But, oh, when we find one of those places where the pizza-makers are craftsmen, not assembly-line workers, we remember we once had standards, too. On this score, Maldonado's will slap your taste buds out of their funk. The family enterprise has been hand-tossing crusts and lovingly baking them with fresh-tasting veggies and toppings for a quarter century.
They don't skimp on the portions, either. Maldonado's New York-style pizza is tossed into four sizes, from the "personal" size at 10 inches to a large at 16 inches. The personal pizza dwarfs the typical 6-to-7-inch personal pizza of many chains. In size and price it's comparable to other places' "smalls," but I like the fact it's called "personal," because that means I don't have to share.
On my first visit, a regular customer helped me overcome my indecision, recommending the Stromboli ($9.10 personal; $19.30 large), a flat pie with Italian sausage, mushrooms, salami and pepperoni over a well-seasoned tomato sauce. There's something old fashioned but sublime about this combination, and everyone I tried it out on agreed (after all, I did share -- when cornered).
We tried the Super Hawaiian pizza, too, with bell peppers, ham, pineapple and mushrooms ($9.10 personal; $19.30 large). The mushrooms mellow the acidity of the pineapple, producing a creamy flavor most "Hawaiian" pizzas don't seem to have. It was very good, in large part because of the crust: thin enough to be crispy around the edges and slightly chewy.
Like any good pizza joint, Maldonado's lets you design your own oeuvre. The nearly 30 toppings include the slightly unusual -- clams, jalapenos, pastrami, cilantro, linguica and broccoli, to name a few -- as well as ingredients that make up the standards of American pizza: anchovies, sweet bell peppers, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives, tomatoes and garlic.
To help you ease into your carbo load, you could prime yourself with an appetizer such as garlic bread, bread sticks, cheesy bread or jalapeno sticks. The bread sticks come with sides of pizza sauce, bursting with oregano, and ranch dressing. The sauce is better, turning each bread stick into a marinara pizza, though they were a tad undercooked.
The huge green salad ($4.85) adds such filling ingredients as kidney and garbanzo beans, croutons and cheese to the usual lettuce, bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes, creating a real stick-to-your-ribs meal, if you can say that about a salad.
On another visit, I tried Maldonado's Special pizza ($9.61 small; $20.55 large). While I thought the coalition of pepperoni, sausage, salami, linguica, peppers, 'shrooms and onions would turn out a great pizza, for some reason the flavors didn't balance as well as the Stromboli.
(If you're beginning to think it must be hard for vegetarians to eat here, I should mention there are also vegetarian pizzas, calzones, sandwiches and, of course, the big salads.)
I also ordered a hot sub sandwich ($6.24) with pepperoni and salami, dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo, mustard, oil and vinegar. What a sandwich: juicy, spicy and wonderful, and stuffed to overflowing into a fresh French roll. If I'd eaten the whole thing, I, too, would have been stuffed to overflowing. It's a steal for the price, and more exciting than the pizza sub with meatballs ($6.24), which tasted flat in comparison. Next time I may create my own combo sandwich.
For a more traditional pizza sandwich, try Maldonado's calzones. They tuck cheeses, mushrooms, sausage, basil and pizza sauce inside a hearty crust that doesn't turn out soggy from the sauce. This calzone sits on a much higher plane than the cheese footballs many restaurants serve. Being a very flexible pizzeria, Maldonado's lets you request your own selection of ingredients, too. At $6.98, it's more than many people (OK -- girls) will eat in one sitting. Throw in a giant salad and you could feed two people for lunch. Lesser appetites go for the house special: a slice with one or two toppings, small salad, and soda ($5.55).
Unassuming on the outside, this mostly take-out pizzeria has been quietly accruing devotees from many walks of life: families, sorority girls, an ice-cream man replete with cart -- and at lunch, a shirt-and-tie, pointy-shoed salesman dining at the eat-in counter that seats maybe a half dozen. Everyone was welcomed with courtesy and efficiency.
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615 South Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View
Sun.-Thurs. 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-midnight. Delivery hours vary