Aiello, who woke up one day in the city that never sleeps and decided to leave Manhattan for Arizona. In my version of the "New York, New York" lyrics, the Big Apple's loss is Phoenix's gain.

During the '90s, the couple was busy running Mimi's Macaroni, their Upper West Side Italian spot (which got a nod from the Food Network for being one of the top eateries in the area), as well as a catering business. But eventually, they found themselves raising two small children and headed west in 2000. The Aiellos took their time getting settled in the Valley, working corporate jobs, and waiting until the kids got a little bigger, before launching a new restaurant — Aiello's Fine Italian Dining — in late November.

Meet the Aiellos: Chef Joe and his wife, Myrah, serve Italian food with a smile.
Jackie Mercandetti
Meet the Aiellos: Chef Joe and his wife, Myrah, serve Italian food with a smile.

Location Info

Map

Aiello's East Coast Italian Dining

5202 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Mozzarella carozza: $7
Orechiette fagioli: $14
Veal saltimbocca: $20
Italian cheesecake: $8
602-277-8700, »web link
Hours: (lunch) Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; (dinner) Monday through Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m., Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.
Aiello's Fine Italian Dining, 5202 North Central Avenue

I'm so glad they finally did.

Located in the building that used to house Panino on Central, Aiello's is a welcome addition to the local dining mix. Crisp white tablecloths and a handsome granite bar make it feel like a special-occasion restaurant, except that it's worthy of frequent visits. Every neighborhood should be so lucky as to have a great little Italian place like this.

Incredible aromas hit my nostrils as soon as I set foot in the place, which quickly shifted my appetite into high gear. Thankfully, the service was warm, welcoming, and fast. Hostesses were equally gracious whether I had a reservation or not (although word's quickly getting out, and at this point, I would recommend calling ahead). A complimentary basket of warm homemade bread and moist slices of focaccia — served with a soft scoop of herb butter and a bowl of spicy roasted red peppers in olive oil — was fun to nibble on while I drooled over the lengthy menu. I never found myself with an empty water or wine glass. And the friendly, prompt waitstaff clearly took its cues from Joe Aiello himself, a gregarious guy who'd step out of the kitchen every so often to personally check in on each table.

As soon as I decided on a bottle from the all-Italian wine list, I was eager to order some appetizers, too.

Salads were a sign of good things to come. There was nothing fancy about the "salad of the house" (ripe Roma tomatoes, baby greens, red onion, shaved Parmesan, and balsamic vinaigrette), the tre colore salad (arugula, endive, radicchio, and shaved Parmesan tossed in lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil), or the caprese with housemade mozzarella. But I appreciated the simplicity and freshness.

Meanwhile, some of the heavier appetizers were as intriguing as the entrees. Good thing I had friends there to share the eggplant rolatini, because I could've easily gobbled it up by myself. Made with thinly sliced eggplant, a light tomato sauce, and layers of mozzarella, ricotta, and pecorino, it looked like a heap of lasagna, and had the same gooey appeal. Even better was the mozzarella carozza, a mouthwatering study in yin and yang. It was two mozzarella-filled sandwiches dipped in egg and sautéed until the cheese melted, then bathed in a heady white wine and lemon sauce with capers, anchovies, and onions. I loved the flavor dynamic, a mingling of creaminess and acidity in every bite.

The delicately fried artichoke hearts, filled with mascarpone and served with a light cream reduction, relied on a similar kind of contrast, although it was much, much more subtle. So subtle, in fact, that a sip of red wine was enough to throw off the balance. I had to take another bite of focaccia to reset my palate before having any more. On the other hand, the sautéed rapini with civilate — pork sausage made with cheese and parsley — was robust enough to withstand a few slurps of pinot nero.

You should've seen the grin on my friend's face when the waiter brought his cavatelli with Sunday gravy. He was in heaven. And no wonder — the dish came with sausage and a meatball. The long, skinny curls of pasta were perfectly al dente, smothered in a slightly sweet tomato sauce. Spaghetti and "Joe's famous meatballs" got a similar response from my sweetie, who is always game for a nice plate of pasta. On its own, the straightforward tomato sauce didn't blow me away, but the moist meatballs were great, with an interesting blend of pork and veal. Two huge ones, as big as racquetballs, made the dish worthwhile.

