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Padano’s Pizza: A wholesome, small-town pizzeria

Two slices of thin-crust pizza on a white paper plate beside three breadsticks in tin-foil with a can of Mountain Dew Baja fruit punch.
Cheese pizza lunch at Padano’s Pizza; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

When I walked into Padano’s Pizza — after first passing the two stone lions out front, I walked into the epitome of a small-town restaurant: a quaint dining room with an ordering counter run by the owner in front of a handwritten chalkboard menu and fired-up ovens. That corner brick building has been serving pizza (and so much more) since 1998, and it’s long been a favorite among locals, in particular St. Joe high school students.

And the owner told us so when we walked in just before the lunch rush. He made sure we understood that anything besides slices might take a while because the students were coming, and he was prepping for them.

A chalkboard menu with appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and specials.
Alyssa Buckley

The menu offered pizza slices, of course, and also appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and pasta.

The interior of Padano's Pizza has tables with mismatched black chairs.
Alyssa Buckley

My friend Anna and I went for an early lunch at 10:30 a.m., barely beating the student lunch rush. Not long after, the place filled with high schoolers in backpacks, all getting the lunch special.

Two slices of thin-crust pizza on a white paper plate beside three breadsticks in tin-foil with a can of Mountain Dew Baja fruit punch.
Cheese pizza lunch at Padano’s Pizza; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

For lunch, I too ordered pizza lunch special: two cheese pizza slices, three breadsticks, and a drink for $6. Six dollars, people! I can’t remember the last time I had this much food for that price. The thin-crust slices were freshly made and a good size, big enough to fold. The tangy tomato sauce was yummy, and the crust along the edge was perfectly smooth. Sprinkles of big salt flakes and extra herbs over the thick layer of melted mozzarella made these simple slices of ‘za taste even better.

The side of breadsticks was very generous with three served warm in tinfoil. These airy breadsticks were coated in a salty, garlicky seasoning that took what was just-okay bread up a notch. The provided side sauce was a bright orange processed cheese that I saw students enjoying.

Two cans of soda: Mountain Dew Baja point break punch and Coca-Cola zero.
Alyssa Buckley

The lunch special included one beverage from the selection in the fridge beside the register. There were fruity 7-Up flavors and three kinds of Mountain Dew including the illusive Baja Point Break Punch flavor.

A single slice of thin-crust pepperoni pizza on a white plate with simple white paper napkins beneath.
Pepperoni pizza lunch at Padano’s Pizza; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Because I also love pepperoni pizza, I ordered a slice of pepperoni ($2.50), too. The outside of the slice had the same picturesque crust as the cheese slices. The rolled edge served a solid crunch on the last bites, and the thin-crust center had a nice chew. I loved the big salt and Italian seasonings as a punch of flavor and how well the melty cheese kept those big pepperoni slices sandwiched to the saucy crust.

A tin foil bowl of spaghetti topped with mozzarella and herbs with salt.
Spaghetti at Padano’s Pizza; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

For this review, I wanted to cover a little more than just pizza, so I also ordered the spaghetti ($10.75). This spaghetti was really good, and I dare say it was better than the pizza. The noodles were al dente, the sauce was great, and the meatballs tasted so insanely delicious. Small and chopped up a little, the meatballs were bite-sized and mixed throughout the pasta so they were in almost every forkful. I loved this spaghetti and would absolutely get this again. I did think there was too much mozzarella on top of the spaghetti — like the same amount as a slice of pizza, so next time, I’d get light (or no) cheese, please.

A styrofoam container of lettuce with fresh grated cheese on top with two side sauces.
Side salad at Padano’s Pizza; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

That $10.75 spaghetti also came with a side salad served in a styrofoam container with two dressings (ranch and Italian). The salad had crisp lettuce, two juicy tomato wedges, and lots of cheese. I could taste the freshness: the cheese freshly grated and the lettuce freshly chopped with nary a brown spot in sight.

A tin foil plate of cheesy garlic bread.
Cheese bread at Padano’s Pizza; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Finally, my son requested that I bring home some cheese bread, so I ordered Padano’s cheese bread ($7.75). The orange cheese threw us for a loop, but after a bite, it didn’t matter what color it was because that cheese bread was tasty. Cut in half longways, this baguette had lots of butter, a restrained amount of cheese, and that same tasty sprinkle of coarse salt and Italian herbs. The edges of the bread were crispy and crunchy, almost burnt in some parts, but a delicious, bread-y boat to get butter, garlic, and cheese into our mouths.

A white styrofoam cup of marinara.
Marinara at Padano’s Pizza; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

The cheese bread came with a side of marinara served cold.

The exterior of Padano's Pizza has a bicycle leaning against the wooden table for two outside the pizzeria.
Alyssa Buckley

The owner was doing it all: prepping fresh pizza dough with a dough docker, throwing pies in the oven, scooping cheese sauce into cups, greeting customers, ringing in orders, handing out ‘za, and delivering pasta plates to diners. I was tired just watching him.

Overall, Padano’s Pizza was a wholesome, small-town pizzeria. The owner was chatty, and everything made fresh. The prices were the lowest I’ve seen at any pizza joint around town. If ordering slices of pizza, the service will be quick, but other dishes ordered during the lunch rush will take a bit as the owner gives priority to the students. And rightly so because those students have a short timeline for lunch and their loyalty is the sort of thing that must keep a small business like this alive for 25 years.

The exterior of Padano's Pizza in St. Joseph, Illinois.
Alyssa Buckley

For those tired of eating the same stuff in Champaign-Urbana-Savoy or tired of paying a lot for a little, venture to St. Joe for Padano’s Pizza. The food was cheap, the service friendly, and the place opens at 10 a.m. for lunch. The whole experience was a slice of small-town bliss.

For more about Padano’s Pizza, check out the pizzeria on Facebook.

Padano’s Pizza
209 N Main St
St. Joseph
M-F 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. + 4 to 10 p.m.
Sa+Su 1 to 8:30 p.m.

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