Romano’s Chicago Pizzeria and Italian restaurant in Riverside is actually two restaurants in one. On one side you have an Italian restaurant with moderately priced dishes ranging from acceptable to the delicious, an ideal setting when experienced on the patio during a warm summer night. To me though, the word Romano’s means taking a left when you enter the building, which is where the other half live (and eat), at the more informal pizzeria. This half is conveniently located next to the bar, with wide screen televisions, a pool table, and a rowdier patio where people tend to laugh, smoke, and hoist a few drafts. In other words, the pizzeria is where the fun’s happening.
This is in large part due to the atmosphere inside the place. To the front of the room is a portable screen usually broadcasting one sporting event or another (in this case the NFL playoffs), while other televisions line the wall. At the bar there’s trivia, while video games hang obliquely throughout, from the Pac-Man game that greets you as you walk in, to the Golden Tee machine that sits demurely in the corner adjacent the big screen. There’s a poolroom, with a Monopoly pinball game, and a small aquarium with quaint little sharks, and a patio for the smoking set, and oh yeah, a stage where bands and comics perform. In short, loads to do besides eating and drinking.
But you can do that too, and aplenty. The bar is actually the focal point at Romano’s. There’s nothing terribly special about it, no 30,000 beers on tap, or overpriced, ludicrously overpensive martinis (in fact hardly anything that requires stemware). It’s just fun. As with any pizzeria, the food is altogether unsophisticated, meant merely to compliment the good-time vibe. Romano’s has many bar food selections like the half-pound of cheese fries, smothered with three goopy types of cheese and bacon.
If you’re in the mood for something a tad subtler the sautéed mushrooms are fantastic, perfectly marinated in white wine, butter and garlic. Or try their excellent calamari. There’s also a wide selection of sandwiches and burger options on the menu. A selection of salads, including traditional Italian options like antipasto and the insalata caprese are also available
Of course, with a pizza joint it all comes down to the pie itself. I’d avoid the thin crust variety at Romano’s, not because it isn’t good, but since the emphasis is on the deep dish Chicago-style it deserves to be graded on that. Not that Romano’s would mind me dissuading you from the thin crust pizzas; they call it “sissy style” on the menu. No, order one of the stuffed jobs, like the Chicago Pie, which is all cheese and fresh spinach. The Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown also packs a punch with spicy sausage, pepperoni, ham, and meatballs, encased in golden cheese. The deep-dish pizzas are a slightly less extravagant option. On the day we dropped by we ordered up a sausage, olive, and mushroom deep-dish style and were glad we waited the extra few minutes it took. From the thick layer of cheese, to the peppery spice sauce, to the way the tasty chunks of olive, mushroom, and sausage are interspersed throughout, this is pizza to remind you all there’s to love about pizza in the first place.
Romano’s Italian Restaurant and Chicago Pizzeria, 5225 Canyon Crest Dr., Pizzeria: (951) 781-0773, Italian Restaurant: (951) 781-7662; www.romanosrestaurants.com; Large pizzas around $20; AE, DIS, MC, V