DINING REVIEW: Il Vicino University Village
Restaurant Character: Great pizzas and sandwiches at prices that won't break the budget. Il Vicino's is bright and cheerful, perfect for everything from business lunches to family dinners to date night. Service is friendly and exceptionally fast, even when they're busy.
Rating total: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Food: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Service: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 5214 N. Nevada Ave.
Contact: 590-8633, http://ilvicino.com/universityvillage/
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat.
Alcohol: beer and wine
Credit cards: yes
Vegetarian options: yes
What's online as of March 6, 2013:
- 86 percent of 244 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 4.5 out of 5 stars based on 5 reviews on Yelp
- No violations were marked on Feb. 2012 inspection by the El Paso County Health Department
True story: I once trapped myself in the downtown Il Vicino. I was about 11 months pregnant at the time, and I went to Il Vicino for lunch a little early, to beat the rush. The restaurant was new, it was popular, it filled up fast while we were eating. When I stood to leave, I realized all the tables and chairs around me had filled, leaving me no way out. I had to politely ask for volunteers to stand and move so the pregnant woman could waddle through.
So it was vague memories of good pizza and personal humiliation that drew me to the new Il Vicino location in University Village, which opened in October. With a great variety of wood-fired pizzas, plus a few sandwiches, salads and pastas, this could easily become my family’s new favorite pizza joint. All the food we tried was excellent, and it hits that illusive restaurant chord that makes it perfect for families, business lunches, dates or just meeting a friend. Add in a great staff and extremely friendly service, and you’ve got a combination that’s tough to beat.
The first thing you need to know about Il Vicino is that you order and pay at the counter by the front door. After that, it’s table service. You don’t have to gather napkins or silverware and you don’t have to fetch your own drink. Everything is delivered to your table cheerfully and efficiently.
Which makes me wonder how the wait staff gets tipped. Typically, people add a tip at the end of the meal according to the service they receive. What does one do when one pays before receiving the service? I know cash could be left on the table, but it’s a credit card world these days, and many folks no longer carry a few bills to leave under their plate. I’m not complaining. I want to be sure good service is rewarded, and Il Vicino left me slightly puzzled on how to accomplish that.
The space at this Il Vicino is bright and energetic. High ceilings and lots of windows give the space an airy feel. Behind the counter is a wall of wine bottles, lined up and waiting for your pleasure. The kitchen is completely open, so you can watch pizza dough being stretched and spun in the air before going into the wood oven in the back wall.
What of the pizza, which at 10 inches, are sized for one. The wood oven makes all the difference. The thin crust is crispy around the edges but with a decent chew on the interior. The bold, long-simmered marinara sauce is redolent with garlic and oregano. Cheese is portioned on top with an Italian hand — just enough to compliment the toppings without overwhelming them.
The pepperoni ($6.95) is a simple joy: sauce, spicy pepperoni, mozzarella and just a little fresh oregano to liven things up. The Pollo E Pumante ($8.95) is one of the few pizzas I’ve tasted where the chicken on top is not dried out. Roasted chicken is combined with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers, seasoned with garlic oil and fresh basil and finally, topped with mozzarella and asiago. If you don’t eat meat, I highly recommend the Melanzane ($8.50), where the marinara is topped with grilled eggplant, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and oven-roasted tomatoes. This is one pizza in which you won’t miss the meat.
If you’re starving or wish to share a meal, order a calzone ($9.25). They’re huge. That great pizza dough is folded over mozzarella, capocollo ham, feta, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers and fresh basil with marinara sauce on top. They could skip the basil, since the bright flavor gets lost between the marinara sauce and the feta in this ball of deliciousness. On future visits, I would ask for the marinara sauce on the side, because on top of the calzone it makes the center of the crust soggy.
If you aren’t in the mood for something baked, you could try a panini (sandwich) or piadine (folded flatbread sandwich). Of the latter, we tried the Tacchini ($8.25), with layers of roasted turkey, fontina, goat cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, romaine and the house vinaigrette. The juicy turkey anchors the sandwich, while the sweetness of the slow-cooked onions marries with the acidic vinaigrette. It’s another dish that is large enough to split between two, but tasty enough that you’ll want it all for yourself.
Il Vicino also offers three pastas dishes: lasagna, Bolognese or giardiniere, or penne Alfredo. You can jazz up the latter with any of the extras offered at the bottom of the menu, such as artichoke hearts, calamata olives, goat cheese, fiery shrimp and more. The giardiniere ($7.95) is big and satisfying, with the vegetables treated as the stars, not mere supporting players. The pasta is layered with roasted peppers and onions, mushrooms, loads of fresh spinach, ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella and the delicious marinara sauce, topped with a dollop of zingy, garlicky pesto.
There are three special features I’ve come to love at Il Vicino. First, they have a bottle of spicy oil on every table. Pleasantly hot but not fiery, it’s great for dipping your chewy bread or crispy pizza crusts into. Since the house vinaigrette is slightly on the tart side, a little drizzle of the oil over a house salad ($3.75) gives it a nice zip. Second, they make their own root beer. Made in their downtown location, it’s on tap behind the counter. Not overly sweet and with definite spearmint undertones, it’s a treat for kids and adults. Third is the combo special: any pizza with a side salad and a soda for $10.50. Everybody gets what they want on their pizza, so there are no arguments between the carnivore and the vegetarian and everybody goes home happy and well fed.