Published in SLO New Times
You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy pizza,” a cheeky, wall-sized mural reads as you walk into the new Gino’s Pizza on Monterey Street. You chuckle now—but think about it.
Is pizza happiness? Is happiness pizza? If I were to look back at all of the momentous occasions in my life involving pizza, I would have to say, without a doubt, “yes.”
Pizza not only symbolizes the pinnacle of hedonistic pleasure (gooey cheese, greasy pepperoni, ranch-dipped crusts) but the idea of togetherness. No one buys themselves a whole pizza. A good pie is meant to be shared by friends—communally devoured, slice by loving slice.
At Gino’s Pizza, I actually do recommend you buy yourself a whole pizza—that is to say, a personal ’za. Play hooky from that boring meeting. Order the 8-inch Margherita with crisp, thin crust, from-scratch sauce, and an extra sprinkling of roasted garlic. Bite into this light and airy combination of basil and juicy sliced tomato. Eat the whole. Entire. Thing.
Then—and this is an important part—put a five-dollar bill into the nearby change machine and get down on some classic Monster Bash pinball or air hockey.
This is what Gino’s Pizza is all about. It’s a playground for kids, families, and adult kids like myself. But before you peg this place as a typical college joint (near campus, cheap pitchers), think again.
“I’m not going to put a bunch of loud TVs in here, and we won’t have 10 college kids screaming and yelling,” Consuelo Dias said. “This is a neutral place where everyone is welcome, college kids, families—everyone.”
As local engineer Kraig Crozier chowed down on some freshly made pizza, he said he dug the set-up because he can enjoy a quiet dinner while watching his kids goof off in the game room.
See—Dias gets it. She’s also a mom, a wife, and owner of her own catering company, Paella and Tapas. She and her husband, Alberto, own two other Gino’s Pizza locations: the original locale in Buellton and another in Five Cities (together, they boast 60 years combined food experience).
Although the Gino’s concept was initially inspired by her husband’s love of Italian food, the newest location at 1761 Monterey St. is undoubtedly Dias’ project.
Everything from the clean décor (corrugated metal, wood, and bright walls) to the addition of local wines to the menu (Hope Family Wines Troublemaker, Jackhammer Pinot Noir, Tolosa Chardonnay) is her doing. After 16 years of marriage, Dias knows that it’s healthy to set personal goals.
“Friends and customers kept telling us, ‘You need to open a Gino’s in San Luis,’” Dias said of the initial idea for a third restaurant. “This is an amazing location, the kids were getting older, and so I said, ‘I’ll go for it.’ After catering for so long, I felt like I was ready for a restaurant. And I guess, getting older, you do feel like you want to prove something.”
Dias has proven to be an energetic and passionate restaurateur. Opening the eatery has been a 24/7 preoccupation, and her heart and soul is tucked into every corner.
From the outside, the building—once Crawdaddy’s—may not appear to have changed much, but inside is a whole different story. The massive, open kitchen is always buzzing with commotion and the sunny, inviting dining room is alive with students, young professionals, and tourists.
Here, pizzas, hot sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, calzones, and lasagna are made fresh from scratch. Recipes are a mix of old-school ideas from Grandma Dias combined with new elements like “the cheeseburger pizza,” topped with bacon, ground beef, and cheddar cheese (an extra large is 16 inches and costs less than $23).
“Some pizza is heavy and makes you want to take a nap; not ours,” Dias said. “Ours is super light, and our ingredients are super fresh. Our dough is amazing, and the pizza sauce is a secret recipe we’ve had forever.”
I have to agree with Dias; her pizza did not put me to sleep. I was impressed with the layers of rich flavor composed within the sauce (not too sweet), the crisp-to-chewy ratio in the crunchy crust, and the ample use of fresh basil and garlic.
As I bit into my second slice, Dias watched, eyes wide. This is the best part of her job. My eyes rolled back into my head for a moment as I experienced that sensual melding of cheese, bread, and sauce. Is it the very best in SLO? I will put it this way: This pizza made me very, very, very happy.
“When someone from Italy or New York comes in and says our pizza is excellent, I know that we did it,” Dias said. “This is the best pizza you’ll have around here, by far. I’m not just saying that. I have no doubt in my mind.”
You heard the woman.
Take the challenge and let Dias know what you think. Chances are she’ll be onsite while you’re eating, either greeting guests in the dining room or crunching numbers in her cozy office nestled in the back of the kitchen.
Why not help her—and all of us—answer that age-old question: Can you buy happiness? And if so, what toppings go with it?
Grab a slice
Gino’s Pizza can be found at 1761 Monterey St. in SLO. Call to order at 752-1333, or online at ginospizzaslo.com. Their other locations are at 539 5 Cities Drive in Pismo Beach, 556-0939; and 383 Ave Of The Flags, Buellton, 688-9442.