I was invited to lunch by Alino Pizzeria at Concord Mills Mall to try a taste of fire oven-baked pizza with ingredients from Italy. Here’s why it was worth my trip on I-85.

It’s hard to miss Alino Pizzeria. It sits next door to the AMC movie theater. The dark green exterior and large sign confirms you have arrived.

I asked owner Michal Bay why Concord Mills.

“We were invited to open at Concord Mills by the mall owners,” he said. “We were excited to reach shoppers and other new customers and accepted the offer.”

Another Alino location is in Mooresville, along with a third at Mall of Georgia near Atlanta. The Concord Mills location opened about a year ago.

As soon as I walked in, I could smell the cheese and marinara baking in the fire ovens, which were imported from Italy, according to a restaurant employee. Pizza ingredients, also imported from Italy, were displayed around the restaurant like badges of honor.

Bay said quality ingredients and a simple menu – customers can’t customize their pizzas — are what make Alino Pizzeria stand out.

I ordered the Alino Specialty, and my eyes went wide when the 16-inch pizza came out. I wasn’t prepared for it being so large.

I could smell the fresh garlic right away, and when I bit into the thin crust, I almost started speaking Italian.

Who knew a little piece of Italy was so close?

As I was finishing my pizza and ear hustling (eavesdropping on conversations around me) a woman came in and asked another customer, “Is this place good? Should I eat here?”

Through a mouthful of pizza the customer smiled and said, “yeah, it’s good.”

I agree. This is the pizza you want after a day of shopping or a Saturday matinee.

Desiree Rew is a freelance food and travel writer. She is a member of the Association of Food Journalist. Follow her blog desireeeatsandtravels.com.