Boston’s Galleria Umberto: America’s Best Cheap Slice Place?

The Galleria Umberto Rosticceria pizzeria in Boston’s North End is named after a stunning, ornate 19th century shopping arcade in Naples. But the interior of one of the country’s best cheap slice places is as Spartan as they come. In fact, the place resembles a cafeteria or, if you’re there at lunchtime, when the lines stretch out the door and around the block, a soup kitchen.

Boston’s North End is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the world. Despite the fact that it’s right smack in the middle of an expensive city that’s overflowing with wealthy, highly educated young people, somehow the neighborhood has preserved its distinct Italian-American character. Walk the streets of the North End on a nice day, and you’ll still see plenty of old timers sitting out on their stoops, speaking Italian.

There are dozens of good places to get pizza and other Italian specialties in the North End, but Galleria Umberto is the only place I’ve seen that consistently attracts long lines. Why? They serve damn good Sicilian-style slices of cheese pizza – no toppings! – for just $1.55.

I’ve been to Galleria Umberto (GU) three times for slices over the last few years and I’ve never waited less than about 25 minutes. But I love GU because their volume-driven business model is very 19th century. They have a razor thin profit margin, but sell thousands of slices of every day. Who opens a business these days charging ridiculously low prices, hoping to make it up with volume? Almost no one.

We have more high quality pizza places in the U.S. right now than ever before, but the prices keep going up to the point where pizza isn’t the cheap option it once was. In April, I had a chance to eat at Da Michele, one of the best pizzerias in Naples, and discovered that even the world’s best pizza doesn’t have to be expensive. That’s what I love about GU- they view pizza as a cheap staple, not a luxury.

My sons and I had five slices of pizza and two drinks and the bill came to $9.75. I can’t take them to McDonald’s for that price. Domestic beers are $3. And wines range from $2 -$2.50. Now that’s my kind of place. If you’re looking for a budget lunch in one of Boston’s most interesting neighborhoods, and don’t mind the wait, check out Galleria Umberto. What’s your favorite cheap place to get a slice of pizza?