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Back Road Pizza – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Back Road Pizza in Santa Fe

My brother George has the right idea!  Rather than braving the motoring madness that is traversing New Mexico’s highways at breakneck speeds and risking life and limb contending with America’s worst drivers (according to a 2014 report by Wallet Hub), he’ll take the back roads every chance he gets.  Not only does he avoid frazzled nerves and minimize potential encounters with distracted, drunk and demolition derby caliber drivers, he gets to enjoy the scenery of enchantment and arrive at his destination unscathed. His blood pressure is better than mine.

George will enjoy Santa Fe’s Back Road Pizza and not only because he doesn’t have to spend much time on Cerrillos to get there and not only because the street on which it’s situated has a posted speed limit of only 25 miles-per-hour.  The pizza is very good, maybe even “worth risking rush hour to get there” good.  Who says it’s good?  The pizza-loving denizens of the City Different seem to accord it “best pizza” honors perennially in the Santa Fe Reporter‘s annual “best of” polls.  It’s been one of Santa Fe’s “top 40 favorite restaurants” for more than eleven years running according to The Reporter who has also designated it the “counterculture surfer’s hotspot of choice.”

Back Road Pizza Dining Room

Okay, so the locals love it, but does its appeal translate outside Santa Fe?  If you put much stock into a Guy Fieri seal of approval, then it does.  The spike-coiffed star of the Food Network’s phenomenally popular Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives visited Back Road Pizza in 2011 and by all indications seemed to have enjoyed himself immensely.  Not enough credibility for you?  Well, in 2014, TripAdvisor’s Flipkey site compiled a “definitive list of the top pizza joint in each state worth traveling for.”  Back Road Pizza was the Land of Enchantment’s honoree. 

In 2014 alone, the Back Road Pizza may have been the most honored pizzeria in New Mexico with national and local media flocking to the City Different for the Pizza Different (flour crust rolled in cornmeal).  Pizza Today, the self-professed “most powerful marketing tool in the pizza industry” singled out Back Road Pizza for “making a connection with local pizza aficionados.”  Back Road Pizza was also named by USA Today’s 10 Best as “one of Santa Fe’s ten best restaurants.”   There were a number of other honors in 2014, but you get the point.

Guy Fieri of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Program Visited in 2014

True to its name, Back Road Pizza is “your off-the-beaten path, around-the-corner local neighborhood pizza shop that’s casual, fun, friendly and affordable.”  Ensconced immediately east of the live/work studios within the Triangle District, its storefront isn’t readily visible from Second Street, but because you’re keeping to the posted speed limit (or at least you will be if you’re following my brother George), you’ll be able to turn around almost as soon as you pass by it. 

Because of its metal exterior, the edifice which houses the Back Road Pizza could pass for anything from a gas station to an artist’s studio.   It can’t be mistaken for anything but fun when you enter the premises.  Behind serpentine corrugated metal panels is where the pizza production process takes place.  Almost every other square inch of the restaurant has something to grab your attention, whether it be another “best of” certificate or a poster supporting an ecological cause.    Weather permitting, an outdoor patio lends additional seating.  Upstairs in a loft area, you’ll find pool tables.

Beet & Feta Salad

Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discern that Back Road Pizza is no one-trick pizzeria.  The menu is surprisingly diverse, offering more than a dozen different pizzas (including gluten-free pies) in addition to submarine sandwiches, soups, salads and sumptuous appetizers.  More than 25 different toppings are available so you can craft your pie to your exacting tastes.  In addition to slices, you can order a pie ranging in size from small (12-inches) to extra large (19-inches).  You’ll place your order at a counter, but everything will be delivered to your table. 

Because a pizza is more than the sum of its individual ingredients and the way they’re put together, Back Road Pizza places a premium on quality, procuring many of its ingredients from local farms and producers whenever possible.  All beef and pork used in making housemade meatballs and sausage come from the Talus Wind Ranch in Galisteo.  Goat cheeses and fresh vegetables are acquired from the Camino de Paz School and Farm in Santa Cruz (the one in New Mexico, not the one in California). Everything on the menu is made from scratch.   The quality shows!

