Inasmuch as they’re both Romance languages, there are a lot of similarities between Spanish and Italian. Because Spanish was my first language, if spoken slowly enough I can probably understand thirty-percent of what is spoken in Italian. Alas, not all Spanish and Italian terms are lexical cognates. That is, they don’t have the same etymology or derivation. For example, the Italian term “mangia” means “eat up” (naturally, it’s one of my favorite Italian words) while perhaps its closest Spanish equivalent is “come.” Another Italian culinary term every self-respecting gastronome recognizes is “cibo” which translates in English to “food.” In Italy, life revolves around the preparation and enjoyment of good food (cibo buono). Hmm, maybe I should have been born Italian?
As a gastronomo prolifico (the Italian AND Spanish translation for both words), I feel a profound connection to Elena Davis who writes the fabulous blog Cucina by Elena in which she shares recipes and memories of having grown up in Lo Stivale. She’s a lady after my own heart. Take this paragraph: “In Italy, if we aren’t eating, we are probably talking about eating. The word Mangia (verb: mangiare), pronounced man-juh, definition: eat-up!!” Yes, you literally say it with exclamation points with your hands in the air. It is one of the most common words in the Italian language. If I am not mistaken, Italians say “mangia” more than they say “ti amo,” (I love you). Mangia is a term of love all on its own.” If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, maybe you need a trip to Oz so the wizard can give you a myocardial tune-up.
In a recent interview with the lovely Terry Travis, the engaging hostess of KKOB’s The Weekend program, she asked me what makes a restaurant great. Aside from the food (obviously), service and ambiance, I touted the experiential aspects of a meal. With whom you’re dining (outside a restaurant’s control) has as much to do with a great meal as the food, service and ambiance. I’m blessed to share most of my meals with my beautiful bride and with great friends and that in itself makes a meal special. Elena Davis’s writing indicates she shares my sentiment in understanding the importance not only of food, but in experiential aspects such as dining with people you love.
Given an opportunity to take Elena and her family for a meal, I would probably take her to Cibo, an aptly named Italian restaurant that’s been feeding families since 2005. Phoenicians (an actual demonym for people from Phoenix) have not only reveled in nationally acclaimed food, but in a dining experience wholly unlike any other in downtown Phoenix. With Cibo, it’s hard to believe you’re dining at a downtown eatery or in the Sonoran desert. Seemingly out-of-place in a mostly residential part of the city with a canopy of assiduous trees providing shade and beauty, it feels far separated from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Cibo is housed in a bungalow-style home dating back to 1913, one year after Arizona became a state. The bottom floor is sectioned off into several small dining rooms. It’s got both modernity and the trappings of a charming historical home converted to restaurant. A large brick patio sits neath a canopy of assiduous, shade-giving trees, some festooned with twinkling lights, others with faux olives. Heat lamps keep diners warm–even in 72-degree weather just after the sun goes down. That wasn’t lost on a couple from Michigan sitting at an adjacent table. Having left boom cyclone weather in the Wolverine State, they couldn’t quite comprehend someone being cold in winter weather Michigan would kill for.
Wood-fired pizzas, homemade pastas, antipasti and other Italian comfort food favorites aren’t the only reasons Phoenicians love Cibo. This is a restaurant with a heart, one that gives back to the community. Over the years, Cibo has provided daily meals for thousands of needy people at the Andre House, a nonprofit organization serving downtown Phoenix. On a more personal level, you’ll be treated like royalty by the wait staff. Our server checked up on us frequently while similarly attending to the needs of several other tables.
Chef and co-owner Guido Saccone grew up in Napoli, the birthplace of pizza and still one of the great food cities in Italy. Cibo is the essence of Napoli, a sentiment shared with us by the couple from Michigan who visited Lo Stivale earlier this year. It’s a one-of-a-kind gem named one of America’s 101 best pizzas by the Daily Meal which ranked it 23rd. Eater named it one of 16 Essential Phoenix Pizzerias . In October, 2022, Phoenix New Times ranked Cibo as one of Phoenix’s ten best pizzas, just behind Bottega Pizzeria Ristorante. The Phoenix New Times, by the way, is just another source who believes “It’s always a good time to make the argument that Phoenix is the best pizza town in America.” It’s got my vote!
It’s not all about pizza at Cibo–not by a long shot! Cibo has a very comprehensive menu based on classic Southern Italian dishes. Do your best to visit during the dinner serving where more options abound. We couldn’t get dinner seating so we did the next best thing. We got reservations for 4PM, figuring we could linger over an appetizer until 5. That strategy paid off and we didn’t necessarily have to eat at a snail’s pace. All it took was ordering the Il Tagliere (wooden board with a selection of imported Italian meats (spek, mortadella, spicy salami, sweet salami), cheese (pecorino Toscano, burrata, goat cheese and other) and a changing selection of fruit, nuts and tasted vegetables). As boards go, this wasn’t the most diverse, particularly in the cheese department. What makes the best boards successful is a diversity in textures and flavors. Three of our cheeses were soft and mozzarella-based. All were good, but we would have appreciated a change of pace. Now, the olives were terrific, a definite highlight.
In my estimation, Cibo’s pizza certainly earns all its accolades. At least the Pizze Rosse (pizza with tomato sauce) does. Christened ‘Nduja, my pie is named for the spicy, spreadable pork sausage from the Calabria region of Southern Italy. Its spreadable properties are somewhat reminiscent of the sausage used on Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas. The piquancy of the sausage is likely attributable to Calabrian peppers, a pepper significantly higher on the Scoville scale than a jalapeño. It imbues the pizza with a pleasant piquancy that pairs very well with red onions and melting dollops of creamy mozzarella. The sauce is superb! A discernible but gentle char on a pillowy crust gives way to a thin pie that’s best eaten folded over (or with a fork). The generosity of ingredients assures you can’t eat it otherwise. In two visits to Arizona pizzeria’s during our December, 2022 trip, I managed to eat two entire pizzas. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.
Desserts are one of the best other reasons for visiting Cibo for dinner. Dinner’s dessert specials include a number of coppa dishes. No, not the coppa that translates to the salami coming from the shoulder of a pig. Coppa, in this case, is a layered creamy dessert. Coppa mascarpone, for example, is a chocolate cream topped by a smooth mascarpone cream, topped with Amaretto cookie crumbs and chocolate curls. You can’t top that dessert. Nor can you beat the Coppa Limone (sponge cake soaked in lemon juice followed by vanilla flavored cream, topped with lemon sauce and chopped pistachios). Both desserts are rather on the small side (which explains why my Kim also had a scoop of ice cream topped with chocolate sauce) but are huge in terms of flavor.
Because experiential aspects of a meal are as important as the food, service and ambiance, Cibo is one of those rarefied restaurants that meets all criteria for a wonderful meal. It’s quite simply one of the very best pizza and Italian restaurants in the Southwest.
Cibo Urban Pizza
603 N 5th Avenue
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET:’Nduja, Vanilla Ice Cream, Coppa Limone, Coppa Mascarpone, Il Tagliere