35 Best Pizzas in America for 2012

Who makes America's best pizza? The Daily Meal's panel of experts weighs in

Best Pizza in America
Fireside Pies
Burrata and basil pesto pizza from Fireside Pies in Dallas.

Pizza! If you grew up obsessed with it — postgame pizza, movie pizza, baby-sitting pizza, college pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza! — and followed that American passion for cheese, sauce, and bread with an adult pursuit of the best slice, the finest pie, the Platonic Neapolitan, then the idea of naming America's best is likely contentious.

Read more: America's 35 Best Pizzas Slideshow

"A best pizza list? I know pizza. That's not great pizza!" Yes, pizza is tough to rank responsibly. Consider that just years ago, The New York Times' then critic Sam Sifton said Motorino "serves the city’s best pizza." It was enough to make you roll your eyes and call him out for knowing better, right? City's best? Not its best artisanal or Neapolitan pie? What about its best slice? And what is a "best" slice or pie anyway? After all, you could argue that great pizza can be many different things.

Given America's current love affair for Neapolitan pies, some might argue great pizza must meet the requirements of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, the international nonprofit founded in the 1980s by a group of pizzaiolos to cultivate and protect the art of making Neapolitan pizza. Their rules? Fresh tomatoes as long as they’re San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P., Pomodorini di Corbara, and Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio D.O.P. Canned, peeled tomatoes (Pomodoro Pelato San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P.) as long as they’re strained, broken up, and homogenized. And depending on whether you’re making a Margherita or marinara, you ladle "sauce" (according to the organization's founder Antonio Pace, technically it’s not a sauce) on and top it with oil, mozzarella or fior di latte, grated cheese, and basil; or just tomato, oil, oregano, and garlic.

Things get more contentious.

Maybe great pizza means the use of the freshest ingredients and seasonal toppings? Does it involve a structural integrity to the underlying dough that ensures you can lift a slice without experiencing droopage? Is it an airy, charred cornicione that makes even the most ardent crust-chucker certain not to leave one pizza bone behind? Must it employ artisanal sausage, or does old-school pepperoni count? Does it involve fresh mozzarella? Or just the expert scattering and sauce to cheese ratio of good old-fashioned, low-moisture aged mozzarella and sauce made from canned San Marzano tomatoes? Does a bar pie count? And how do you stack those up against deep-dish pies?!

These are all questions you could get lost debating for hours. For me, great pizza doesn't include deep dish. That's not pizza. It's a casserole for crying out loud. Great pizza is a thin-crust New York slice right out of the oven that you can fold and that keeps its structural integrity despite the generous cheese, sauce, and orange oil on top about to burn the roof of your mouth that you're compelled to bite into anyway. It's a bar pie topped with hot pepper oil at Colony Grill in Stamford, Conn., or Eddie's in New Hyde Park — pizza so thin that it's more like a hot cracker with your favorite toppings. It's the best renditions of Long Island's much-overlooked pan-crisped genre: the grandma pie. It's the charred, airy crust of Da Michele that inspires devotion and poetry, and the renditions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City that aspire to and almost achieve that level of greatness. It's South Brooklyn Pizza (the East Village location), Little Vincent's incredibly saucy and bubble-crusted pie in Huntington, Long Island, Bianco's pistachio pie in Phoenix, and Great Lake's chewy crust in Chicago. For me, in its purest form, great pizza is fresh pizza: thin, cheesy, saucy, and with an airy bubbled crust. I could go on, but this isn't my list.

You could argue that all of these things should be taken into account when compiling a list. When it comes to pizza, there are so many nuances, there should be niche lists detailing the best in each category. The Daily Meal will take that approach next year. In 2012, we did the next best thing: we assembled a panel of experts across America, and asked them to vote for the country's best pies.

How did this list of 35 places come to be? The Daily Meal's editors racked their collective pizza memory. We consulted venerable texts and online sources, sought out old-school Formica-table joints and brazen newcomers alike. We carefully considered the stalwarts of the country's two pizza capitals, New York City and (cough) Chicago, but not so closely that we couldn't look beyond them. We ended up with a list of more than 140 places for pizza, most any of which, you'd be very happy with stopping in for a pie.

Knowing that it might still be possible to miss quite a few local gems across the country, we then asked each member of our panel to write in with five suggestions of their own. Altogether, we turned 140 places over to our panel and asked them narrow things down to five spots for each of seven regions: West Coast; Southwest and Texas; Midwest; South; Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; New England; and yes, New York City.

There were hundreds of votes cast by a venerable panel of about 20 American chefs, restaurant critics, and pizza authorities, most of whom, besides the Los Angeles Times' Jonathan Gold and Chicago Magazine's Penny Pollack, requested anonymity. These are people who, like you (and us) live and die pizza. And you know what? The results are probably going to really bubble your crust, and burn your upskirt. That's just the nature of a list like this.

Panelists voted on places that you'd expect to make a best pizza list, like Bianco in Phoenix, Di Fara in Brooklyn, Pizzeria Mozza in LA, New Haven's Frank Pepe, and Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. But they also put these places side by side with deep-dish pies in Chicago, and... wait, is that the jumbo slice from D.C? (Man, you've got to think that The Washington Post's Tom Sietsema and Tim Carman are going to be so mad.)

No $1-slice joints made the list. Neither probably, did several of your, or our favorites. Consider that in New York City alone, Roberta's, Kesté, Paulie Gee's, and South Brooklyn Pizza (that East Village outpost) didn't make the list. Neither did Pizza Moto (arguably, New York City's most underrated pizza — seriously, New York, how have you not acknowledged this as one of Gotham's best?).

That's the way these things go, until everyone can attest to having visited every reputable pizza place across the country. Below is the complete list of 2012's winners organized by region. Check out the slideshow for the countdown to number one. Think we missed a few great places? We're sure we did. Clue us in in the comments below and they'll be sure to be considered next year.

West Coast
Pizzeria Mozza, Una Pizza Napoletana, Gjelina, Flour + Water, A16

Southwest and Texas
Bianco, Pizaro's, Roppolo's, Antonio's Ristorante, Fireside Pies

Midwest
Gino's East, Great Lake, Spacca Napoli, Vito & Nick's, Pizano's

South
EVO, Monza, Scuola Vecchia, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, Reginelli's

Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and New Jersey
Osteria, 2Amys, DeLorenzo's, Jumbo Slice Pizza, Papa's Tomato Pies

New York
Co., DiFara, John's, Motorino, Joe's

New England
Frank Pepe's, Al Forno, Regina Pizzeria, Sally's Apizza, Santarpio's
 

Sean Flynn and Molly Aronica contributed reporting to this article.

Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.


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33 Comments

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Not one place in South Jersey!?! I've had pizza in about 20 states and there isn't anywhere better for a pie than Brooklyn or South Jersey (near the parkway). I would list some places, but don't have the time (It would be a 50 page book). Any pizza not on the East coast isn't even really a pizza.

okeydoke's picture

Leaving off Punch Pizza in Minneapolis-St. Paul is an egregious oversight.

mbodayle's picture

Nice story although I pretty much limit myself to New York - Style and think we should call those other kinds something else.

Please check out my site if you'd like:
www.thepizzasnob.net

mbodayle's picture

Nice story although I pretty much limit myself to New York - Style and think we should call those other kinds something else.

Please check out my site if you'd like:
www.thepizzasnob.net

tdm-35-icon.png

The fact that you included Gino's East and Pizano's on the list makes me question every other winner you have listed. Those places are beyond disgusting and any self respecting pizza person considers them barely edible. Great Lakes is amazing and the only decent pizza I have found yet after living in Chicago for a year, coming from NYC.

mbaruffi's picture

Defiantly keep your eye on Centro Woodfired Pizzeria in the small town of Cedar City, UT. Raving reviews from locals and travelers along the I15 corridor. Small creative menu with weekly special pizzas to keep it interesting. http://www.facebook.com/CentroPizzeria

jwchenard's picture

I agree with several comments. (1) You probably should have given Chicago its own list, since NYC got one. Providence deserves special mention for having a lot of great pizza too - glad you got one of their places on the list! (2) Pepe's in New Haven rocks! And don't miss the pic of President Reagan waving as he gets back in his limo after eating there. Classic. If you go, you need to understand that the 90 year old rude waitresses are part of the charm. (3) I'm now ridiculously hungry and leaving work early.

Also, thanks for the tip on Santarpio's. It's easily drivable from my house, and I've never tried it.

Finally, the article makes no mention of what we up here in Maine and NH call Greek-style pizza. Thicker, oily crust, more cheese than NY style. I suppose similar in many respects to 'deep dish' Chicago pizza. "Pizza by Alex" in my home town of Biddeford, Maine has made the best I've ever tasted of this style for decades, while also never changing their decor.

The nearest place that sells slices is a couple miles away. I'm outa here.

kennebunker's picture

I AM HAPPY TO SEE YOU MENTIONED PIZZA BY ALEX. I GREW UP EATING IT AND TO ME IT IS THE BEST PIZZA AND NO OTHER PIZZA COMPARES. I MOVED AWAY FROM MAINE 14 YEARS AGO AND THE FIRST THING I EAT WHEN I RETURN IS ALEX PIZZA, I CRAVE IT OFTEN.

tdm-35-icon.png

You missed Amore in Zionsville, IN. An outpost of NY style pizza in the Midwest, their Sicilian pie is to die for.

Gil Patino's picture

Gaby's Pizza is hands down best cheese slice in the U.S.! I'm not crazy about all the toppings, I think a cheese slice is all you need....but you have to try their chicken slice. Next to the traditional cheese slice its a winner. Try them out in Queens N.Y. They've been there since I was in Kindergarden and I'm 38....btw they were voted #1 in America on Rachel Ray's pizza challenge.

