Editor's Note: This post has been changed from its original version, which referred to the restaurant by its former name Cafe Pino. The restaurant changed its name it PINO earlier this year.
When you open the doors to north Phoenix's PINO, you're greeted by a spacious patio that might just remind you of cafes in France and Italy. The restaurant is a private spot for couples looking for solitude and romance in the middle of suburbia, making it an optimal venue for those wanting to grab a quick bite to eat, linger over a family dinner, or conduct business during lunch with colleagues.
Which is quite a feat considering the restaurant's located in the shadows of a large Harkins move theater. It turns out, however, neither the ambiance or location are accidental.
With the restaurant, owners Paco Belassen and Guy Coscas aimed to replicate the feel of the nine other Pino restaurants located around various parts of France. In 2007, after a 20-year stint as a sports agent, Belassen, a relative of the original founders in France, decided to open the only PINO location in the United States. He even pushed to acquire the original recipes so American diners could experience true Italian-style cooking.
The other condition: the French founders suggested the American owners model the restaurant after the European formula by placing it next to a movie theater. It's a tradition that began in 1958 with the original Pizza Pino located in the artistic district of Saint Germain Des Pres. Belassen and Coscas desired to honor this request and opened PINO next to Harkins Scottsdale 101. As with the European restaurants, PINO is a convenient spot for customers to either visit before their movie or grab coffee and dessert after the flick is finished.
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Once you're indoors, your eyes will immediately gravitate toward a variety of biscotti encased in clear glass. The temptation is to eat dessert first, but at PINO, the main courses offer the ultimate indulgent European experience. The smell of baked bread is the first clue that PINO strives to stay true to authenticity. Belassen and Coscas invested in a wood-burning oven because they didn’t want to “cut corners.” Belassen says most restaurants use gas to fuel their ovens, while PINO's owners decided on wood chips so the restaurant's bread and pizza would carry a memorable and fresh flavor.
The bread is indeed delicious. A warm loaf cut in slices and dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil sets the tone for the entire meal, and whets your appetite for the restaurant's pizza. The sauce is smooth, the crust not too crispy. Homemade pastas are also excellent. And those diners who crave something different can opt for a heartier meal with steaks, salmon, and even sandwiches made with the wood-oven-baked bread.
The restaurant isn’t just limited to lunch and dinner. PINO serves breakfast, too, and is open 365 days a year — last Christmas, there was a one-hour wait for dinner.
7000 East Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix, 85054