Pizza 9 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pizza 9: Chicago Style Pizza and More
The original Pizza 9 in the Siesta Hills Shopping Center on Gibson, S.E.

My first review of Pizza 9 was written after my inaugural visit in January, 2009 at its original location in Albuquerque’s International District.  Three years later, there are nine Pizza 9 restaurants strewn throughout Albuquerque and Rio Rancho with a Pizza 9 planned for Santa Fe and “sky’s the limit” growth planned beyond that.  Even before Pizza 9 became a ubiquitous Duke City presence, my review engendered a significant number of visits and comments.  Today, this review is the tenth most frequently launched from among nearly 700 reviews on this blog.  More than 20 comments–some favorable and some almost inflammatory in nature–seem to indicate Pizza 9 evokes passion.

What’s in a name?  According to an English bard and playwright of some repute, a rose by any name would smell as sweet.  It would be interesting to conjecture what William Shakespeare would have said about pizza, especially since the label “pizza” has come to mean different things, especially to proponents of two vastly different styles of pizza.

In New York City, pizza is practically a religion with nearly than 1700 restaurants in “Metropolis” containing the words “pizza” or “pizzeria” in their name.   “New York style pizza”  has come to mean a thin crust, slices which are wide at the top  tapering down to a perfectly pointed bottom and of course, slices so large that the only way to eat them is by employing the “New York fold,” folding a slice in half so that the contents are sandwiched together inside.   Interlopers daring to serve anything else are almost as rare in New York City as Dallas Cowboys fans.

“Chicago style pizza,” on the other hand, is practically the antithesis of New York style pizza.   The pizza style popularized in America’s Second City is characterized by a thick, buttery crust (often made with cornmeal) topped with profligate amounts of cheese and slathered with a chunky, uncooked tomato sauce.   The dough for this pizza is sometimes made up to a day in advance so it has a chance to rise like the magnificent Chicago sky line.  Because Chicago style pizza is so thick and heavy, eating it is not an activity you can rush, nor can you consider a single slice merely a snack.

Hass Aslami delivers a Chicago style pizza to our table
Hass Aslami delivers a Chicago style pizza to our table

The debate between proponents of New York style thin-crust pizza and aficionados of deep dish Chicago style pizza is as spirited as a gridiron confrontation between the Giants and da Bears.  Dissenting Windy City voices will argue that New York style thin-crust pizza is tomato sauce slathered on cardboard, is dry and floppy and doesn’t hold up against the weight of toppings.  The anti thin-crust crowd becomes a little thin-skinned themselves when their favorite pizza is called a quiche, casserole or even a lasagna  and is described as droopy, soggy bread so heavy you practically herniate when trying to lift it.

Debating this contentious issue takes time away from what both sides should be doing and that’s eating the pizza of their choice.  “Live and let eat” is the motto to which subscribe those of us who love their pizzas thin, thick and everything in between.

Most pizza purveyors in the Duke City are claimants to the New York style of pizza so when we found out about a restaurant offering Chicago style pizza, we had to wonder if this was another audacious pretender or the real deal.  The name “Pizza 9” may or may not have anything to do with Chicago television super station WGN, Channel 9, but that name just might trigger, in the mind of some Chicago transplants, a Windy City affiliation.  The original Pizza 9 is located on Gibson, directly across the street from the Lovelace Hospital.  It is housed in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken site.

A Hawaiian Pizza
A Hawaiian Pizza

The first person you’re likely to see when you walk into Pizza 9 is Hass Aslami, erstwhile proprietor of Chicago Beef, a short-lived oasis for Chicago transplants excelling in such  Chicago favorites as deep-dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches and hot dogs.  For any Chicago expatriate, those are the essence of deliciousness, as quintessentially “home” as  the Buckingham Fountain, the Sears Tower or Wrigley Stadium.  Those are the foods they love best and miss most.

Mr. Asiami has not only made it possible for transplanted Chicagoans to enjoy their favorite staples on Gibson Boulevard, he’s franchised his operation locally.  Within a year of launching his inaugural site, three additional Pizza 9 restaurants dotted the metropolitan area, including one in Rio Rancho (1751 Rio Rancho Blvd, Suite 106) owned and operated by Vu Nguyen.  The Rio Rancho restaurant opened on September 13th, 2009.  Vu and his crew are extremely accommodating and friendly.

At Chicago Beef, pizza had third billing on the menu behind Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago style hot dogs.  In Hass’s new digs, the name on the marquee is a clear indication of his restaurant’s emphasis–specialty and gourmet pizzas, either Chicago style deep-dish or (gasp) thin crust.  Yes, contrary to popular belief and stereotypes, man pizzerias throughout Chicago craft a pretty mean thin-crust pizza.     Three sizes are available at Pizza 9–nine-, twelve- and fourteen inch pizzas.

