Bella Italia

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Note: This restaurant has moved. See new review

A friend and fellow ba.foodie had posted a pretty positive review of Bella Italia a few months back, so we decided to give it a try for lunch one Monday in January (2002). We had tried to go there for dinner the night before, but for some reason (not its posted open hours) it had been closed.

We went there a little bit late, after 1 PM, and the place was deserted. It might have been because it was late, or perhaps because it was MLK day. I hope it was not because the place is not getting enough business, as it seems to me like a very good option for a nice lunch.

The first thing I should say about Bella Italia, is that it's cheap. Amazingly cheap. Salads are a mere $3 while full pasta dishes are only $4. Pizzas, meanwhile, vary between $4 and $5 depending on the ingredients. I don't know how their dinner dishes are priced, but it's certainly a bargain for lunch.

The restaurant is pretty cute. It's in a strip mall, but it tries hard to have an ambiance. The tables are nicely appointed with white and colored fabric tablecloths and they have real cloth napkins rather than the paper kind. Each table is "decorated" with a bottle of wine and a bottle of mineral water, which gives it a definite "old world" look. There are real and plastic plants hanging all over the place, giving the restaurant a lively atmosphere, even on a drab day. They also have many, many crates full of wine bottles, though a big screen TV and a deli counter detract from the whole look. Still, it's a perfectly nice place to have lunch.

Service was very good as well. We heard that the restaurant was owned by a Punjabi couple (so not surprisingly, there is a large picture of the Golden Temple on one wall), and that day the wife seemed to be doing all the waitressing and cooking. She was very pleasant though not much of a conversationalist.

With all that Bella Italia has going for it, we were really hoping the food was going to be great and we'd have a real find in our hands. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The food was OK, but nothing to write home about or, more importantly, make it worth it to go out of your way to seek.

Mike had the tortellini bolognese and I had the pizza quattro formaggi. Mike's tortellini was fine - nicely served in a large, pasta soup. The sauce was pleasant, though not very meaty and not particularly great. Still, it was a good dish to have for lunch. The portion was also adequately sized.

My pizza was more disappointing. It was Italian style (some people call it Roman style, but I've had it in different parts of Italy), with a very thin crust and flat ingredients. I'm not particularly fond of Italian style pizza and this one was worse than most (though most of the ones I've had have been in Italy). I think the goat cheese (if that's what it was) overwhelmed the other ingredients, making it too sour. Mike tried it too and he was underwhelmed. Still, if you like Italian-style pizza you may want to give their other versions a try.

The food was preceded by hot bread rolls and butter. The rolls could have been more flavorful, but they were so nicely hot that they tasted great anyway. We skipped dessert (none was offered), so I can't comment on that.

All in all I think the experience was mostly positive. Given how cheap it was, I'm willing to give Bella Italia a few more tries. Who knows? Other dishes might be better. If you're in San Leandro, you may want to give it a try as well.

Bella Italia
2028 Lewelling
San Leandro