Cugino’s Italian Deli & Pizzeria
Neapolitan Rice Ball
Margarita Sicilian – Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce, Fresh Basil
White Pizza – Ricotta, Romano, Mozzarella, Italian Spices
Located in a small complex just steps off the UNLV campus and part of my regular workday walking route Cugino’s Italian Deli had long been on my “to do” list; a Saturday afternoon visit with two friends proving the rumors of pricy yet good East Coast Italian classics to be quite accurate. Small in size and curt in customer service it was with admitted indecision that our group approached the Cugino’s counter and ordering on-the-fly a six-part meal emerged, the $66 meal presented in four courses with plenty of leftovers and mostly impressive results. Undoubtedly a red sauce joint despite a multitude of housemade salads and sandwiches it was with fried pillows of ricotta gnocchi that the meal began and with each creamy morsel crispy on the exterior but virtually oilless I was immediately impressed – a trend continued in the tender rice ball buried in house-pulled mozzarella and tangy marinara. Obviously prone to over-ordering, particularly in small groups, our trio next doubled down on a pair of pies and while the thin white pie proved somewhat bland to my tastes with a mundane crust tinged with semolina the Sicilian dazzled as fresh mozzarella formed soft puddles amidst aromatic tomato sauce bright with acid and appropriately devoid of sugar. Breezing through a plate of golden garlic knots aggressively seasoned with its namesake herb and kissed with butter before finishing the meal with pre-filled cannoli already experiencing some sog it was with a bit of disappointment that I was informed neither house-made rainbow cookies nor tiramisu were available outside the freezer but with stomachs full and leftovers boxed as conversation flowed it would be hard to say I regretted much…except perhaps neglecting the tripe soup or eponymous Cugino’s Special sandwich, both on the short ‘there’s always next time’ list, though a repeat trek to similar-but-better Montesano’s will most certainly come first.
THREE STARS: A traditional Italian deli and pizzeria just like one might find in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston Cugino’s is every bit as ‘authentic’ a spot as one might get on the East Coast and while not as friendly, accommodating, or well-priced as Montesano’s the goods here should dispel any rumors that good red sauce Italian cannot be found in Sin City.
RECOMMENDED: Sicilian Pie, Rice Balls, Fried Gnocchi
AVOID: Cannoli – here or anywhere these things should never be ordered pre-filled.
TIP: Clearly focused on the college crowd and turning food out at a rapid pace those interested in something a bit more esoteric would be best served to contact Cugino’s in advance; a list of interesting specialty pastries, soups, and holiday favorites such as struffoli available by special order is posted alongside the register.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor