Lately at Polk Eats we’ve been trying to visit restaurants in areas where we haven’t spent much time. North Lakeland is one of those areas. So my wife and I had lunch at Champino’s Italian Restaurant recently. We couldn’t really find any history on Champino’s except that the owner and chef is from New York originally.
The restaurant had a small amount of outdoor seating but the inside was simply decorated and well kept. The noise inside was a little disorienting, with music and a television playing at the same time. Otherwise, we seemed to be there at a quiet time, early on a Saturday.
Our server was delightful. We really enjoyed the service at Champino’s. She made it clear that she enjoys the food there, also, and seemed very genuine. The menu is much more comprehensive than I expected, with a variety of appetizers and salads, chicken, seafood, beef, pork, pasta, pizza, and sandwich options.
We had an iced tea and Diet Pepsi to drink, then started our meal with a fried calamari appetizer. The calamari was plentiful and delicious. It was crispy without being greasy like a lot of fried food. A few of the larger pieces were a bit too chewy, but otherwise it was very good. I also liked the flavor of the included marinara sauce, which is made on site.
Pizza offerings include New York style or pan. I ordered a 12″ (18″ is also available) New York style pizza with pepperoni and meatballs. Our server told us the dough for the crust is made fresh every day, and we believe it. It had just the right balance of crispy and chewy. There was a generous amount of toppings of good quality. The sauce had good flavor with just the right amount, so it didn’t overwhelm the pizza.
My wife ordered the 12″ margherita pizza, which includes mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, and marinara sauce. My wife rates the crust as one of the best she has ever had. As with my pizza, all the ingredients seemed fresh, and they were in a good proportion to balance the different flavors. We speculated why so many enjoyable restaurants seem to be located in strip malls. Maybe the rent is more affordable, maybe they’re looking for increased foot traffic from the surrounding businesses. Whatever the reason, we’ve found several restaurants like Champino’s with delicious food in somewhat unexpected places.
With tip our total came to about $47, so it’s definitely a little pricier than our typical lunch. But with the appetizer we had plenty of food and brought home pizza for lunch the next day. We look forward to returning to Champino’s and trying out more of their menu. Champino’s Italian Restaurant is in the Sandpiper Plaza shopping center on North Socrum Loop Road in north Lakeland. Enjoy!