While the heart of Johnny Carino's menu is rooted in genuine Italian traditions, forward-thinking creativity has birthed what they like to call their signature dishes. Led by executive chef Chris Peitersen, the seasoned kitchen staff blends fresh ingredients along with extra time to create high-quality preparations. Diners will find entrees such as 16-layer lasagna with made-from-scratch sauce, and pizzas made with home-baked crust. Other signature choices include the all-natural beef tuscan ribeye, baked stuffed mushrooms topped with house lemon basil cream sauce, and tiramisu made from the ground up. Entrees can be paired any selection from Carino's extensive wine list and drink menu.
Inspired by the artists living around him in Laguna Beach, Sid Fanarof sought to do something creative in the kitchen. The result was zpizza, which now has locations across the globe, each filled with bustling chefs experimenting with ingredients traditionally associated with Indian, Californian, and Mexican cuisine. Pizzas use organic vegetables and skim-milk mozzarella, and their organic wheat flour bakes over an open flame to a crisp finish. “If you don’t hear the crunch, it’s not a zpizza,” Fanarof says of the crusts on his website. Chefs first slather the crusts with sweet basil pesto, roasted-garlic sauce, or organic tomato sauce. Their hands flutter across, sprinkling on fistfuls of toppings such as MSG-free pepperoni, additive-free sausage, three types of mushrooms, roasted eggplant, and pine nuts. Vegan cheese and gluten-free crusts allow everyone to enjoy the pizzas except for those trying to hide the fact that they superglued their mouths closed.
At Garlic Breath Pizza Company, chefs roll crust by hand from dough risen and kneaded from scratch each morning. Each pizza dons inventive toppings, evoking the flavors of tacos and chili dogs. Some pies pair tater tots with onions, or celebrate vegetables in the case of the Tree Hugger pie with tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers. Pastas, such as chicken fettuccine alfredo, salads, and hot, hearty sandwiches help round out the menu, which Garlic Breath delivers throughout Round Rock free of charge.
The brother-sister team behind Rudino's Pizza and Grinders opened the eatery's first location in 1995 in Cary, North Carolina. They wanted to create a restaurant that incorporated an onsite bakery into its design, keeping the kitchen full of fresh, housemade dough for pizzas and sandwiches. It was a concept that proved successful, and now Rudino's has locations all across the country.
In these kitchens, cooks coat crusts with a sauce based on the duo's family recipe, and then layer on any number of ingredients—including fresh basil, jalapeños, and bacon. They also slide open-faced grinders into ovens after loading them with such sandwich fixings as italian sausage, salami, and fresh vegetables, which are never frozen, canned, or taken from a neighbor's crisper.
Although they both hail from the Mediterranean, pizza and falafel don't often appear on the same menu. Diners at Rome's Pizza, however, might be prompted to wonder why—it turns out it's quite possible for one kitchen to carry both dishes off nicely. In a 2004 review, the Current's Alejandro Pérez praised the pesto pizza's "light, crispy crust and full-bodied flavor" and the falafel sandwich's "hot, crisp patties."
This juxtaposition isn't the only surprise on the extensive menu. Sure, you can get red sauce and pepperoni atop your pie, but Rome's specializes in white pizzas slicked with olive oil, herbs, and smoked garlic. Strombolis and calzones fold in on themselves to make for a hearty meal or a high-powered alternative to a water balloon, and sandwiches and pasta display the same love of big portions and off-the-beaten-path ingredients. On the Mediterranean side of the menu, there are also staples such as dolmas, hummus, and gyros.
Mangia's clever chefs cook up a panoply of American and Italian delights, including the signature Chicago–style deep-dish pizza replete with towering, buttery crust and heaps of cheese and tomato sauce. Build your own circular masterpiece by slathering toppings such as chicken, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, and more onto signature stuffed ($5.10/6", $19.25/14") or traditional thin-crust ($4.35/6", $13.65/14") pies, flat enough to slide into mouths or under doors. East Coast eaters can enjoy the grilled rib eye or grilled-chicken philly cheesesteak, served on a 7-inch roll with white american cheese ($7.29), and those craving south-of-the-border sustenance can warm insides with a bowl of tortilla soup ($4.75). A selection of soft drinks ($2.15) and desserts, including Mangia's Ooey Gooey brownie ($3.95, $5.45 with ice cream), round out the meals.