I ended up eating a lot of meaty dishes. Fat rigatoni were blanketed in beefy Bolognese sauce made with tomatoes, Porcini mushrooms, and Chianti. Lasagna was thick with layers of pasta, cheese, and sausage-studded sauce. Sweet Italian sausage, grilled with sweet red peppers and onions, was served with a side of spaghetti. And veal saltimbocca alla Romana — a thin cutlet pounded with prosciutto — was melt-in-your-mouth tender, topped with mushrooms in marsala sauce and served on a mound of sautéed escarole.

But Aiello's had more than just carnivorous delights. The orechiette fagioli, chewy rounds of pasta with escarole and cannellini beans, was deceptively kicky. It looked like a mild-mannered dish, but some punchy hot pepper and roasted garlic gave it character. And the gnocchi pesto, attractively garnished with pine nuts, shaved Parmesan, and a couple of bright green basil leaves, was so good that it broke my heart a little bit when I couldn't clean my plate. The soft orbs of potato pasta practically dissolved in my mouth, and the sauce was equally ethereal, with fragrant pesto incorporated into velvety cream.

Aiello's desserts were classic, the kind of decadent Italian treats that go best with a shot of espresso. (Mine was served with a twist of lemon rind — a nice old-school touch.) Gelato from Berto's was agreeable, as was the chocolate pyramid, a potent piece of mini-architecture filled with chocolate mousse. I also liked the housemade Italian cheesecake, made with ricotta. It was much lighter than traditional New York cheesecake, which came as a relief after such a big dinner. In the end, the unassuming cannoli hit the right note, with smooth, lightly sweet cream inside a crisp pastry shell.

With luscious food, accessible prices, and an inviting atmosphere, Aiello's is more classy neighborhood joint than high-end dining destination. But even if it's not in your own backyard, it's worth a visit.

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4 comments
kevin
kevin

Joe is your basic Italin chef/cook. He knows is way around the kitchen asd his a wonderful host. I would to see Joe be more creative with his entres and expand his wine list to include a more diversified seledtion. Most people do not know this but the Famous Rondel Sheridan, comic/actor got his early star in comedy at one of Joe' other NYC restaurants.

The Food Hunter
The Food Hunter

I've eaten at Aiello's twice in the past two weeks and I'm look forward to a third time real soon. The food is delicious. The bolognese was my favorite until I had the cavatelli with Sunday gravy. It's very similar to what I make a home. It's true east coast Italian. Aiello's is kind of a far drive for me coming from the NW valley but not as far as going back to the east coast. I'm really happy with Aiello's and hope they're around for a long while.

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matt
matt

wow..some really bad typos and writing errors in my first comment. that's what happens with stream of consciousness essays. but i stand by my review. really nice people, average place to eat. along with the pasta bolongese, my date had spaghetti vongola..clams with red sauce. she thought it was ok at best..for 4 dollars more i would have experimented with linguini fradiavlo. hot antipastos were 34 bux..cold 28. that would make chris bianco blush. another good italian eatery with an excellent halibut with saffron sauce is thats italiano..on indian school around 40th st. the halibut at aiellos is around 26 dollars if i remember, nicely served with clams and mussels..but the piece of halibut was enough for lunch..not dinner.

matt ganis
matt ganis

i went here a couple of times since i live right down the street. and i was not as impressed. the pasta bolongese..which is a good barometer of how an italian restaurants operate. The service was friendly, no doubt. but the value for the price was less than what i expect. i would prefer spending a few more dollars and enjoy a dinner at marcellino's on 13th st and northern..or spend a few dollars less and enjoy a better meal at a neighborhood place like pino's on thomas and 1st avenue..especially when pino has halibut as his special of the day. aiello's was crowded so it may appear the standards of criticism among my neighbors are not as severe as mine. it's not the olive garden..thank goodness..but i walked out still hungary...and not being a huge guy..that's never a good sign. it replaced panino's which made the mistake of having even smaller portions at even bigger and ridiculous prices. so it's a step in the right direction. I can see why they did not make it in new york..with billions of italin competitors,this place would not attract any attention. average at best!

 
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