101 Best Pizzas in America 2014
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.
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, but the way to go here is the red pizza.
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.
You can practically envision the folks behind Gusto Pizza Co.: Friends Josh Holderness, Joe McConville and Tony Lemmo sitting down over a few beers before opening their fresh and imaginative Des Moines pizza shop in 2011, and coming up with their menu as an hours-long snort-inducing punfest. “Thai Kwon Dough” with peanut sauce and chicken? “Seoul Food” pizza with Korean-style marinated skirt steak and Sriracha mayo? “Vincent Van Goat” with goat cheese and fried sweet peppers? “Fromage-A-Trois”? Very fun. But don’t mistake the levity for anything less than a serious approach to some delicious pizzas featuring some crispy-chewy thin crusts.
Gusto Pizza Co.
Iron Chef Michael Symon and Jonathan Sawyer may be among the most well-known Cleveland chefs nationally, but if you asked them about the Ohio pizzeria that deserves attention, they’d likely single out Vero Pizza Napoletana helmed by Marc Aurele. This Cleveland Neapolitan pizzeria (open Tuesday through Saturday until 10 p.m. and Sunday through 9 p.m. or until dough runs out) is serving a leopard-spot charred Neapolitan crust that should be the envy of many a Naples-obsessed American pizzaiolo. The 13 pies on the menu are garlic, sausage, and egg heavy — as if that’s something to complain about.
Vero Pizza Napoletana
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 — mostly the former — with accoutrements like ham and mushroom, prosciutto and arugula, chorizo, sausage and onion, eggplant and red pepper on top. 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
If there’s anything scientific to discovering the best pizza in America it may very well involve an equation like this: Italian-Americans plus Milwaukee and cheese equals heralded pizza at Zaffiro's since 1954. First-generation Italian American Liborio "Bobby" Zaffiro opened Rock-a-Bye Tap where he started serving thin-crust pizza with the help of his brother John before they opened Zaffiro’s in 1956 to make a go of it full time. It all worked out beautifully for the Sicilian-blooded brothers until John's 1988 retirement. Bobby died the year after, at which point his wife and two sons took over. Zaffiro's has stayed in the family, helmed by Michael Zaffiro. However, the tradition of a thin-crust Milwaukee pie topped with three to four times the cheese lives on at this Wisconsin icon where among the 11 pies on the menu, you’ll find two “E”-centric menu items with one difference between them; the “E” has everything (toppings-wise at least), and the “EBF” has everything but the fish, delicious (yet divisive) anchovies. If you’re not an anchovy devotee, Opt for the latter and appreciate one of Milwaukee’s pizza gifts to the nation.
What can you say about Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman except, “Man, do these guys get it”? Whichever of the iterations on the theme most resonates with you (“Italian dining with a Southern drawl,” “Italian cooking, Southern roots”), the inescapable fact is that whether it's a beef and Cheddar dog in a pretzel bun with yellow mustard, an order of sweetbreads with peanut agrodulce, poutine with neckbone gravy, or an amazing burger topped with pickled lettuce, American cheese, onion, and mustard dedicated to one of the country’s best food writers, you’re going to have an amazing meal at Hog & Hominy. Now factor primetime pizza into the equation. There are some 11 pies on the menu, which are tended to in a painstakingly monitored oven on the side of the restaurant, among them The Prewitt with Fontina, tomato sauce, boudin, and scrambled eggs. Try it, Mikey. You’ll like it.
The Northern-Italian town of Monza in the region of Lombardy houses an historic Italian speedway where, every year since 1922, owners of the finest cars, from Alfa Romeo to Ferrari, drive around the curves of the 6.25-mile track. Monza in Charleston, S.C., feeds off the history of their namesake city to offer their handcrafted pies to city residents. Monza uses imported San Felice wheat flour, Neapolitan yeast, and filtered and pH-balanced water to develop their version of the most traditional-style pizza possible. The pies are baked in the wood oven at a sweltering 1,000 degrees F, allowing for a thin and crispy crust, and are topped with mozzarella and fresh and usually regional ingredients that have earned the praise of locals, visitors, and no less than chef Sean Brock of two of America’s best restaurants, Husk and McCrady's.
Don’t make any mistake about it, you’re not visiting Slice for the ambience, but for the significant reason that it may be one of the few places in the South that gets how to serve thin and crispy, charred-under, quality versions of the single-serving size for which it’s named. Opened by the owners of Juan's Flying Burrito, the spot features some 15 types of signature slices including the one that both they and this year’s judges singled out: the PGA, topped with prosciutto di Parma, imported gorgonzola, organic arugula, and honey (by request).
Slice St. Charles
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
This Vegas outpost, one of the five pizzerias California pizza king Tony Gemignani owns, doesn’t skimp on pizza preparation. There are at least four ovens (a 900-degree-F wood-fired Cirigliano Forni oven, a Rotoflex gas brick oven, a Marsal gas brick oven, and a Cuppone Italian electric brick oven) the pizza champ uses to send out his signature pie styles (Napoletana, classic Italian, classic American, Sicilian, and Romano) of which there are many impressive iterations in each category. You’re going to want to try to score one of the only 73 Margherita pies made daily using Tony’s award-winning recipe, or for something perhaps even more exclusive, try to order the Sausage & Stout pie made with honey-malted Guinness dough, housemade mozzarella, beer sausage, caramelized onions, Fontina, green onions, crushed red peppers, beer salt, and Sweet Guinness reduction (23 per day).
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.
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
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 88th-best pizza.
There are styles of pizza so particular to the area they’re from that many outsiders will forever struggle to comprehend the reason for their existence. 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 location 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.
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.
Where is Pelham Pizza? In Pelham, of course, a town in Westchester not far from Mount Vernon where you’ll find another local pizzeria that local experts obsess over: Lincoln Lounge. Pelham Pizza was opened in 1978 by two brothers from Italy, Luigi "Gino" and Ettore "John" Ruffolo. Gino ran the pizzeria after John passed away in 1988 until his own death just a few years ago. Since 2009, Gino's son John and son-in-law Pino Mancini have kept up the tradition of soul-satisfying, thin-crust, family-pleasing New York-style pies that deliver without the fuss.
Bottarga isn’t the first ingredient you’d expect on a self-described signature pie, but that’s what you get at Pizzeria Paradiso’s three D.C.-area locations, and you’ll be glad you sampled it. Salty accents to the slightly-sweet tomato touch, a nice garlic edge, and light herb touch, Paradiso’s Bottarga pie might just be showing off by adding its egg finish, but you probably won’t mind.
There have been some beautiful things written about Lee’s Tavern, which is impressive considering how seldom clams and garlic have been called “beautiful.” But they are beautiful and the words are true nonetheless. Consider Connor Kilpatrick’s New York Magazine description: “Host to hundreds of firemen/police retirement parties, softball-team postgame blowouts, and local civic groups, Lee’s Tavern is something of a community hub with the Palemine family acting as live-in landlords (they reside upstairs) since 1969,” and also Brooks of Sheffield’s track suit riff that ends with him declaring, “If I could call Lee's my local pizzeria, I'd be kinda proud too.” Need further elaboration? Try this pizza haiku: Staten Island ‘za, Flat and unsauced at its edge. Crunch, beer, laughs, one more.
"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 had it 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.
Instead of limiting themselves to Neapolitan- or New York-style pizzas, brothers Jason and Hugh Connerty decided that they were more interested in combining the characteristics they liked from each style to create a truly unique pizza experience at Ammazza in the Old Fourth Ward. That began with three-day-risen dough cooked in their 900-degree-F wood-fired oven, but also meant not limiting themselves or their menu to ingredients from a single region in Italy — Ammazza makes their own fresh mozzarella daily and uses meats cured and prepared by The Spotted Trotter in Kirkwood (and yes, count sprinkles for the kid’s pie among non-Italian region derived ingredients). And whether you order the Margherita, the sausage-laden Ammazzare, or one of the other 14 pizzas on the menu, the result has been one of the South’s most successful pizza spots, and a true Atlanta favorite.
