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North End Regina's: The Contrarian View

I braved the icy sidewalks last Saturday to get a margarita pie at Regina. It had been a couple years since I'd last been, so I figured it was time for a re-evaluation. Waitresses were curt bordering on surly. Kids were screaming unrestrainedly. Soda was $1.35 for a little cup, and the lines were hella dirty. Diet coke tasted like orange-sprite-diet-rootbeer. On to the pizza...

I can tell that this pizza is made with some care, which can't be said for plenty of pizza in this town. It's made in a straightforward Italian style, with no infringing Greek elements, which can't be said for plenty of pizza in this town. Really, aside from that, this pizza is a glorified slice-joint pizza.

The crust is far too bready for a proper pizza. The floor of the oven isn't hot enough- they let the crust get dry and crunchy, basically overcooking the pizza, but it never gets a proper blistering on the bottom, just an even browning. The crust is on the thick side and dusted with quite a bit of flour, and it saps the moisture from my mouth. The sauce is a very respectable tomato puree, but the cheese lacks a fresh flavor. A margarita especially should make use of a cheese with a high grease and moisture content. The overall experience is on the dry side. The crust has a robust flavor, but it's more of a yeasty/bready flavor than a soulful pizza sourdough type flavor.

This pizza is simply not worth $16. I would say, more like $12. You can get an equally competent pizza at T. Anthony, Presto, or sometimes Pino's for $9-10ish. T. Anthony is the crust flavor champion, and they use a properly wet cheese, but their sauce is oversweetened and overspiced. Presto has the best-textured crust, but it lacks flavor. Pino's is a little unusual and inconsistent, but when it's good, it's the type of unique pizza you can be proud exists in your hometown.

Sigh.

Also, I got a slice at Bostone the other day. I definitely dig the atmosphere in there. $2.65 with tax for a slice that's 1/4 of a pizza is a good deal. I'd say it's an average NY-style slice: decent cheese, bready-soft-crispy crust with insufficient gluten extension, waaaaay overseasoned sauce. Especially in the center of the pie, there's far too much use of the dry spices. The dude at the register seemed to be trying real hard to make everyone happy, even though there were a couple of order confusions while I was there.

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    1. One pizza in the last couple years at Regina's is certainly worth an opinon. Sorry your pie was not up to par.

      My view on North End Regina's is more on a long history of growing up in the Boston area. Frequent visits as a kid with my father, with the guys when I was going to school, and now bringing my young family here.

      I'm not claimiing that Regina's or Santarpio's is the best pizza in Boston, and the oldest pizza joints do not necessarily mean they are the best, but because of their place in Boston's pizza history and local native traditions, they have become the Holy Grail for pizza joints in Boston.....and until the day I die, when I hear the word pizza joint, I see the original Regina's, or Santarpio's in my mind, and I know exactly how their pies are going to taste. Not much has changed at either location in the past 40 years.

      Sure I've had some pies from both places that were not up to par, but nothing that would change my view of either place, or keep me from breaking a ritual or tradition. Thats probably a reason why I never order anything other than Regina's Original Pie $12.00 (sometimes with pepperoni $14.50).

      If I had were to quibble about anything at Regina's north end location, it wouldn'r be the waitresses, the screaming kids, or the fountain soda....it would be about the size of the bathrooms. I tell my daughter the reason the bathrooms are so small is because obesity wasn't a problem 75 years ago.

      16 Replies
      1. re: Infomaniac

        I also had the thought that Regina's is all about their original pies - cheese and pepperoni! I've had NY pies (even went to Arturo's this weekend), but still think Regina's is as good (if not better) than anything I've tried there. As far as the screaming kids, crowds and surly waitresses...well, to me that just adds spice to the sauce - it's a pizza joint, not 5 star dining.

        1. re: chowciao

          Agreed. I wouldn't dream of ordering a margherita at PR to gauge the pie; that's gourmet pizza land, not authentic Italian-American land.

          The crust is non-pareil for flavor; too much sourdough flavor becomes an obstacle to the tradition. I've had mine blistered quite nicely.

          1. re: Karl S

            Uhhh... are you kidding about the margherita? "Gourmet pizza?" We aren't talking Emma's or Figs here. No goat cheese, no roasted vegetables, no nuts. It's basil! It's the original Italian pizza flavor!

            If I'd realized it was $4 cheaper to get a pie without basil, I probably would have gone for plain. Every time I've been in the past, it's been with a topping fanatic, ordering something with ricotta or sausages or something like that.

            1. re: Luther

              No, I am not kidding. Margherita is an Italian pizza benchmark, not an Italian-American pizza benchmark. Yes, there is a difference. The use of fresh mozzarella dictates a different optimization of oven temperature and crust density than for classic Italian-American cheese pizza.

              1. re: Karl S

                I also like the fact that they only clean the oven once or twice a year (I know that they clean it on Easter). All the grit and ash in the oven add to the taste of the pizza at Regina's; that's why the other Regina's aren't as good (they don't have that classic old oven).

                1. re: hiddenboston

                  I'm a little dubious about the oven-cleaning hypothesis. Wouldn't that mean that pizzas immediately after Easter would be missing something, with steady improvement through the year as the dirt built up? I think it's simpler: the people at the original simply care more about putting out a great pizza every time; the kids who work at the Burlington Mall just aren't that invested in the details. The oven matters but the pizza-maker is paramount.

