Pizza has a hierarchy.
At rock bottom, you have frozen pizza and the cafeteria pizza from your youth. Better (but not by much) is the mall pizza sweating for hours under a heat lamp and the cheap delivery pizza that stays open ’til midnight.
You have middle-of-the-road pizza that’s neither good nor bad, but is meant only to provide sustenance. If you’re lucky, you won’t bite into a whole bay leaf.
Then you have gourmet pizza, made by hand with the best ingredients and baked on a hot stone or in a wood-burning oven. You’ll pay a little more, of course, but a good pie is worth it and, if you’re eating out, you want to make it count.
Pizzeria Luca is this kind of pizza. Sandwiched in a strip mall off Paseo Del Norte in Northeast Albuquerque, the six-year-old restaurant serves some seriously delicious pizza.
The first thing your waitress will tell you, in fact, is that the owner flies the flour in from Italy because he wants it to be authentic.
You won’t be able to tell the difference between Italian flour and American flour, of course, but it will definitely make the meal seem more special. Great pizza is great pizza, no matter its nationality, but attention to these kinds of details is what moves your pizza up the hierarchy.
I ordered a personal cheese pizza off the happy hour menu for $5 and it was the best pizza I’ve had in years – thin, but not hard or crispy, perfectly cooked with imperfect outer bulges like handmade pizza should be. The crust is absolutely perfect, the slice won’t go limp when you lift it and you won’t need to use your napkin to absorb any grease.
You might share the pizza, though, or order it as an appetizer and then get an entree. Pizzeria Luca isn’t just a pizzeria, so you can choose from nightly specials like filet mignon and classic pasta dishes or salads.
I tried the filet mignon ($27.95), which was a little bigger than the advertised six ounces, and came with mashed potatoes and asparagus. It was as good as the pizza, cooked perfectly medium with a tender pink inside. The outside of the filet is rubbed with spices and then it’s finished with a red-wine reduction. It sits atop fresh grilled asparagus and a delicious mound of mashed potatoes.
The filet was lean, flavorful, fresh. A perfect cut of meat. The potatoes were also great, with bits of peel and chunks of garlic throughout for an amazing texture. If you’re a fan of mashed potatoes (and we all are), you’ll rank these among the top, as well.
Somehow, the meal is matched by the decor and the service – my waitress was genuinely kind and was rightfully proud of the food she was serving. And in the hierarchy of cute bistros in Albuquerque, this one is certainly among the top. You can sit inside, with high ceilings and classic Italian movie posters, or outside on the patio. They have an impressive, full bar so it would make a great spot to catch a Sunday game.
The pizza at Pizzeria Luca is the kind you imagine when you imagine pizza on an empty stomach. And if you have a good imagination, you can probably even convince yourself that you’re sitting in an authentic Italian bistro instead of inside a strip mall in north Albuquerque.
Yes, it’s that good.