Staying near O'Hare International Airport when I go into Chicago, I've been neglecting restaurants to the east of where my hotel is. Heading over toward the Norwood Park area on the northwest side of Chicago, I was looking for either an Italian place or some Mexican food. On Higgins Ave. just east of Harlem and just south of the Kennedy Freeway, I saw a sign for Dino's Pizza and Italian Restaurant. (see map) I thought, "Hmmm... That looks like a good little neighborhood place. I'm gonna give it a try." I went around the block and parked in the lot on the west side of the building.
Family-owned since 1968, Dino's Pizza is truly a neighborhood place for the denizens of Norwood Park. It was started by Umberto "Dino" Borrini and his wife Concetta, also known as Tina. Their two daughters, Bianca and Bruna, literally grew up in the business and when their parents retired they took over the ownership of Dino's along with their husbands Joe and Derek.
Pictured right - Tina and Dino Borrini
Over time, Bianca and Joe's children, as well as Bruna and Derek's children have helped out either in the kitchen or in the dining room. Bianca and Joe's son, Joey, has taken on managing the restaurant for his parents and his aunt and uncle.
It was about 7:30 when I walked into Dino's. There is a small vestibule as you come in with a door to the left - the dining area - and one on the immediate right - the bar area. I took the door on the left. The first dining room was a small area with a handful of booths. There was a larger room off to the side with a number of tables and one or two video games. The booths in the smaller room were all full, while the larger dining area had a few open tables, but it also had a gaggle of young kids making a lot of noise while their parents were eating.
I did an about face and saw a man standing at the counter toward the front. I asked if I could get food in the bar area. "Yes sir," was his reply, knowing good and well that I didn't care to have dinner with a bunch of rambunctious kids.
Heading back out into the vestibule and subsequently into the bar area, I soon found myself in a small low-ceilinged, dimly lit room with a small L-shaped bar. A couple three tables were along the wall. It wasn't fancy, but it was my kind of place. I took a seat at the bar and was greeted by the bartender, Brian. Amiable and welcoming, he asked if I needed a menu. After placing the menu in front of me, I ordered up a Samuel Adams Rebel IPA that he had on tap.
There's more than pizza on Dino's menu - a lot more. Not only do they have their regular thin crust pizza and a deep dish Chicago-style pizza, Dino's also offers a stuffed pizza that is popular in and around the Chicago area. From there, they have sandwiches, Italian entrees, veal dishes, steak, seafood and barbecued ribs. Dino's is also famous for their fried chicken that comes from an old Borrini family recipe.
I decided on a small thin-crust pizza with my standard Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms. When Brian brought out the pizza I saw that it cut party-style (or tavern-style, as some people call it) with the great "honey-pot" squares in the middle.
The crust was crispy, yet somewhat flaky. The sauce was tangy with a nice little hint of sweetness. The toppings were fresh - the mushrooms were especially fresh. The pepperoni had a nice salty taste that went well with the Sam Adams Rebel IPA. About the only thing that I had a quibble with was the sausage that I felt was a little bland to the taste. But overall, this was a very good pizza. It was so good that I refrained from putting on any of the oregano, red pepper flakes or parmesan cheese that was provided with the pizza.
As I ate my pizza, it was apparent that a number of regulars were in the small bar. Brian was talking to a guy down the bar from where I was seated, telling him about how the bar area was actually owned by another person when Dino first opened the restaurant next door. A window was put in between the two businesses to allow for the passage of pizza - or Dino's signature fried chicken - into the bar. Dino eventually bought the bar and closed up the window. A few years ago, Dino's daughters Bianca and Bruna put in an outdoor patio just off the bar that's used for parties or outdoor dining in the summer months.
I have to tell you, I loved everything about Dino's Pizza. The pizza was very good, Brian's service was efficient and he was a very friendly guy - asking me to come back, but not in a patronizing way. And I will come back. I fell in love with the laid back neighborhood feel of the bar at Dino's. As I said, it's not fancy, but the pizza is well above average and the place - and people - are very welcoming.