Best Italian Deli 2011 | Romanelli's | Food & Drink | Phoenix
We might have trouble finding a good Jewish deli in these parts (hence the absence of the category in this year's Best of Phoenix) but we have no trouble choosing our favorite Italian deli — Romanelli's, the family-owned Italian deli, grocery, and novelty purveyor that's been on Phoenix's northwest side for more than 25 years. Tearing your eyes away from cases packed with salami, pepperoni, and other classic meats and cheeses and chafing dishes filled with steaming homemade sausages, chicken Parmesan, and spaghetti and meatballs means tackling the menu of over 20 hot, cold, and specialty-style subs, in addition to an array of sandwiches, salads, and sides. Not to worry — friendly Romanelli's staff can guide you to a new favorite. On the way out, make sure to stop by the dessert counter for a chocolate chip cannoli and pick up some fresh-baked Italian bread to take home.
This longtime fixture on the Camelback Corridor does just about everything right: top-notch service by a seasoned waitstaff, great wine, comfortable atmosphere that's classy but not over-the-top decadent, and, most important, primo Italian food. Start with a beautifully displayed antipasto or the wonderful Caprese appetizer before moving on to one of Tomaso's house-made pasta dishes or finely prepared meat and seafood entrées. Our favorite, the Pasta Trio (featuring porcini ravioli, spinach ricotta truffle ravioli, and gnocchi) is a stunning creation that will have everyone at your table ogling your plate with envy. That is, if they can keep their eyes off the Tuscan mixed grill (featuring a bursting-with-flavor house-made sausage, juicy petite filet mignon, lamb chop, and a bed of divine truffle risotto). Seafood lovers certainly won't be disappointed with their plate of lemon prawns and the wonderful lobster saffron ravioli. Before you know it, you'll have killed a couple of hours and a bottle or three of vino, and you and your dining companions will be asking each other: "When are we coming back?" Yeah, there's a reason Tomaso's still remains a go-to on this restaurant-heavy stretch of road.

Grandma used to say, "Don't talk with your mouth full." When we're at Il Posto, we're constantly shoving food into our pie holes, because, well, everything they serve there tastes so great. And so, with our faces full of pizza and pasta, we've never gotten around to asking for the ingredients in these and other amazing Italian delicacies served at the former Our Gang diner.

It's just as well. We've been told that the recipes at this North Central Phoenix gem were all handed down from Grandma Brescia, the matriarch of the New York family that founded Il Posto nearly 20 years ago. The Brescia family's quality menu, rustic décor, neighborly feel, and mouthwatering dishes are made all the more appetizing by the warm, friendly patio, a red brick replica of the Manhattan neighborhood where owner Dino Brescia's father grew up.

Sure, a lot of restaurants serve stuffed mushroom caps, but Il Posto's are stuffed with a seasoned mushroom stuffing served in a brandy cream sauce. Brandy cream sauce? That sounds like something Grandma — at least a nice Italian Grandma — might come up with. And spicy corkscrew pasta with Italian sausage, prosciutto, peppers, mushrooms, and onions in a marinara sauce topped with shaved Parmesan — that one hollers "Grandma!" too. In an Italian accent, that is.

Is that red chili we taste in the rigatoni pomodori? Can it be blue cheese in the cream sauce Il Posto ladles over its fluffy, potato-y gnocchi? The Brescias aren't saying. Family recipes are a secret worth keeping, we suppose, especially when they lead to the kind of amazing dishes that come from the secrets that this nice Italian family are keeping.