Combo Beef and Sausage Sandwich with Au Jus
Combo Beef and Sausage Sandwich with Au Jus

To be completely honest, we didn’t find the deep-dish pizza at either Chicago Beef or Pizza 9 wholly authentic (at least as compared to the casserole-thick pizzas in the Windy City) although my initial impression was that it’s a pretty good pizza.   It’s only about a third the thickness of a true Chicago style pizza as you might find at a Windy City pizzeria such as Gino’s East or Pizzeria Uno.  Still, it’s thicker than most pizzas in the Duke City and it has a light, airy and buttery crust which you can top with a variety of fresh and delicious toppings.  There is no way you could mistake it for a New York style pizza.

Another indication that Pizza 9’s delicious offering isn’t wholly authentic is the fact that even though Chicagoland’s deep dish purveyors pre-make their dough, it takes as long as 45 minutes for it to bake completely.  Our Hawaiian pizza (Canadian bacon, pineapple) was ready in about ten minutes.  Not even the most staunch deep-dish dissenter would call this pizza quiche, casserole or lasagna.  What they would call it (if they can swallow their pride as lustily as they’d be swallowing the pizza) is delicious.

The crust at Pizza 9 holds up well against the weight of any ingredients with which you might top it.  Despite being light and airy, it is a stiff crust which, in no way, can you fold vertically.  The butteriness comes from a low-fat oil which imbues the crust with an unctuous quality without being overly greasy.   Pizza 9 also uses a pizza sauce perhaps the thickness of tomato paste, not the chunky crushed tomato-based sauce used in Chicago.  Dissenters (read the feedback below) compare Pizza 9’s pizza to that of Pizza Hut, a comparison I’m not able to validate since my last experience with Pizza Hut occurred in Cheltenham, England almost three decades ago.

Italian Beef Sandwich with green peppers
Italian Beef Sandwich with green peppers

Being married to my Chicago born and bred babe for nearly a quarter of a century, I’ve spent enough time in the Windy City to appreciate the city’s culinary offerings, but it’s not deep-dish pizza or even the Second City’s four-star haute French cuisine that owns my heart (and appetite) when in Chicago.  That distinction goes to the more modest and pedestrian Italian beef sandwich, a descendant of the French Dip Sandwich according to my bible for all things sandwich, American Sandwich.

Becky Mercuri’s fabulous tome further explains that the first Italian Beef Sandwich may have been created by accident by an Italian cook named Tony (what else) who added some spices to enliven the restaurant’s rather bland French dip sandwich.  Even though Tony’s creation received much acclaim, he was fired on the spot.  Undeterred he opened an Italian Beef Sandwich stand down the street and the rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history.

Chicagoans grow up worshiping at high counters on which they prop their elbows as they consume Italian beef sandwiches–sometimes because the restaurant has no tables, but more often than not, because no matter how careful they are, they’re bound to spill shards of beef, bits of giardiniera and drippings of spice-laden beef gravy onto their clothing.  It is absolutely impossible to eat a good Italian beef sandwich while driving.  That is, if you want to keep your clothing clean and dry.

Calzone from Pizza 9
Calzone from Pizza 9

Spillage is just one way you know you have an authentic Italian beef sandwich.  One other way is by the fantastic flavors imparted by a spice rub that usually includes basil, oregano, garlic, black pepper and red pepper flakes.   Those spices are massaged onto sirloin tip which is roasted at high heat.  The beef is sliced Nicole Ritchie thin and is so tender it shreds into pieces.

At many Chicago restaurants (and you can have it this way at Pizza 9, too), it is momentarily immersed (dipped) in the gravy to make it even juicier. It is often served with either hot or mild giardiniera (a concoction of spicy, pickled, chopped-up vegetables such as peppers, carrots, cauliflower and celery), but sometimes with sautéed mushrooms and bell peppers (Gil’s Thrilling Recommendation: Hot Giardiniera). The entire creation is extremely messy; you dare not ever try to eat one while driving.

My verdict–and I’ve frequented Johnnie’s Beef,  an Italian beef sandwich restaurant food writer Ed Levine said made one of “22 sandwiches that will change your life”–is that Pizza 9’s combination Italian beef and sausage combo is  good enough to assuage the appetite and longing of Chicago transplants missing their favorite sandwich.  It’s as good as several Italian beef sandwiches we’ve had in the Chicago area–and why wouldn’t it be?  The beef, sausage, bread and giardiniera are all procured from high-quality vendors in the Windy City.

Italian French Fries
Italian French Fries

Vu and his crew at the Rio Rancho Pizza 9 are doing some things just a bit differently than the original on Gibson.  For one thing, they’re offering a lunch special that includes a slice of pizza.  For another, they’ll take the Chicago-style beef calzone with onions, bell peppers, giardiniera and au jus and add sausage.  It’s like having an Italian beef sandwich on a a calzone crust made from the same wonderful dough as the pizza.  This may be the biggest calzone I’ve ever seen, easily the size of a flattened football which means you’ll have left-overs.  This is an excellent calzone with robust and delicious flavors.

In Rio Rancho you’ll also find Italian French fries, basically just crinkled fries with Italian seasoning sprinkled on top.  They’re easily more exciting than the salty and boring Fries you find just about anywhere else.  In Rio Rancho, you’ll also find a number of desserts imported from Chicago.  They include several cheesecakes and a tiramisu which is more than passable.

Tiramisu, imported from Chicago

Pizza 9 is a Bo Derek ten in my book, a restaurant  which takes me back to Chicago and some of the Windy City’s quintessential foods.  Go there for the pizza if you must, but you’ll fall in love with the Italian beef sandwiches.

Pizza 9
5305 Gibson, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 366-6463
Web Site
1st VISIT: 10 January 2009
LATEST VISIT: 1 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 20
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Italian  Beef & Sausage Combo, Italian Beef Sandwich, Hawaiian Pizza, Combo Beef Calzone, Italian French Fries, Tiramisu

Pizza 9 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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26 Comments on “Pizza 9 – Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. Eating the Italian Beef sandwich combo with chips and drink, having brought it home. It had the spicy giardinero embedded with the meat and baked-in cheese. I liked it and the server in Rio Rancho was very friendly. Just wish the Italian beef sandwich was bigger as I’m still hungry and my dogs are eying it now. The beef Calzone is really good, ran out of time…

  2. I tried the Italian beef sandwich today, delivered to work. Excellent! I had the mild giardiniera on the side, perfect, and the au jus was to DIE for. It’s great being able to order online and have it delivered within twenty minutes! Fab!

  3. Almost everything they serve is pre-made. Nothing is freshly prepared. What do you expect? You get what you pay for. Farina blows them out of the water on every level.
    This is why it’s ridiculous to take other peoples word for a restaurant’s worthiness. These posters probably think Burger King is fine dining. Yeah….I value your opinion about food. LOL

  4. I like Pizza 9, but it doesn’t carry out well. There was one on Gibson, I think, when I worked on the base. If I brought it back to the base, it was great! But, if I brought it back to Placitas (an hour later), it was bad cold, and it didn’t reheat well. The food is good, but I’d recommend eating it there or close by.

  5. While I’ve had their Chicago Beef sandwich before (outstanding), I tried their pizza tonight for the first time. My whole family loved it. It is a very good pizza. Is it authentic Chicago deep dish? No, of course not…but it is a quality pizza. While it is similar to Pizza Hut’s pan pizza, I would say it is similar in style but the taste and quality is much, much better.

  6. Just had the most authentic Italian Beef sandwich I’ve had in a long time at Chicago Dog on Central (They’re brand new). The dogs are real Chicago, too: Vienna beef and poppy seed buns. I just moved here from the windy city, read your review and look forward to trying Nine.

  7. The only thing I like at Pizza 9 is the sausage on a roll. We only tried the pizza once and it was horrible; worse than a bad frozen pizza. And I made the mistake of ordering Spaghetti once and it is not spaghetti…instead wide broad flat noodles of some kind. Very weird and not good. Meatballs not good either. But I do love the sausage sandwich and will go there just for that.

