BITONDO (11 Clinton, south of College at Henderson, 416-533-4101) As authentic as old-school takeout pizza gets in Toronto. This relic from the mid-60s -- dig that retro decor -- pumps out a no-frills pie that wins with classic ingredients. Nothing nouveau whatsoever. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and an Ital soda pop. Open daily 10 am to midnight. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
forget pad thai. next to french fries, pizza is surely Toronto's favourite food. And as in all matters of taste, everyone's got an opinion, especially the gang in the NOW test kitchen who ate their way through more than a dozen pies last week. We eliminated tried-and-true standbys from the survey -- Terroni, Amato, Pizza Gigi, Peter's Cajun, Vesuvio's -- and focused on some newer and older faces.
Surrounded by row houses in Little Italy, Bitondo hasn't changed a bit since it opened in the mid-60s. A bare-bones operation, this tiny take-away is all mid-century ceramic tile and screaming-orange plastic furniture. But after a night carousing at the Monarch Tavern across the street, a bellyful of 'za seems like a good idea.
The Bitondo family's authentic southern Italian pizza comes in four sizes, with only four topping options: pepperoni, green pepper, mushroom and anchovies ($7.35/small to $13.95/extra-large, taxes included).
With their medium-thick crust and a delicious buttery quality that comes from the combination of quality olive oil and mozzarella, these classic pies defy fashion.
Considering the neighbouring competition -- California Sandwiches (244 Claremont, at Trefford, 416-603-3317, and others), San Francesco (10 Clinton, at Henderson, 416-534-7867, and others) and Rosa's Panini (923 Dundas West, at Bellwoods, 416-603-7666) -- Bitondo's meatball sandwich ($3.95) rises to the challenge.
A truly in-yer-face experience, a sandwich full of these slippery suckers has to be rotated while you eat it; otherwise, you'll end up wearing most of them. Wash it down with an Italian soda like Brio or the appropriately named Gasso (both $1).
Another popular late-night parlour, Oxey's (4301/2 College, at Bathurst, 416-961-6939) is located across from party-central Sneaky Dee's. Available in only two sizes ($5.75/10-inch small and $7.25/14-inch large), Oxey's pies point to the Middle East with toppings like feta, canned artichokes and mild sausage ($1.25 to $2 each). Far better are grinders, sizable hero sandwiches layered with thin slices of lightly deep-fried eggplant, zucchini and melted provolone ($3.95). Our resident hot sauce authority says they need some chili heat. But then, he thinks peanut butter sandwiches do, too.
With a thin crust like Oxey's, the pie ($12.75 medium) from Pizza Catalina (661 College, at Grace, 416-530-4300) has a far tastier sauce (garlic helps), somewhat spicy sausage and more canned artichokes.
Looking like the result of an accident between a lawn mower and a vegetable garden, the Bruschetta Lovers pie at Downtown New York Pizza (96 Gerrard East, at Mutual, 416-977-1836) is one sloppy 'za. Splattered with finely diced pink tomato, supposedly fresh basil (who can tell without a microscope?), minimal garlic, oregano and lotsa mozza', this pizza really perks up back at the office with a toss of pungent basil leaves grown in the NOW test kitchen's rooftop organic garden (OK, a pot on the window sill).
On a desolate strip of Dufferin that hasn't changed a bit since the 50s, upscale Camarra's (2899 Dufferin, at Glen Park, 416-789-3221) has been firing up its ovens for 43 years. Pricier than the others profiled here, these pies come two ways: with old-school thick crusts or more modern thin ones. Go with less dough. The Siciliana ($13.30/11-inch small) gets piled high with sweet onion, good sauce and mild pecorino cheese.
Over in sleepy High Park, King Slice (1598 Bloor West, at Dorval, 416-536-3738) counts celebrity chef David Chrystian among its regular customers. Those afraid of extreme heat should stay clear of Pizza Diavola ($16/13-inch medium) and its garlic, spicy sausage and whole slices of hellishly hot jalapeños. Cooler heads should check out the Slice's baked lasagna ($7.50), a hefty slabba pasta swimming with sauce, ground veal, molten mozzarella and basil chiffonade. Needs salt, though.
Like squabbling siblings, Chico's Gourmet Pizza (17 St. Nicholas, at Wellesley, 416-968-0968, 796 Mt. Pleasant, at Eglinton, 416-544-1566) and Chico's Pizza (699 St. Clair West, at Christie, 416-658-4000) want to make it clear that, although they were once related, they now have nothing to do with each other. All three insist that their pies are far superior to their cousins', too. They're not. Other than the riper Roma tomato found on St. Clair, the Chico's Specials ($14.25/ medium) found at both, topped with pepperoni, bacon, mushroom, green pepper and onion, are identical.
Although no date gets mentioned on their takeout menus, all three Chico's trumpet that they were named tastiest pizza by the Toronto Star. When? 1981?
Despite its resemblance to cat food on a pita, the namesake pie at Istanbul Pizza (181 Dundas West, at Chestnut, 416-345-1686) is really Lahmacun ($1.99), a pan-Middle Eastern dish of finely ground beef and red chili sauce spread on flatbread. Things grow delicious with a squeeze of lemon and a handful of crisp salad greens -- lettuce, ripe tomato, cuke, Spanish onion and parsley. Roll 'em up and throw on the hot sauce. firstname.lastname@example.org