                  And I completely agree with Karl S. that Italian pizza and Italian-American are totally different things - it's lame of Regina's to offer a margherita without doing it well, but their plain cheese is the benchmark. Jeffrey Steingarten actually discusses the differences (at LENGTH, of course) in his essay "Perfection Pizza," in his second book.

                  1. re: MichaelB

                    That's why I don't go to Regina's in April. ;-b

                    Perhaps it's a combination of both: The use of an old oven (much like how an old fireplace seems to "feel" better than a new one) and the fact that they do care about making the best pizza possible there. Whatever it is, the only Regina's I will go to is the one in the North End.

            2. re: Karl S

              A margherita is as basic as it gets in Naples, but it's really hard to find a decent one in this country -- for example, the mozzarella is entirely different, and here it's usually chopped up, rather than baked into lovely pools of white on a pizza.

              I care more about the texture of the crust than its flavour, but I find the version at Regina's too thick for my taste. I do lke the quality of the toppings, especially the olive oily sauce. But I prefer a crispy thin crust with a bit more blistering, usually requiring a request for "well done".

              Antico Forno's crust suits my tastes more, but their sauce is too wet and the pizza is soggy in minutes. The first few bites once it's out of the oven is great though. Occasionally a slice at Ernesto's would be very nice, possibly because it was re-baked and a bit more brittle.

              1. re: limster

                What would you order at Ernesto's? Many CH's I respect like it, and I've only been there twice so I don't want to rule it out....

                1. re: Rubee

                  I tend to get pretty basic slices at Ernesto's, typically slices of cheese. The toppings aren't much to write home about but the crust can be good.

                  1. re: limster

                    I like Ernesto's... I just wish they would use a better quality cheese. Whatever they put on there has a distinct American-Provolone kind of flavor to it. Also, yeah, it's better when they reheat because you get more crisping action.

                    1. re: Luther

                      Agreed. Great for a slice of something simple. Less great for a fresh pie.

                      BK

          2. re: Infomaniac

            I wish that thing were $12. Is that the price of a small? The large margarita (16") is $16.

            1. re: Luther

              The large original is only $12.00....small original is $7.50

              1. re: Infomaniac

                "Original" meaning just cheese, right? Are you telling me I paid $4 for a handful of chopped basil?

                1. re: Luther

                  Yes...The "Original" is just cheese. I never ordered a Margherita before so you could be right about the extra $4 for basil, which I agree would be a little excessive, unless there is some other type of cheese added.
                  I think toppings are an additional $2.50 per topping though on a large.

          3. To each his or her own for sure, but I still think that Regina's is #1 or #2 (depending on my cravings that day) for pizza in Boston. As much as I love The Paddock in Somerville and the Lynwood in Randolph, Regina's and Santarpio's are always at the top for me.

            Now if you start talking about Pepe's in New Haven, then it's a whole new ballgame! ;-b

            1. The original comment has been removed
              1. have to agree with the main point- regina's is just ok. its status here (legendary) has always perplexed me. i dont want to indulge in the old new york/boston pizza comparision but there are 75 ny pizza joints that are better. and, as relates to the 10 best, there is no comparision.

                7 Replies
                1. re: trembler

                  trembler, which NY pizza places do you consider to be a lot better than Regina's? I like Grimaldi's better than Regina's, and Arturo's, Da Nico, and Joe's are fairly close, IMO. But 75 places that are better? I definitely want a list!

                  Would you put Regina's at or near the top as far as Boston is concerned? Personally, I waver between Regina's and Santarpio's, with the rest being further back in the pack.

                  1. re: hiddenboston

                    Santarpio's gets high marks for the unique lamb sausage-minced garlic-oregano flavor, but it has a flaw compared to Regina's: the undercrust is flabby (even when well done, as I usually order it), though the bones are great. Also, if I ever wanted to order pepperoni at Santarpio's (which is doubtful, considering the option of those lamb sausages....), it would be too flabby cooked under the cheese.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      I agree with you Karl. I like Santarpios for the sausage and lamb (and the juice glasses full of red plonk) but the pizza is simply not as good as Regina's in the North End. Every single time I go to Regina's I notice how HAPPY everyone (waitresses excluded) is from the time they order to the time they walk out. They do one thing and they do it right, and I always order mine well done. Enjoy!

                      1. re: BJK

                        Sorry, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. A lovely little counter called "Pete's Meats". You can't tell from the picture but each coil of sausage was at least 10 feet long. Yay.

                        1. re: yumyum

                          I was strolling along Arthur Avenue on Monday, braving the cold weather in NYC. Cool area! I love the indoor market on Arthur Avenue--olive oil, all kinds of meats, produce, pastries, etc. I wish it were closer to Boston.

                          I still like the North End a little better, though, probably because we have Regina's and Umberto's (and there aren't as many New Yorkers--kidding!).

                          1. re: yumyum

                            Oh well. You had my hopes up.

                            :(
                            BK

                      2. re: hiddenboston

                        personally, i think haymarket has a better slice along with il panini on hanover. i dont like ernestos or umbertos at all. so, just in the north end, it's middle of the pack. the old newbury pizza was far better, i thought. my mainstay now is armandos in cambridge (sicilian).

                        my point was that i thought it was just average. 75 might be an exaggeration but based the fact that regina's isnt on my boston top ten, i mean.
                        and compared to places like lombardys, spumoni garden, difara........