Should you for whatever reason — say in quest for puffy tacos at Ray's — find yourself on Castroville Road just west of 19th, it's not likely that you'd pay a lot of attention to Gallo Pizzeria. Oh, you might subliminally note that it's odd to see a pizza place where a taco joint might seem more at home, but Gallo's outward appearance isn't swerve worthy. You will leave no crime-scene skid marks. The interior is hardly more arresting (though there is original artwork), and the menu board is total chaos. But if it's lunch time and the place is as empty as it was when I arrived on a quest to taste the infamous Diablo pizza, you may find yourself in wide-ranging conversation with the owner. (Among other things, I learned that his main culinary experience consists of fast-food pizza and that his academic training is in music — composition and bassoon.)
The Diablo is unique in town in its use of the über-hot ghost chile; it's the one pizza that can normally be had in the 5 1/2"-diameter "personal" size. It's billed as also including diced habanero (no wimp in its own right), jalapeño, plus a Diablo sauce — a seeming recipe for streaming tears and stifled bleats of anguish. Here's my take: the ghost chile is the piccolo over the bassoon of bready crust and melty cheese, and, yes, it's picoso. But I didn't really notice the Diablo sauce — or the other chiles, for that matter — and finished all 16 square inches without embarrassing myself. You might want to try the Diablo for the implied mucho-macho challenge, but balance is not its virtue.
Much better is the full-throated Gallo pizza with sliced tomato, spinach, cubes of grilled chicken, and a salsa Mexicana base. (They agreed to make this in a personal size as well, but in so doing forgot to include the advertised salsa verde.) Taken home and reheated, the bready crust was much improved. Almost not making it home was the very good brownie — better with a little chill on it, however. The remains of a very accomplished Greek salad with genuine kalamata olives also survived to serve again at dinner. The Diablo may be nothing to crow about, but Gallo can orchestrate some decent dining at modest prices regardless. Hot wings and calzones remain to be tried at a future date.
164 Castroville Rd