Ask the average person who makes the best pizza, or read articles, blogs, and best-of lists by pizza “experts,” or wade into online comments, and you’ll find that there is a light side and a dark side — two flavors, if you will — of Pizza Opinion: The positive, passionate, all-consuming love for one’s own favorite cheesy, greasy, roof-of-mouth-burning slice; and the dark, fiery vitriol reserved for those who dare challenge the superiority of thin-crust over deep-dish, sweet sauce over savory, or any number of other fiercely divisive pizzalogical issues. Considering the passion pizza inspires, responsibly declaring America’s best pizza can be challenging. But The Daily Meal doesn't shy away from the challenge. With this, our third annual pizza ranking, we have again sought the nation's best pies and slices, considering more places than ever in our quest for the best.
Pizza is arguably our most varied and beloved culinary genre, one whose followers are some of the most opinionated, and yet it remains one of the most accessible foods there is. Even the country’s most expensive, remote, and esteemed pizza temple is within reach of the average person’s budget. Every red-blooded American, rich and poor, grew up with his or her preferred regional style of this national fascination, knowing it as the best. Today, there’s better pizza and more knowledge about it and interest in it everywhere. That accessibility and loyalty makes for some tremendously spirited debate.
Consider New Yorkers' obsession with and (often unwarranted) arrogance about New York pizza. While you could argue the state of the average New York serving of pizza has never been worse (thanks to $1 slice), New York City in fact has so much great pizza that there are even inter- and intra-borough arguments about who serves the city's best pizza. Then there’s the Neapolitan versus casserole… er, deep-dish debate (declaratively over,courtesy Jon Stewart); lesser-known regional styles represented by cities like Detroit and St. Louis; the West Coast powerhouses; Pacific Northwest and Southern upstarts; and the neo-Neapolitan movement that has exploded across the country. Wood-fired, coal-oven, grandma and grandpa slices, red pie, white pie, bar pie, pan pie, Sicilian — oh my!
For many pizza aficionados, however, there is no debate.
"There are only three pizza places on the planet: Sally's,Pepe, and Modern, all in New Haven,” confided director Gorman Bechard, who is working on a pizza documentary Pizza, A Love Story. “People have dragged me to pizza joints all over the country and all it does is leave me with a horrible sadness and a feeling of pity for these poor people who really have no clue as to what amazing pizza is."
Bechard is not alone in his passion for New Haven-style pizza. Frank Pepe topped The Daily Meal’s 2013 list of America’s best pizzas, and nobody will be shocked to find five New Haven pizzerias on the 2014 list. But his passion is echoed everywhere. Last year’s list generated hundreds of comments (“What did they do, slip a hundred dollar bill under the pizza slice you ate?” asked one infuriated reader) and suggestions for candidates from everywhere imaginable.
And so in 2014, The Daily Meal researched and added 275 more pizzas and recruited a group of 30 more experts to
weigh in.'There are only three pizza places on the planet: Sally's, Pepe, and Modern, all in New Haven,' confided director Gorman Bechard, who is working on a pizza documentary Pizza, A Love Story. 'People have dragged me to pizza joints all over the country and all it does is leave me with a horrible sadness and a feeling of pity for these poor people who really have no clue as to what amazing pizza is.' Some 700 pizza spots were considered by 78 panelists. Who were these fine folks? In addition to The Daily Meal’s in-house pizza experts and city editors, this was a geographically diverse panel of American chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and pizza authorities. Count among them SF Weekly food editor Anna Roth, the Los Angeles Times’ S. Irene Virbila, Esquire and Bloomberg News columnist John Mariani, Clean Plate Charlie’s Nicole Danna, Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours, John Berardi of LA Pizza, Jonathan Porter of Chicago Pizza Tours, Jason Feirman of the blog I Dream of Pizza, Felicia Braude of Pizza Lover Chicago, Taste of New Haven’s Colin Caplan, food writer Joe DiStefano of Chopsticks & Marrow, and Virginia B. Wood of the Austin Chronicle. Click here to view the full list (minus those who asked to remain anonymous), which even includes the band the The Pizza Underground.
Voting was exciting. Four fantastic pizzas vied for the crown. New York pizza destinations Di Fara andRoberta’s made a great run along with Arizona’s Pizzeria Bianco, but when the last slice was left, it looks like one famous Connecticut pizzeria can keep its declarative billboard on I-95. That's right, Frank Pepe won again. Other top 10 spots included Sally’s in New Haven, Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, Flour + Water, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, and two Brooklyn spots: Totonno's andPaulie Gee's.
Some 29 states registered — three more than in 2013 — including, for the first time, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. For the second year, New York scored the most pizzas (35), up five from last year. (Check out an expanded list of the 50 best pizzas in New York based on panelists' votes.) And there was a clear winner in the battle of the boroughs: Brooklyn. Its 13 pizzas beat out Manhattan (11), Queens (4), Staten Island (3), and the Bronx (1). California followed with nine pizzas, seven in San Francisco and Berkeley. There were noticeable additions from places like Texas (5), Georgia (4), and Washington, D.C. (3), who all registered more spots than they did last year. And in a move that will continue to enrage deep-dish lovers, even fewer spots from Illinois made the list than ever.There are only three pizza places on the planet: Sally's, Pepe, and Modern, all in New Haven,' confided director Gorman Bechard, who is working on a pizza documentary Pizza, A Love Story. 'People have dragged me to pizza joints all over the country and all it does is leave me with a horrible sadness and a feeling of pity for these poor people who really have no clue as to what amazing pizza is.'
Other conclusions? There is some seriously good pizza being made across America (with more gluten-free options, to boot). It’s interesting to note that while the Neapolitan-style trend has helped to raise pizza standards, it also may be bullying our regional styles: there are lots of Naples-style pies being made out there. One thing is clear: Great tradition and great pizza don’t guarantee longevity. The time between the 2013 and 2014 lists saw the closing of Chicago’s Great Lake and Manhattan’s Famous Roio'sand South Brooklyn Pizza. The passing of these icons makes the accomplishments of these 101 best pizzas resonate even more.
No matter where or how you believe these pizzas rank on this list, it’s a great pizza roadmap full of beloved places definitely worth visiting. So get out there and enjoy them. The perfect paper-plate staining slice may be every American’s God-given right, but you never know just how long the door will be open to that red pepper flake shaker at your favorite Formica counter.
#101 Ghigiarelli's, Old Forge, Pa. (Red: Tomato, Brick Cheese)
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 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 in that it has crust on top and bottom, is the red pizza.
#100 Café Bottega, Birmingham, Ala. (Farm Egg: Mushrooms, Guanciale, Taleggio, Porcini Oil
Over the past 30 years, chef Frank Stitt has been credited for significantly raising the bar in Alabama’s culinary scene. As if the success of his restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill and the roster of culinary talents that have launched their own successful careers after spending time in his kitchen weren’t impressive enough, he’s now going ahead and doing the same thing for the state’s pizza scene. While devoted regulars may have trouble steering themselves away from Stitt’s classic dishes at Café Bottega like the seared beef carpaccio, Niçoise salad, and chicken scaloppini, they’ll find themselves particularly rewarded by any of the eight pizzas on the menu. There’s a white pie with fennel sausage, a grilled chicken and pesto combination, and even a pizza with okra and corn. But the signature pie that the restaurant pointed to as the biggest crowd-pleaser is the “Farm Egg,” topped with mushrooms, guanciale, Taleggio, and porcini oil.