If there’s a topic more divisive than politics, it’s pizza. People are immovable, opinions are impassioned, and nostalgia and loyalty tend to trump reason. So it’s with some trepidation that I’d like to argue I’ve found the best Neapolitan pie in the Boston area. Maybe anywhere outside of Italy.
You’ll find the charred, chewy crust far from the tourist-filled North End. It’s not in some hipster hideout in Camberville, nor an old-school Italian haunt in Eastie. Nope, these wood-fired beauties are across the Tobin Bridge, in Chelsea, at Ciao! Pizza & Pasta.
The tiny restaurant — with a street-facing, foggy-from-the-brick-oven window and warm, unfinished wooden walls — has exactly eight seats, all worth jockeying for. There’s no substitute for a blistered, crisp crust that’s traveled nonstop to your plate from its 90-second stay in an 850-degree oven.
If you can’t snag a seat, you can always inhale the pizza in your car (this is all part of the crisp crust test), or get your food delivered straight to the nearby Mystic Brewery. But the simple beauty of the margherita ($10), with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil, is best right at the granite bar, accompanied by a glass of James Bryant Hill pinot noir ($8) or a Mystic Saison Renaud ($12). Yes, the beer costs more than the pizza, and maybe that’s a good indicator it’s time to move to Chelsea? Eating at a gem like Ciao! inspires such thoughts.
Lovers of meat and heat will enjoy the soppressata pizza ($13), topped with thin rounds of the salami, cherry peppers, and garlic confit, or the salsiccia ($13), with more cherry peppers, crumbles of homemade fennel sausage, and Pecorino cheese. Both hide a slick of sweet tomato sauce under the salty, savory toppings.
As delightful as the pizza is, don’t leave without trying the house-made pasta, cranked out fresh daily from the tiny kitchen. Bucatini ($14) is served carbonara style with a generous grind of black pepper, bits of bacon, and flecks of sweet Vidalia onion. The pasta is topped with a perfectly poached egg and a healthy shaving of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Creste di gallo ($12) sounds woefully out of season on a chilly November evening but ends up tasting like a sweet bite of summer. The tomato-infused “rooster’s crest” noodles soak up a light-tasting aglio olio sauce with zucchini and basil.
Porcini fettuccine ($12), however, is made for cold-weather dining. Hearty ribbons of pasta are topped with slices of mushroom, black truffle butter, and more aged Parmesan.
If you’re looking for a palate cleanser, try the arugula salad ($7) with poached pears and mild feta. And don’t skip dessert. The silky and very satisfying tiramisu ($4) is sourced from Bindi, the Italian dessert company, but the flaky, finger-size cannoli ($1.25) are made here and freshly filled. And they’re small enough to enjoy with a belly full of pizza and pasta.
Another diner at the counter, Sergio Stefanelli, tells us he used to work with chef Marvin Posada, back when he was cooking at L’Andana in Burlington. Stefanelli says he frequently travels to Chelsea from Framingham since Ciao! opened in September of last year. He’s only one pasta away from tasting the whole menu.
The chef, who grew up in El Salvador, started his culinary career washing dishes at Mistral. He was eventually transferred to another Columbus Hospitality Group restaurant, L’Andana, where he worked his way up to executive chef. It was there he met his business partner, Brazilian-born Edson Coimbra, who was previously L’Andana’s GM. You’ll find the duo working long hours, doing every job in the hospitality book — from boxing up pies to offering complimentary shots of espresso and pouring wine while logging takeout orders.
They’ve got all the right ingredients in place: hospitality, hard work, and great food in a neighborhood they seem to care deeply about. A neighborhood that now has the
CIAO! PIZZA & PASTA
59 Williams St., Chelsea, 617-286-9346, www.ciaopizzaandpasta.com
Wheelchair accessible, accepts all major credit cards.
Prices Pizza $10-$14, pasta $12-$18, salads and sandwiches $7-$9, desserts $4-$6
Hours Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat noon-10 p.m.
Liquor Beer and Wine
What to order Pizza margherita, salsiccia pizza, soppressata pizza, bucatini, creste di gallo, cannoliCatherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of time each pie spends in the oven. The correct amount of time is 90 seconds.