Best Italian Restaurant 2012 | Italian Restaurant | Food & Drink | Phoenix

Legendary pizza master Chris Bianco opened this tiny neighborhood trattoria serving approachable yet stellar Italian fare in Central Phoenix in the same shopping center that, in 1994, served as the original home of his award-winning Pizzeria Bianco. Featuring a small and daily-changing menu of traditional Italian favorites, as well as Italian-American creations, the knockout flavors come courtesy of seasonal and first-rate ingredients: Breads, pasta, and cheeses are made in-house, vegetables and fruits are purchased only when in season, seafood is caught wild, and top-notch meat is free-range and natural. (Even the premium olive oil, from Pacific Sun, can be sipped like fine wine to cleanse the palate.) Bustling chefs who can be watched through an outside window, make sure the fare is unforgettable and Bianco's mother, Francesca, occasionally lends a hand with the restaurant's delectable desserts.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Sure, there's a counter and the walls are lined with shelves sporting imported Italian specialties, but this cozy and casual Italian eatery in Scottsdale, from chef-owner Giovanni Scorzo, serves a show-stopping selection of Old World eats comparable (if not better than) many fine-dining Italian establishments in the Valley. An impressive selection of breads, cheeses, salami, sausage — even desserts, including the chocolates — are housemade, laying the groundwork for exceptional menu items and must-try daily specials. Join the gaggle of Italian regulars with a stellar arancino siculo (Sicilian-style rice ball) filled with veal meat sauce and peas, marinated grilled calamari, or a top-notch classic sandwich packed with homemade sausage, peppers, and onions. Or, better yet, look to the daily specials board for Tuscan-style steak, housemade pasta dishes, and premium seafood selections like luscious seafood risotto with crab, sea bass, and shrimp that, while best enjoyed slowly, may be a difficult task, indeed.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

This year, celebrated pie master Chris Bianco's award-winning Heritage Square eatery continued to secure its place in history as a pilgrimage-worthy destination with a nod from Food + Wine magazine as one of its 25 best pizza spots in the United States. No surprise there. The lovely, wood-fired crusts, made with organic flour, are chewy and blistered in all the right places and come with crave-worthy toppings like fresh mozzarella and homemade sausage. Yes, the lines to score primo pies like the Wiseguy or Sonny Boy are just as long, but at least there are additional lunch hours to ease our gourmet pizza pangs.

It's lunchtime, you're in CenPho, and you need a slice. Stat. There is no shortage of choices, but if you ask us, there really is only one choice: this bustling little bistro at First Ave and Thomas, brought to you by one Pino Martnino, an Italian émigré who came to the Valley several years ago. Martnino features a nice array of signature pizzas — and they are excellent — but what brings us back again and again is the build-your-own slice option. At about $2.50 a slice, you can top your piece of pie with just about anything you'd like: tomatoes, basil, fragrant garlic, onions, peppers, pepperoni, and the list goes on. The crust is doughy, chewy, and crispy on the outside, the red sauce is tangy and a little sweet, and the toppings are high-quality and fresh. One slice is big enough to feed us for lunch, but who are we kidding? We can never stop at just one of these hot-out-of-the-oven gems.

Heather Hoch

Hard to believe this stylish joint has been around for four years already. In a town with so much good pizza, that's a testament to the quality of Dan and Aric Mei's food. And it's still one of the coolest places in this area of the Valley in which to hang out. The former mid-century beauty parlor features a wide-open but intimate dining room, a casual bar area with a few high-top tables and sports on the TV, and a pleasant patio situated next to the Parlor's herb garden, which is regularly utilized in the Meis' (who also own Ahwatukee favorite Nello's) rustic, wood-fired pies. Twelve varieties of signature pizzas come in eight-inch ($10) and 12-inch ($14) sizes, which means you and your dining companions can, and should, try a couple of different kinds. You can't go wrong with the traditional Margherita or the pepperoni, but we suggest some of the less-conventional pizzas, including the roasted corn (with its interesting corn puree, zippy crema, roasted chiles, and cilantro) or the spicy puttanesca (topped with calamari, juicy rock shrimp, capers, olives, and fennel). This place also features a nice selection of red and white wines, craft beers, and cocktails to help you make your dining experience complete.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

