Il Vicino – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Il Vicino's Northeast Heights restaurant is a popular dining destination.

Il Vicino, the type of neighbor I’d like to have

Undoubtedly the most often quoted line on Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” is “good fences make good neighbors.” Frost, a four-time Pulitzer Prize award winning American poet certainly didn’t have Il Vicino (“the neighbor”) in mind when he penned that proverb.  Fortunately fences are no obstacle to patrons of this popular contemporary Italian trattoria. A well-regarded neighborhood eatery with three Albuquerque locations, Il Vicino is probably best known for its wood-oven pizza and award-winning brewery with popular micro-brewed ales but it offers much more than that.  Known in some circles for prized beers, Il Vicino has a private wine label designed to complement its menu.  Victuals include salads, panini-style sandwiches and baked lasagna, too.

Il Vicino has long been a fixture in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill area (3403 Central Avenue, S.E.) with a second location in the far Northeast Heights (11225 Montgomery Boulevard, N.E.).  In November, 2009, a third Il Vicino was launched in the burgeoning Northwest side (10701 Coors Blvd, N.W.).  You’re never too far away from Il Vicino.

The mouth of a ferocious lion is the portal to great pizzas and sandwiches.

The leonine oven at Il Vicino on Montgomery

Pizza selections range from the traditional to the artful, from sublime simplicity to complex contemporary. Among the former is the pizza that started it all in 1889 when an Italian pizzaiolo crafted a pizza reflecting the colors of the Italian Sabauda flag and named it for his queen.  More than a century and a quarter later, it is widely acknowledged that the red (marinara sauce), white (white mozzarella cheese) and green (fresh basil) pizza crafted the fateful day Queen Margherita visited her summer residence at Capodimont is the progenitor of every pizza crafted ever since. Considering Americans alone consume 100 acres of pizza each day, that’s a lot of pies.

The Pizza Margherita needs no additional adornment; add anything to it and it’s no longer a Pizza Margherita. If a restaurant doesn’t do a decent Pizza Margherita, how can you trust it to craft something more elaborate? When it’s on its game, Il Vicino does it well–a wood-oven baked, thin-crusted pie with just a hint of char on a (usually) crispy crust replete in its outside edges with airy holes.  Because of the thinness of the pizza, the pizzaiolis sometimes extricate it from the oven before it’s completely done.  That means you’ll occasionally get a doughy, incompletely baked pizza.  Unlike cookie dough, near raw pizza dough is nearly inedible.  All too often, this is the type of pizza Il Vicino has served me–and other victims…er, guests.  At other times (increasingly rare), the pizza is crispy and done to perfection.  It’s this lack of consistency that prevents me from rating it higher than I have or from returning with more regularity.

Pizza at Il Vicino

At the Northeast Heights location, the mouth of a ferocious lion (pictured above) serves as the door to the oven in which more than a dozen different pizzas are prepared.  Having visited all three Il Vicino restaurants, I believe the leonine oven is responsible for the most consistently well-baked pizzas in the triumvirate of neighborly restaurants.

Non-traditional pizza includes the Pizze Bianca, a white (no tomato sauce) pizza featuring spicy oil, mozzarella, Copocollo ham, Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, rosemary, goat cheese, gorgonzola and sun-baked tomatoes. Talk about a delicious departure from the comparatively naked pizza adorned with tomato sauce.

The Fino: Marinara Sauce, Mozzarella, Turkey Sausage, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Fresh Oregano

There’s also the Rustica (artichoke hearts, clamata olives, capers, roasted garlic and marinara sauce) and the Campagnola (sausage, mushrooms, marinara sauce, roasted garlic) about which my only complaint (and it’s a small one) is that it didn’t have enough goat cheese to suit my taste. There are fourteen different pizzas on the menu, some fairly basic and others adorned with ingredients some people might consider fru-fru.

Il Vicino’s prowess is by no means exclusive to pizza. It also crafts some of the most highly regarded panini sandwiches and most colossal calzones in town as well as sizeable salads and pasta al forno.  Two lasagna entrees are among the latter.  One, the lasagna giardiniere is a vegetarian’s delight, replete with layered pasta, fire-roasted bell peppers and onions, mushrooms, spinach, ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, marinara sauce and pesto.

Rustica: Marinara Sauce, Mozzarella, Artichoke Hearts, Calamata Olives, Roasted Garlic, Capers, Fresh Oregano

Meat lovers will enjoy the Lasagna Bolognese (pictured above), pasta layered with marinara sauce, ground beef, tomatoes, onion, mozzarella, ricotta, mushrooms, fresh oregano and parmesan.  It’s a filling pasta dish though somewhat on the salty side–and the level of doneness may result in a relatively dry lasagna you can literally scrape off the plate.

Somehow Il Vicino has managed to discover the perfect balance of ingredients when crafting both folded flatbread and conventional panini sandwiches. Neither vegetables nor meats nor cheeses or sauces dominate the competition for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Instead, the ingredients meld together like a well-orchestrated musical arrangement.

Il Vicino’s lasagna

Among the very best folded flatbread sandwiches on the menu is the Hero, a sandwich sobriquet with copious aliases (submarine, hoagie, grinder, etc.). Like most hero sandwiches, this one is heaped with layers of thinly sliced meats, vegetables and cheeses. In this case, the ingredients would be Capocollo ham, hard salami, dijon mayonnaise, mozzarella, provolone, pepperoncini, red onions, Roma tomato, romaine, house vinaigrette.  As shown below, Il Vicino does not scrimp on ingredients.  Two things make this sandwich special–the dijon mustard which has a definite attention-getting tang and the pepperoncini, a rare additive to sandwiches, but one which definitely belongs on the Hero.

