Totino’s Italian Kitchen

This family-owned Italian restaurant, just blocks from downtown, has been a Northeast institution since 1951. Owner Steve Elwell bought the place from his grandma, Rose Totino—whose portrait is on proud display throughout the interior—10 years ago. Up until then, Rose and her husband Jim operated the eatery, which they originally opened with the intent to offer take-out pizza only. But customers wanted to sit down and enjoy a slice, so the Totinos added tables, and 10 years down the road, started offering their pizzas for sale in the frozen-to-go state. Eventually Rose and Jim sold off the frozen pizza empire to Pillsbury, who still manufactures it. But back at the little Italian kitchen, their eldest grandson sticks to Grandma Rose’s tradition of homemade-from-scratch food. While Totino’s is fondly believed by its aficionados to be the most underrated restaurant in town, the place—which isn’t small—is jammed on Friday and Saturday nights. Maybe it’s the heaping portions, authentic retro atmosphere, friendly service, and reasonable prices. Special number two is wildly popular, because you get a big helping of spaghetti with spicy Totino’s marinara and a meatball and a taste of pizza, plus a bowl of ice cream (vanilla or spumoni). But we love the cheese ravioli best of all. It’s made with a mysterious and flavorful blend of cheeses and herbs and comes with that delicious red sauce. Yum. The pizza is unique and bready (and bears no resemblance to the frozen party pizzas, by the way), the salad is surprisingly good—a tangy vinegar dressing almost makes up for the inevitable iceberg lettuce—and the meatballs are classic. And Totino’s offers a full selection of run-of-the-mill beer and wine. So come on, forget your frozen pizza bias and give an old classic the respect it deserves. You won’t be disappointed.