The fact that Tino's Pizza has been in business for 25 years and has slipped under the radar of a pizza fanatic like me is amazing. Well, now it's on my radar; after all, Tino's was a staff pick—and I don't know who made the pick—for Best Eastside Pizza in last year's Best of Tucson®. Would the pie live up to the hype?
Not to worry; the pies served here are good, reminiscent of the type of pizza I used to eat before all of those "gourmet" pizza places hit town. I'm not saying I'd drive across town for a Tino's pizza, but the BOT pick was spot-on.
The first thing that hits you when you walk in is the heavenly aroma: the sauce, the spices, the yeasty smell of rising dough. This is an all-American pizzeria, a no-frills kind of place. There's counter service (these days, it's called "fast casual") with a big glass window that allows you to watch the pizzas being made. Slump-block walls painted beige, a few photos of Italy, a couple of video games and big-screen TVs, simple chairs and tables and, of course, a beer sign or two make up the décor. Like I said, no frills. Service is friendly, and there is a regular stream of other customers. Music is a blend of old and new hits.
Pizzas come in three sizes: 12 inches ($9.95 plus toppings for $1.55 each), 14 inches ($12.50, toppings $1.75) and 17 inches ($14.75, toppings $1.95). You can also order a slice ($2.35 plus toppings for 50 cents each). Topping options include sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, salami, black olives, green peppers, mushrooms, jalapeños, anchovies, green chiles, onion, pineapple, tomato, garlic, eggplant, green olives, pepperoncini, artichokes, spinach, feta, ricotta and extra cheese. There's also a house specialty white pie ($13.75 to $17.75) that holds mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, smoked provolone, fresh garlic, herbs and extra-virgin olive oil.
The true test of any pizza parlor is a plain cheese pizza; all of that other stuff masks what pizza is all about—crust, sauce and cheese. But for testing purposes, we added pepperoni on half.
The wait wasn't long, and the pie came to the table steaming-hot and cooked to a perfect golden brown. The cheese was real mozzarella, and there was plenty of it (with lots of pepperoni as well). The dough was not too thin and not too thick; it had a nice chew to it, with crunchy edges. The rich, thick tomato sauce was seasoned just so. All too often, pizza joints go overboard with garlic or onion salt. Not so here; all the elements were nicely balanced.
Tino's also serves hot and cold sandwiches, salads and an assortment of sides. There are also hot wings ($6.50), which were not all that hot; they could've benefited from a few more minutes under the broiler. (In fact, the leftovers did the next day for lunch.)
The cold sandwiches didn't intrigue me, but the hot "parmesan" ones did. All are served on a toasted sesame-seed 10-inch Italian roll and topped with provolone cheese and the house red sauce. The meatball ($6.15) was stuffed with tender, spicy meatballs and was quite filling. The eggplant ($5.85) had crispy, tender, perfectly cooked slices; the only gripe is that there should've been more of it. Other choices include sausage ($6.15) and chicken parmesan ($6.45).
There are four desserts: cheesecake with strawberry sauce ($3.25), gelato ($3.75), a root-beer float ($2.50) and tiramisu ($3.75). The cheesecake was nicely understated, even with the not-overly-sweet strawberry service. The tiramisu—which came to the table frozen—was served in a plastic container complete with a lid; there was nothing remarkable about this dessert.
To sum things up: This is a pizza parlor; Tino's is not pretending to be anything other than a pizza joint. The fact that they use good ingredients and seem to truly care about serving the best food they can speaks volumes.
Folks on the eastside have a good thing in Tino's Pizza. If you haven't tried it, do so.