Restaurant Review: Wisepies Pizza & Salad

Looking Past The Controversies At Wisepies Pizza And Salad

Ty Bannerman
6 min read
preparing food
(Eric Williams)
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Out of all the controversies that dogged Albuquerque over the last year or so and infected both social media and everyday conversation, one stands out as both shockingly ubiquitous and utterly trivial: The renaming of The Pit to “WisePies Arena.”

Maybe it was the fact that it was so trivial—after all, nobody got shot, nobody was assaulted and no bulldozers were involved—that it became a sort of safe issue to form a quick, knee-jerk opinion on. But for a few weeks last winter, you couldn’t log onto Facebook without seeing some disgruntled Burqueño sullenly bemoaning the loss of the iconic name. And if you bought yourself a beer at a local taproom, it was practically guaranteed that somebody within earshot would be saying “Are you kidding? It’s called The Pit; it’s always been called The Pit; it will always BE called the Pit.” Usually followed by “I’ve never even heard of WisePies.”

Never mind that the venue’s official name was University Arena before WisePies bought the naming rights, or that “The Pit” was simply a nickname and therefore beyond the reach of corporate PR strategy. Never mind that WisePies, which suddenly found itself on the receiving end of a city’s rancor, essentially committed no greater sin than stumbling into a honey of a deal. After all, for a rock bottom price, they got their name emblazoned on one of Albuquerque’s beloved institutions and overnight became the most talked-about restaurant in New Mexico.

For its part, WisePies quickly pointed out that the venue’s new name would officially be “WisePies Arena AKA The Pit,” which at least shows an attempt to assuage local concerns even if it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. And for their part, the residents of Albuquerque pretty much shrugged their collective shoulders, more or less forgot about the controversy, and kept calling it “The Pit” like they always had.

Eight months after the naming rights announcement, the controversy has died down, and the chain seems to be doing well. It recently opened a fourth location in the UNM/Nob Hill area and what’s more, co-owner Mike Baird told KOAT News that he has plans to open up to 20 more franchises on the national stage over the next year or so. All signs point to Albuquerque being at the forefront of a pizza chain revolution.

But no matter all this talk of naming rights and national expansion, there’s an element of WisePies that is rarely if ever talked about. What about the pizza itself? How does it stack up?

So, with that in mind, I visited the new Nob Hill location to see for myself.

WisePies has taken over the eastern half of the old Hollywood Video store behind Mannies restaurant and right next to Bosque Brewery, an ideal location for luring in the college crowd. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from a mob-themed pizza chain, but the sparsely appointed space before me certainly wasn’t it. As I stood there blinking in the entryway, the employees at the counter, one of whom was wearing a fedora, greeted me with a boisterous “Welcome!”

Other than the mafia thing, WisePies’ gimmick is that you can get a pizza with any topping or number of toppings for $7.95. This price includes the “Cosa Nostra” pizzas, all of which are named after famous Italian crime families. For instance, the Gambino pizza, which comes with roasted bell peppers, banana peppers, roma tomatoes, and kalamata olives is named after the infamous New York syndicate that ran Murder, Inc. in the mid-20th century. They are estimated to be responsible for between 400 and 1000 contract killings. Fun!

I don’t quite know what to think about the use of a dangerous, still operational criminal organization as a cutesy theme for a restaurant, but the owners of WisePies employed the same angle at Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse, so I guess they know how to make it work.

When you order your pizza, perhaps named after your favorite murderous thugs, the process of putting it together begins. If you’ve been to a Subway, you’ve seen the basic approach. A crust appears, the cook slides it down the counter, adding toppings from a number of bins—grilled onions, pepperoni, olives, etc. Once it’s fully decorated, he or she places it onto a conveyer belt which carries it through a pizza oven. About ten minutes later, you’ll have a pizza.

And, frankly, not a bad pizza. I ordered the Siciliano—named after the denizens of the Cosa Nostra’s birthplace of course—on a cracker-thin, wheat crust. The red pepper marinara had an appealing zing to it, and the capicola stood out as darkly sweet and a pleasant contrast to the spiciness of the pepperoni. My wife ordered the Gambino on a gluten-free crust (for $3 more). The crust was a bit chewy, which is to be expected with gluten-free, but perfectly serviceable for the wheat averse. It was topped with smallish halved kalamata olives and roasted bell peppers that were, well, a bit limp. My kids stuck to a simple pepperoni pizza (which also breaks the one price rule by knocking a couple of bucks off for the kiddos) but found the pepperoni a little too spicy for their liking. They were much more captivated by the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.

The dissonance between the whimsical theme of a mafia-run pizza joint and the actual brutal crimes carried out by the real mafia aside, the idea of personal 9” pizzas at a low price certainly isn’t a bad one, and it seems like a great strategy for a nearby college campus. The real issue here is that there is no shortage of pizza restaurants in town, some of which are very good indeed. In fact, there are six pizza places within a quarter mile radius of the Nob Hill WisePies, and if you’re planning on feeding more than just yourself, you can get better pizza cheaper at many of them.

But, if what you’re looking for is a quick, personal-sized pizza with as many toppings as you can dream of piled on it, then maybe, just maybe, this is an offer you can’t— er, that you should seriously consider.

Wise Pies Pizza and Salad

106 Girard SE (but there are multiple locations)


Hours: 11am to 9pm, Sunday to Thursday

11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday

Price range: $7.95 for most pizzas and salads

Vibe: Mafia foodcourt

The Alibi recommends: The Sicilian

WisePies logo

Eric Williams

But What About the Pizza?

The Gambino

Eric Williams


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