Cubano Roll

Salads (available in full, half and side sizes) at too many pizzerias are either just an afterthought or a menu-filler.  It’s almost shameful to see salads relegated to such levels of disrespect.  That’s certainly not the case at Back Road Pizza where freshness, flavor and ingredient synergy will give you the impression that this pizza parlor could serve nothing but salads and be very successful in doing so.  The beet and feta salad (spring mix, beets, feta cheese and roasted pumpkin seeds served with a housemade dill vinaigrette) is a winner.  It took this salad to convince me beets don’t need to be roasted to be delicious.  With their intensely earthy flavor and high sucrose level, the beets are tempered by the fabulously fetid feta and the tangy dill vinaigrette. 

Back Road Pizza’s menu lists only four appetizers, three of which are “rolls.” Perhaps the most popular among the starters is Penny’s Bruschetta which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and which is highly recommended by the fabulous Billie Frank, USA Today‘s local expert in Santa Fe.  We opted instead for the Cubano Roll, described as “all your favorite flavors of a Cuban sandwich rolled up and served with a homemade mustard dipping sauce.”   While “all the flavors of a Cuban sandwich” may be present, its whisper thin slivers of ham and roast beef mean those flavors aren’t quite as bold as they are on a sandwich.  What is bold is using sweet pickles instead of the more common dill pickles.  The most exciting aspect of the Cubano roll is certainly the crust.

Greek Pizza: Sun-dried tomato, kalamata olive, artichoke heart & feta

Greek Pizza

What makes the crust so unique and so special isn’t only that it’s made daily, but that it’s rolled in cornmeal using a rolling pin.  The prep table is literally covered in fine cornmeal which renders the pizza delightfully crunchy, especially at its cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza.  Because the pizza is so thin, there frankly isn’t much of a cornicione, but its crunch makes it discernible…and delicious.  The crust makes a perfect canvas for the other high-quality ingredients. 

Rather than opting for a build-it-yourself pie, savvy diners trust that the pizzaioli artisans in the kitchen know what they’re doing and know exactly what ingredients go best together.  The Greek pizza, for example, is constructed from flavor-packed sun-dried tomatoes, briny Kalamata olives, thin slivers of artichoke heart and sharp, crumbled feta.  These are tried and true ingredients you’ve probably had on a pizza elsewhere, but at  Back Street Pizza, these ingredients are atop that magical cornmeal crust.  That makes all the difference in the world!

Norm Pizza

Sometimes there’s a comfort level in partaking of the familiar.  After all, even gastronomes don’t always want to eat only the new, strange and different.  The Norm (black olive, mushroom, housemade sausage and pepperoni) is the epitome of familiar.  In fact, a 2013 survey from delivery provider Foodler revealed that all four of the aforementioned ingredients are in the top seven from among the ten most popular pizza toppings in America.  In the case of the Norm, familiar and popular doesn’t mean boring.  The housemade sausage is very good and of course, there’s that cornmeal crust.

The only bread-like items not made with the much extolled cornmeal crust are desserts though the prospect is intriguing. Among the desserts are flying saucer-sized chocolate chip cookies and an ice cream sandwich in which chocolate chip cookies form the sandwich with rich vanilla ice cream in the middle. Both desserts are quite good though you’ve got to wonder if chocolate chip cookies made from cornmeal crust would be even better.

Left: Two Chocolate Chip Cookies Right: Ice Cream Sandwich

My brother George would scold me if I urged you to rush to Back Road Pizza.   He would want you to get there safely…and slowly.  Just get there!

Back Road Pizza
1807 2nd st #1
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 955 9055
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 January 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Norm Pizza, Greek Pizza, Cubano Roll, Beet & Feta Salad, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ice Cream Sandwich

Back Road Pizza on Urbanspoon

Firenze Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Firenze Pizzeria at 900 Park Avenue, S.W., near Central Avenue and 8th Street adjacent to Robinson Park

We’ve got a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden
- a luxury, I know, but it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made.”
~Gwyneth Paltrow

There really is a lot of veracity in the axiom that “your eyes are the mirror to your soul” because eyes truly do provide visual clues as to what we’re thinking. Some psychologists would have you believe that your choice of pizza toppings is also a window to your soul. So what do your favorite pizza toppings say about your personality and behavior?

One psychologist and longtime pizza lover would have you believe people who adorn their pies with pepperoni are “good team players, prepared to sacrifice their personal interests to those of the majority.” Another purports that people who prefer pepperoni have “been shown to “forget” obligations on occasion and miss out on opportunities at work and home.” Hmmm, contradictory assessments by two so-called experts. Perhaps such assessments say more about their creators than they do about the personality traits of subjects they claim to understand so well.

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The interior of Firenze Pizzeria

Extending the premise that an accurate personality assessment could be discerned from your choice of toppings, why not a personality assessment based on your preference for slices instead of a whole pie? What does it say about you if you’d rather have a thick Brobdingnagian pizza over a thin wisp of a pie? Somewhere out there, an analyst is creating a profile of diners who prefer pizza from a mobile conveyance (food truck, if you will) over pizza from a pizzeria.

For those of us who love the Italian wood-fired pizzas from Firenze Mobile Wood Fired Pizza and the Italian wood-fired pizzas from the Firenze Pizzeria equally, the personality assessment would probably read something like “indecisive, timid and easily manipulated, fearful of offending others” and other such psycho-babble. From a pizza preference standpoint alone, it’s impossible to decide which is better–dining al fresco on a pizza from the Firenze mobile oven or dining under climate-controlled comfort in the pizzeria.

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The unique pizza oven in which your pie is prepared

If you didn’t know the good folks who brought us Firenze pizza on wheels have expanded their operation and given Duke City pizza lovers another option for enjoying their pizza, you’re probably not alone. The Firenze Pizzeria opened its doors in May, 2013. Now, however, if you didn’t know of Firenze Mobile Wood Fired Pizza, you might not be attuned to the Duke City’s burgeoning food cart scene. Albuquerque has become a cosmopolitan cow town, joining such cities as Portland, Los Angeles and Austin as a haven for (take your pick) food trucks, food carts, mobile canteens, catering trucks and mobile kitchens. Just don’t call them roach coaches.

Firenze may well be the first of the Duke City’s mobile eateries to diversify its offerings by launching a brick and mortar operation. It wasn’t solely the success of the mobile operation that precipitated the move. Felicia and Steve Meyer matriculated into the food service world with the intention of determining whether or not they would enjoy the challenge and all the work entailed without going broke. Purchasing an Italian-made oven was less expensive than renting a storefront. Long story short, the Meyers found out they not only enjoyed making pizzas for hungry patrons, they were pretty darned good at it. Firenze quickly made it to every diner’s short list, leaving us pining for the next time we happened upon the location in which the magnificent mobile oven was parked.

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The Don Corleone Pizza

Being booked every weekend for nearly two years for special events, catering and a semi-permanent gig at the Downtown Growers’ Market at Robinson Park facilitated the decision to seek a permanent venue. They found the perfect spot at 900 Park Avenue, S.W., virtually adjacent to Robinson Park. The two-story edifice Firenze now calls home has plenty of character and personality, previously having housed an art gallery and before that, El Hispano News.

The pizzeria’s cynosure is an inlaid brick oven imported from Italy. It’s not an exact replica of the mobile oven, but works similarly. Firenze burns locally sourced elm, a soft wood which isn’t especially good for smoking meats, but imparts a nice flavor to pizza dough. The oven generates temperatures of up to 800 degrees. That doesn’t portend getting your pizza quickly. Expect your order to take up to fifteen minutes to be filled as the Firenze pizzaioli stretch the dough by hand and meticulously apply the ingredients for your pie.

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​Quattro Formaggio: Garlic Oil, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Feta, Pecorino Romano, Roasted Garlic & Parsley

Firenze pizzas are individually sized at eleven-inches–perfect for one. The pizza isn’t exactly thin crust and not exactly New York style, but somewhere in between. The dough is made on the premises and is hand-stretched. Firenze touts its use of “only the freshest, most organic ingredients” sourced locally as much as possible. “Market specials” are made with ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. Firenze also offers a ten-inch gluten-free crust and gluten-free salad options. All pizza crusts are dairy-free and if you ask, any pizza can be made without cheese. Signature teas are housemade daily and lightly sweetened with pure cane sugar. No fountain drinks or artificially flavored beverages are served.

8 June 2013: The Pizzeria’s menu lists three “classics:” the Margherita (the pizza which started it all), a cheese pizza and a pepperoni pizza (don’t expect the Meyers to conduct a personality assessment should you order this one). The real showcase of the important Italian oven is in its preparation of eleven artisan pizzas, some of which are very inventive. For her inaugural taste of Firenze, my Kim opted for the Quattro Formaggi, a turophile’s delight made with four cheeses: mozzarella, ricotta, feta and Pecorino Romano as well as garlic oil, roasted garlic and parsley. It’s amazing how the four cheeses complement and contrast one another: the pungent sharpness of the feta against the delicate richness of the ricotta; the familiar creaminess of the mozzarella with the hearty sheep’s milk undertones. Fromage fanatics, this one’s for you!

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The Firenze mobile pizza oven

8 June 2013: Sign up for the Firenze newsletter and you’ll receive periodic updates and news. That’s how we found out about the Don Corleone special, a pizza available only to newsletter subscribers. If ever a pizza was worthy of being considered the “Godfather” of pizzas, this would be it. Picture on a slightly charred dough canvas: tomato sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage from Keller’s Farm, pepperoni, green olives and Copocollo ham. This is a magnificent pizza, so good I eschewed my usual practice of saving three slices for later…so good I wanted a couple more slices…so good it made it to my short list of best pizzas in New Mexico.

What makes the Don Corleone so good? Farina fanatics might find it blasphemous to learn that not everyone believes char should be part of a pizza’s flavor profile. The pies at Firenze have a light char, just enough so that you might catch a hint of it on a bite or two; it’s not the taste of “burnt” some diners complain about at Farina. The ingredients are top notch and are apportioned just a bit on the parsimonious side which lets you glean a good appreciation for the well-seasoned tomato sauce and magnificent crust. Your pie isn’t weighed down with excess which makes eating it a challenge. Moreover, it is a delicious, uncomplicated pie.

The Godfather

3 January 2015: In its January, 2015 report Pizza Magazine Quarterly revealed that only four states across the fruited plain love pizza less than New Mexico does  (another quality of life category for which we can be grateful for Mississippi).  With only 1.55 pizza joints per 10,000 residents, the Land of Enchantment ranks 46th in terms of number of pizzerias.   Worse, only 38.4 percent of those pizzerias are independent.  Perhaps if more pizzerias in New Mexico offered a pizza as good as The Godfather, our ranking would be much higher.  The Godfather (tomato sauce, mozzarella, Keller’s Farm Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and Kalamata olives) is a beautiful pie that arrives at your table steaming hot with the mozzarella burbling to a tempting sheen.  The high-quality toppings are strewn atop a golden dough canvas in the manner worthy of Michelangelo with each bite rewarding you with pleasurable deliciousness.

3 January 2015: With a name like “Picante,” you might expect a pie pulsating with piquancy.  Instead, the “wow” factor on this pizza comes from a melange of ingredients (tomato sauce, mozzarella, Capocollo ham, rosemary pineapple and fresh sliced jalapeños) that go very well together.  The jalapeños are baked with the pizza which renders them nearly caramelized and tame.  With pineapple and Capocollo ham, the Firenze folks could have paid tribute to the Aloha state in naming this pie, but unlike far too many “Hawaiian” pizzas, this one isn’t nearly as fruity and sweet as others.  It’s got just enough sweetness from the pineapple to meld magnificently with the saltiness of the ham and the slight heat of the jalapeños.

