101 Best Pizzas in America 2013 (Slideshow)
You have to give credit to a town that calls itself the "Pizza Capital of the World," especially if no one would have heard of it otherwise. Not Naples, Italy. Not New York City or Brooklyn, not Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New Haven. Nope, Old Forge, Pa., claims this distinction, and on placards for the town no less. Some six places — Anthony's, Arcaro & Genell, Brutico's, Revello's, Rinaldi's, and Ghigiarelli’s — make up the roster of pizzerias that constitute this, ahem, gutsy claim. This Twilight Zone of pizza, this pizza capital of its own style, may as well be a different country, too — they even have their own pizza language. Order by color (red or white) or by the cut or by the tray. The mysterious cheese combination that covers the pizza in Old Forge is an enigmatic brick cheese that coats your teeth and tongue in a both curiously comforting and puzzling way. The white pizza is calzone-like in that it has crust on top and bottom, but the way to go here is the red pizza.
"La who? La Piazza as in the Mario Batali enoteca in Eataly?" Manhattanites may ask, confused about something Strong Islanders already know well. Nope. Look east to the neighborhood Italian-American restaurant chain with three locations (Plainview, Melville, and Merrick). Notes Newsday, "If there's any eatery that defines family dining on Long Island, it's the neighborhood destination for Italian-American favorites, including pizza, pasta, panini, and here, a category devoted exclusively to 'Parmigiana.' La Piazza knows what it's doing — and does it well." It’s true. It’s become trendy to upscale Italian-American menus, but there’s something to be said for the unadulterated original when it’s done well, and when it comes to La Piazza’s grandma pie, that’s the case. Pizza snobs may sneer, but they will likely do so without having visited most of the curators of Long Island’s great unheralded pizza style. Yes, Carlino's, Ancona, and Cugini, deserve shout-outs, and almost made the cut, but La Piazza deserves a round of applause for their version of grandma pie — a heavily sauced crispy-crunch brown pan-cooked short crust with an almost equal ratio of shredded mozzarella. Now that’s Italian-American!
Sometimes it’s best to let a place speak for itself. So it is with Michigan institution Cloverleaf Pizza, which notes: "In 1946 pizza wasn’t being served at many places in Detroit but soon many took their first bite of what is now famously known as Detroit-style pizza when Cloverleaf founder Gus Guerra and his wife Anna (Passalacqua) first introduced her mother’s recipe — the thick-crusted, square pie topped first with a layer of cheese followed with a layer of tomato sauce — at their first bar Buddy’s Rendezvous. Gus Guerra sold Buddy’s in 1953 along with his pizza recipe and purchased Cloverleaf Bar in East Detroit, now known as the City of Eastpointe. Cloverleaf has grown from a small neighborhood bar which Gus described as looking like 'a little white farm house' into the Eastside institution it is today."
Zio’s is an institution — the place Omaha natives (at least those who graduated from Godfathers) will likely acknowledge as the spot where they first had pizza "by the slice, East Coast-style, yo!" Opened in Omaha's Midtown in 1985 by Daniel and Usha Sherman, Zio’s serves New York-style, hand-stretched, thin-crust pizzas made from scratch each day. Over the years, it has expanded into two other locations (one in the earnest and lovely Downtown Old Market, the other in West Omaha) and moved each again to accommodate the crowds that keep coming to fill up the family-friendly spots (it's the kind of restaurant where they give dough to the kids to play with at the table). And along with the crowds come the accolades. As its website proudly declares, it’s the "recipient of more than 33 best pizza awards." Go Big Red!
New Orleans is known for its gumbo and po’boys, but in 1996 the city was introduced to a soon-to-be local favorite with the opening of Reginelli’s Pizzeria. Darryl Reginelli and Bruce Erhardt offer a varied menu that includes much more than pizza, but the pies are what keep people coming back. "The goal of Reginelli’s Pizzeria was to add some variety and sense of humor to the New Orleans 'eating out' experience," according to their website. Customers start with either a 14- or 10-inch pie and can build from scratch what they want for their ideal pizza. Reginelli’s offers nearly 35 toppings, among them: black olives, roasted garlic, artichokes, eggplant, goat cheese, gorgonzola, chicken, portobellos, and pancetta. If that’s too many for you to choose from, go with the Classic Combo (marinara sauce, pepperoni, mozzarella, white onion, mushrooms, green pepper, black olives, and Italian sausage).
"Best Pizza," "Pizza Delicious" — it almost seems as though some of the new guard pizza parlors are being named in ways to optimize how high up they’ll show in your Google results these days. But New Orleans’ Pizza Delicious doesn’t need a search-engine-optimized name to get people talking about it; there’s been an amazing amount of buzz around and support for this Kickstarter success story since two New York-native Tulane grads started their pop-up turned brick-and-mortar Bywater institution in 2010. The one-time one-day-a-week operation is now open Tuesday through Sunday, providing those in the New York pizza diaspora with their fix for slices from 18-inch pies in what they know of as the one true style, and preaching the faith to newcomers with cheese and pepperoni slices and special pies like the Amatriciana and eggplant Parmesan.
Take a pinch of Di Fara’s Dom DeMarco, add a dash of the murals of Gino’s of Long Beach, stretch the amount of un-sauced classic Coney Island Totonno's crust a bit wider, add in a few intangibles, and you may just be getting close to the pizza experience that Mark Iacono has become famous for in his Carroll Gardens pizzeria Lucali since opening it in 2006. The crust has that classic New York thin-crust style with whispers and echoes of the old-school execution praised at the city’s most storied and beloved institutions past and present. Eating a pizza in the warm, softly lit environs of Lucali, you wonder how Iacono magically and mysteriously inherited from Gennaro Lombardi pizza primogeniture. Iacono, who survived a serious stabbing a few years ago that left him as late as last year with no feeling in about 50 percent of his body, hasn’t seemed to slow down, continuing to draw crowds and fans at the original Brooklyn spot, and is experiencing the same accolades in his much newer Miami location.
Portland’s third pizzeria on this list (four technically by name if you count the Portland outpost of Seattle’s Via Tribunali, go Portland!), is just a few years old, but it’s been mentioned as one of the city’s best pizzerias, in the same breath as another great pizzeria on this list, Ken’s, since about just as long. They didn’t start out with a pizzeria, of course. Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty was the 2010 follow-up to the closing of their much-beloved fine dining spot Lovely Hula Hands, and is an enterprise that the owners were inspired to create not by a trip to Italy, as no small number on this list have been, but by meeting Portland transplant and former San Francisco pizza stalwart Gialina Pizzeria (yet another very valid 101 contender) chef James Albee. Lovely’s generously topped pies are marked by thick puffy crusts and some say extreme devotion to seasonality. As their "market-to-table" philosophy means the same pies won't always be on the menu, a recommendation can’t be guaranteed, but you’ve got a guarantee just walking in the door that whether it's topped with summer squash, chanterelles, kale, or roasted potatoes, you’re going to be settling into one great pizza.
Via Tribunali opened its first pizzeria in Capitol Hill in 2004 to great success and praise, serving Neapolitan-style pies hot and fast with beautiful and puffy crusts and a variety of toppings (more than 20 combinations). The forces behind Via Tribunali’s success are caffeine king Michael McConnell (he of Seattle Cafe Vita fame) and pizza masters Nico Calzone and Gennaro Nasti, who Tribunali jokes they met down a dark Neapolitan street and then whisked to the airport. But the pizzas do all the talking. While perhaps not quite as puffy on the outer rim as a Motorino or Co., these personal-sized pies are delicious whether you order the margherita or the namesake specialty pie featuring provola, ricotta, rapini, sausage, cherry tomatoes, arugula, fresh mozzarella, basil, and Grana Padano.
There are styles of pizza so synonymous with the area they’re from that many outsiders will forever struggle to comprehend. For New Yorkers that’s Chicago deep-dish, for late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, apparently that’s St. Louis-style. Not long ago he had St. Louis native and Mad Men star Jon Hamm on Jimmy Kimmel Live, during which he told Hamm that Imo's was terrible, a "terrible, terrible pizza place." Hamm defended the pizza, noting that the middle slice is the best one, and saying you could "taste the Gateway Arch" and its 11 World Series titles in an Imo’s slice (square cut, of course) and going so far as to say he’d take Imo’s over Kimmel’s own. If you haven’t tasted it for yourself, you’ll need to before weighing in. While its thin and unleavened crackery crust is almost like one you’ll find in a bar pie, it’s generally known to be a bit sweeter than typical bar pies, and meant more than anything else to act as a vehicle for the unique cheese topping that makes St. Louis style unlike any other slice you’ll have ever tried.
Maligned (and often unknown) outside St. Louis and beloved by residents of the city, the key to St. Louis-style pizza is Provel, a white processed cheese said to be a combination of Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone invented in the city’s Italian neighborhood shortly after World War II. Just as you’ll get different stories about who exactly invented Provel, the origin of the style is also debated. Imo’s is widely credited, but Farotto’s, which is said to have opened in 1956, eight years before Ed and Margie Imo opened Imo’s, has its own claim. Whichever story you choose to believe, you can’t deny one thing, Imo’s, with its more than 90 stores, has popularized a unique, love-it-or-hate-it pie you have to try at least once. Menus vary because each is independently owned, but the Deluxe should be pretty easy to find, and is a good place to start: sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, bacon, and of course, Provel.
Every native Philadelphian has a love/hate relationship with the tourist trap that is South Street. While the drinks are overpriced and the shops are kitschy, South Street is most likely where you spent your teenage years seeing bands, visiting novelty shops, and getting a slice from Lorenzo’s. A no-frills, all-flavor pizza experience, Lorenzo and Sons wouldn’t hesitate to toss you to the curb if you asked for anything other than a cheese pizza. There is nowhere to sit. You can’t use the restroom. And most likely, you waited in line for 30 minutes before even placing your order. But when you’re selling slices the size of a customer’s face for three bucks a pop that are absolute perfection every time, you have some wiggle room to be gruff. In 2012 the beloved pizza joint burnt down from what the fire department said was an issue with the wiring in the ceiling above the oven and grill exhaust duct on the first floor, but has since been rebuilt and is still selling those cheap, delicious slices (with the prideful worst service) to this day.
Lorenzo and Sons
"Please keep in mind we are a one-man, one-oven operation," notes The Original Tacconelli’s website. "Waiting time may vary." Indeed, this is Philadelphia’s pizzeria célèbre, so expect a wait to match. Especially if you haven’t reserved your dough, in which case you may be waiting until the next day (Tacconelli’s advises that the best time to call is between Wednesday and Sunday after 10 a.m.). It may not always have been this complicated to get a Tacconelli’s pie (you have to assume times were simpler back in 1946 when it started serving pizza), but most who have will tell you it’s worth the effort.
