Long ago, the only place for pizza in Downtown Phoenix was a lonely Pizza Hut on First Street. The area was so desolate that the chain pizzeria reportedly wouldn’t even deliver to some addresses a few blocks away. That Pizza Hut is still present on First Street, but in recent years, the surrounding neighborhoods have become home to half a dozen high quality pizza restaurants of local origin. One of those, Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana, is situated directly across the street from its franchised counterpart.
Pomo, which originated in Scottsdale before an expansion to multiple locations in the metropolitan area, occupies a prime spot in a miniature restaurant row just four blocks from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. This stretch of First street has bike racks built into parking meters and plenty of shade, not only from a mature ficus tree, but also from an awning over Pomo’s patio and bar counter. There’s another bar inside, and, best of all, a three-seat counter with a view of the pizza oven, which is shaped like a beehive and about as busy as one.
Pomo is a full service operation and definitely not a place to order a slice at the counter. It’s one of a select group of pizzerias operating with the certification of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, better known as VPN. The organization is committed to the traditions of pizza making established in the food’s city of origin, Naples. That means that Pomo, which has had the VPN seal since 2010, must adhere to strict standards regarding the origin of its ingredients, the authenticity of its technique, and the quality of its finished product.
With such strict enforcement of Italian tradition, it’s possible to envision some potential pitfalls. The first might be that tradition brings with an excessively formal atmosphere. That fear is put to rest the moment one observes that Pomo is a casual neighborhood spot as much as it is a destination pizzeria. Families with young children seem equally at home as solo diners at the bar. A second worry might be that tradition stymies originality. While you’re not going to find unusual cross-cultural pizza toppings here, there is some room for creativity on the menu.
Pomo’s menu is essentially pizza on one side and everything else on the other. If looking for starters, begin at the top of the non-pizza side. Antipasti selections range from a meatless verdure grigliate, a bright assortment of grilled vegetables like zucchini and eggplant, to meatier options such as carpaccio, raw beef with with parmesan and arugula, and polpete, beef-and-pork meatballs. A classic antipasto Italiano plate combines cured meats with grilled vegetables for an approach representing the best of both vegetarian and carnivorous worlds.
Another classic, a caprese salad, is a simple presentation of sliced mozzarella and tomatoes with sprigs of fresh basil and a light dressing. Some other salads incorporate more influences from beyond Italy and even a few contemporary trends. The Pollo is a straightforward mix of mesclun greens with avocado, almonds, feta, grape tomatoes, and grilled chicken. The Kale Romana is Pomo’s version of the seemingly ubiquitous kale Caesar found on numerous local menus, and the mango salad adds a bit of tropical fruit to an otherwise European mix.
Neapolitan pizza is sometimes described as being soft to the point of soupy in the center. At Pomo, there’s a suggestion of that in the middle of the pie, but it’s restrained. For the most part, expect each slice to be thin and to benefit from folding but not to flop uncontrollably if gripped at the edge. With exception of the white pies, all include sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. It’s possible, although not encouraged, for customers to designate their own toppings. Barring special dietary needs, it’s best to go with one of the pies on the menu.
The restaurant’s eponymous pizza, the Pomo, is a hearty mix of mozzarella, Italian sausage, onions, red peppers, and mushrooms with tomato sauce. The Principe combines fresh, peppery arugula and prosciutto, a cured meat that appears on numerous pizzas at Pomo. Toto Sapore is the meatiest with not only prosciutto, but also salami, bacon, and sausage, all presented in their Italian variants. The Contradina is a meatless choice topped with red bell pepper, onions, olive, artichokes, and mushrooms. Fresh basil is a given on almost all the pies on the menu.
Beyond pizza, Pomo offers a smaller selection of pasta dishes, including a traditional lasagna with Bolognese sauce and a plate full of pillowy gnocchi. Soups can serve as appetizers or small meals. Options include a light minestrone, as well as two creamier choices: tomato or mushroom. At lunch only, there are half a dozen panini made with focaccia. Among them, the Capri is a seamless meld of sausage, provolone, bell peppers, and grilled onions. All the sandwiches are large enough to suffice for two if paired with a soup or salad.
The wine selection is 100% Italian, but the draft beer offerings include some domestic craft brews. Cocktails include specials such as the Vespa, a vodka-based homage to the scooters pictured inside the dining room. Dessert standouts are the tiramisu and the Torta Nutella. With Pomo now among a cluster of successful downtown pizzerias, it’s easy to think things were always this good, but the enduring chain pizza outlet across the street, perhaps still valued for its delivery and convenience, serves as a reminder of the more limited options that came before.
705 N. 1st St., Phoenix AZ 85004