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Za: Hospital food, at airport prices.

I took my 6-year-old son out for dinner after school, and decided to try the Arlington nouveau pizza standby, "Za," on Mass Ave. It seems to be well-regarded here, so I feel obliged to add my $0.02.

Our pizzas were undercooked. The dough was spongy and bland, with a bare, tantalizing hint of crispness near the edges, but soft and soggy otherwise. It looked like it had been stamped out by a machine, frozen, and revivified. My guess is that the ovens are too cool by a couple hundred degrees.

The ingredients were acceptably fresh. My chicken pizza was underseasoned, and benefited from liberal salting. My son's pepperoni pizza had a pleasantly tangy sauce.

The $7.50 glass of wine would have been overpriced at $3.50. Tannic and tinny. Get the beer instead, if you must drink.

Dinner for my son and myself, including a single glass of wine, was $30.

Next time we'll go back to the Medford Regina, in spite of the long trip and the parking roulette. Za was mediocre, and I won't eat there again.

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  1. I have to disagree with you here. I have been to Za about 6 times in the last year. Every time, I find the pizza delicious and creative. I had the smoked salmon pizza last time and thought it was outstanding. The salads are super fresh with local ingredients and they always have some interesting beer on tap.

    If it weren't such a hike from my house I would go more often. I am curious to hear if there have been other recent disappointments, as I am overdue for a visit.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Frank Enbean

      The experience you describe is the one I expected!

    2. I hate taking my son out for a meal and having a lousy experience! Your title, though, is one of the best posted in a while.

      2 Replies
      1. re: three of us

        Well, to be fair, the little guy enjoyed his pizza just fine, and I enjoyed his company, and that's the main thing.

        1. re: three of us

          Totally agree about the hospital/airport title. I also like the poster's moniker, ee coli. Thanks for the smile, e e.

        2. I'm really just split on this. I've only eaten AT Za once, but have gotten takeout several times, as I live about three blocks away. I like the IDEA of Za very much. I like EVOO. I like the we-use-local-ingredients-when possible aesthetic. I like having a place like that in the 'hood. But...

          You're right--the pizza is really not that great. How can they justify putting all that creativity and effort into the ingredients and toppings, but then fall SO short with the dough/crust? It really does have an either previously frozen or, worse, not-a-big-priority-to-us quality to it.

          On the other hand, Za's salads are reliably good and interesting (love the beet salad, for example), but on the whole, the experience doesn't really add up. $20 for a good salad and a basically single-serving retrograde pizza is just bad math. I'll probably still order it on occasion (it's amazing what personal rules one will bend in favor of proximity), but I'll hate myself in the morning. Maybe we could all chip in and get them a wood-burning oven or something...though I'm sure that Arlington has some 200-year-old law against that...

          3 Replies
          1. re: jkv

            Exactly, exactly! I always WANT to like this place. It SEEMS so nice. But then it's always underwhelming and and way overpriced. I've never been disgusted by anything I ate there, just sort of let down.

            1. re: BostonCookieMonster

              I feel like we should start a thread for "best neighborhood place you really want to like that is always sadly underwhelming." I'd nominate Alchemist in JP.

            2. re: jkv

              Amen, amen! I too wanted to like the place. Love the salads I have had there. The pizzas all sound good/creative, but the crust is like a damp unsalted saltine.

              Haven't been back after trying it 3 times.

            3. I am huge fan and regular of Za but have to agree that the crust is the very weak link - it is seldom crisp and sometimes even seems a bit too sweet to me - it does often help to specify "well done" when you order to get a bit more crustiness and more of a toasted cheese top.

              The toppings and combos, however, always seems to work and are fresh and delicious (I never create my own - theirs are better).

              The beer/wine choices are always good and I love their salads - a salad per person and the pizza shared 2 ways can make a nice meal, and leave room for dessert if you like what they offer.

