Iheard about Allissa's from one of the many 14-year-old pizza fanatics I know, so we gave it a try, figuring it was one of your basic neighborhood pizza and pasta places.
Well, it was. But it was a good bit more, with an oddly eclectic assortment of dishes with influences from Jamaica to Vietnam, not to mention Maryland and Philadelphia. Sometimes such wide variety can overwhelm a kitchen, but Allissa's seems to know how to handle its long menu.
The restaurant, which sits in a shopping center anchored by a supermarket and video-rental outlet just north of Hampden, has several green-topped tables in a small dining room with a horsy theme.
On one wall is an enormous mural of thoroughbreds leaving the gate. Scattered around are jockeys' racing silks and photographs of Pimlico winners. Carryout patrons can wait on a small bench, and there's even a small pile of magazines to read.
First, the appetizers. Buffalo wings ($6.99) were deep-fried and coated in a zippy, mustardy sauce. Spring rolls ($3.99 for three) were flaky and came with a vinegary dipping sauce.
As for the pizza, it was definitely better than the usual carryout version. The crust was medium-thick and delicious, and came covered with a healthy dollop of tomato sauce but not too much cheese. (A medium plain pie costs $7.50 and could serve two moderately hungry people.) A burger ($7.39) featured a slab of ground beef on a kaiser roll, with smoky bacon.
Our favorite dishes were two of the more expensive entrees. The jerk chicken quesadilla ($9.99) was a lovely mess of peppery grilled chicken served in a crispy tortilla with cheese, tomato and onion, accompanied by a spicy, tomato-based salsa. Jamaica meets Mexico and it works.
The bun-bo ($12.99) featured thin slices of London broil marinated with Vietnamese seasonings, ginger, peanuts and sesame seeds, served with rice noodles and a small salad. We loved it, although at that price, it had better be good.
Allissa's sells a small selection of cakes and ice-cream desserts (not made on the premises). We tried a chocolate fudge cake ($4.19) that was decorated with chocolate chips and went down quite easily.
Allissa's isn't particularly cheap. But it does offer specials during the week, including half-price pizza on Mondays.
Service: *** 1/2
Waiting area: ***
Where: 1020 W. 41st St., North Baltimore
Hours: 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday to Saturday
Prices: Entrees, $5.25 to $15.99; burgers, subs and sandwiches, $5.99 to $12.99; pizza, $4.95 to $17.95; credit cards accepted
Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *