Nearly Excellent Neapolitan

With a few fixes, Falora could be one of Tucson's best restaurants

I love good pizza. In fact, a nice, thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza would be my last meal, if I had the opportunity to choose. So I have to admit up front that I was secretly rooting for Falora to succeed. And I'm happy to say that, on most fronts, it has.

The interior of Falora is almost painfully hip, as are owner Ari Shapiro's other local ventures, Sparkroot and Xoom Juice. An incredible amount of thought went into the design and feel of the place, from the menu to the long community tables and the semi-industrial design. Concrete floors, high ceilings and lots of wood and metal make for a chic dining experience. But they also make it a noisy one when there are more than a few people in the restaurant.

Falora's pizzas are wood-fired in an oven imported from Italy, and are veggie-centric. There are limited meat options and no build-your-own pizzas or substitutions. Prices range from $11 to $15 for a pie, which serves two or three if you add a salad. The drink menu (which includes beer, wine and various espresso drinks) is limited, especially on the beer side, but well-chosen. Service is friendly and unpretentious, though not always prompt.

All of the pizzas we tried were outstanding, but the cura ($15) and the giardino ($14) were our favorites. The cura is the only real meat option on the menu, with soppressata, kalamata olives, tomatoes, garlic, chili oil, Parmesan and mozzarella. It was satisfyingly—but not overly—salty, and had a nice tang from the garlic and olives, and a hint of heat from the chili oil. The giardino is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a slew of veggies, including bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes. Veggie-heavy pizzas often suffer from soggy crusts but that was not the case at Falora. The crusts on all of the pizzas we tried struck that beautiful balance between crispy and chewy, and had a smoky wood-fired flavor.

The other two pizzas we tried were also quite good, but each had a few minor issues. The bianca ($12), Falora's only sauceless pizza, was topped with mozzarella, Asiago, basil and olive oil. We went for the option of changing the regular mozzarella to mozzarella di bufala for an additional $4 but I'm not sure it was worth it. The basil leaves were whole, but didn't impart much flavor to the pizza because they turned into little basil crisps in the hot oven. Maybe if they were underneath the cheese it would have worked better. Otherwise, the pizza was good, but was less than exciting. I hesitated before ordering the fumo ($15) because it features smoked salmon, along with capers, red onions, chevre and cherry tomatoes, and I'm not usually one for salmon pizza. However, it was an excellent choice, and Ari shared with us that the impetus for the design had been the traditional lox-style bagel. My only complaints were that the onions were slippery and a bit overwhelming due to their large cut, and that—between the smoked fish, capers and chevre—it was a bit on the salty side.

Salads at Falora also shine, though I found them a bit pricey for the portion size. The caprese ($9) had fat, shiny slices of ripe heirloom tomatoes, and mild, creamy mozzarella, with a drizzle of balsamic and chiffonade of basil topping it off as well as a nice clump of garlicky tapenade. Delicious, but a bit on the expensive side. We also tried the butter pecan salad ($9), with butter lettuce, spinach, thin crisp slices of apple, shaved fennel, generous chunks of chevre and toasted pecans, tossed in an apricot vinaigrette. The portion was a bit more appropriate for the price and the flavors blended well, although I couldn't really pick out the apricot and the fennel was a touch overpowering.

There was one option for dessert: panna cotta ($5). Served in a jelly jar, it had a perfect texture and was smothered in sweet strawberry chunks. It was the perfect way to end a meal, though one or two more dessert options would be nice.

I might not choose Falora's pizza for my last meal, but I definitely plan to eat there again in the meantime. And if a few more cured meat options are added to the menu and the beer selection is expanded, it might be in the running after all.