East Boston has gone through some major changes over the past few decades, going from a predominately Italian area to one that has a large concentration of folks from Central and South America. And the dining scene certainly reflects this, with all kinds of Latin American eateries being found from the Winthrop, Revere, and Chelsea borders all the way to the waterfront facing the Boston skyline. A handful of Italian dining spots can still be found in Eastie, however, including a few that have been around for decades (Jeveli's, Santarpio's) along with others that are more recent additions to the dining scene here. One spot that is in the latter category is a little-known place that may be relatively new (at least compared to Jeveli's and Santarp's), but "feels" old, looking like it wouldn't have been out of place in the 1930s or 1940s. But Italian Express Pizzeria is indeed a relative newcomer, originally opening in the early 1990s--and reopening in its present Sumner Street location in 2009--and it also happens to be one of the most well-hidden spots in the Boston area for top-quality pizza, and it remains under the radar even though celebrity TV host Guy Fieri featured the place on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in 2012.
Italian Express Pizzeria resides in the quiet Jeffries Point neighborhood of East Boston, which, although primarily residential, features several excellent restaurants, including Mehak and KO Pies At the Shipyard folks in South Boston. This is not a neighborhood that is easily found, as the streets here generally don't go anywhere and it is nearly completely cut off from the rest of Eastie by Route 1A, Route 90, Logan Airport, and Boston Harbor. And Italian Express itself might not look like a true restaurant, residing in a small standalone structure that looks (from the outside, anyway) a little like a sub shop. This is deceiving, however, as the inside of this dining spot is actually quite cozy and attractive, with dim lighting, pictures of well-known figures on the warm-colored walls (including Robert DeNiro and Tony Bennett), and a handful of tables that are spread out enough to allow for relatively quiet conversation. An ordering counter sits front and center in the tiny space, but there is sitdown service here, and very friendly service at that, adding to the low-key vibe of the restaurant.
Although Italian Express is basically an Italian restaurant with everything from fried calamari, house-made meatballs, and pasta e fagioli to a particularly good Caesar salad, salami subs and chicken cacciatore served here, there is a reason why "pizzeria" is included in the name of the place; the pies here are among the best in all of Greater Boston, with the folks behind the restaurant having traveled to Italy--including the island of Sicily--to learn about how pizza is made in the old country. And it shows, with Italian Express featuring delicious thin-crust pizzas that are made in a simple manner, yet have a wonderfully complex mix of tastes coming from fresh ingredients and a perfect balance of sweet-tasting sauce, rich mozzarella cheese, and herbs and spices. It should be noted that these are not individual pies; one pizza is plenty for two people, and even then, some slices may have to be taken home, so it might not be such a good idea to order one pizza per person (as some do at the aforementioned Santarpio's) unless you plan to take a lot of it with you when you leave. For those who want something other than pizza, the many options for pasta are worth checking out here, including an outstanding version of linguine carbonara. (Beer and wine are served at Italian Express.) Prices are generally reasonable, with the pizzas starting at around $10 and topping out at a little below $20, which isn't bad considering how large these pies are.
If you look hard enough, you can still find some Italian restaurants in East Boston, though finding Italian Express Pizzeria is admittedly more difficult than finding some of the others (a GPS is definitely a good tool to have when looking for this spot). But its out-of-the-way location is part of the allure of Italian Express, as well as its friendly overall feel and its outstanding pizza. As to whether the pies here are as good as those of Santarpio's, well, that is indeed a judgment call, but either way, pizza lovers should surely consider seeking this spot out.
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