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Wooster Street in New Haven,Connecticut has Pepe`s and Sally`s.On State Street in New Haven there is Modern Pizza. All three are in a tie for best pizza in the WORLD. Remember,Frank Sinatra had a driver go to Sally`s to get pies when he was singing in New York.And the Pope had pies flown back to Italy from Pepe`s on his private jet. I`ve had Grimaldi`s in Brooklyn (disapointing) and deep dish in Chicago (DISGUSTING !!) No one comes close to Modern,Sally`s and Pepe`s.End of story.

JustSaying's picture

My favorite is DeLorenzo's in Trenton. My husband introduced me to their Pizza 22 years ago during a trip to his hometown...and I just have to keep going back. HaVe to eat there at least twice on each visit!

Laura's picture

I totally agree. Such good pizza. Best hands down.

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To whomever chose the best pizza....go to Fond du Lac WI and try Joe's Fox Hut on Main Street. It's the BEST thin crust pizza you'll ever have! Great pizza can come from small towns too!!! You won't regret the trip.

paulie's picture

Hilltop Pizza in Masury Ohio is the best pizza i ever ate, it only makes one size pizza but it is the best. They have been there since i was a kid about 60 years! Their pierogi pizza is unbelievable as is their mushroom sausage. (they make there own sausage)

tdm-35-icon.png

Pats pizza in chicago is best thin crust if you like crust like a cracker. Deep dish/stuffed I say Giodanos. I agree about this list being an epic fail. Pizza should be judged by a simple cheese pie or sausage pie. Food critics go back to your 5 star joints, b/c you shouldn't be judging food for the common man

rabbie48's picture

I have lived all over the world and had Pizza everywhere. I'm pure Italian and I say the person did not have Dough's Pizza. It's the best I ever had. I have also been in the food and beverage business for more than 40 years. The best!! The best!!

tdm-35-icon.png

The powers that be have obviously never eaten in the Pizza Capital of the World....Old Forge, PA!!! The White Pizza is to die for!!

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You got that right. Old Forge, PA has the best Pizza in the world. If you haven't had Old Forge Pizza, you haven't had the best.

saint04's picture

I don't know how Deninos in Staten Island NY didn't make the cut. I'd take that every day of the week over Di Fara and twice on Sunday. To each his own

Arthur Bovino's picturetdm-35-icon.png

Actually, yes. Been there... done that!

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I've lived mostly in NYC for decades while traveling around the country and beyond as a musician. Di Fara's has been my favorite pizzeria all that time - with no competition at all! I generally like it plain - no meats or special toppings. Such things only detract from the perfection which are Dom's slices and squares. When I've been out "on the road" and come home to New York, one of the first things I do is visit Di Farra Pizzeria. Every bite makes me think I died and went to heaven! I've introduced many of my friends and family to Di Fara and all agree - it's the best by far! Many of them now travel many hundreds of miles for the experience of having really great pizza. God Bless Dominic DiMarco and his children who help him create such a wonderful pleasure!

lightspeed's picture

AVE J...ITS THE SPOT.GET THERE EARLY ..AVE J BKLYN...

EverydayMaven's picture

DeLorenzo's in Trenton is one of the places I miss the most since moving from the East Coast. Love this article!

Ital.Food.Lover's picture

Really Cool Reviews. Now I am starving. If any of y'all ever get to New Braunfels, TX there is a little pizza place there called "Di' Homemade". It is all homemade and the owner runs the whole show. Alot of readers in the Houston-SA-AUS TX areas may remember her old place in used to be in Canyon Lake. Its cheap and magnifico!

tdm-35-icon.png

If there was ever and "epic fail" list for lists, this one would be on it. I suggest actually visiting Chicago next time. Gino's East is where we send the tourists and there is a reason no one has ever heard of Great Lakes Pizza. C'mon guys.

tdm-35-icon.png

I agree with you regarding Great Lakes, putting that place on this list is really moronic. Gino's
East has no business being on this list. Whoever came up with "Gino’s may be the ultimate in Chicago deep-dish," needs a lobotomy. Without a doubt, Giordano's is the deep dish pizza champ in Chicago.

Arthur Bovino's picturetdm-35-icon.png

Bet you've never been...

trex66's picture

You are ignoring the huge difference between Chicago and NY pizza. Not talking about deep dish but you will never find a thick crust Sicilian, Calzone or a Stromboli in the windy city. The thin crust pizza in Chicago is always made with a sheeter, never hand thrown. This makes the crust turn into hard tack, like a cracker. To further distance the midwest pizza from the NY style they also cut the pie into squares(yes) and put the toppings under the cheese... You like what you grow up eating so in Chicago they love their pizza, but me being from the East coast, the pizza here is uneatable.

brookeryanlee4's picture

I think next year the place to check out is Jims Pizza in Kendallville, IN! The whole town loves it! It is only open Thursday-Sunday and I have never eaten ANY pizza that can top it and that includes Chicago pizza:)

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