“Increase the piece!” It’s the world’s first pizza museum, for heaven’s sake, and those in the know, know that when you’re craving great pizza in Philly you need go no further than the nineteenth-century brick building in the Kensington neighborhood to eat thin-crusted pizza cooked in the double-deck gas-fired oven at the cash-only joint Kickstarted by Ryan Anderson, Joseph Hunter, Brian Dwyer, and Michael Carter. As you wait for the crew to cook your pie, you can bask in Pizza Brain's unique ambience, check out their pizza memorabilia museum (featuring what the Guinness Book of World Records called the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world), or rummage through their pizza tattoo book for a few laughs. Pizza Brain’s "Jane" is their version of a Margherita, a cheesy trifecta of mozzarella, aged provolone, and grana padano blended with basil, and that’s a good place to begin, but the salty and satisfying Forbes Waggensense is the move: mozzarella, fontina, grana padano, basil, smoked pepperoni, and tomato sauce.
Ah, the bar pie. Along with grandma pizza, it may be one of the most unappreciated styles of pizza in the Northeast. And Eddie’s in New Hyde Park is a master of the genre. Established in 1941, Eddie’s doesn’t go overboard on décor or service. This is a bar, and a very unimpressive-looking one from out front at that — you know, the kind at which you really intend to go drink. Not have a drink, but drink. Bar up front, tables in back, pies sent to tables fairly quickly because they’re so thin, moon-crater speckled cheese and grease and meat toppings scattered out to the very edge of a crust barely wide enough for you to get a non-cheese finger-grip. Cracker-thin without being crackery is a cliché when it comes to discussing bar pies — suffice it to say that Eddie’s serves a supremely satisfying thin slice of pizza heaven, especially when laden with more ingredients than it should ever be able to support, as is the case with the Eddie’s Special: sausage, meatball, pepperoni, pepper, mushroom, and onion
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 pass, 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.
Sometimes it’s better to let a place speak for itself. So consider what could easily be described as a pizza mission statement as posted by pizzaiolo Nino Coniglio and the rest of the team behind Williamsburg Pizza: “We consider pizza one of the most important foods on earth. The soul of a true Brooklyn-style pizza doesn't reside in fancy gimmicks or a host of bizarre toppings. The key to an authentic New York City pie is an obsessive devotion to ingredients of the highest quality and consummate freshness. Our delicious pizza is handcrafted using only the finest and freshest ingredients beginning with our old school Brooklyn thin crust; to our homemade San Marzano tomato sauce; to our Grande Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese — made fresh daily or imported directly from Italy. And when tossed together, the result is absolutely delicious.”
Is Roseland Apizza the greatest pizzeria you’ve never heard of? At the very least, Roseland is probably one of Connecticut’s most underrated pizzerias — and this in a state known for its famous pies. Imagine the good nature and good will of a pizzeria that starts your meal off with a bread basket. Now follow that good will and sorely lacking amount of national notoriety with the words “shrimp pizza” and the knowledge that this neighborhood parlor has been slinging pies since 1935. That’s tradition. In fact, New Haven pizza intransigents may feel right at home at Roseland — the décor has a Formica-counter-and-crowded-booth feeling of decades-gone-by that echoes the one at the more-pilgrimaged Sally’s of Wooster Street. In point of fact, Frank Pepe opened just eight years before and Sally’s opened just three years later. Regardless, the point is that if this is your first time, you’re in the right place. Start off with a plain tomato pie (no cheese). But don’t shy away from having leftovers. You’ll likely want to try the Roseland Special (sausage and mushrooms), the fresh-shucked clam pie (white), and one of the special shrimp pizzas (one that’s said to include two pounds of shrimp — no joke). And if you really feel like splashing out? Well, look into Roseland’s “most elite pie,” the "Ponsinella,” which is loaded with lobster, shrimp, and scallops and has been known to cost $65 at market price.
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 and with their 2013 move to Robbinsville from Trenton to a new location as well. 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.
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 credit working without a century-long tradition backing them up. 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.
“Pizza continues to go upscale, and what the French Laundry is to fine dining, San Francisco's Zero Zero is to pizza.” That was the San Francisco Chronicle executive food and wine editor Michael Bauer kicking off a review of owner and executive chef Bruce Hill’s San Francisco pizza spot Zero Zero (named for the type of fine Italian flour dedicated to pizza-making). Wow, right? Try a bite of the chewy, black-blistered crust on the Margherita Extra and disagree. Triple-pizza dare ya.
Flickr/I am Jeffrey
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?
One of three Austin pizza spots to narrowly miss last year’s list that made it this year (The Backspace and Home Slice also ranked), Via 313 specializes in the Detroit-style pizza that its owners, brothers Zane and Brandon Hunt, loved eating at Cloverleaf, Loui's, Niki's, and Buddy's (where the style originated) when they were kids. They opened their customized pizza trailer on East 6th and Waller (in front of the Violet Crown Social Club) in 2011 and haven’t looked back. For the uninitiated, consider Detroit-style like a Sicilian slice — semi-thick, but with a light and airy crust (similar to focaccia) formed from baking it in industrial steel pans that also allow for the cheese to be baked all the way around. There’s a delicious caramelized edge and two large strips of crushed red tomato sauce that add an immediate flavorful touch. Via 313 offers 16 different pies with all the classic toppings you’d imagine, but they suggested starting with The Detroiter, which hosts mozzarella, white Cheddar, tomato sauce, and a double portion of pepperoni.
Good pizza in Dallas? Are you kidding? Nope. Cane Rosso owner Jay Jerrier is serving some bar-raising Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified stuff, and as the menu declares by highlighting just four ingredients — sea salt, water, yeast, and imported double-zero flour — great pizza can be all about simplicity. You’ll want to order the Zoli with sausage, hot soppressata, hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, housemade mozzarella, and basil, and you’ll enjoy it for sure. Just mind your wallet while you’re there. Cane Rosso will serve vegan cheese, but they draw the line at topping your pizza with ranch dressing — you can incur a $1,000 charge for demanding a side of it (it’s a joke… but don’t try it anyway just in case, okay?). You want ranch dressing? Go to Pizza Hut.
Detroit’s signature square pizza style is like a Sicilian slice on steroids. There's some crisp, thick, deep-dish crust action going on here, often formed from the process of twice-baking the pizza in square pans that have been brushed with oil or butter, and a liberal ladling of sauce spread out across the top of the cheese surface. It supposedly all started at Buddy’s Rendezvous in 1946, a neighborhood tavern that had been run for a decade by owner August “Gus” Guerra. Since 1953, Buddy’s has had several owners. Gus sold Buddy’s to Jimmy Bonacorse and Jimmy Valenti, and opened Cloverleaf (a pizzeria featured on last year’s list). They in turn sold it to Billy and Shirlee Jacobs in 1970 (their son Robert Jacobs is at the helm now). But the different stewardships have had the same result — a passionate following for cheesy, chewy pies — the difference being that there are now 10 locations and the rest of the country is finally starting to catch up. You may think that Detroit-style is just confined to its home region, but consider that just a few years ago, Alan Richman of GQ singled out Buddy’s as one of the 25 best pizzas in America; that California pizza royalty Tony Gemignani serves his version on the menu at two of his restaurants; and that another of this year’s 101 best in America, Austin’s Via 313, specializes in the style. It’s coming for us all, and if you’re going to join the masses, do it right: go to Buddy’s. You’re going to want at least two pies here: the cheese pizza (four or eight squares) from the Detroit's Original Square Pizza collection, and the signature Detroit Zoo pie from the Motor City Pizza Collection: Motor City Cheese blend, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, pine nuts, tomato basil sauce.
Nominated for the Best New Restaurant award by the James Beard Foundation in 2008 and home to James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Mid-Atlantic 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.
Once upon a time in Washington, D.C., the word “pizza” held very little meaning. Twenty, even 10 years ago, you really couldn’t talk about the city as seriously even knowing what the word meant. It was like talking pretzels to a New Yorker who’d never been to Philadelphia or a hot dog expert who’d never been to Chicago: wasted breath. Sure there was something ridiculous and fun about the Jumbo slice, but when people use Ledo as a benchmark, well, let’s move on. Times have changed in D.C. in many ways, and pizza is a big one. Where once there was barely more than Manny & Olga’s, now, besides 2Amys there’s Pizza Paradiso, Ghibellina, Graffiato, Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, and Seventh Hill (all were in the running to make this year’s list). There’s even an “upscale” jumbo slice place Italian Kitchen on U (context is everything). Seriously though, along with the aforementioned pizzerias, Matchbox numbers one of the D.C. pizza spots that has helped start putting the city on the map when it comes down to seriously discussing the nation’s best pizza. And now there are five additional locations besides the flagship pizza joint in Chinatown that launched in 2002 where you can find the seriously-singed signature Fire & Smoke pie with fire-roasted red peppers, Spanish onions, chipotle pepper, tomato sauce, garlic purée, smoked Gouda, and fresh basil.
Sal’s has been around for 50 years, it has a line out the door, and while the round pies are some of the most exemplary you may have ever had, they’re not the point. You’re here for the Sicilian — a thick and heavy, cheesy mess with a significant crunch outside, a touch of grease, and a delicate, pillowy bite. According to The Journal News, this is where Joe Torre would stop by after home games to pick up a pie on the way home — and he’s supposedly lactose-intolerant. What else could you possibly want to know if you haven’t been there other than the directions? Sal DeRose opened on Mamaroneck Avenue in 1964. There have been lines ever since. Now go! Can't get there anytime soon? Pizza delivery is never a fair way to judge a place, but you can order their pizzas from across the country.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Frasca, one of America’s best restaurants, launched an offshoot that serves some of the best pizza in the country. What happens now that it’s out in the open that restaurateurs Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have teamed up with Chipotle to launch the restaurant as a fast-casual concept, however, remains to be seen. There seems to be a thought out there that America needs a high-quality fast-casual Neapolitan pizza chain. Maybe they’re right that there’s a gap in a market dominated by somnabulant pizza chains that have been content to churn out doughy, overly-sweet sauced gut bombs for years. Maybe there’s really nothing wrong with the idea of rotational hearth ovens powered by gas and infrared that largely take the human element out of cooking. Or maybe Americans will think the pizza from a fast-casual spot should be able to be eaten with one hand and without a knife or fork, you know, like what New Yorkers would call, “a slice.” What has been made clear so far, is that this self-described contemporary pizzeria inspired by the traditional pizzerias of Naples, knows how to bring it. At Pizzeria Locale there are 11 red pies and six white pizzas including a four-cheese, cippolini and speck, squash blossom, corn, and escarole, but the “Funghi” is the one they pointed out to us as their signature, topped with mozzarella, Pecorino, Fontina, porcini, roasted white mushrooms, garlic, and shallot.
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, no toppings allowed. 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). Out of all the different pies offered, consider the classic pepperoni, which has served Rizzo’s and all its fans well for a long time.
Rizzo's Fine Pizza
Milkflower’s story has yet to be written, but its owners, New Jersey-raised brothers Peter and Danny Aggelatos, are off to a strong start. Their wood-fired Neapolitan-style pies with homemade mozzarella are so good that Astoria residents have been promoting Milkflower as the place their Manhattanite friends have to come visit to finally prove how cool they are to live there. Though at this point, they’d probably rather their friends stayed home so it’s easier to snag a pie. The Aggelatos brothers (who have said they most admire Motorino) haven’t been around long, but the 11 pizzas on their menu, including the Queen (their Margherita) have made a strong case for quick consideration as one of the country’s best pies.
In 2008, sing what they learned while working at their family’s restaurant Basille’s in Staten Island, 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 New York City’s 14th Street into a pizza icon and cash cow. They now have five other locations (two others in Manhattan, two in Queens, and one in Berkeley, Calif.), and there is still a line out the door, pizza fiends standing outside trying (unsuccessfully) 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 and that the crust isn’t what it used to be, but you can’t argue it’s not a major landmark of New York City’s pizza scene.
Does it say something that the first Chicago deep-dish pizzeria on this list of the 101 best pizzas in America ranks number 61? 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, expanding it to some 36 locations.
The Lou Malnati’s deep-dish experience comes in four sizes: six-inch individual (serves one), nine-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!"
Dave Sclarow hasn’t gotten nearly the recognition he deserves since he first welded together a portable pizza oven able to withstand New York’s unforgiving asphalt and went into business for himself in 2008. But if you’ve attended one of the many events where he’s served his signature slightly-smaller than average Neapolitan pies, you’ve seen the lines of people who have gleaned this truth: he’s serving one of New York City’s most underrated pizzas. The made-to-order, wood-fired pies have always had a very personal touch — like your best friend happened to be a pizzaiolo and was making a mini-pizza just for you. There are now four mobile ovens, which can be found all over Brooklyn and Manhattan between April and November, but this fall he and partner Anna Viertel may make it much easier for New Yorkers to pin the accolades on what has thus far been a moving target. There are plans for the first Pizza Moto restaurant to open soon on Hamilton Avenue in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The team is restoring a turn—of-the-century oven found in an abandoned South Brooklyn storefront, and will be firing up gas deck ovens in Berg’n Beer Hall to serve their version of a “classic New York slice shop”
If you’re not a fan of romantic movie plots, keep in mind that this one ends with you eating pizza. What are we talking about? Probably one of the cutest pizza love stories ever. Boy and girl's first meal together was pizza. Girl looks across pie and knows she will marry boy. Girl and boy's first date is at grilled-pizza icon Al Forno in Providence. Boy goes to culinary school, is invited to help open Brooklyn pizzeria, finds pizza calling, collaborates on successful pizza restaurant, then sets out with girl to launch own Kickstarter-funded, family-run successful pizza spot — which über-pizza blogger Adam Kuban promptly honors by opening a bar-pie pop-up, Margot’s, within. Everyone lives happily pizza after. Oh, and it all happens in Brooklyn. See? You almost can’t take the good vibes. Well, tough tomato sauce, because Clinton Hill pizzeria Emily and its co-owners Emily and Matt Hyland produce some of New York City’s best new pies, and if you haven’t been yet, you should hightail it over to taste the bubble-and-char-blistered “Classic” (puréed Jersey tomatoes, mozz, and basil).
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.
Described by Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine as home of “the area's definitive authentic Neapolitan pizzas,” Punch Neapolitan Pizza combines a thin crust, “a modest amount of toppings, and a luscious San Marzano tomato sauce to make a restrained but satisfying pie.” Punch (which was almost named Bruni until the owner’s wife stepped in) was a success soon after John Soranno founded it in Highland Park in 1996, and it has since become a Minneapolis-St. Paul pizza icon, partly because Caribou Coffee co-founders John and Kim Puckett fell in love with it and partnered with Sorrano; there are now 9 locations of what they’ve called their favorite restaurant. But don’t hate on success. Punch is all about quality, and it turns out excellent pies. Peruse the menu and you’ll see that they have had some fun with it, detailing the anatomy of a Neapolitan Pizza (frame-blackened blisters, fresh mozzarella, crushed tomatoes), and laying out their pies under headings like, “For Those Who Get It,” “Those Who Really Get It,” and “Double Your Pleasure.” But know that the most popular pie is the Margherita Extra (fresh mozzarella di bufala, crushed tomatoes from Campagna and Mt. Vesuvio), and that the newest pizza is the Bufalina with mozzarella di bufala, arugula, and prosciutto (no crushed tomatoes).
You’d expect no less than pizza greatness from Seattle star chef and James Beard award-winner Tom Douglas, and at his three Serious Pie spots in Seattle that’s exactly what you get. These are thin-crust, cornicione-centric oblong pizzas about a foot-long and imbued with serious soul. Consider the pizza mission statement that greets you when visiting their website: “Serious Pie: a pizzeria with a bread baker's soul, serves up pies with blistered crusts, light textured but with just enough structure and bite. Our attentiveness to each pizza in the 600°F stone-encased applewood burning oven preserves the character of housemade charcuterie and artisan cheeses from around the world.” The menu features seven pies including pies with Yukon gold potato, soft-cooked free range eggs, clams, and burrata, but you’ll want to try the sweet fennel sausage, roasted pepper, and provolone pie that was voted one of the top 60 pizzas in the country this year.
What do you get when you combine a former food editor of the Austin Chronicle with a passion for pizza? One of the most heralded pizza spots in Texas. Jen Strickland must have had to forget everything she’d learned about the pitfalls and craziness of opening a restaurant during the decade she spent covering them for the Chronicle and Texas Monthly in order to take a leap of faith and try to open one with her husband Joseph Strickland and partner Terri Hannifin. Or maybe she just knew the New York City slices she ate while attending NYU would inspire her own pizzeria to greatness (there is a certain invincibility those slices can make you feel while eating one walking down the street Saturday Night Fever style). The end result at Home Slice Pizza has been a South Austin smash hit: New York-style Neapolitan thin crust slices and pies (try the pepperoni and mushroom) that just might inspire a South Congress strut, Tony Manero-style.
You don’t expect pizza restraint in a city known for deep dish, but that’s what owners Bill Carroll and Dave Bonomi advise on the menu at their coal-oven Neapolitan pizzeria: “Due to the delicate nature of our crust, and the care we take to ensure maximum quality, we recommend: one to two toppings per pizza, no more than one vegetable topping, and evenly balanced toppings (i.e. half toppings are not recommended).” Crowds of customers have been heeding that advice now for more than seven years, enjoying the thin crust that emerges slightly charred and bubbly from Coalfire’s 800-degree clean burning coal oven.
Scuola Vecchia brings a host of traditional Italian pizzas to Delray Beach, Fla., with a ton of different options for every pizza lover. Guests can choose from more than 20 different pizzas, from the traditional Margherita pizza to more complex pies like the capricciosa with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, Italian ham, artichokes, mushrooms, and extra-virgin olive oil. But if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, there’s the option to build your own pie, starting with the foundation of either a marinara or Margherita.
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 crumbles over a light, pliant crust.
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 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
Frank Pepe's, Sally's Apizza, Modern Apizza, and Bar and the Bru Room round out New Haven’s big four pizza names, but there's a lesser-known pizzeria on the other side of I-95 in West Haven that has been around almost as long: Zuppardi's. Zuppardi's has its own take on Connecticut's renowned thin-crust style. It’s as thin as, but less crisp than, New Haven's other pies, with a New York City crust that's lighter and airier than the ones you'll find in Gotham. The difference is in the edge, which is charred in places, and is thicker all around. The signature pie is the Special, topped with mozzarella, mushroom, sausage, and marinara, but there are two other pies worth noting: the market price, freshly-shucked littleneck clam pie (there’s a cheaper and quicker clam pie, but why would you want that?) and a wet and juicy escarole and bean white pie, which features garlic and interspersed bites of crisp and wet escarole and soft bean. All good Italians know that escarole and bean soup is a great winter savior. Here, you get that on a pie. Salud.