Il Vicino was one of only two New Mexico pizzerias mentioned in Ed Levine’s terrific tome, Pizza, A Slice of Heaven, the definitive guide to the appreciation of America’s favorite food throughout the country.  That doesn’t necessarily mean Levine regarded it that highly; more than likely, he ran out of time and didn’t bother to explore other of New Mexico’s pizzerias. In addition to two Duke City Venues, this neighbor is going places–many places. There are now eight Il Vicino restaurants in four states with sister restaurants in Santa Fe, St. Louis, Wichita, Denver, Littleton and Colorado Springs.

Il Vicino's "Hero" Sandwich

Il Vicino’s “Hero” Sandwich

Libations are ostensibly as good as the food–or at least Il Vicino’s root beer is. It’s a hearty, full-bodied adult root beer with little froth and just enough sweetness to appeal to children of all ages.

Il Vicino’s famous root beer

One visit and you might wish all your neighbors were like Il Vicino.  Now if only they could figure out the secret to a great pizza is keeping it in the oven until it’s done enough.

Il Vicino
3403 Central, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
266-7855
LATEST VISIT: 01 December 2011
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 16
COST: $$
BEST BET: Wood Oven Pizza, Panini Sandwiches

Il Vicino on Urbanspoon

8 comments

  • Sr Plata

    Senorena and I returned for some vegetarian lasagna and home made root beer. This restaurant does have one of the best lasagna around and I do recommend the location on the west side. But what really does it is the homemade root beer. I dont know who else makes it and serves it but going on the New Mexico Root Beer trail would be a wild ride.

  • Barbara

    I also love their salad, and have not had the problems Jim has with the pizza.

  • Deb

    You’ve missed the boat at Il Vicino. The good stuff there is not the pizza, but the salad. The Il Vicino salad is the best cobb-variation I’ve ever had, and consistently excellent. Plus, they will split it onto two plates for free, and retain the fancy presentation. This salad with the signature iced tea makes for a fabulous break from work or shopping (if you’re in Santa Fe).

  • Jim Millington

    I had previously put up a defense of the Il Vicino pizza and suggested a solution which worked (order extra crispy) and posted this other places. Unfortunately management or someone at the Montgomery location read you comments and mine and came up with a solution. Three orders ago my pizza was ready in about 4-minutes from my placing the order, was charred, mushy and horrible. I accused them of giving me an old pizza which had been reheated. The 17-year old “manager” was offended but gave me a fresh new one. It was just as bad. A month or so later I was back and had another awful pizza in no time. Last night I ordered again and again received a limp charred pie in just a couple of minutes-revolting. Deciding that they were precooking the basic pizza with cheese and adding other ingredients prior to reheating. I spied. I was wrong. I don’t know what they are doing but they have completely destroyed a pretty good pizza. I will be back in about a year to see if they have cured their cure.

  • lobo59

    We (wife and I) have eaten at the Il Vicino in Nob Hill and the one in Santa Fe several times, and have always enjoyed our meals. We are not big fans of the pizzas that we have had in Santa Fe, but they are more than passable. We like the Nob Hill pizza’s better.

    At both locations, however, we particularly like the calzones, and the panini and piadine, which have all been consistently very good. My favorite may be the Tacchino Piadini. The calzone is a meal and a half, and the sandwiches are large, as well. Also, we have found the salads to be fresh, tasty and large. Finally, the root beer is among the best in either ABQ or SFe.

    In a rare disagreement with Gil, I’d go with a “20” here. Good food and good service are the norms.

  • Sr Plata

    Senorena and I eat fairly frequently coming in for a Panini, Lasagna and House Salad here often. It’s close to our home and what we order is generally good. My concern for the owner is centered around service and communications between management and servers. The last we went, I watched my house salad, which is quite good, sit on the counter as many people passed by and I seriously considered getting it myself. It seems lately there has been a shortage of servers since we haven’t had a lot of attention from them. Also, one of the best things there is the home made root beer. During our last 2 visits, I had to ask the Manager for the 2nd refill when told by the servers that only one is allowed; management needs to ensure there is clear communication on these little things cause it could be a make or break for returning. Back to the food, I either get the non-vegetarian or vegetarian lasagna and its has been pretty good, I haven’t had any bad experiences with those and tend to re-order the same thing. The house salad with the added Gorgonzola cheese is very very good. The dressing is extremely light and excellent with the cracked pepper. I think what would be a great addition is to have hot garlic bread as part of the meal. The meal is served with one piece of unwarmed sourdough and a basket of hot garlic toast would hit the spot.

  • Jim Millington

    We regularly eat at Il Vicino usually like it better than almost any in town but, like you, find it occasionally doughy. I like the char at Farina much better though I have eaten with people who consider the char to be a horribly burnt pie.

    A couple of months ago I was feeling a little exasperated after getting two doughy jobs at Il Vicino and asked the person taking the order to beg the kitchen not to deliver an uncooked pie. She said “Oh! Extra Crispy” and hit a key on the register. This turned out to be the secret and I began to always order that way.

    Last night, remembering Farina, I took a chance and ordered double extra crispy. Out came a pizza with a little more char than Farina, maybe a little too much at the outside rim but otherwise perfect.

    This secret has made me a happy eater though I suspect some people prefer the under cooked version.

  • min

    The best thin crust pizza in town. I loved the Not Hill one more than others.

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