Aiello's Salumeria and Isa's Pizza: Cornering the Market in Moon Valley

The first time I met Joe Aiello, he was singing.

It was about four years ago at Aiello's on Central Avenue, the namesake Italian restaurant he owned with wife Myrah for nearly five years until the restaurant shuttered in early June. I was having dinner with my husband and some friends of ours from Boston when, out of the blue, a large man with a headful of snow-white hair broke into an Italian song in a beautiful baritone voice in the middle of the restaurant. The din of the busy Italian eatery ceased at once — pasta-filled forks were suspended in mid-air, conversations abruptly halted, even the wine seemed to stop mid-pour. When it was over, the room broke out in applause.

"Now that's an Italian restaurant," my friend leaned over to me and said, clapping and grinning from ear to ear.

Counter-service convenience and tasty dine-in or to-go Italian-American eats make up Aiello’s Salumeria and Isa’s Pizza.
Jackie Mercandetti
Counter-service convenience and tasty dine-in or to-go Italian-American eats make up Aiello’s Salumeria and Isa’s Pizza.

Location Info


Aiello's Salumeria

777 E. Thunderbird Road
Phoenix, AZ 85020

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: North Phoenix

Isa's Pizza

777 E. Thunderbird Road
Phoenix, AZ 85022

Category: Restaurant > Pizza

Region: North Phoenix


Aiello's Salumeria and Isa's Pizza
777 East Thunderbird Road
602-547-3354 (Aiello's)
602-938-7492 (Isa's) Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Stuffed artichoke hearts: $5
Veal parmigiana hero: $10
Antipasto salad: $9
Spinach Alfredo pizza (18 inches): $16-$20
Pizza by the slice: $2.50 and up

Thankfully, the Aiellos plan to reopen the restaurant this fall farther south on Central. In the interim, the ex-Manhattanite husband-and-wife team seem to be positioning themselves to conquer yet another community — Moon Valley — and this area of north Central Phoenix could sure use them. With dining options scant at best, many residents make the 20-minute drive to Kierland when searching for a place to eat. The Aiellos are hoping to change that with not one, but three new venues in a strip mall on the southeastern corner of Thunderbird Road and Seventh Street. The first is Aiello's Salumeria, which opened early this year; the second, Isa's Pizza, which opened in April; and finally, an American burger joint called Charr, which opened in mid-June. (You can read my First Taste of Charr.)

Aiello's Salumeria
Some have referred to Aiello's Salumeria simply as a "mini-Aiello's," but this casual spot may be described more accurately as a counter-service eatery and deli with the same family-friendly customer service its parent restaurant had been known for. And with enough affordable Italian-American dishes — in the form of starters, salads, sandwiches, and pasta from its eat-in or take-out menu — popping in frequently seems like a no-brainer.

The space is small, but its high ceiling and many windows keep its contemporary interior as open as possible. There is a counter and a few wooden tables scattered about for those who wish to dine in; and refrigerated cases displaying Italian meats, cheeses, marinated mushrooms, potato croquettes, and housemade desserts are often perused by those waiting for to-go orders.

You could start with such antipasti as light and crispy calamari accompanied by a tomato dipping sauce flecked with chili pepper flakes for a bit of heat, giant battered and stuffed artichoke hearts coated in a scrumptious creamy cheese sauce, or a hunk of woozy baked eggplant rolatini, lightly breaded, loaded with melted ricotta, and slathered with a slightly sweet marinara (the Aiellos use only San Marzano tomatoes, and Myrah has cautioned customers not to bring up the subject of California tomatoes with Joe). Softball-size orbs of fried, then baked, aracini (rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and filled with meat sauce, olives, and peas) are big enough to share and come topped with mozzarella and pomodoro sauce, but unfortunately, too much rice obliterates the flavors of the ingredients inside.

Next, try one of Aiello's stellar hero sandwiches, featuring golden toasted bread and served with a fresh side salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, red onions, and shaved Parmesan. The veal parmigiana, delicate and tender with a thin, melt-in-your-mouth coating, leads the pack, followed by a delectable meatball parm featuring wonderfully seasoned orbs made of ground pork and veal draped in melted cheese and marinara sauce. And a won't-go-hungry cold sandwich called the Aiello's House Salumeria comes deliciously packed with prosciutto, soppressata, provolone, roasted peppers, mozzarella, artichokes, and tomatoes in an Italian dressing. Unfortunately, my grilled chicken, eggplant, and fontina hero was served sans the promised zucchini and roasted peppers, resulting in missed flavors and a visual appearance desperately in need of color.

For a salad that is as robust as the sandwiches, there's Aiello's amazing Antipasto. Chock-full of Italian meats, cheeses, artichokes, roasted peppers, grilled veggies, and housemade jardiniére, this fresh and filling garden of delights arrives spilling out over its colorful bowl. Lettuce-heavy? Hardly. Less brawny is the Italian spinach salad featuring mushrooms, pancetta, red onion, and a hard-boiled egg tossed with warm balsamic dressing — on my visit, too much warm balsamic dressing.

Many of the more noteworthy main ingredients in the sandwiches (veal, chicken, and meatball parmigiana) transfer well when paired with pasta, and accompanying thick slices of freshly baked focaccia bread do the trick when it comes to sopping up what's left in the bowl. You've probably had better linguini fradiavolo and Bolognese sauce, but there is a highly satisfying rigatoni with earthy wild mushrooms in a light cream sauce and a pleasing note of hot peppers. Curiously, my otherwise delicious fettuccini with grilled chicken in a pink vodka sauce with roasted peppers and tomatoes experienced a rather severe technical difficulty: It was served without the chicken.

And for a sweet ending, Aiello's offers several homemade Italian desserts to choose from. A very good tiramisu, light and creamy, fared better than a Lobster Tail, or sfogliatelle, which was filled with sweet ricotta. Sadly, it tasted as if it had been sitting out for too long.

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