There are four pies listed on the menu: Tomato (no cheese), Regular (a little cheese and sauce), White (salt, pepper, cheese, and garlic), and the Margerita (fresh basil and mozzarella). These are wide crusts, liberally sauced and topped, and not uniformly presented. You can choose from a list of toppings to customize your pies (spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, sweet peppers, anchovies, onions, prosciutto, basil, and extra cheese), just keep in mind that there’s a three topping max on each pie, and that some have noted that the owner sometimes prefers to limit it to two. The move here may be the "Signature," which may not be listed: white pizza with spinach and chunks of tomato and garlic. Either way, you may want to bring more folks so you can order more pies. Just a thought.
It’s tough to explain Gino’s better than Esca chef Dave Pasternack did to Ed Levine in his book Slice of Heaven when he gave the following advice: "Buy a round-trip ticket to Long Beach. The ticket includes a beach bass, so it’s a really good deal. Get off the train, and walk across the street to Gino’s for a slice. Nice, crisp crust, not too thick and not too much cheese." This is a place with amazing murals inside, a place that still packs during the winter, a pizzeria that families come into from the beach during the summer that serves something for everyone, and has been for some 50 years, but most singularly pizza. There’s the Special with sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, onion, mozzarella, and tomato sauce, but the grandma is exemplary, and the Crostino, a thin-crust pan pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and basil drizzled with balsamic glaze isn’t a pizza you’ve likely experienced anywhere else.
It was a tragedy when chef Joaquin Baca’s Brooklyn Star, a very promising restaurant, suffered a damaging fire. But the Star found another great spot, and when the Brooklyn Star space reopened as a new concept, it did so with what has become one of Brooklyn’s, one of New York City’s, and one of the country’s great slices. Seriously. In a city known for great slices, one where nostalgia can’t hide the fact that the state of the slice isn’t what it used to be, one where dollar-slices have perverted what was once an art form, this joint venture between Brooklyn Star and Bushwick pizza paradise Roberta’s reverses the tide. Pizza man Frank Pinello, a Culinary Institute of America graduate with proper bona fide slide experience, puts out super-thin crispy slices, the kinds that fire off synapses that at least make you believe this is how it always was everywhere. The white pizza is a great move, but so is the grandma slice, and so is the plain slice. It’s just out of range of bar-pie thin, with an almost equal ratio of tangy sauce and cheese — a slice that folded in a paper plate, the way it’s supposed to be done, is the perfect New York en route meal, you know, the way it always was done before the average New York slice tasted like cardboard. Thank you, Frank.
If you’re from a certain part of Northern New Jersey, there’s about a 100 percent chance that you’ve heard of Spirito’s, and an equally good chance that you’ve been there. Owned and operated by the Spirito family since it opened in 1932, the dim, wood-paneled Spirito’s is a restaurant where time — and the menu — stands still. Crowds gather nightly for three equally legendary menu items: ethereally light homemade ravioli, swimming in marinara; veal Parm that’s so big it doesn’t fit on the plate it’s served on; and, of course, the pizza: a thin, crisp crust, an oregano-heavy sauce, and just the right amount of cheese make this pizza one that mercifully won’t fill you up after a slice or two, even if you top it with sausage and pepperoni (which you should do). That’s a good thing, because you’re going to want some ravioli, too. And veal Parm. A couple of things to know before going: it’s cash-only, and you have to bring your own butter for the bread. Why? Because that’s the way it is.
To paraphrase The Star-Ledger's Peter Genovese (but flip the compliment), perhaps the only thing harder than making a best New York or New Haven list is making a best New Jersey pizza list. Genovese did an admirable job this year after Thrillist's 33 Best Pizzas in America included just two Jersey pizzerias (Razza in Jersey City and Conte's in Princeton), listing 16 great places he thought they missed (though Pete, there was no absence of Italians in Missouri). Among these notable pizzerias was Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza in Metuchen, which serves a deep-dish margherita, "not deep-dish like Chicago, but deep enough," notes Genovese, "a tomatoey, crusty winner." The Daily Meal’s panel agreed, singling out the Capricciosa (prosciutto, capers, artichoke hearts, red onion, marinara, mozzarella, and oregano) among Antonio’s best pies.
Antonio's Brick Oven Pizza
Galleria Umberto in Boston’s North End is generally lost among Boston’s more well-known pies like Santarpio’s and Regina. That’s probably fine as far as most locals are concerned, because there’s usually a line outside for these thick, over-the-edge-of-the-pan cheesy, saucy, completely over-the-top and enjoyably so Sicilian slices anyway. That’s right, that’s the only pizza option, the Sicilian. And while they open at 11 a.m., they close at 2:30 p.m. (or whenever they run out of dough), so don’t delay.
Gennaro Lombardi’s influence was so strong that his shop on Spring Street almost directly resulted in what’s generally accepted as one of, if not the best, pizzas in Las Vegas. Founders John Arena and Sam Facchini's grandparents settled just 50 yards away from Lombardi’s, and "ever since those early days, pizza has been at the center of [their] family life" (their parents’ first jobs were feeding coal into the bakery ovens where Sicilian pizzas were made for local immigrant families in the neighborhood). Metro Pizza (which was born in 1980 as Original New York Pizza and was renamed in 1986 when they expanded beyond the first location) has been making fine handcrafted pies with freshly made dough each day and superior ingredients for more than 30 years. There are now six locations putting out more pies than you can get through in 10 sittings. Among the specialty pies the Milano (a white pie with mozzarella, ricotta, and garlic) is worth noting, so too a specialty pie and Metro Pizza original that along with mozzarella and ricotta, features ziti. Of course, you’ll want to give a nod to at least one of the six "East Side Pizzas" named for New York City streets like Mulberry, Mott, and Bleecker.
By now, most pizza lovers know what a grandma pie is, or have at least heard of what you could argue was one of the modern era’s first secret menu options. But just because it has become more well-known doesn’t mean everyone knows how to make a great grandma pie. Those looking to establish a baseline with the genuine article will still want to visit Long Island. For the uninitiated, the well-known report by Erica Marcus is the best primer. The short version goes thusly. In the 1970s, a home-style pan pizza surfaced at Umberto’s of New Hyde Park, where Umberto Corteo (from Monte di Procida near Naples) and his brother Carlo would make the pizza "Mama used to make" for themselves. They served it to friends but didn’t put it on the menu. The brothers opened satellite pizzeria King Umberto with another Corteo brother, which upon his retirement was sold to two Umberto’s employees. Two pizza makers that they hired who’d gotten their start at the original Umberto’s saw the potential of the grandma pie and put it on the menu. You have them to thank for this light, thin, crispy-chewy pie with light crushed tomato sauce and a scattering of mozzarella, that every pizza-proud Long Islander knows is better than Sicilian, better than deep-dish, heck, better than many pizzas you’ll find in Manhattan.
Ask anyone where to go for pizza in Anchorage and you’ll likely be directed to the renowned Midtown Anchorage nightlife spot Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria — the same pizza place that has been locals’ go-to since the late 1990s when fellow rock climbers Rod Hancock and Matt Jones, despite having virtually no restaurant experience, launched a 30-table restaurant serving draft beer and stone-baked pizzas. Now, Moose’s Tooth is regularly noted by publications looking to cast a wide net as among the best pizzerias in the country. These days, the menu features almost 40 pizzas with names just as creative as their topping combinations, but the Avalanche is their most well-known, featuring barbecue sauce, mozzarella, provolone, Cheddar, red onions, blackened chicken, and bacon — a pizza that will need a similarly signature beverage, say the house-brewed and assertively hopped Fairweather IPA.
Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria
It may not have invented Detroit-style pizza (essentially a Sicilian pie, but with more cheese, and the sauce on top) — that's generally attributed to being born at Buddy’s in 1946 — but Niki’s, which is located in the heart of Detroit’s Greektown district, sure knows how to make it well. The edge gets that thin quasi-fried crispiness characteristic of the style while the rest is soft, and there’s a creamy tanginess that the feta adds to cheese.
Yes, Supino, Buddy's, Green Lantern Lounge, and several other great Detroit metro area pizzerias were presented to be voted on by this year’s panel, and they’re all worth searching out, but up-and-comer Mani Osteria & Bar edged them all this year (and Niki’s, which did make this year’s list). Mani, which Food & Wine noted as one of America’s Best New Pizza Places in the Midwest not long ago, is the brainchild of Ann Arbor native Adam Baru, who, after working under restaurateur Danny Meyer and two Food Network Iron Chefs chef Morimoto and chef Jose Garces, returned home and turned a rent-to-own furniture store into what some have started calling one of the country’s best Italian restaurants. One reason why? The beautiful leopard-spotted crusts around the edges of the 12-inch Neapolitan pies churned out of Mani’s wood-fired ovens. There’s a clam pie (in case anyone thought New Haven cornered this market), an interesting burrata and balsamic pizza, and nuanced pies that use ingredients like scamorza, chile pesto, and black truffles, but the pepperoni is the Mani signature that most patrons order.
Mani Osteria & Bar
In a city dedicated to deep-dish pies, this family-owned restaurant has been serving up thin-crust pizzas to Chicago residents for decades, and as the note on their website demonstrates ("If you don’t know about us, you will"), the owners are fairly confident in their popularity. The thin-crust, tasty sausage, and generous cheese and sauce covering will likely leave you in agreement.
Vito & Nick’s
It wasn’t enough for Chicago to invent its own style of pizza — the casserole version affectionately known as deep-dish — no, they invented two. The recipe for Giordano's stuffed pizza is one that the restaurant claims has evolved during more than 200 years, beginning outside Turin where Mama Giordano, "famous around town for her exquisite cooking," was most well-known for her most beloved meal. Her "Italian Easter Pie" became a double-crusted, ricotta-stuffed tradition in the Giordano family, one that Italian immigrants Efren and Joseph Boglio, the original owners of Giordano’s, used in 1974, on Chicago’s historic south side, when they opened their first pizzeria. The stuffed pie features a thin bottom crust topped with nearly an inch of cheese and toppings that are then topped by an even thinner layer of crust, which is then topped with a slightly chunky tomato sauce. Whether or not you believe anything this thick is served in Italy and claimed there to be Italian, there are now some 40 locations in Chicago (and three in Florida) serving this version of stuffed pizza.
You don’t head out to Gravesend, Brooklyn, and just to go to L&B Spumoni. Well, maybe you do if you’re filming a scene in a movie there — it’s that kind of New York City institution. It’s just that at that point, if you’re a pizza fanatic, you’re so close to both Di Fara and Totonno’s that it just wouldn’t be right not to visit them, too (say nothing of the roast beef pit stops at Brennan & Carr and Roll-N-Roaster that you’ll have to ignore). Started in 1938 by Ludovico Barbati, an immigrant from Torella Di Lombardi (about an hour east of Naples), the L&B Spumoni tradition began with Barbati learning how to make pizza in a garage, then peddling it in a horse and wagon until settingup at its current spot on 86th Street in Brooklyn. L&B Spumoni Gardens is now in its fourth generation, still serving its signature thin-crust Sicilian-style square pies with just a light coating of mozzarella paired with its tomato sauce. Some would argue that L& B should be renamed I&O for "Inside Out" pizza — square thin slices of tomato pies with a dusting of Parmesan cheese on top. What can’t be argued is that you have to take your slices and eat them outside, and that you shouldn’t leave without having some spumoni for dessert. Some would say it’s better than the pizza.