              The hosting and serving is also always warm and friendly - did you mention your disappointment to them - I would be surprised if they weren't concerned by your experience and didn't try to make it right. It's probably not too late even now if you want to give them the chance.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rlh

                Ditto everything rlh says, and especially the caring, solicitous service. They would never want you to go away unhappy.

              2. Welcome to the board!
                Brutal headline - my fiancee went to Za at my urging based on the board - her reaction was not quite so harsh, but thought it was overpriced for the quality. So there you go.
                Head over to Gran Gusto next time!

                1. Best post title ever! (And yeah, I went to Za once a couple years ago and was underwhelmed also.)

                  1. Thank you! I went once with my mom and my child and could not fathom why it was so popular.. I cannot understand the attraction of this place...and I really miss the Portuguese restaurant it replaced.

                    1. Your experience is so extremely far removed from mine, I am baffled. We go to Za regularly and also get takeout from there, and we've never had an experience like yours.

                      I am aware that pizza crust/style/etc is highly personal, and loudly debated here, so maybe to each his (oe her) own...

                      1. Unfortunately I could have written this post (that is, without the catchy title). We used to practically live around the corner, and I so wished that it would live up to my expections just once. But it was always a letdown. Great idea, bad execution. The one bright spot - their salads are good. But for a place named "Za", the salads shouldn't be the best part!

                        And, your screen name cracks me up and grosses me out at the same time.

                        I also see that there's a girl after my own heart on the board (MissCheese). ;-)

                        1. I just went to Za for the first time last night and thought it was fantastic. We had an arugula and canteloupe salad (very nicely dressed), a mac and cheese pizza (surprisingly not too heavy), a red and green grape pizza (with fontina and feta - they said this one will be off the menu soon), and a cardamom orange coffee creme brulee. Everything was fresh and delicious - I would never think to get grapes, cheese, and caramelized onions on a pizza, but I'm so glad I ordered it.

                          As for the crust, it's like the crust that you'll get at any local Greek (House Of...) place around here. So yeah, if you don't like that style, you won't like this, but that doesn't mean it's cardboard. It has it's advantages - springy and a little sweet, with crispy edges.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: pamalamb

                            Wow, If the crust is "house of" style then I don't need to venture from my own corner Greek style place, for about 1/4th the price.

                            I'm less curious to try this place now.

                            1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                              Just because the crust is Greek style doesn't mean the toppings are. But if all you care about is the crust, then it's not for you. The toppings are fresh, the combinations are unique, and everything is well cooked/ dressed.

                              1. re: pamalamb

                                Crust is not *all* I care about. But it is essential to me.

                                I'll still likely try the place, I'm just not making a beeline to do so.

                            2. re: pamalamb

                              I'd never heard of "Greek pizza" before. I guess I prefer Italian. I like my crust crisp, thin, and pretty much burnt at the edges.

                              1. re: pamalamb

                                I've only been once but I don't remember thinking "Greek style" on the crust. It didn't seem so hard or that thick. Is that how others describe it? I did really enjoy the bacon/corn whatever else pizza a lot.

                              2. I have been to Za twice now and both trips were fantastic. That macaroni and cheese pizza is amazing and the way it is cooked so as to keep the pasta from getting hard is just awesome. I like the dough and crust but those things can be very subjective so I can understand that.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: TomH

                                  I just looked at the menu on the Za website. It's one of the few, if not the only online menu I've seen that lists all of the available items and no prices for any of them. I ate there once. I thought the pizza was pretty good though my wife hated the crust. The salad was good but small for the price. I think the place is a lousy value.

                                  1. re: Steve L

                                    On the contrary, I think it's a terrific value. My DC and I can split a salad, pizza, and each have a glass of wine or beer for around $30. I am admittedly a fan of this place but will agree there is some room for improvement. But the ingredients are always so fresh and very often local, and the pizza topping combinations interesting and tasty without being overly adventurous. Although the desserts might be a high point for me - LOVE the chocolate goat cheesecake.