  8. Pizza 9 on Louisiana has the worst customer service ever! not to mention if you have a food allergy don’t go to this place, they don’t list all there ingredients so you may just get a surprise. Also the cook was not wearing a hair net.I ordered a specialty pizza but requested it without jalapenos. when i got home i opened the box and pizza had jalapenos all over it. So I went back to Pizza 9 and told the girl working the front that this was not the pizza I ordered. I then pointed out the jalapenos, that’s when the i assume manager came out. I told them i wanted a refund to which set him off into a rant about how I’m “wasting” his pizza and he didn’t want to throw it away. Then the argument turned into the reasons i had jalapenos on my pizza is because it part of a “mix” of another topping i ordered. I told them the regardless of the situation I specifically requested jalapenos off and should have been told if it was in another ingredient. I told them had it been a food allergy this could have been a very serious situation and that they should list ALL there toppings that are on a pizza. The manager kept trying to get me to order are placement pizza. I kept telling him i just wasted a refund to which he again told me how i was wasting his pizza, yelling this time. He then through his pen down at the counter abruptly, grabbed the pizza and dramatically slammed it into the trashcan in front of me. They then looked up my receipt and when he saw it was debit he told me they couldn’t refund it. I kept pushing for my refund as this is not an uncommon request and I did not pay credit. He then protested that no one in the building knew how to do a debit refund. Apparently according to him the only person who knows how to operate the machine is the owner who was not there. At this point i was very unhappy and disappointed so I just ordered the replacement pizza. The manager took my order and mockingly called back to his crew to hurry make the pizza quickly. He also sounded like he let off a few Spanish remarks under his breath.After a few minutes he came back to the counter and offered several apologies for not being able to refund my money, the jalapenos and told me how much he values my business. No where in there was an apology for his completely inappropriate behavior and handling of the situation. He then offered my additional free menu items in an attempt to make me”happy.” I declined but after being constantly offered again and again I just ordered something. Worst customer service ever. Ive been to this Pizza 9 before and never was treated like this. I plan on speaking with the owner.

  9. HACKS AND IDIOTS, their “chicago style” pizza and “deep dish” pizza are the exact same thing even though they are listed separately , I asked and that’s what they said. Most importantly they are NOT “chicago style” they are the same as Pizza Huts Pan Pizza.

    They screwed up the toppings on 3 of the 4 pizza’s i ordered from them, i kept coming back because they’d screw up and give me a credit but then they’d screw it up again, unbelievable.

    Don’t eat here.

  10. I lived and ate well in Chicago for 15 years. Although the pizza at Pizza 9 is fantastic, the Italian Beef may be the best sandwich in town. Any town .

    Now if some place in Duke City could only produce a REAL Chicago Hot Dog on a poppy seed bun with Sport Peppers ….

    -Larry-

  11. Italian beef sandwiches sort of passable around here, but would be out of business in Chicago within a month. Rio Rancho sandwich better than outlet in ABQ on Gibson, primarily because hoagie roll was toasted, giving it a little more crunch and body. Giardinara the only really bright spot here. Bread tends to be soft and mushy, definitely not crusty, which one would expect in Chicago. Beef had a funky, smelly aftertaste. Sorry, no cigar.

    Tried the thin crust pizza with sausage and mushrooms in Rio Rancho: Truly abyssmal, especially towards any claims at being “Chicago style.” Sauce was pretty flavorless and crust was strictly pre-fab, with punched holes in the bottom made by a machine, and the crust was probably frozen and in storage for awhile. Really awful, would rather have had Totino’s. Probably the worst pizza I have ever had in Albuquerque. Sausage not too bad, but not good enough to save the total product. Am I missing something? Is there something to be said for the Calzone or deep dish or stuffed pizza at this place? Sorry, Gil, and not to impugn your Chicagoan wife’s tastes, but many neighborhood places in Chicago (especially on the south side) have always favored thin crust versus the deep dish and stuffed pizza styles and still do. Although the latter pies have generally garnered raves from tourists and have overblown Chicago as a town which strictly favors the extravagant excesses of deep dish and stuffed pizza, this is simply not so: Many Chicagoans have always and will continue to enjoy thin crust, which in itself is no slouch in the ingredients department: topped with good mozzarella, robust sausage (with fennel and other seasonings), sweet, plentiful, and well-seasoned sauce. Nothing like what we received at Pizza 9.

    If you want something similar to Chicago style thin crust, try Nicky V’s on Coors, order a 12 inch cheese pizza with sausage (or double sausage) and mushrooms. Although I suspect that this pizza’s heritage is out of New York, it comes pretty close to resembling Chicago style, with really thin, hand-tossed crust, and sweet savory marinara sauce. Sausage tastes fresh and is redolent with fennel. High quality stuff. Crust pleasantly charred a bit at the edges from the high heat of the oven. Best that this Chicagoan has had around here.

  12. I really enjoy the Pizza and the Bread Nuggets from Pizza 9. I just wish all of the Pizza 9 establishments carried the Italian fries.

  13. Very disappointing.
    No way is this “Chicago style” pizza. I’ve had Chicago pizza and this aint it folks.
    Both of Pizza 9’s crusts, the thick and thin, are ditto for Pizza Huts pan pizza and the Pizza Hut thin crust. They could pass off as Pizza Hut easily.
    I’ll stick with Dions, Saggios, Pizza Castle, Marios, and Giovannis for authentic pizza.
    I’d like see Albuquerque get a true Chicago pizza place.