It won’t surprise Bostonites to hear others say that theirs is a great city for pizza, usually when mentioning Santarpio’s and Regina in the same breath, but it probably doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. One of the newer breed of pizzerias working to change that is chef-owner Rick Katz’s South End spot Picco, though at this point, almost 10 years after first opening and all the buzz and awards (among them Boston magazine's Best High-Brow Pizza nod in 2013), Picco has practically become an institution. It’s easy to see why. The pizza at Picco (an acronym for Pizza and Ice Cream Company), which is cooked at about 600 degrees in a gas-fired oven, is thin and artful, and rounded by airy, though somewhat powdery crusts (think more Totonno’s in appearance). Pizzas are cooked well done, so the restaurant recommends you let your server know if you’d prefer them "lightly cooked." Either way, it will arrive bubbling and hot at your table, one of the city’s gems. As much as it may pain chef Katz and his crew to admit it, the margherita and pepperoni pies are typically Picco’s best-sellers on the eight-pie menu, but do him a favor, and yourself a solid, by also ordering his Alsatian pizza, their version of France’s tarte flambé (sautéed onions, shallots, garlic, crème fraîche, bacon, and Gruyère), and finishing off your meal with the "Adult" Ice Cream Soda, raspberry Belgian lambic poured over vanilla ice cream.
Apart from being visually stunning, this food truck from Jonathan Darsky, the former pizzaiolo of the acclaimed Flour + Water in San Francisco (he left in 2010), is one of the first to offer a wood-burning mobile pizza oven. The truck is crafted out of a 20-foot transatlantic shipping container that’s been fitted with glass windows and doors on one side so that diners can watch their pizza being made in the 5,000-pound Stefano Ferrara oven. Del Popolo is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, and its schedule sometimes changes at the last minute, so you’ll want to check for its daily updates on Twitter before seeking out its four signature pies: Margherita (tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella), Bianca (fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, basil, garlic, and olive oil), Meat (tomato, mozzarella, fennel sausage, and Hungarian goathorn peppers), and Potato (fresh mozzarella, French fingerling potatoes, and rosemary). Along with Pizza Moto and Roberta’s in New York City, and other up-and-coming mobile pizza operations that have been popping up over the past five years, Del Popolo shows you don’t need to be brick-and-mortar to make great pies, you just need the bricks.
De Lorenzo’s serves up some serious tradition with their pies — 65 years' worth. Customers can top their small or large tomato pies by selecting from a range of different toppings including anchovies, artichokes, spinach, sausage, and pepperoni. De Lorenzo’s also offers a clam pie, albeit one with tomato sauce. New Haven pizza purists, beware! You may want to stick with their signature tomato pie (mozzarella and tomato sauce).
In 2000, Jim Lahey built the Sullivan Street Bakery headquarters in Hell’s Kitchen, where he became known not just for his bread, but for his Roman-style pizza. To most pizza-loving Americans, Sullivan St.'s pizza will really seem like more of a focaccia than a pizza. Consider the Pizza Bianca, a 6-foot-long light, airy, hand-formed flatbread that’s porous, bubbly, and accented with olive oil, coarse sea salt, and rosemary. But if you dig dough over the sauce and cheese with olive oil and your full daily requirement of fresh rosemary, then this is the "pizza" for you. If you’re looking for a bit more of a flavor profile, Sullivan St. does also fold in 13-month-old Sardinian sheep's milk cheese in its Bianca con Pecorino, serve a Pizza Funghi with cremini, a Pizza Patatewith thin-sliced potato and onion, a zucchini and Gruyère pie, and a thin-crust Pizza Pomodoro with tomato, olive oil, and salt with slightly burned edges.
Sullivan Street Bakery
There was a stir not long ago, when a few months after Zagat released its unranked survey of its 16 highest nationally rated pizzerias (a tallied score that combines food, décor, service, and price), that Michael’s Pizzeria in Long Beach was being bandied about in conversations about America’s best pizza. You can’t fault Michael Dene, the Brooklyn-born businessman whose parents hailed from Naples, for trying to capitalize on the publicity. And you’ll want to give a nod of approval to Dene for his aspirations to serve a "paper-thin crust whose edges bubbled up into soft, crisp pockets of salty air," and a "sauce so flavorful it could stand as a topping all on its own and cheese so fresh it simply had to be made by hand each morning." But claims that Michael’s (founded in 2010) is top in the U.S. may have been a bit premature (though it seems he's ready to take on all comers). If you want to see for yourself, try the Margherita D.O.P (tomato, house-made mozzarella, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil).
Chef and company founder Anthony Bruno brings classic flavors with an urban spin to pizza lovers with Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza at his 42 different locations spanning Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. The pizza is cooked at 800 degrees in a coal-burning oven for a crisp crust that provides a "well done favor," the chain’s trademark phrase. Unlike many restaurants on this list, Anthony’s was inspired by Brooklyn-style pizzerias that value ambiance almost as much as the taste of the pie. Bruno opened his first location in South Florida and quickly expanded throughout the state before taking its exceptional pepperoni pie national.
Some have noted the dough can get a bit dense and chewy, and there are those who would argue that Atlanta’s pizza newcomers like Antico and Varasano’s have far surpassed this institution, but these New York-style slices still have appeal. Here’s what you need to do with anyone who takes issue with this pick: Ask them to take you to each of the others they suggest are better all in the same day some Friday night after work, and end your day with a few drinks and a Fellini’s Special (pepperoni, mushrooms, Italian sausage, onions, meatballs, green peppers, black olives, green olives, and extra cheese). As many local pizza joints across America will similarly echo in the face of the Neapolitan fascination, this landmark still has a few tricks up its sleeve — namely, a truly satisfying end-of-night slice.
The original Nunzio’s started out in 1942 in South Beach at the corner of Sand Lane and Father Capodanno Boulevard, but was moved in 1960 to its current spot on the corner of Midland and Hylan. Its current owner Robert Whiteaker, whose grandfather bought it from Nunzio, has kept the tradition alive even through the trials of the last year, where most of whatever physical remnants of those traditions were swept away by Hurricane Sandy, when saltwater mixed with sewage "rushed in over Nunzio’s countertops, flooded the large kitchen, heavily damaged the 75-seat dining room, and ripped off part of the roof." All told, Sandy destroyed four pizza ovens, six refrigerators, four freezers, stoves and deep-fryers, stainless-steel tables, computers, and $18,000 of fully stocked food and supplies. SILive.com reported that Nunzio’s lost at least $150,000. But back it is, just as it should be, serving its some 20 pies. Ask any native Staten Islander and they’ll tell you Nunzio’s has a great square slice, "Like, beyond great," but they also serve a fantastic classic slice with a dead-on mozzarella-to-sauce ratio. But there’s also a great jalapeño pie, a vodka sauce pizza, Buffalo chicken with blue cheese, and both a white clam and red clam pizza. If all this sounds too much, start with the classic Polly-O pie with fresh mozzarella.
Not that anyone was really complaining, but Connecticut Shoreline institution Alforno in Old Saybrook got a renovation two years ago to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The New York Times noted Alforno’s bigger tables and more comfortable chairs, and a revamped menu that included several new family-style appetizers and the option of ordering allpastas as small plates. But the same New Haven-style brick-oven pizzas served by owners Bob Zemmel and Linda Giuca continue, with a menu that includes their Pizza Napolitano Vera ("True Naples Original Pizza"), which they proudly note they’re certified to serve you, but there are also Alforno’s specialty white pizzas with diced mozzarella, olive oil, and Romano, and pies with caramelized onions, bacon, broccoli, and barbecue chicken
Boulder isn’t the first place you’d look for one of America’s best Italian restaurants, so it likely won’t be the first city you’d seek out one of its best pizzerias. But it shouldn’t be last. The philosophy of chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey’s Italian restaurant in the Rockies’ shadow is based on the local restaurants innortheast Italy’s subalpine region. The same commitment to great food at their restaurant Frasca is applied to the pizzas at next door’s Pizzeria Locale (their kitchens even actually connect), a contemporary pizzeria inspired by the traditional pizzerias of Naples. In contrast to the quiet greatness inside Frasca, there’s a din inside Pizzeria Locale, an exciting energy and buzz and the smell of great pizza in the air and beautiful photos on the walls (photographer David Woody accompanied the Frasca folks to Naples as they refined their pizza-making skills). There are five white pies, and twice as many red ones, with mushrooms, speck, prosciutto, pepperoni, zucchini, salame, and the like making them all worthwhile endeavors, but this far from Naples you’re going to want to feel at home, so you’ll be ordering the margherita.
Having opened in 2008, Seattle’s Flying Squirrel Pizza Co. is a fairly recent addition to the national pizza scene. But it isn’t wasting any time; the Squirrel, the dream of Bill Coury, a one-time manager in Starbucks’ music division who’d been laid off, is a beloved pizzeria that has spawned two other spots and plenty of local love. The tossed-to-order, gas oven-cooked, New York-style pizzas feature a dizzying array of some 30 high-quality (organic and local when possible) ingredients and locally farmed vegetables, including cured toppings from Zoe's Meats and Salumi Artisan Cured Meats. There are 10 classic pies, and an additional 11 fan favorites feature musical names like Count Basil, The R.E.M., and The Booker T., but you’ll want to check out No. 3: house-made pork sausage, chopped fresh garlic, mozzarella, and sauce. Anyway, how can you not love a pizzeria that loves mixtapes? Yes, cassettes. Notes the restaurant, "All of the music played at the Squirrel is from mixtapes made by our employees and customers."
Tomasso’s has been a San Francisco institution in North Beach since, well, forever. It was opened as Lupo’s in 1935 by the Cantolupo family, immigrants from Naples, with what it claims was the first wood-fired brick pizza oven on the West Coast. It changed hands when the family retired in 1971 and gave Lupo’s to longtime chef Tommy Chin, who started working there the year after it opened. Chin may have preserved the restaurant’s traditions, but he changed the name, and though he stayed on to teach them the restaurant’s classic recipes, he sold it two years later to the Crotti family. Tomasso’s has been a family-owned and operated joint ever since. These days, the pizzeria has been accused of serving a very cheesy pie. So if that’s not your thing, be forewarned, but you’ll find few people who will argue the strength of the sauce, or that Tomasso’s is a worth the visit to sample one of their almost 20 pies, among them their self-proclaimed most popular, the mushroom and sliced Italian sausage pie.