Heather Hoch
Somewhere along the way, Phoenix became known as a great pizza town (specifically if you're talking about the gourmet stuff), so it's no easy task to pinpoint the best. This year, though, we have to acknowledge what's become one of our faves, The Parlor. The former beauty salon is simply one of the most comfortable and cool places to eat in a region of Phoenix that's full of them. And the cleverly conceived pizzas are uniformly delicious, with their thin, bubbly crusts, locally raised and processed meats, and fresh produce (many of the herbs and spices are grown on the property). But what tips the scales toward The Parlor in this category this year is what keeps us coming back time and again: the eight-inch pizza for $10. A table of four can order four or five of these dandies, giving everybody a chance to sample, sample, sample without breaking the bank. See you at The Parlor.
When you're a pizzeria that can win the hearts of native New Yorkers, you know that you're serving the perfect slice of Sicily. And Mamma Mia has definitely won its share of Big Apple acolytes. The crust is thin and crispy but still flavorful, and it has the perfect amount of floppiness so it can be folded in half and consumed with gusto. The sauce is tangy and sweet, and the cheese and toppings are always added fresh so you can customize your slice. Two slices and a drink ring in at just under four bucks, so you can afford to add as many toppings as your non-native New Yorker heart desires. We recommend the classic pepperoni, mushroom, and black olive. Mamma Mia, that's a good slice.
Lucky for us, Pino Martnino, owner and prince of pies at Pino's Pizza Al Centro, left his home in Basilicata, Italy, and came to the Valley to find (and marry) his true love, Lucia. If it weren't for her, we'd be missing out on this friendly neighborhood pizza joint (which the two of them own and run) and on Pino's tight but tasty menu of Italian- and New York-style pies featuring his thin, flaky, and deliciously sweet crust. Choose from specialties like the garlicky white pizza, pasta pizza with signature marinara sauce, the Carnivori (meat lovers) pizza with homemade sausage, or make your own from a list of fresh ingredients. Can't commit to a whole pie? Grab a slice instead — at around three bucks, it's easy to fall in love with a new favorite.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
For so long, people have loved to loathe downtown Phoenix. Working downtown is bad enough, they scoff, but actually living in the center of the city? Perish the thought! Why, there's no decent grocery store, nowhere to park, you have to step around crackheads to get into Circle K to pay for gas. (Gee, sounds like a real city to us.) But there's one thing downtown Phoenix has that your neighborhood doesn't: Cibo. Not only does this sweet old house have a gorgeous bar and a twinkle-lit brick patio, Cibo's chef serves up some of the best wood-fired pizza this side of Naples. We'd put Cibo's thin, tasty crust up against anyone's. Top it with fresh mozzarella and off-the-vine tomato sauce — and take that, suburbia. Because Cibo serves pizza only at night (meaning if you commuters come at lunch), you'll be greeted with a salad/sandwich menu.
The best Italian food is made with love, something the owners of Amano's know all about. In their 30-year love affair with South Mountain, Eric and Kathy Bower have watched agriculture-heavy Baseline go the way of tract housing, but they embraced the blossoming neighborhood by opening Amano in 2004. This South Phoenix neighborhood haunt offers fresh Italian fare in a relaxing environment. Start with the rajas gratin, a creamy poblano chile-packed dish loaded with onions, garlic, mushrooms and bacon, served with toast points. Then move on to the semolina crust Margherita pizza, eggplant rollatini, or sage-butter gnocchi. Just make sure to save room for their amazing desserts like balsamic-glazed strawberries, hazelnut pot de crème, or the Italian classic, tiramisu.

Best Neighborhood Pizzeria, North Phoenix

Santisi Brothers

When you step into Santisi Brothers, you are greeted not by a hostess, but by the electric glow of hundreds of televisions. Don't let the electric wonderland deter you. Delicious pizza awaits those who enter. Thin and floppy NY-style pies are hand-tossed and then topped with cheese and are sauced perfectly. The crust is crisp and slightly buttery, and you can order it an extra-thin or thick Sicilian-style pie. Snag an order of the garlic knots, a tankard of brew, and the hand-tossed White Pizza. While you're waiting, simultaneously enjoy televised golf, football, police procedurals, and the Shake Weight infomercial. Bonus!
Lauren Cusimano
At La Piazza al Forno, pizza means two things — Neapolitan and wood-fired. Thanks to homemade mozzarella and dough, San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy, and recipes from the old country, chef Justin Piazza and his family have been servin' up a tight selection of phenomenal Neapolitans courtesy of a wood-fueled brick oven since they opened their neighborhood eatery in downtown Glendale over three years ago. With plenty of pies to choose from, each on a crispy and thin, but hearty crust with a hint of wood-fired smokiness, the classic margherita or the meaty Italian Stallion are solid standouts, but the star of this pizza show is The Bianca — a wonderfully flavorful white pizza and a garlic lover's dream come true. Like the Piazza family says, "While the square, round, extra thick, or stuffed dough may be what you're used to, it's just not pizza."

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