It’s the tail end of rush hour on the Linea B and I barely squeeze through the door—it is a long journey to the end of the line. When I land in Villa Urquiza, the neighborhood has already retreated into complete quiet. Avenida Triunvirato is all but shuttered up and besides the pubescent beat boxers that bob their heads underneath a heavy cloud of weed in the plaza, there are few signs of life as I crawl deeper into the barrio in search of Bandini, a classic pizzeria in the making.
From three blocks away, the smell of burning logs and a bubbling pot of tomato sauce linger in the air. This very well may be an invention of my own imagining—my olfactory memory kicking in as it gears up for a slice of one of my favorite pizzas in the city.
Bandini Pizzas is the kind of joint that would be packed every night in Villa Crespo, Chacarita or San Telmo. The staff is young and friendly, the music funky and the philosophy is both fresh and familiar. The small room has bar seating for a small group of aficionados that allow conversation between diner and pizzero. But the greatness of this pizzeria is the pilgrimage it requires to get there and that it is, unabashedly so, una pizzeria de barrio.
It is the incarnation of the family-run neighborhood spots that have fallen out of fashion. It is a throwback to the places that owner and part-time pizzero Ignacio Bandini grew up eating in his native San Martín—little shops that feel like universes within themselves where the owners work long into retirement and family and friends pop in and out just to hang out. When I arrive I am immediately greeted by his mother, who runs the caja. His primo quietly checks in on a pizza in the wood burning oven.
In the window display sits the two most traditionally porteño items on the menu: a re-imagined version of the pizza canchera, a flat crusted pie topped with bright cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions and a light slathering of tomato sauce. Alongside it are stacks of amber colored faina, the soft garbanzo-based rounds that are a fluffy compliment to the crunchy crust.
It is the regular menu of 4 clásicas and 4 house specials that show off Bandini’s skill: familiar porteño flavors elevated with carefully curated products, seasonal produce and slight edits to the traditional toppings. Rather than piling pizzas high with lack luster cheese and deli meats, high quality ingredients are used with an even hand. The base is a hybrid between a porteño pizza al molde and US affinity for fermented and hand-stretched doughs. Crimson red tomato sauce is blended with pesto made fresh daily; it has a deep flavor reminiscent of a thick tomato paste that is central to each pizza. Parmesano takes the place of queso cremoso.
Notable nods to tradition are the old school napo that swaps out the regular round tomato for the juicier cherry variety. Sweet red bell peppers are the central focus of the jamón y morrón, which is topped with high-quality pernil rather than the slimy rectangular pieces of deli meat.
While the recognizable names convince the neighborhood’s pizza traditionalists, it is the house specials that demonstrate the pizzeria’s value in modernizing a Buenos Aires culinary institution. The savory caprichosa is my favorite. It comes topped with slightly sour artichoke hearts, salty capers that pop across the tongue and roasted garlic. Panceta y hongos is surprisingly light—the mushrooms add a satisfying chew that is complimented by thin strips of pancetta browned underneath intense oven heat. The queso de cabra is delightfully sweet. Chewy goat cheese has a slight tint of salt that is heightened by thick slices of red sausage and drips of honey that come in and out of focus.
Rather than choosing an entire pie, guests can saddle up to the bar and order pizza by the slice as it comes out of the oven. For now, Bandini Pizzas is open for dinner service but over the coming year it will open for lunch with work in progress to expand the little corner enclave into a larger space that fuses food with music and art.
Address: Aizpurúa 2899, Villa Urquiza
Open: Wednesday through Sunday, 7:30 to 11:30pm
Price: $300-350 per large pizza for 2