With its colorful murals and delicious pies, Minneapolis’ Fat Lorenzo’s, the original and a "standard for the Twin Cities," is a unique dining experience that’s tough to match. As its motto goes, it has been "Italian in a big way," proud of serving its New York-style pizza since 1987. While the restaurant offers great pies including the Fat’s (Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, black and green olives), the Alfrenzo (with Alfredo sauce, chicken, artichokes, roasted red peppers, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, and provolone), and even the New Haven (inspired by Connecticut’s famous clam pizza, theirs is topped with baby clams in a rich herb sauce and finished with asiago). In fact, Minnesota Monthly just noted it among the 12 Best Old School Pizzerias in the Twin Cities). But when asked, Fat Lorenzo’s named their classic cheese pie as one you can’t beat, and this year’s panel agreed.
The menu at Rizzo’s Fine Pizza has undergone quite an extensive evolution considering that when brothers Joseph and Salvatore Rizzo and their brother-in-law Hugo Lupi opened the small pizza shop in Astoria, Queens, in 1959, they made only one type of pie, their square rendition, and offered no toppings. While there are now three locations (two in Manhattan) and they’ve considerably expanded the options (there are now more than 30 pie options), their commitment to the thin, crisp, sauced slices that made them famous has not flagged (their Twitter hashtag is #thinisin). For all the different pies offered, consider the classic pepperoni, which has served Rizzo’s and all its fans a long way for a long time.
Rizzo's Fine Pizza
Antico Pizza Napoletana may only be open a few years, but that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to discussions about the best pizza in Atlanta. Giovanni Di Palma’s Antico is generally considered by most Atlantans as the city’s best pizza, and many of them would argue it’s among the top in the country. And it’s difficult to argue, as their classic pepperoni with a thick puffy crust and cheesy center might just be one of the best pizzas you’ve ever tasted.
“In 1956, Vito and Anna Falco came to America with only their family and a dream” notes the restaurant’s website. “By 1964 their dream became reality when they opened the original Falco’s Pizzeria on the south side at 87th and Washtenau.” Heartwarming, right? But also delicious. At Falco’s, the pizza is made with the restaurant’s unique sauce and hand-rolled crust and loaded with cheese and toppings. While the pizza place is known for its thin crust sausage pizza, customers can mix and match with crusts of double dough and Garlic Italiano Crust and toppings including pineapple, garlic, jalapeno, and anchovies to name just a few.
Flickr/Thomas Hawk and Yelp/DianaG
Housed in a former auto service garage in downtown Louisville, Garage Bar features Chef Michael Paley’s wood-fired pizzas that emphasize local ingredients. Highlighting the region’s specialties and tastes, Chef Michael Paley serves the Sweet Corn pizza, which is topped with fresh corn kernels, garlic confit, basil, mozzarella, and bacon.
EVO, which stands for "extra virgin oven," offers fresh, wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza made with seasonal and local ingredients. Produce from local farmers is used to develop these pies. The menu consists of just five pizzas, including Margherita, pistachio pesto, mushrooms and Gruyère, and the Pork Trifecta (with marinara, housemade sausage, pepperoni, bacon, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano), and a three-cheese calzone, but the 17 extra topping choices allow customers to construct a towering feast.
You hear plenty of people tell tales of their outerborough travels to Di Fara in Brooklyn, but the Bronx deserves its own pizza tales, and Louie and Ernie’s may just be up to the task of making this borough the pizza destination it deserves to be recognized for. Consider that just a few years ago Adam Kuban wrote on the pizza blog Slice that the sausage and onion pie at Louie and Ernie’s is “the pizza to haunt your dreams.” Yes, it’s that good. Kuban noted that the sausage comes from the S&D Pork Store just up a few blocks from Crosby Avenue, and is applied “in large, juicy, fennel-spiked chunks just barely held in place by the melted cheese around them.” Of course, if you’re there, after you try the sausage pie (sausage, tomato sauce, and mozzarella) you need to taste the white pie, a wet-hot, messy creamy ricotta-ripping masterpiece that is the Louie & Ernie’s white pie.
The home of Staten Island’s thin crispy crust pizza has been family-owned-and-operated since it opened in 1960. “Thin crispy crust, huh?” you may ask. “What’s that all about?” Well, Joe & Pat’s has sweet sauce and pizza that is so thin you can eat seven slices without feeling stuffed. It’s got that airiness that spawns lighter-than-air adjectives, but still has a great crust and a weighty enough bottom that their slices don’t get floppy.
The folks at Joe & Pat’s note their vodka pie (vodka sauce, mozzarella, and basil) as one of the customer favorites, but they do killer veggie, pesto, and buffalo chicken pies (just accept it already and get over your bad old self), and are happy to accommodate you with everything from topping pies with beloved, but not necessarily omnipresent Italian-American ingredients like scungilli, clams, shrimp, artichoke hearts, and fried calamari to making your pizza 14-inch, 15-inch, Sicilian, grandma, gluten-free, individual-sized, or even heart-shaped (no, it’s not gimmicky when a place is this sincere: “We speak English and Italian.”)
And if you like what you taste at Joe & Pat’s, well, you’re going to want to check out the sister restaurant Ciro’s opened in 1997 by their brother Ciro Papparlardo, and Rubirosa on Mulberry Street in Manhattan, where the family’s thin-crust pizza recipe lives on thanks to Angelo (AJ) Pappalardo, who if you didn’t know, happens to be the son of Giuseppe Pappalardo, who Joe & Pat’s is partially named for. Man, pizza heritage in New York runs deep -- and to a good degree that’s thanks to Staten Island. So give them a hand!
You can almost hear the Austinites raging. “OK, I get Backspace, but no Rounders? No Via 313? Where’s Little Deli and Frank & Angie's? How about Home Slice? How does this even make sense? And no Roppolo’s? They made it last year! What happened?” Settle down, Austin. Why are ya’ll so mad, anyway? Have too many New Yorkers infiltrated your ranks? Only explanation.
All of these places were considered by panelists, and a few just missed making this year’s cut. But for an area of the country not traditionally known for being a pizza mecca, it’s an encouraging sign to see Austin raising its pizza game — something you’d expect more pizza pilgrims to be noting for years to come. Meanwhile, it’s time to celebrate the pies of Enoteca Vespaio, whose menu features eight pies, among them a lardo pie, the Pancetta Affumicata (applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, cambozola cheese, and spinach), and the Prosciutto with fontina, arugula, and truffled sunny-side up egg. But if you want the signature pie, you’ll be going with the more simple margherita pie here.
What can you say about Al Santillo? Santillo may be the least well-known great pizza tradition curator in America, the gatekeeper to three generations of pizza-making and one of the most unique pizzerias in America. The man practically has tomato sauce running through his veins. Al Santillo’s grandfather, who had long made focaccia for his family at home, decided to try it as a business in 1950. "He wanted to keep the place open in the evening and make a little more money, so he started making pizza," his grandson Al has noted. "In 1957, he bought the brick oven I use now." It’s an oven Al says is called a low-arch, one whose every brick was cut by hand, and which he insists, "permits infinite possibilities in temperature and character."
Pizza infinity is difficult to conceive, but Santillo’s is something you just have to experience for yourself. You can only do takeout from Al's living room — it houses the massive cathedral-like oven that requires a 20-foot-long peel to retrieve the pizzas. And be prepared to order by the year — Al preserves every pizza style he can for posterity. They range from the 1940 Genuine Tomato Pie (no cheese) to the 2011 San Marzano "Tomatoes Over the Cheese" Pizza. But there are other intriguing options like Lasagna Pizza, thin-pan, Roman-style, Italian bread, and an off-the-menu grandpa pie as well. Start out with a 1957 Style Pizza Extra Thin (14-Inch Round), or the popular Sicilian pizza, or just ask this quirky, pizza-possessed master make you his own spontaneous creation.
Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza
Even if you’re not food-obsessed and just a casual food TV watcher, you may be familiar with Coppa’s James Beard Award-nominated chef Jamie Bissonnette. The stocky, affable, tattooed chef was a Food Network Chopped champion in 2011, the same year he became Food & Wine’s winner of the People’s Best New Chef award. Coppa, his South End enoteca in Boston, is one of the city’s pizza darlings, having been named Boston’s best upscale pizza in 2010 by Boston Magazine, noting that it has some of the most magnificent pizza crust around, "crunchy, chewy, smoky, and soft all at once." Six pies are featured on the menu, all tough to choose between. Consider La Pizza Aragosta Calabrese, a white pie with lobster, corn-chile relish and Calabrian chile aioli. Or for the more adventurous, the Bone Marrow — a white pizza with smoked bone marrow, beef tongue, and horseradish. But the Salsiccia with tomato pork sausage, ricotta, roasted onion, and fennel pollen is the pie Coppa noted as its most popular. And this year’s panel agreed it ranked among the country’s top 60 pies.
Nominated for the Best New Restaurant award by the James Beard Foundation in 2008 and winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Mid-Atlantic chef in 2010, Osteria has some super credentials, and quite a bit of hype to live up to. Marc Vetri, Jeff Michaud, and Jeff Benjamin conceived the idea while on a trip in Tuscany, and you have to be glad they followed through. The pizza at Osteria is very traditional (and you’ll want to order a margherita as your baseline (tomato, basil, and mozzarella), with a gourmet twist, offering pies like Polpo, made of octopus, tomato, red chile flakes, and smoked mozzarella, or Lombarda, with baked egg, Bitto cheese, mozzarella, and cotechino sausage for a creamy and mild flavor. And the wine list isn’t half bad either, with more than 100 Italian wines to accompany your award-winning pie. Osteria’s success and acclaim just recently spawned Pizzeria Vetri a 30-seat restaurant in Philadelphia's art museum district, the first of the Vetri family restaurants dedicated exclusively to the art of authentic, Italian pizza-making. Expect it to get consideration in years to come.
Bringing more than 50 traditional and contemporary-style Neapolitan pizza pies crafted with homemade mozzarella, renowned Neapolitan pizza chefs Roberto Caporuscio and Antonio Starita have joined forces at Don Antonio by Starita on the west side of Midtown in New York City. There, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas are made with homemade mozzarella and a lesser-known style, the Montanara Starita, is made using a combination and technique that was created by Starita more than 10 years ago and has started being emulated by other pizza makers: the pizza dough is flash-fried. That’s right, it’s fried, then topped with Starita’s signature tomato sauce and smoked buffalo mozzarella, then fired in the oven.
It’s just as easy as ever to rile up New Yorkers with the old "Chicago’s pizza is better than New York’s" poke. "But it’s not even pizza," they’ll exclaim, "it’s a casserole for crying out loud!" They’re right, but it’s a pizza style here to stay. All the more interesting to note it was not an overnight success (they had to give it away until customers were acclimated), and that the thick, buttery pizza wasn’t the foundation for the restaurant’s initial idea. Consider Chicago Tribune’s restaurant critic Phil Vettel’s report about Uno’s beginnings, which suggests, "Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada."
