It’s amazing how sometimes the most out-of-date, inaccurate information is what endures in popular opinion. Visit some online food and travel discussion sites, and you’ll see persistent hand-wringing about how to avoid three-hour waits for a table at Pizzeria Bianco. The reality is that even if Bianco is worth a wait of several hours, it has been several years since that kind of endurance test has been part of a meal there. The Pizzeria Bianco of 2015 is a more accessible and less intimidating place than it was just a few years ago, without any loss of food quality.
There are several reasons for the transformation, most of them related to eliminating constraints on capacity. No longer does Chris Bianco make all pies himself; health concerns required delegation of kitchen duties years ago. In addition, Pizzeria Bianco now exists in multiple locations, two in Phoenix and one in Tucson. Most of the pizza menu is also offered at the Pane Bianco sandwich shop. At the Heritage Square location, a quarter mile from the 3rd Street light rail stations, the addition of lunch service has also allowed better accommodation of demand.
Put these changes all together, and the result is that often no wait at all is required for a table. When one is necessary, it’s usually measured in terms of minutes rather than hours. Moreover, it’s a place where it’s now commonplace to see families with children enjoying one of the most easily shared foods. That’s a natural fit given the restaurant’s proximity to the Arizona Science Center, the Rosson House, and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, but the youngest of pizza aficionados were far more rare back when the restaurant served only dinner at only one location.
The midday scene at Bianco is one with little or no wait involved. There isn’t a distinct lunch menu — no pizza by the slice, for example. The only difference between night and day is that the antipasto, a changing selection of cheese, cured meats, and roasted vegetables, is not available until 5. Otherwise, it’s the same set of appetizers and half a dozen signature pizzas that the restaurant has offered for years. During mild weather, the patio, which now houses several tables instead of just functioning as a holding pen, is a pleasant place to sit at midday.
While the antipasto can’t be beat at night, lunch is a good meal to start with the seasonal market salad, which might feature arugula with strawberries, goat cheese, and pecans one day and fresh fennel with local citrus a few months later. Two other salads remain essentially the same year-round. A mix of local greens with a red wine vinaigrette is the lightest option, and a plate full of sliced fresh mozzarella with thick tomato slices and roughly torn basil leaves is a more substantial choice. Spiedini, skewers of fontina wrapped in prosciutto, is another hearty choice.
Of course, people come to this restaurant for one purpose: To eat pizza. Most love it, some find it okay but not worth a long wait (real or imagined), and a few even find it disappointing. The range of opinions is typical of a handcrafted product. All the pies made have certain characteristics in common, but no two are the same. Expect a product that is not perfectly symmetric with a thin, soft center and with some char on the bottom and around the edges depending on where the pizza was placed in the oven that dominates the restaurant’s interior.
The Margherita is the most familiar of the pies offered. It’s a simple concoction of basil, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. For a smoky flavor, try the Wiseguy with generous slices of sausage redolent of fennel and smoked mozzarella. The Rosa omits tomato and relies instead on sharpness from parmesan and crunch from pistachios. The Biancoverde is the greenest choice with fresh arugula applied over ricotta, and the Sonny Boy is a meaty, salty pie full of salami and olives. The Marinara has no cheese — only tomato sauce, garlic, and oregano.
The pizzas can easily feed two people, especially when preceded by a salad or an appetizer. Nevertheless, leftover slices reheat well the next day in a skillet, so it may be worthwhile to order several pies and then take some home. Leaving a few slices for later also leaves room for a recent addition to the Pizzeria Bianco menu: dessert. While the original menu at Heritage Square had no sweets at all, the restaurant has recently added rice pudding, flourless chocolate cake, and a seasonal flavor of Italian ice, often an inventive one such as nutmeg, to its offerings.
Given the tight space inside the restaurant, the bar is small and offers a limited selection of wine and Four Peaks Sunbru beer on tap. A larger beverage selection is offered at night next door at Bar Bianco, a space originally created to house the crowds waiting for tables at Pizzeria Bianco. With arduous waits no longer the norm for pizza, it might seem that Bar Bianco no longer has a role to play. With its happy hour specials and selection of appetizers such as crostini with goat cheese and olives, however, Bar Bianco has proven it can be viable destination by itself.
The result is that a nationally known pizzeria sits next to a charming bar that emphasizes local wines and beers from Arizona breweries. Even better, the two can be enjoyed in tandem or separately depending on the occasion. After a decade-and-a-half at Heritage Square, there can still be waits at peak evening times, but for the most part Pizzeria Bianco has been transformed from a place that required serious advance planning to a less daunting restaurant. Now, it’s time for Internet rumor and word-of-mouth to catch up with the improved situation at Heritage Square.
623 E. Adams St., Phoenix AZ 85004
3rd St. / Washington (westbound) and 3rd St. / Jefferson (eastbound) stations