For better or for worse, we are shaped by the food around us. It defines who we are. It can represent key moments or periods in our lives—the good and the bad. And whether it’s that spot you used to go to with your friends in high school after class or Hillside at noon on weekdays, it’s hard not to get attached to the places we go to. Yes, we are mainly drawn to these places because of the quality of the food—or at least I would hope so, particularly in the BC case—but there’s always a more significant connection there, beyond the food itself.
“We are what we eat.” Yes, I know it’s a pretty tired saying, and I’m sure you’ve all heard it before. But I promise you that I’m usually not this sentimental—at least not for no reason.
I live off-campus by Cleveland Circle. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve had a meal on campus this year. It’s not a lot. Instead, I often find myself wandering off on Beacon Street searching for nourishment. Yet, time and time again, I keep on finding myself at Pino’s Pizza. Open since 1962, Pino’s is never closed. Whether it’s 11:10 on a Tuesday morning and I need something in my stomach before class, or it’s 9:45 on a Sunday night and I want a nice, slow Italian meal, Pino’s is always there. And you couldn’t miss the bedazzled, lit-up PIZZA sign if you tried.
When you enter the restaurant, you are introduced to a romantic mural of the Italian countryside, which stretches the entire left wall. On the right wall, there is a mural of a woman preparing pizza pies in an oven. As you walk through the double doors, you’re greeted by a shiny wooden bench to your left. Tucked above the register and to the left is the TV. If there’s a game on, you better bet there are people—happily eating or happily fed—with their eyes glued to the screen. Every now and then, you’ll even catch the people in the back peek over the counter to catch the last score or the big play. You should have seen this place during the World Cup.
Perhaps it’s a bit dated on the inside, but more than any of the other restaurants on the block, there’s something very homely about this spot. Maybe, it’s because Pino’s attracts everyone from the neighborhood. From T operators to nurses and from families to high school kids, I’ve spotted everyone at Pino’s.
Earlier this year, there was a kid who worked the register. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen years old—and I never got his name—but I always enjoyed having him take my order. He wore a Celtics cap and we’d talk basketball and the C’s. He called me “sir,” which always got me because a) I’m 21—it’s not like I’m that much older than him and b) I’ve never taken myself to be a “sir.” Still, the kid always made me feel welcome, and I’ll always appreciate that. I hope to have him take my order again.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food itself. This is a proper pizza place but you’ve got your pasta courses, salad options, and sub-varieties too. I’ll focus on the pizza though. The other day, I overheard a customer tell the owner’s son that he’s kept on coming back (for over thirty years!) because of the quality and the prices—and I can attest to both. The slices are large, like any good East Coast pizza, and it’s your call whether to fold it in half. Personally, I am team no fold. I came for a pizza, not a calzone. But the thing that stands out the most about the pizza is the cheese. It’s gooey—but not too gooey, which in my eyes is what makes a good pizza a good pizza. Maybe that’s a truism when it comes to pizza, but still. It more than gets the job done is what I’m trying to say. Be warned though, these pizzas are a bit greasy. I don’t mind and it doesn’t take away from the pizza itself, but you should probably grab a couple of napkins or so before you sit down. I almost ruined a pair of jeans the other day.
Is Pino’s the best pizza place in Boston? Probably not. It’s up there, though, but that’s not the point. Although Portnoy gave it an 8.8/10 for what that’s worth. Ultimately, Pino’s is great because of the atmosphere and the reliability. Mixed with the pizza itself, this spot is tough to beat. For me, Pino’s is even more valuable because of the connection I have with the place. I’ll never forget the first time I stepped inside Pino’s. It was the dead of winter last year and I was more precoucciped with finding somewhere warm than I was with finding food. I ordered two slices of cheese and a Pepsi—not really concerned with the order itself. I was in and out in about 15 minutes. Yet, it was one of the best meals of my life (no exaggeration). And afterward, I raved on and on about it to my friends and my family.
I want to keep on coming back to Pino’s again and again. And it’s going to be a very sad day when I move out of my apartment next September. While I will certainly come back to Pino’s, I’m afraid it won’t ever be the same. But if there’s anything I’ve figured out over the last few months, it’s that if there are places like Pino’s scattered around in unpredictable places, then there have to be other spots—similarly cozy and reliable and good. And I hope to find them all.
Cover photo courtesy of Pino’s Pizza