When Uno founders Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo were first planning, Sewell (a Texan) wanted to serve Mexican food, "But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely." When Riccardo suggested pizza, which he’d experienced in Italy during the war, Sewell suggested a more substantial version than what was readily available in Little Italy.
Thus, the style featuring "buttery ‘out-of-this-world’ crust," and the generous amounts of cheese. Sure, the company is now based in Boston. No, you don’t have to visit Chicago to experience it (according to the company, there are more than 140 Uno Chicago Grill restaurants found in 24 states). And certainly, some pizza experts will quibble about where it should rank on this list, and compared with the city’s other deep-dish pies, but there’s something to be said about visiting the original spot in Chicago (even though the only Chicagoans there will be there on behalf of out-of-town guests) and ordering "Numero Uno — The One. The Best" topped with the works: sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Romano.
Pizzaiolo founder Charlie Hallowell was raised in suburban Connecticut on a modest diet of TV dinners and Chef Boyardee. As Pizzaiolo’s website explains, through some completely unexplainable, miraculous twist of fate, he found himself working in the Chez Panisse kitchen where for the first time he felt completely engaged and enlivened by his job, and the intellectual life that permeated the culture there.
After eight years at Chez Panisse, Hallowell set out on his own, determined at his new pizzeria to make sure that about 98 percent of the time he would buy only locally grown, organic, seasonal meat and produce (the flour is organic flour and milled in Oakland), and from small farmers and ranchers he knows and trusts. Pizzaiolo changes the menu daily to reflect what they’re getting from their people, so it’s a bit harder to nail down a signature pie (they said the margherita is one of their most popular pies), but with ingredients like potato and pancetta, summer squash, shishito peppers, and chanterelles, and add-ons like housemade sausage, Calabrian peppers, and farm egg, you can be pretty sure any of the eight pies on the menu will feature interesting combinations.
Haven’t heard of 800 Degrees? That won’t likely be the case for long. Consider that the concept was developed by Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman (who seems to have plans for a national burger empire) and former Michael Mina corporate chef Anthony Carron, and earlier this year, 800 degrees received $7 million in financing to expand. What’s the big deal? Personalized Neapolitan pies, which cook up in about 60 seconds in an 800-degree wood-burning oven (thus the name). Start picturing a pizza-themed Chipotle concept and you’ll likely start seeing dollar signs, too. That’s right, there just may be a day very soon when you can expect a quality Neapolitan-style pie in every city right next to its local Starbucks. Chain prejudice aside, you can’t rip 800 Degrees for putting out what some consider the simplest and best showcase of crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, and basil. Just be ready to buy stock.
With a pedigree that includes a degree from the CIA, and stops at The French Laundry and Café Boulud, it’s not a huge surprise that chef Shawn Cirkiel’s restaurant Parkside has been a huge success, but culinary degrees and high-falutin’ restaurant experience doesn’t necessarily mean you can make a great pizza. Lucky for Austin, Cirkiel does, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at a temperature of 900 degrees. There are six pies on the menu at The Backspace featuring toppings like fennel sausage, roasted peppers, picante salame, and roasted mushrooms, but according to the restaurant, the most popular pie is the Bianca, a pizza with arugula, mozzarella, ricotta, and Pecorino Romano. Whether it's downed with an aranciata just like in Naples, or Texas-style with a glass bottle of Mexican Coke, well… that’s up to you.
Carrie Ryan Sweet Louise Photography
Franny’s isn’t just a Brooklyn pizza spot that opened in 2004, it’s one of the Brooklyn restaurants that helped generate the critical mass of passion that was necessary to create the Brooklyn versus Manhattan restaurants debate. This local spot run by husband-and-wife owners Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens (veterans of Savoy), who New York Magazine once called "as committed to the Chez Panissean tenets of local, sustainable agriculture as they are to the venerable tradition of artisanal pizza-making," is the restaurant darling of Brooklyn (it was also just named by The New York Times as one of the 12 best restaurants in New York for wine). And even though they’ve moved across the street, expanded from 32 seats to more than 100, and opened another restaurant (Marco’s), Franny’s quality and passion for food — and pizza — hasn’t waned a bit. Want to have some fun? Start a conversation at the restaurant about which of the 12 pizzas on the menu is best. It will be a heated debate. What’s certain is that the clam pie, not a style New York is known for mind you, with chiles and parsley, is one of New York City and America’s best.
John von Pamer
If you don’t think there’s any good pizza on Long Island, you’re not looking in the right places. There are plenty of great pies — pilgrimage-worthy pies, in fact. And one of them is on the North Shore in one of the island’s best towns for food, heck, given the bustling restaurant scene, bookstore, and independent movie theater, one of its best towns, period. Little Vincent’s has been named to Long Island’s best of lists for years, but hasn’t gotten much love nationally… until recently.
The joint near the corner of Main Street and New York Avenue doesn’t suffer for business. It’s nearly impossible to score a booth around dinnertime during the week. Forget weekends. Be warned: Little Vincent’s is a tangy, saucy pie with a crispy bottom and a bit of a flop, but in a good way.
There’s a thin crust, a very light, puffy cornicione that has a strong crunch and gets beautiful bubbles, and they do not skimp on cheese. In fact, cheese is one of the reasons Little Vincent’s has started getting national attention. Little Vincent’s "Cold Cheese Slice," a fistful of cold cheese served on top of the hot piece of pizza, is a practice brought to Huntington by college students returning home to Long Island from school in Oneonta in upstate New York. It’s actually really good, and not a gimmick (read more for why), but don’t be distracted by novelty, the regular cheese pie (and the pepperoni for that matter) are reason enough to visit.
Those critical of the Pacific Northwest pizza scene need to back up. Let’s put this in context. Washington became the 42nd state in 1889, 16 years before Gennaro Lombardi opened America’s first pizzeria… in New York City. Washington and Oregon (though Oregon has 30 years on its neighbor) deserve some for not having a century-long tradition. Not their pizza-loving denizens need cheesy handicaps. Not now. Consider Seattle’s Delancey, which Brandon Pettit, a former New York music student, opened with his wife in 2009.
The idea for Delancey (named for Pettit’s favorite subway stop in Manhattan), grew out of his longing for the pizzas he grew up with in New York and New Jersey. As The New York Times noted, “the dough has an intense, slightly sourdough-like flavor from Mr. Pettit’s two-day fermentation process, and the topping combinations offered are basic but use the freshest seasonal ingredients available.”
There are 9 pies on the menu including the “Brooklyn” inspired by Di Fara’s cheese pie, and the white pie (with house-made ricotta, slivered garlic, and grana Padano), but Delancey noted and panelists voted for the pepperoni pie as the one you should seek out. And just in case you still don’t get the Pacific Northwest pizza claim, you may want keep in mind that not only is one of their pizzerias the best in the country, but it has ties to one of the most read food bloggers in the world. Just who is Pettit’s wife? Just Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. So there.
Using what they learned while working at their family’s restaurant Basille’s in Staten Island, in 2008, pizzaiolos, cousins and best friends, Francis Garcia and Sal Basille took a party dip, put it on a pizza and turned a sliver of a shop on the West part of New York City’s 14th Street into a pizza icon and cash cow. To this day, when they have four other locations (two others in Manhattan), there’s a line out the door, and pizza fiends standing outside try unsucdessfully not to burn the roof of their mouths on the creamy, cheesy signature Artichoke slice (artichoke hearts, spinach, cream sauce, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano to be precise).
They’ve made it to The Tonight Show and even landed their own show on Food Network’s Cooking Channel. Not bad at all. There are some who might argue that the artichoke slice has lost a step -- that the crust isn’t what it used to be. But if you’ve visited the under-the-radar sandwich shop Chubby Mary’s they opened next to the original Artichoke as an homage to the shop of the same name once run by their grandfather and uncle, it’s clear the Basille boys still have the touch. Their shrimp hero with vodka sauce, and provolone is amazing.
Lombardi's may generally be considered to be "America's first pizza," but as Nick Azzaro, owner of Papa's Tomato Pies, isn't shy about telling you, Papa's — founded in 1912 — is actually America's longest continuously owned family-owned pizzeria. With so much tradition, Papa’s had to make the list of 35 Best Pizzas in America, especially since this year Papa’s celebrated its centennial anniversary.
For Papa’s, the family behind the pie is just as important as the slice, as the recipe has been passed down through generations. The Azzaro family cooks up the made-to-order pies that can be customized in a variety of ways. Customers can choose from everything from garlic to mushrooms and pepperoni to meatballs, or add some anchovies for the extra kick. But for the Azzaro’s it’s the tradition that makes their restaurant unique. Speaking of which, for a Papa's original, check out their mustard pie.
Shh. Don’t tell anyone, but there’s a little bit of Naples in Ridgewood, N.J. The spot has a wood-burning oven hand-built on site "by Neapolitan artisans, using stones and volcanic soil imported from Naples," ovens that can be maintained at 1,000 degrees. A Mano’s founding pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio has long moved on (his Manhattan spot Kesté ranks number 16 on this list) but the foundation he laid for the restaurant in 2007 was a strong one (A Mano claims to be one of only three restaurants in America certified by both the VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) and APN (Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli). Stop in for the namesake A Mano pie (bufala mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, Gran Cru, basil, and olive oil).
A Mano Pizza
James Beard Award-winning chef Lydia Shire is one of Boston’s most legendary chefs, and her restaurant, Scampo, is one of the best Italian restaurants you’ll ever dine at. In fact earlier this year, Scampo ranked number 16 on The Daily Meal’s list of the 20 Best Italian Restaurants in America. While Italian at heart, Shire isn’t afraid to incorporate a tandoori oven or lamb sirloin souvlaki into the mix, and the menu is fun and playful. Handmade breads come in seven varieties, salt cod fritters come with bacon tempura and quince aioli, there’s a full "mozzarella bar," and spaghetti comes topped with cracklings and hot pepper.
Admittedly, a restaurant serving foie gras, almonds, and cracklings may not sound like the place you’d expect to seek out one of America’s best pizzas, and you’d be forgiven for doing double-takes at toppings that can include smashed plantains, smoked salmon, and lobster. It will be difficult to pass over the lobster and white clam and bacon pizzas (Scampo goes directly to what's called the advanced clam pie at Frank Pepe’s), but if you can only have one, order the lamb pizza. That’s right, lamb with ricotta, Parmesan, Sriracha, mint, a mix of cumin, curry, turmeric, and pepper. Talk about a delicious perspective shift.
Gino’s may be the ultimate in Chicago deep-dish, with a history dating back nearly 50 years. The story starts with two taxi drivers and their friend, who became frustrated with rush-hour traffic and decided to open up their own pizza place. Just off the famed Michigan Avenue strip in the heart of downtown, the restaurant has been considered a city mainstay since its conception. The walls of the restaurant are covered with graffiti, as it’s a tradition of Gino’s to carve your name on the wall if you’re a dedicated patron. Pies begin with a buttery crust that crumbles as soon as you take a bite, and it's then stuffed with a layer of fillings (ranging from sweet Italian sausage to pineapple), then topped with a more-than-healthy serving of mozzarella cheese, and finished with crushed vine-ripened tomatoes. Their success has led them to open 11 locations, even expanding into neighboring Wisconsin for all those cheese lovers.
The same family that brought you Adrienne's Pizza Bar on Wall Street, Angelo's in Midtown, and all of the Patsy's licensees in Manhattan first conquered pizza in Queens. Owner Nick Angelis serves some of the freshest mozzarella around with a wide variety of other great toppings including scallions, feta, hot cherry peppers, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes (though they’ll tell you to go with the mushroom and sausage pie), on Neapolitan-style pizza that from the look of the charred crust edges, you would not believe came out of a gas oven. Don't miss the calzones at Nick's either.
Yelp / ChisatoP
It doesn’t seem fair that a style of pizza like Chicago deep-dish, one that isn’t even technically pizza, has so much national attention, while arguably equal if not better styles of pizza for example, grandma and bar pies (styles that are actually pizzas, not casseroles) still struggle for mainstream acceptance and acknowledgement. So it’s encouraging that The Daily Meal’s panel of experts ranked Orange, N.J.'s Star Tavern Pizzeria among the top 50 pizzas in America. Owned and operated by the Vayianos family since 1980, Star Tavern is now run by Gary Vayianos, a former attorney whose Jersey bar pie institution serves a cracker-thin pizza structurally sound enough to support almost more tangy sauce and cheese than the base should be expected to, something it’s still able to do even when topped with Sicilian tomato, eggplant, red spinach, white spinach, white clam, portobellos, pesto, three cheese, or everything. An everything bar pie — now that’s something else.
Star Tavern Pizzeria
Does it say something that the first Chicago deep-dish pizzeria on this list of the 101 best pizzas in America ranks number 37? Sounds like a question a New Yorker would ask. Maybe because deep-dish pizza isn’t actually pizza, but a casserole? All quibbling aside, even the most ardent anti-deep-dishites have to hand it to Lou Malnati’s — the first Lou Malnati's Pizzeria opened in 1971 to much acclaim, and it’s now a Chicago, and national institution. Lou died of cancer just seven years later, but his family kept his dream alive, in fact expanding it to some 36 locations.
The Lou Malnati’s deep-dish experience comes in four sizes: 6-inch individual (serves one), 9-inch small (serves two), 12-inch medium (serves three), and 14-inch large (serves four). So you most likely will just be ordering one or two if you plan to finish them, even with a few friends (unless you’re not planning to eat anything else that day). Make sure one of those picks is The Malnati Chicago Classic: a casserole made with Lou's lean sausage, some extra mozzarella, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on buttercrust. "It's authentic Chicago!"
Lou Malnati's Pizzeria
Pupatella originated as a food truck in 2007 and went brick-and-mortar three years later. This two-room storefront with the sign out front that warns "Pizza Addicts Only" is the D.C. culmination of Enzo Algarme’s experience hanging around the some 200 or so pizzerias in Naples where he was born. Pupatella, a name borrowed from a late relative ("what everybody called my grandmother in Italy," he told The Washington Post), is run by Algarme and his life (and business partner) Anastasiya Laufenberg. Their oven’s bricks were built using volcanic ash from Vesuvius — hard to get more authentic than that outside Naples.
They offer red and white pies — more than three times the former — ham and mushroom, prosciutto and arugula, chorizo, sausage and onion, eggplant and red pepper among them. But Pupatella’s most popular pie is the Capricciosa featuring sautéed mushrooms, marinated artichokes, prosciutto cotto, and fresh mozzarella. Algarme’s website is charming enough to win over even the most skeptical — his FAQ explains what bufala mozzarella is, why there are leopard spots on your crust, why a real margherita is wet in the middle and never crispy, and why you'll never see a Neapolitan tossing dough. And they "love foodie bloggers."
Pupatella Neapolitan Pizza
Joe's Pizza is as synonymous with New York City as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. The infamous shop has placed in nearly every best pizzas list, including GQ's Top 25 Pizzas, Shecky's Best in New York, and New York Magazine's Best Pizza in New York. The key to Joe's success is their traditional New York City-style pizza with thin crust, great sauce, and just the right ratio of cheese, sauce, and crust (just a bit less of the first two). Since 1975, Joe's has served tourists and residents alike, making it a truly iconic New York landmark. Everyone has a slice joint, but if the city were to have just one (though now there’s an East Village location, too), this would be it. (Read an interview with Salvatore Vitale of Joe’s as he talks red pepper flakes.)
Some would say that this is the only existing place where you can get a proper and authentic coal-oven slice in the universe, given that its founder Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri supposedly opened Patsy's after working with the godfather of New York City pizza Gennaro Lombardi. True or not, this 1933 East Harlem original can claim pizza heritage most dream of, and was reportedly one of Sinatra and DiMaggio’s favorite joints. Still, the original location is one of the most underrated and unhyped pizza classics in the city. It’s a curious thing given the history and quality, though there are some caveats. The pizza at Patsy’s is so thin, and relatively short (in context with most other New York slices), that you can easily scarf down six slices while standing at the counter. That’s what you’ll want to do by the way — there’s something about the pizza at Patsy’s where it’s miraculous right out of the oven, but just as exponentially unimpressive if you let it wait. This move here is to order the plain cheese, eat, and repeat, not reheat.
San Francisco’s Mission may have changed quite a bit over the past decade, but as Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer recently noted, Mission visionaries and Pizzeria Delfina owners Craig and Anne Stoll haven’t lost a step even as they’ve expanded their empire. Not only is it "as popular as ever," he noted, but also, "the food is still among the best Italian-inspired fare in the city." Pizzas are inspired by Craig’s memories of the New York-style pies from his youth and pizza from Naples’ best pizzerias. The menu features eight "Neapolitan-inspired," thin-crust pies and two daily-changing specials. You’ll be intrigued by options like the Panna (tomato sauce, cream, basil, and Parmigiano), and lookout (!) a cherrystone clam pie with tomato, oregano, and hot peppers. But your first move should be the Salsiccia: housemade fennel sausage, tomato, bell pepper, onion, and mozzarella.
This Venice neighborhood spot serves Italian favorites to diners hanging out on the trendy Abbott Kinney Boulevard. The menu ranges from charcuterie and cheese to oysters, and includes an impressive wine list, but the pizza is what draws crowds. Gjelina offers a roster of crispy, thin-crust pies as well as thoughtfully conceived dishes prepared using market-fresh ingredients and house-made sausages, including a lamb sausage featured on an unsauced pizza with confit tomato, rapini, Pecorino, and Asiago.
Named after the highway that runs between Naples and Canosa, Puglia, A16 draws all of its inspiration from the boot-shaped country, but with adoration for the Campania region to the south. Since 2004, owner Shelley Lindgren's Marina District restaurant has been putting out absolutely gorgeous Neapolitan pies, among them the classic Margherita (with tomato, your choice of mozzarella or mozzarella di bufala, Grana Padano, basil, and a drizzle of olive oil), and served them with a super selection of southern Italian wines.
Ken Forkish and Chef Alan Maniscalco co-founded Ken’s Artisan Pizza in 2006 after the success of Monday Night Pizza at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. It’s been cultishly-loved ever since. There are gigantic Douglas Fir beams, sliding glass windows, and an open kitchen with a Le Panyol wood-fired oven, which guests can marvel at while digging in at tables made from salvaged wood from the late Jantzen Beach Big Dipper roller coaster, once they get inside that is (as with several other great spots on this list, there tends to be a line). The thin-crust pies, baked in about two minutes and inspired by the co-founders’ visits to Europe, are known for their tangy, orange-red sauce, featuring heat and savory notes, and a style that as the name of the restaurant states, is more artisanal than Neapolitan. Toppings include soppressata, Calabrian chiles, anchovy, arugula, and prosciutto, but panelists voted for Ken’s Margherita with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil as the country’s 30 best pizza.
The local favorite has already seen its fair share of fame after winning the Best Traditional Pizza in New England award from Boston magazine seven times in the last 20 years, including last year. Santarpio's, which opened in 1903, sticks to their traditional roots when it comes to their infamous slightly-chewy, and satisfyingly wet slices. Their menu consists of a variety of options, but also includes a list of customers' favorite combinations, like a pie that pairs sausage with garlic, ground beef, and onions, and even "The Works": mushrooms, onions, peppers, garlic, sausage, pepperoni, extra cheese, and anchovies. If you’re a first-timer, order Santarpio’s most popular pie: mozzarella, sausage, and garlic.
Residents of the Forgotten Borough have long-known what the rest of the city, and more recently the country are just beginning to understand: when it comes to pizza, Staten Island doesn’t play around. And Denino’s has led the charge since 1951, when Carlo Denino took over the tavern his Sicilian father John Giovanni opened in 1937. After his father passed away Carlo introduced pizza at the tavern, and locals have been ordering bar pies and downing them with pitchers of beer ever since. A third generation of DeNino’s runs the operation these days (and opened a second spot, in New Jersey), and they keep pulling regulars in for their sweet Italian sausage pie, tossed in chunks over a light, pliant crust.
This thin crust bar pie institution in Stamford, Conn., has long been notorious for its no-frills demeanor, no-special-options policy, and for not making exceptions. There are signs though that this reputation may be thawing. Consider first the special Corned Beef and Cabbage Pizza for St. Patrick's Day. That makes sense when you consider "Colony" was the nickname of the Irish neighborhood in Stamford where Colony Grill was established by Irish owners in 1935. But now there are three locations, and they’re even doing a salad pizza. Go figure. What you’re going to want to do though is order the sausage pie with hot oil (chile-pepper infused oil) and a “stinger” pie (they’re thin so you’re going to need two). That signature hot oil is a must -- if you don’t do it, don’t bother going. There’s almost the same amount of tasty sauce and cheese as there is crisp cracker crust. There’s something really special about the equal amounts of ingredients you likely won’t have had before, the pockmarked surface resembles some crazy dream where cheese covers the surface of the moon (all melty like you remember from the orange-oil covered slice at the favorite pizza place from your youth), and the sting of the oil brings you right back to the sip of beer you’ll want to sip while savoring each bite.
Being able to do the mental gymnastics intrinsic to understanding the history behind one of New York City — er, Brooklyn’s most storied pizzerias isn’t required for you to enjoy a slice of its famous pizza, but we have a few minutes while you wait in line anyway, so here it goes.
