January 28, 2011 | 11:39am
The best ethnic food is often the most difficult to find. So each week we'll spin the globe and search for a new other-worldly spot to expand our eating horizons around the Valley.
This week we go to Italy at Niccoli's.
Authenticity-rating: Italian dining didn't necessarily feel like a dining adventure...until I stepped into Niccoli's Italian Grocery - Deli. The small strip-mall restaurant/bakery/market is filled with canned, bottled and packaged Italian foods and cases of fresh meats, cheeses and breads. Hand-written posters note fresh pasta prices and available seafood (cleaned squid?). What's available is what they've just made.
The bread is fresh. The meats are fresh.
Read what to eat after the jump.
What to order:
On a recent visit, I inquired about the pasta and meatballs. "That will be about 30 minutes," the lady behind the counter tells me.
Hmmm...maybe I'll have something else.
What's available at Niccoli's changes daily, but "you can always count on a ravioli dish, stuffed shells and eggplant parmesan," the woman behind the counter explains. Other rotating options, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and tortellini in Alfredo sauce. There are usually slices of pizza on hand, cheese or pepperoni, plus there's a whole menu of sandwiches on freshly-baked sub rolls.
I had the Italian Beef sandwich ($9.25) , which consists of thin slices of beef cooked with mushrooms, onions and peppers then topped with a giardiniera relish which literally translates to "from the garden." Diners have the option of mild or spicy relish; take note, spicy means (a whole lot of peppers) spicy. There were some wet bread issues with this sauce-y sandwich, but nothing a knife and fork couldn't solve.
The pepperoni slice ($3) was simple: good sauce, the right amount of cheese, thinly-sliced pepperoni and chewy crust (made in-house).
Other items can be ordered ahead of time: 2 pounds or more of fresh pasta (angel hair, pappardelle, the works) , pans of lasagna, eggplant or baked ziti or a pizza pie (12, 14 or 16-inch).
The ambience: The tiny store is jam-packed with Italian grocery staples: peeled tomatoes, pastas, olive oils and a deli case full of imported salamis, sausages, cheeses and baked goods.
The bread in the case is baked fresh on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Mondays they make their own spicy and sweet sausages.
Diners order from the counter, where they'll tell you if what you want is available or not. Picking meals up to go is a good option, there are only two outdoor tables for in-restaurant (or out-front-of-restaurant) dining. It's that small.
Most of the sandwiches are meaty, but there are loads of meatless options, from cheese pizza & ravioli to eggplant parmesan. Vegans, however, might have a more difficult time finding an animal-free product.
See what Yelp has to say.
Niccoli's Italian Grocery - Deli is located at 6102 N. 16th Street, Phoenix, AZ. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sunday from noon - 4:30 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Know of a good ethnic restaurant we should check out. Let us know in the Comments section below.