Pronounced CHEE-bo ("food" in Italian), this cozy eatery in a restored 1913 bungalow in the Roosevelt Historic District stars Tuscan pizzaiolo Guido Saccone working pizza magic at the wood-burning oven. The 12-inch pies are works of art, with a hand-tossed thin crust that's equal amounts of crunchy and chewy and topped with an extra drizzle of virgin olive oil before adding locally grown organic produce and premium Italian-imported ingredients. We're particularly in love with white pizza creations like the Tartufata with mozzarella, prosciutto, white mushrooms, and a splash of white truffle oil after the pizza is cooked, and red pies like the spicy Diavola, with a bright tomatoey sauce, mozzarella, and wonderfully flavorful spicy salami imported from Italy. Add the ricotta for an extra two bucks and say hello to pizza paradise.

Best Neighborhood Pizza, North Phoenix

Isa's Pizza

Joe and Myrah Aiello opened their counter-service pizza joint next to their Italian deli in April, and the cheery little spot landed on the go-to list of North Phoenix residents in a hurry. Serving up New York-style (thin with a crispy crust) or Sicilian-style (thick with a bread-y crust) creations for eat-in or to-go and using top-notch ingredients like tangy, housemade red sauce, high-grade mozzarella cheese, and imported pepperoni, pizza fans can order up their favorites by the slice or the whole pie. Starting with a stellar crust that's crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, don't miss favorites like the Nana (with tantalizing sweet plum tomatoes, chunks of roasted garlic, and basil) and a luscious and creamy spinach alfredo. For those who want to watch the pizza magic happen, stand at the counter area and watch one of Isa's gregarious pizza chefs do some serious dough tossing.

In an area of Phoenix not necessarily known for handcrafted Italian food, this charming little neighborhood spot fits the very definition of a diamond in the rough. Since 2004, Eric and Kathy Bower have turned their little corner of the South Mountain area into a true go-to for residents of the area seeking top-notch pizzas. These hand-tossed pies cover the basics quite well — a crisp, chewy crust being a fine starting point. From there, opt for the Amano standout, a delicious white pizza topped with Romano and Parmesan cheeses, or the classic Margherita, with its mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and sweet red sauce. And with 25 wines by the glass to choose from, there shouldn't be a problem regarding what to pair your pie with.

Lauren Cusimano

In downtown Glendale sits one of the Valley's best pizza joints, where Justin Piazza and crew use a wood-fueled brick oven and top-notch ingredients (including San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy) to whip up thin, crispy Neapolitan-style pies as specified by Italian trade organization Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana. Start with the classic, the Regina Margherita, with its bubbly crust, wonderful mozzarella di bufala and fresh basil. Then, graduate to the Bianca, a white pie topped with olive oil, the restaurant's housemade mozzarella, fresh garlic, and liberal dollops of deliciously creamy ricotta. Seriously, this may be the best white pizza in these parts. Another half-dozen or so pies round out the menu, each paired with a suggested wine.

Sara Dalton

In the Valley for more than 25 years, this neighborhood favorite is not only owned and operated by one of the original founders of the Nello's brand (with four locations in the Valley), its pizza dough is still made by the folks from the original joint. The motto "In crust we trust" makes sense with selections like the original pan-style (don't call it deep dish) along with thin, white, and wheat options. A build-your-own option and a list of 15 specialty pies, like the Numero Uno (with housemade sausage and sweet tomato sauce) and the anything-but Skinny (topped with just about every meat imaginable), mean this beloved neighborhood spot has something for almost everyone.

Best Of Phoenix®

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