Gennaro Lombardi opened what’s generally regarded as America’s first pizzeria. He supposedly trained Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri who opened the first Patsy’s in East Harlem. His nephew Patsy Grimaldi opened his own place, also called Patsy’s in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood in 1990 (he’s said to have also learned his craft from Jerry Pero, son of Anthony Totonno Pero, who founded Totonno’s —that’s another story), but was forced to change the name of it to Grimaldi’s after his uncle died and his aunt sold the Patsy’s name to a corporation. Three years later, Patsy sold the Grimaldi’s at 19 Old Fulton St. to Frank Ciolli, whose two children expanded the Grimaldi’s brand to nearly 40 restaurants in the Tri-State Area and Midwest. But Ciolli lost the lease to the original space and had to move into a larger former bank building right next door on 1 Front St. That’s when Patsy came out of retirement and swooped into the original Grimaldi’s space to open Juliana’s.
Here’s what it comes down to: Patsy Grimaldi, whose pizza lineage goes back to family members being trained by Gennaro Lombardi, is making pies at a restaurant called Juliana’s in the original Grimaldi’s space, and Grimaldi’s is right next door.
With that all said, you’re just about at the front of the line to get inside (remember: no credit cards, no reservations, no slices, and no delivery!). So sit down and order something simple: a margherita pie made in a coal-fired oven that heats up to about 1,200 degrees and requires about 100 pounds of coal a day. It’s crispy, it’s smoky, it’s tangy, cheesy, and delicious, and when you’re done, you can go next door to Juliana’s, which just missed making this year’s list of 101 best pizzas in America. When you check it out, weigh in on whether Patsy was robbed.
Flickr/Maggie F Andy M
Yes, John's of Bleecker is on the tourist rotation, but there's a reason this place has become an institution. Pizza is cooked in a coal-fired brick oven the same way it's been done there since 1929. You can choose from their available toppings (pepperoni, sausage, sliced meatball, garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms, ricotta, sliced tomato, anchovies, olives, and roasted tomatoes), and you can scratch your name into the walls like the droves before you, but what you can't do is order a slice. Pies only, bud. And in this case, you’re going with the Bruschetta: mozzarella, diced Roma tomatoes marinated in olive oil, fresh garlic, and basil (no sauce).
Would you expect a Mississippi-born, Louisiana-bred, former Marine Corps reservist to be serving one of America’s best pizzas? Probably not, but chef John Besh does just that at his New Orleans restaurant Domenica (Italian for "Sunday") in the renovated and historic Roosevelt Hotel. You’ll have a hard time choosing between the 17 pizzas made in the Pavesi pecan-wood-fired oven. Just look at the photos — the slightly imperfect circles ringed with light, puffy, and black-blistered crusts, the center of the pie sauce-speckled and beautifully topped with stellar (and fun) ingredients like cotechino (sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind), bacon and eggs, apple and pecans, mortadella, spicy lamb meatball, roast pork shoulder, and duck with sweet potato — ordering just one pizza is a tough call. So don’t. Order Domenica’s most popular pie, the Margherita (tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella), then wild-card your second and third choices with the Tutto Carne (fennel sausage, bacon, salami, and cotechino), the Roasted Carrot (with goat cheese, red onion, Brussels sprouts, beets, and hazelnuts — wow!), or give the clam pie a shot. It may not beat Pepe’s, but whose does?
Spacca Napoli stands out from the rest of the Chicago pizza pack due to its unique take on Neapolitan-style pizza. The restaurant has garnered a laundry list of accolades, from the 2013 Michelin Bib Gourmand Award to a 95 percent "like" rating on Zagat. The pizza is consistently applauded for its authenticity, as owner Jon Goldsmith travels to and from Naples regularly to study the flavors of the region. The menu differentiates pizze rosse (made with traditional red sauce, tomatoes, and topped with olive oil) from the pizze bianche (made without red sauce and topped with olive oil). Customers can dine on the prosciutto e rucola, bianca con bufala, diavola, or salsiccia when they're looking for an expertly prepared pie, but this year’s featured pie noted as the thing to order is the Bufalina: basil, mozzarella di bufala, and olive oil. Questo è tutto ciò che serve!
It may now sport some 20 locations, but the original Regina Pizzeria has been a local hot spot since 1926 when it opened in Boston’s North End. Pizzas are made from dough with an 80-year-old family recipe, sauce, whole-milk mozz, and natural toppings with no preservatives or additives, and all cooked in a brick oven. They offer a variety of nearly 20 different pies, some made in a more traditional manner, while others, like the St. Anthony’s pizza with Regina sausage, sausage links, roasted peppers, and garlic sauce, are unique. But the pie singled out by Regina as their most popular was the Melanzane, which features homemade ricotta, a light, yet spicy marinara (seasoned with a hint of aged Romano), red onions, basil, Pecorino Romano, eggplant, oregano, and their aged whole-milk mozzarella, which Regina’s claims gives their cheese factor its distinctive flair.
For many New Yorkers, Arthur Avenue is a storied pilgrimage to the Bronx they’ve heard of where supposedly they can get the "authentic" Italian food no longer prevalent at the oft-maligned Chinatown-encroached tourist spots of Little Italy. Whether or not you agree that Italian Shangri-La matches the perception, Salerno native chef Roberto Paciullo is one of the driving forces behind it. The success of his first spot Roberto’s led to the pizzeria Zero Otto Nove ("0-8-9"), which was named for Salerno’s area code (Salerno being the port city about a 45-minute drive south of Naples), and a second location in New York’s Flatiron District (just around the corner from The Daily Meal’s office… stop by around 6 p.m. for a drink and ask for Freddy). The Neapolitan wood-fired pies cook under 900-degree heat for about 45 seconds, and they are exemplary (we can vouch for almost the entire menu, which includes pies with gorgonzola and tomatoes, sliced potatoes and sausage, and the more adventurous Cirilo with butternut squash purée and cream of truffles, but once again The Daily Meal’s panel of experts singled out the Margherita, which features a tangy, balanced sauce, and crust that’s light and a little chewy, too good to leave behind as pizza bones.
Once upon a time, the District of Columbia was a pizza dessert, a land where khaki-wearers bided their time until the fortunes tied to two-, four-, or six-year cycles became clear, resigning themselves to late-night calls to Domino’s and hoping Manny & Olga’s wouldn’t turn them off eating pizza ever again. They suffered locals’ love for Ledo’s and watched with frustration as Adams Morgan’s jumbo slices edged increasingly close to the half-smoke as becoming synonymous with one of the city’s signature dishes. Thankfully, those days are over. And 2Amy’s is part of the reason.
2Amy’s membership in the D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) means its pizzaiolos adhere to the guidelines of what the Italian government deems a pizza should be. When you bite into one of their pizzas, you know that you are getting a quintessential traditional pie. Their menu is broken up into D.O.C pizza offerings, stuffed pizzas, and more traditional, but uncertified options, but panelists voted the namesake pie (tomato sauce and mozzarella) number 20 on this list of the 101 best pizzas, better than a good number of pizzerias in New York.
The Cheese Board gets pizza lovers in Berkeley lining up outside and sitting down on the grass median between traffic. That has to be some good pizza, right? You bet. And the whole idea behind Cheese Board is cool, too. But you probably know the story by now: Cheese Board opened as a small cheese store in 1967, and four years later, the two owners sold it to their employees, creating a 100 percent worker-owned business of which they remained a part. Cheese Board's pizza program started in 1985. During shifts, employees "started making pizzas for [them]selves by cutting off hunks of extra sourdough baguette dough, grabbing favorite cheeses from the counter, and throwing on vegetables from the market next door." After regular hours on Fridays, they started serving one vegetarian pizza, using fresh ingredients, and unusual cheeses atop of a thin, sourdough crust. What’s the best pie to get? Whatever they’re serving that day. Just make sure to go enjoy it under the sun on the median.
Lombardi's may generally be considered to be "America's first pizza," but as Nick Azzaro, owner of Papa's Tomato Pies, isn't shy about telling you, Papa's — founded in 1912 — is actually America's oldest continuously owned family-owned pizzeria. With so much tradition, it makes sense that Papa’s made this list of 101 Best Pizzas in America, especially since this year Papa’s celebrated its 101st anniversary. For Papa’s, the family behind the pie is just as important as the slice, as the recipe has been passed down through generations. The Azzaro family cooks up the made-to-order pies that can be customized in a variety of ways. Customers can choose from everything from garlic to mushrooms and pepperoni to meatballs, or add some anchovies for the extra kick. But for the Azzaros it’s the tradition that makes their restaurant unique, so you’ll be ordering the tomato pie. But since you’ve made the trip, brought friends, and are hungry, you’ll also be ordering a Papa's tangy original, the mustard pie. It sounds crazy, but it works. You’ll crave it.
Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Co. (pronounced Company) opened in 2009 in a competitive pizza market. With nearly a dozen different restaurants at every corner, Co. was up against stiff competition. But its quality pies had more than just staying power. Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery (also featured on this list), opened Co. to offer his spin on Roman-style pizza to Chelsea residents, while focusing on the communal dining experience. Co. serves traditional options but also pies with flare. Take for example the signature Popeye: Pecorino, Gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper, and garlic, which layers salt and chew, bite and green, and just a little edge. Perhaps the only thing better is when Lahey goes egg. In which case, order two.
"This is it. New York’s #1," notes Kesté’s website. And yes, that’s actually what the restaurant’s name Kesté means in Neapolitan dialect: "This is it." Hard to argue it doesn’t belong in the conversation. See, this is the place you take Italians, better yet Neapolitans, or anyone who has lived in Italy and experienced its pizza culture when they ask for demonstrations of New York’s Neapolitan pizza culture. It’s a recurring scene that has been played out time after time: They sidle in skeptically, protest, complain, critique the menu, décor, oven, you, and then they see and taste Roberto Caporuscio’s pizza. They catch themselves, begrudgingly and not out of politeness, note it is quite close to the real thing — fine, at least better than they could have imagined it could be in America.
And with good reason, Caporuscio was born and raised on a dairy farm in Pontinia, Italy, an hour outside Naples. He’s the U.S. president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (APN — Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers), the Italian governing body that teaches the 150-year-old art of Neapolitan pizza-making, and certiﬁes adherence to authentic procedures. Pizza at Kesté has that signature chewy crust, the soft slightly soupy middle, the right balance of quality ingredients. Close your eyes and you’re almost transported to the back alleys of Naples that almost refuse to let go. And while you may not want to share it with your traditional-minded Italian friends, the eponymous pie with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, Gran Cru, and olive oil takes the restaurant’s name with good reason.