The Picante

The menu also includes three salads: house salad (Romaine, cherry tomato, cucumber, Pecorino Romano, house vinaigrette), creamy pesto salad (Romaine, Parmesan, cracked black pepper, croutons and a creamy pesto dressing) and the one which most piqued our interest, the Gorgonzola salad (mixed greens, Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and Balsamic vinaigrette). Wash down your meal with Firenze’s basil mint iced tea, a black tea infused with basil and mint or with a lavender lemonade, an herbal bend of lavender tea, Italian lemon juice and pure cane sugar. You won’t miss Coke or Pepsi in the least.

Whether or not you buy into the notion that your choice of pizza ingredients says a lot about your personality, you’ll probably join the soon to be legions of pizza aficionados headed for the Robinson Park neighborhood for one of the best pies in town–a wonderful pizza whether you get it from the oven on wheels or the venerable two-story building.

Firenze Pizzeria
900 Park Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242.2939
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 January 2015
1st VISIT: 8 June 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Don Corleone, Quattro Formaggio, Lavender Lemonade

Firenze Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wise Pies Pizza – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Wise Pies Pizza

The connection between the Mafia and pizza is hardly novel. Throughout the fruited plain you’ll find any number of pizzerias sporting Mafioso names, including Godfather’s Pizza with which Duke City diners are well acquainted. It can be debated elsewhere that the Mafia-pizza connection is an offensive Italian stereotype, but no public outcry seems forthcoming as there was when the “Frito Bandido” was used to sell corn chips. In any case, if stereotypes have any basis in truth, the “pizza connection trial” in the 1980s helped perpetuate those stereotypes. That trial centered around the use of independently-owned pizza parlors as Mafia fronts for narcotics sales and collections.

In January, 2014, Michael Baird, the impresario who brought us Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse and Prime launched the first of several planned pizza restaurants which, much like their elder scions, embrace the storied history and machinations of the Mafia–thematically and whimsically, not operationally. The restaurant’s name, “Wise Pies” is a not-so-thinly-veiled play on the Mafia term “wise guys,” which describes someone who is part of a secret criminal organization (can you say Mafia?). Even the specialty pizzas, called “La Cosa Nostra” on the menu, include such familiar organized crime syndicate names as Luciano, Gambino and Bonanno.

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The toppings bar where you’ll find thousands of options

The Mafia theme extends to the name tags worn by Wise Pies employees. Names such as The Enforcer, The Muscle and Gams (she is cute) may sound as if they were they gleaned from any of a number of Mafia nickname generators on the Internet, but they’re actually descriptive of their bearers. The Enforcer, for example, is the shift manager, ostensibly a “capo” or captain within the “family.” The greeter wears a Prohibition era style fedora, today often referred to as a “gangster” (as opposed to “gangsta”) hat. Faux Chicago brick lines the walls.

Despite all the money spent developing the Wise Pies concept, children of all ages will invariably gravitate toward the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine which dispenses dozens of Coca-Cola product flavors. The mad scientist in you might want to mix and match different flavor options, but foodies among us will concentrate our creativity in building our own custom pizza or modifying one of the aforementioned specialty pizzas to our exacting specifications. The options are plentiful—and quick. On the conveyor oven heated to about 600 degrees, your pizza will be ready in just over three minutes. It will probably take you longer than that to decide what you want on your pizza.

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The Bonanno

The eight specialty pizzas on the La Cosa Nostra section of the menu are all prix-fixe at under eight dollars. That prix-fixe rate  also applies to build-your-own. Build your own options include four crusts (including a gluten-free option) made on the premises, five different sauces and six cheeses. Eight meats–including some unique options such as gabagool (capicola in the vernacular of non-family members), green chile chorizo and Andouille sausage—will appease carnivores while vegetarians will find some sixteen veggies to sate their cravings.  The ingredients are of high quality, especially the sausage which is made by the Vernon’s butchers.

