When one thinks of dining and the local scene, the word “chain” is usually not something that comes to mind. However, mention Oregano’s Pizza Bistro to a Phoenician, and you’ll most likely get a very enthusiastic response. That’s because this statewide chain of twenty-one restaurants (and one recently expanded to Colorado) is something locals take pride in. For this writer and his family, Oregano’s is THE restaurant to take out-of-towners for a unique and tasty Italian inspired meal with a touch of an Arizonan “kick.”
Established in 1993 by Mark S. Russel, Oregano’s has grown from a menu that offered one pasta dish and one salad option to a diverse menu of appetizers, pizza, pasta, salad, and sandwiches. Add in a drink menu including non-alcoholic beverages, domestic and craft beer on tap (including local Four Peaks and San Tan brewery selections), and you’re sure to find something to quench your thirst and please your taste buds!
What makes Oregano’s stand out from other Italian joints? First and foremost is the menu, full of variety, fresh ingredients and unique twists on Italian staples. Like Alfredo pasta, but like a little extra “kick” to your food? Try “Alfredo the Dark,” which ups the spicy scale with poblano peppers and a southwest cheese blend. Selective on your lasagna? Oregano’s has two different selections for you to try – the more traditional “Italian Flag Lasagna,” which uses roasted red pepper pasta for layering, or the “Roasted Garlic Chicken Lasagna,” for that extra garlicky touch! These are just a couple of the wonderful and flavorful pasta dishes, which also include plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options as well. And the pizza? Oh, that wonderful pizza, available in a thin crust, pan, or even stuffed is a great family option, provided the family agrees on toppings! (Insider tip – the busier the joint, the longer wait for pizza, while pasta dishes usually arrive quicker, so be prepared if a tasty deep-dish pie is on your mind.)
One other thing that makes Oregano’s one of a kind? A restaurant is never as memorable if the atmosphere isn’t inviting, and Oregano’s Pizza Bistro has lots of atmosphere. With kitschy-retro memorabilia lining the walls, 40’s and 50’s big band and jazz piping in through the speakers (loud enough to hear but not drown out the conversation), and black and white TV shows playing on old television sets in select corners of the restaurant, there is much to take in on every visit! And the staff? Friendly, knowledgeable, and ready to give recommendations if asked, wearing Oregano’s t-shirts with slogans such as “Menu Can Trust” and “Legalize Marinara.”
Finally, no visit to Oregano’s would be complete without a “Pizza Cookie” for desert. Yes, the “Pizzookie” may be available elsewhere (This was what they were originally named at Oregano’s as well, until another national chain got involved), but Oregano’s has perfected this rich and tasty desert. Half baked, warm and gooey, and topped with vanilla ice cream, this sharable dish will have families wanting to come back for more! (Insider tip – there are three regular flavors, but if you are undecided, you can split the flavor in two. Our family usually goes for half chocolate chip, half peanut butter chocolate!)
Whether you are new to the Phoenix area, or have yet to go, Oregano’s Pizza Bistro is a must visit for a unique and tasty, truly Phoenician meal experience!
(Insider tip: Oregano’s is almost always busy and bustling, so come prepared for a wait, especially on weekends. Reservations are not accepted, but you can put your name on the seating list via the NoWait app.)