Keste Pizza/Anthony Bianciella
Quick, who makes New York City's best slice? That’s a tricky question. While known as a great pizza city, New York’s state of the slice isn't what it you'd think, especially while it’s in the grip of the Neapolitan craze and $0.99-cardboard drunk food (you'd almost prefer D.C.'s jumbo slice). But there’s hope in the form of the East Village’s South Brooklyn Pizza, where owner Jim McGown espouses a conventional gas oven that gives the upskirt a slight char that seems just right. A slice of the signature New York Style pizza takes time (on average, up to 10 minutes), but it's worth the wait. The San Marzano sauce is neither too sweet nor acidic and is topped with layers of thin, ovoid mozzarella slices, dotted with fontina cubes, and finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil, basil, and grated Pecorino or Grana Padano. The thin crust cracks, but carries the cheese and sauce all the way up the slice, tangy bite after bite. No, the idea of a $4-slice doesn’t sit right, and blame Di Fara if you want (it’s arguably as good if just as inconsistent) but in a world of dollar slices that don’t, South Brooklyn does.
Apizza Scholls has some of the best pizza in Portland, and some have argued, north of San Francisco — and that’s using an electric oven! But they do have some guidelines for patrons interested in composing their own topping combinations on their 18-inch pies: only three ingredients, and no more than two meats per pie. So choose wisely from a list of toppings that in addition to classics like anchovies, red onions, garlic, pepperoni, sausage, and basil includes capicollo, house-cured Canadian bacon, cotto salami, arugula, jalapeño, and pepperoncini. Heads-up: bacon is "not offered for build your own toppings." If you aren't up to building your own pie, there are 10 classics to choose from, including the signature Apizza Amore: margherita with capicollo (cured pork shoulder). The signature Amore features a spicy kick offset a bit by the somewhat sweet mozzarella and balanced sauce. That’s amore!
With a love for pizza, little formal training, without finishing high school, with a career he has characterized as having "masqueraded as a computer geek," and a fear of becoming Shelley Levene from Glengarry Glen Ross, Paulie Giannone struck out into the unknown, to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He ventured there before Girls, before the condos, in a time when the dream of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment a 10-minute walk from the subway to Manhattan on the Polish word-of-mouth, no-lease real estate wire still went for less than $2,000.
This backyard do-it-yourselfing pizza passionista put it all on the line and earned every kind word he’s gotten. Greenpoint isn’t much to look at, but Paulie Gee’s is a pizza lover’s home, a clean, rustic space that looks like a barn but puts out a pie to rival every Naples memory you’ve had or dreamed of having. There’s are some 19 pies, all great in their own right and featuring clever names and great topping combinations — In Ricotta Da Vita, Ricotta Be Kiddin’, and the Luca Brasi (no anchovies) — but when The Daily Meal checked in with the pizzeria, the Regina was the pie noted as the signature: mozzarella, tomatoes, Pecorino Romano, olive oil, and fresh basil. And panelists agreed that Paulie’s Regina well deserved a top spot among America’s 20 best pizzas.
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t be around anymore. Consider first that it was opened in Coney Island in 1924 (by Antonio "Totonno" Pero, a Lombardi’s alum). Then factor in the fire that broke out in the coal storage area and ravaged the place in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction (and some reported $150,000 in repairs) incurred in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy when 4 feet of water destroyed everything inside the family-owned institution. You’ll probably agree that Brooklyn (and the country) should be counting its lucky stars Totonno’s is still around. And yet it does more than that.
It doesn’t just keep a storied pizza name, or nostalgia for simpler times (and perhaps more authentic and consistent pies) alive. No. Owners Antoinette Balzano, Frank Balzano, and Louise "Cookie" Ciminieri don’t just bridge our modern era’s festishizing of pizza to the days of its inception at Lombardi’s. The coal-fired blistered edges, the spotty mozzarella laced over that beautiful red sauce… ah, fuggedabout all the teary-eyed try-too-much words, this is Neptune Avenue! This is Brooklyn! This is Totonno’s. And this, is how you make pizza.
Established in 1934 as State Street Pizza, Modern's coal-fired brick oven puts out pizza in the same thin-crust style. It's likely that you'll hear it spoken about as the place "the locals go instead of Pepe's and Sally's." That may be so. The atmosphere is great — wood paneling, friendly servers, a clean feeling — but it doesn't play third-string just because it's not on Wooster. Modern's pies are a little topping-heavy with less structural integrity. Given the focus on toppings, the iconic Italian Bomb is the pie to try: bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion, and pepper.
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, R.I., Al Forno offers a quintessential Italian dining experience for those who can’t afford the flight. Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza. The restaurant bakes their pies in wood-burning ovens as well as on grills over hardwood charcoal fire. Their most notable grilled pizza? The margarita. It’s served with fresh herbs, pomodoro, two cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th St. and headed West, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease, renamed the space Motorino, and the East Village pizza scene hardly skipped a beat. Motorino offers a handful of spirited pies, including one with cherry stone clams; another with stracciatella, raw basil, and Gaeta olives; and the cremini mushroom with fior di latte, sweet sausage, and garlic. But contrary to every last fiber of childhood memory you hold dear, the move is the Brussels sprouts pie (fior di latte, garlic, Pecorino, smoked pancetta, and olive oil), something both Hong Kong natives and Brooklynites can now attest to since Palombino opened (and moved and reopened) his Asian and Williamsburg outposts earlier in 2013.
Although this San Francisco restaurant claims to specialize in house-made pastas, their pizza is formidable. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the thin-crust pizza at Flour + Water blends Old World tradition with modern refinement, according to chef and co-owner Thomas McNaughton. Pizza toppings vary depending on what’s in season, making each dining experience unique, but Flour + Water’s textbook Margherita is amazing. Heirloom tomatoes, basil, fior di latte, and extra-virgin olive oil… if only the simplicity implied by the restaurant’s name could be duplicated in pizzerias across the country.
Sally's Apizza is a New Haven classic, operating from the same location where they opened in the late 1930s in New Haven's Wooster Square. Their pizza is traditionally thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and "mozz." The pies look pretty similar to what you'll find down the street at Frank Pepe, which any New Haven pizza believer will note is because the man who opened Sally's is the nephew of the owner of Pepe. The folks at Sally's will be the first to tell you that Pepe makes a better clam pie, but their tomato pie (tomato sauce, no cheese), well, they have the original beat there.
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city's rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you'd still be selling it short. Roberta's is in Bushwick six stops out of Manhattan on the L, and it’s one of the city's best restaurants (it even serves one of the city’s hardest-to-score tasting menus). In Bushwick! Pizza may not be the only thing at Roberta’s, but its Neapolitan pies are at the high end of the debate about the city's best (and according to an interview with the blog Slice, inspired another great pizzeria on this list, Paulie Gee’s). Yes, some of them have names like "Family Jewels," "Barely Legal," and after disgraced New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Wiener "Carlos Danger," but you can afford not to take yourself seriously in an environment where Brooklyn hipsters and everyone else tolerate each other when your pizza is this good. As much as the Amatriciana and the Bee Sting (when Roberta’s goes mobile) may tempt, the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is Roberta’s pizza Lothario.
Ryan G. Rice
Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton teamed up with Italian culinary moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich to open Osteria Mozza, a Los Angeles hot spot where the famous clientele pales in comparison to the innovative, creative fare. The pizzeria, which is attached to the main restaurant, offers a variety of Italian specialties, from antipasti to bruschetta, but the Neapolitan-style pizzas steal the show. Their list of 21 pies ranges from $11 for a simple aglio e olio, a classic cheese pizza, to $23 for a more unique pie with squash blossoms, tomato, and burrata cheese — a delicious and simple pizza that transports through the quality and nuance of its ingredients. So it’s no surprise that Batali and Bastianich have taken a stab at duplicating the success of this model pizzeria, opening in Newport Beach, Singapore (!), and soon, San Diego.
When Anthony Mangieri, pizzaiolo for the East Village’s Una Pizza Napoletana, closed in 2009 "to make a change," move West, and open somewhere he could get "a chance to use his outrigger canoe and mountain bike more often," it was the ultimate insult to New Yorkers. You're taking one of the city's favorite Neapolitan pizzerias, defecting to a temperate climate, to people who denigrate New York's Mexican food? So you can canoe and mountain bike? Traitor! Good for Mangieri, and good for San Franciscans, who with Una Pizza Napoletana inherited one of the country's best Neapolitan pies (if only Wednesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. until they're "out of dough").
A thin crust with chewy cornicione, a sauce that's tart and alive, an appropriate ratio of cheese... you could almost imagine yourself at the pantheon to pizza in Naples Da Michele, a place where the pizza is poetry and pizza poetry is on the wall. Mangieri harkens that same ethos on his website — check out the pizza poem "Napoli" — and delivers the edible version to his patrons. There are only five pies, all $25 (a $5 hike since last year), plus a special Saturday-only pie, the Apollonia, made with eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, salami, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, garlic, sea salt, and black pepper. But when you’re this close to godliness, you don’t need extras. Keep it simple with the margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil ,fresh basil, sea salt, tomato sauce) and know the good.
"There’s no mystery to my pizza," Bronx native Chris Bianco was quoted as saying in The New York Times. "Sicilian oregano, organic flour, San Marzano tomatoes, purified water, mozzarella I learned to make at Mike's Deli in the Bronx, sea salt, fresh yeast cake and a little bit of yesterday's dough. In the end great pizza, like anything else, is all about balance. It's that simple.'' Try telling that to the legions of pizza pilgrims who have made trip to the storied Phoenix pizza spot he opened more than 20 years ago. The restaurant serves not only addictive thin-crust pizzas but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood-oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. The wait, once routinely noted as one of the worst for food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco opening for lunch, and the opening of Trattoria Bianco, the pizza prince of Arizona’s Italian restaurant in the historic Town & Country Shopping Center (about 10 minutes from the original. This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (that Rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature Marinara will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, oregano, and garlic (no cheese).
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York and Sicilian-style pizza Wednesday through Sunday (noon to 4:30 p.m., and from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) for hungry New Yorkers and tourists willing to wait in long lines, and brave the free-for-all that is the Di Fara counter experience. Yes, you're better off getting a whole pie than shelling out for the $5 slice. Yes, it's a trek, and sure, Dom goes through periods where the underside of the pizza can trend toward overdone, but when he's on, Di Fara can make a very strong case for being America's best pizza. If you want to understand why before visiting, watch the great video about Di Fara called, The Best Thing I Ever Done. You can’t go wrong with the classic round or square cheese pie (topped with oil-marinated hot peppers, which you can ladle on at the counter if you elbow in), but the menu’s signature is the Di Fara Classic Pie: mozzarella, Parmesan, plum tomato sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, mushroom, onion, and of course, a drizzle of olive oil by Dom.
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria. Frank Pepe opened his doors in Wooster Square in New Haven, Conn., in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza. After immigrating to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16 from Italy, Pepe took odd jobs before opening his restaurant (now called "The Spot" next door to the larger operation). Since its conception, Pepe’s has opened an additional seven locations.
What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmesan atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.