19 January 2014: Because the people-pleasing staff at Wise Pies won’t balk at requests to modify even the specialty pizzas, you can truly have them your way. For me, the selling point on the Bonanno is the spicy barbecue sauce (on par with the Turtle Mountain’s Habanero stout barbecue sauce for flavorful heat) while the roasted chicken should be whacked. No problem. The pizzaiolis swapped the chicken for gabagool and Italian sausage, perfect complements for caramelized onions, a provolone cheese blend, roasted red peppers, banana peppers and feta cheese, only about half those ingredients starting off as part of the Bonanno. My additions (pizza my way) proved quite satisfying, making for a good, solid pizza.

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The Siciliano

19 January 2014: Similarly my Kim customized The Siciliano (roasted red pepper marinara, gabagool, Italian sausage, red onions, roasted garlic and a Provolone cheese blend), opting for a double portion of roasted garlic. If these specialty pies are indicative of other Wise Pie offerings, capos and their crews as well as families will enjoy Wise Pies. Each pizza is about nine-inches around with a thin crust formidable enough to hold up to all the ingredients you might pile on to your pie. The quick-baking process imbues each pizza with a light brown char. Being thin-crusted, there’s not much of a cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza. With only nine-inches of crusty canvas, that’s a good thing because it means more ingredients, less bread. 

10 December 2014: While chatting recently about American cuisine with a young Vietnamese server at Viet Q, he dismissed (maybe even dissed) American burgers but admitted to having fallen in love with pizza–but only if it’s topped with green chile.  As with our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers, New Mexicans love to top their pizzas with our official state vegetable.  At Wise Pie, chile is available not only as a topping, but as a chief component of one of its sauces.  The green chile Alfredo sauce on the Fredo actually packs an occasional kick–not with every bite, but sneakily.  Other components on this pizza are roasted chicken, a Provolone cheese blend, Roma tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  On those bites in which the green chile makes its presence felt, this pizza rocks.  When the green chile isn’t discernible, it’s still good.  For better results, ask for green chile and the green chile Alfredo sauce.

The Fredo

Wise Pies offers three (Greek, Classic Caesar, Garden) salads as well as a build your own salad option with four dressing options. Sweet stuff includes a chocolate chip cookie, an apple cinnamon pizza and Wise Pies Gourmet Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Bars. The chocolate bars are made especially for Wise Pies by Joliesse Chocolates of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The chocolate bars are kept in the freezer until ordered so they’re cold and hard if you bite into them immediately. Give them a couple of minutes and you’ll bite into some of the best chocolate in town. The milk chocolate bar is filled with salted butter caramel while the dark chocolate bar is imbued with hazelnut gianduja.  Both are terrific!

Albuquerque’s first Wise Pies on Alameda is relatively small at 1,600 square feet, but it offers two patios for Albuquerque’s sunny days. Ultimately, Michael Baird plans to open more than a dozen Wise Pie franchises throughout the Land of Enchantment with stores in Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Roswell planned.  On Monday, December 1st, 2014, Wies Pies Pizza entered into agreement with the University of New Mexico to rename the famous basketball arena. Henceforth, University Arena (also known as “The Pit”) will be named Wise Pies Arena after the local pizza and salad chain.

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For dessert, Wise Pies Dark Chocolate bar and Wise Guys Gourmet Chocolate Bar

There’s a code of silence in the Mafia called “omerta” to which members have to swear when they join the Family. Mafiosos and pizza aficionados alike won’t be able to keep silent about Wise Pies, a pizzeria with great value and customization opportunities which truly let you have pizza the way you want it.

Wise Guys Pizza
4545 Alameda Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-5260
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 December 2014
1st VISIT: 19 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: The Bonanno, The Siciliano, Dark Chocolate Bar, Gourmet Chocolate Bar, The Fredo

Wise Pies on Urbanspoon