    1. Hello Ann

      My last visit to Pizza Hut was in Cheltenham, England way back in 1987 so I have no current frame of reference for comparing the crust at Pizza 9 with Pizza Hut’s. The vast majority of my visits to Pizza 9 have been for their Italian beef and sausage combo sandwiches or their behemoth calzones. Pizza 9 prepares their terrific Italian beef sandwiches in the same way they’re prepared in Chicago and with ingredients imported from the Windy City. I’ve had Pizza 9’s pizza only during my inaugural visit and wholly agree it’s not the prototypical casserole-thick pizza most people have come to regard as Chicago style. Nonetheless, I thought it was a good pizza and Andrea Lin, the Albuquerque Journal’s food critic, thought so as well in her recent review. Try Pizza 9’s Italian beef and sausage combo sandwich and I’ll bet you won’t be saying it’s not authentic (and fantastic, too).

      Gil

  14. I would have to agree with Pants McCracky, although the pizza had a descent tasted, its only in my oppinion ranked a little higher that pizza hut. It cost me thirty dollars for two large pizzas that looked more like mediums and there was nothing special about the “chicago style” toppings. I have had pizza in chicago and it was nothing like this.. also had pizza in new york, bascially im getting tired of these people advertising “chicago style” or “new york style” pizza when its really not! im still going with DIONS as my pizza place in new mexico anyways

  15. Hi Gil,
    Nice review, yet you failed to mention the 2nd location which opened on June 5th, 2009 is at 4000 Louisiana Blvd. NE, Suite D, 505-883-6463. At the SE intersection of Montgomery and Louisiana facing Wecks. They Do Deliver from I-40 east to Academy and Wyoming west to I-25.
    They do not have “dine in” yet they offer tables out front (patio setting) to munch their wonderful Pizza’s and Sandwiches, if your in the area and looking for a quick bite. I think this location was the first to offer their Gluten Free Pizza Dough. My wife (a Celiac disease sufferer) had heard that the owner Dave had introduced it at the request of one of his first customers.
    Whether you try their Gluten Free or Chicago Style Pizza you are sure to enjoy!
    Tom

  16. I’ve been there (west side) several times this month. Their Chicago Style Italian Beef sandwich hits it out of the park if you are craving that real Chicago flavor. They nailed the Au Jus, and the giardiniera – MMMMM. Today, I just had a calzone that was as big as a truck tire (or 1/2 of one). Best I’ve ever eaten – especially with the giardiniera.

    I would love to see them add hot dogs! Also, their Italian Sausage sandwich is my favorite thing at Pizza 9 (heaped with hot giardiniera of course.)

    On the down side, their spaghetti sauce needs work – way too sweet (Ketchup?) and not much seasoning. They said it is made on the premises – and they should get a better recipe. I could not taste garlic, olive oil, basil, etc… Meatballs are good though. the “spaghetti” they served was actually linguine, but it was cooked al dente.

    Customer service is excellent – they take pride in their food and it shows.

  17. I didnt think the italian beef sandwich was THAT hot. Bread got a bit soggy and the au jus sauce was okay. I dont know, the sandwach was just missing something.

  18. Mixed feelings here. I liked the thin crust pizza quite a bit — fresh, delicious toppings — but the “Chicago style” was a major bust in my opinion. In no way is this authentic Chicago style pizza. I’d rate it a little higher than Pizza Hut pan pizza, but not by much. Very disappointing and not worth the price. I don’t think I’d bother getting pizza from here again, but I am definitely going back to try the Italian beef!

  19. I had to try pizza 9, and was very surprised of the taste and the price. Plus the customer service was outstanding. It’s all about the taste and being treated right! Pizza 9 Nailed it!

  20. WOW, can I shout out HOLY COW!!! This pizza is awesome!!! Our friends recommended it , we tried it, and now we recommend it!! We have finally found our pizza place and, another bonus, they deliver on base too. Thanks for giving us the best pizza in town!!!

  21. Pizza 9 has some of the best pizza in town. I am really impressed by their crust, the quality of the toppings, the sauce and the cheese. All ingredients are exceptional, especially when you compare them to the other pizza joints in town. As an added bonus, their prices are VERY reasonable! A large hot pizza delivered to the door cost LESS than $20.00!! Forget Pizza Hut! Pizza 9 is just better!

  22. I’ve been eating at Pizza 9 since they first opened. One taste of that tasty pizza, and I was hooked. Now Pizza 9 is the only place I go to for pizza. Even the thought of getting pizza anywhere else sickens me.

  23. This is a nice place to grab a quick lunch. They have a huge delivery area (north to Lomas, east to Eubank and west to I-25 according to the friendly staff) that makes me want to give them a call for a few Italian Beef Sandwiches.

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