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
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.
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.
2Amys’ 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 47 on this list of the 101 best pizzas, better than a good number of pizzerias in New York.
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, and now, in Atlanta as well. 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.
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.
If you’re looking for the first Ray’s pizza (not the Original Ray’s, Famous Ray’s, Original Famous Ray’s or any other iteration of Ray’s) on Prince between Elizabeth and Mott, don’t bother. The famed pizzeria of 27 Prince Street opened in 1959 by Ralph Cuomo, a member of the Luchese crime family, closed in 2011 after a dispute with the landlord. While losing a piece of New York City’s pizza history (Ray may have been in the mob, but the pies were perfection all the way up to his death in 2008), you can take comfort in the pizza continuity that has soldiered on in the space since Prince Street Pizza started serving their “SoHo Squares” in 2012. Owner Frank Morano, who grew up on slices at Ray’s and uses his family’s Sicilian recipes, installed a new gas-fired, brick-lined Marsal & Sons oven in the half of the space that used to be Ray’s take-out slice shop to fire up seven signature Neapolitan pies and five styles of square slices. There’s the thin-crust Mercer Margherita, the Spicy Spring featuring pepperoni, and the cheeseless Broadway Breadcrumb. But you’ll want to start with their simple mozz and sauce signature square. “No other square can compare.”
Prince Street Pizza
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 Diavola (blended San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, spicy salami, basil, Calabrian chili powder, extra virgin olive oil). Questo è tutto ciò che serve!
Most red-blooded Americans might be gun shy about trusting any place supposedly serving amazing pizza whose name features a circumflex diacritic. See? You took French in high school, and you still totally just lost interest. But you’re not visiting Nellcôte to catch up with your tenth-grade French teacher Madame Miro, as lovely as she may have been. You’re at this fancy-pants spot, named for a French mansion once inhabited by the Rolling Stones, quite surprisingly, for the pizza. Why? Where else would you go for pizza whose flour is actually milled by the restaurant? See, you’re intrigued. And you should be, because even though it may not be a Chicago tradition, there’s something worthwhile going on here; namely, a super-thin crust that has been described by Serious Eats’ Daniel Zemans as being akin to whole wheat in texture and flavor. There are eight “fork and knife” pizzas including pies with Taleggio and ramp, wood-roasted mushrooms, broccoli, n'duja, and housemade fennel sausage, but the move here is the Sunnyside-Up Organic Egg with D.O.P. fontina, mozzarella, and arugula, which, unless you have an egg aversion (so sorry), will probably sound as runny, luxurious, and delicious as it actually is.
It can truly be tiring to explain the Grimaldi’s-Juliana’s thing, so the best tack anyone can really take when it comes to this deep-seated pizza saga is to just go to both places, preferably one after another on the same day, when there’s plenty of time to explain the New York pizza genealogy behind the two intertwined spots, and taste the history yourself. Following is the abbreviated version in one sentence: After learning from his uncle Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri, who in turn had learned from Gennaro Lombardi, Patsy Grimaldi opened a place called Patsy’s in DUMBO in 1990, whose name he changed to Grimaldi’s before selling it to a customer who lost the lease to the original space, which he then reopened as Juliana’s (named for his mother, Maria ”Juliana” Lancieri Grimaldi) serving the same pizza he started the place with. Sigh… ignorance, bliss, and all that. These days, the lines may be longer at Grimaldi’s (ranked higher on this year’s list), but ironically, those looking for the authentic Grimaldi’s experience really should be hitting up Juliana’s where the crust has gained a reputation among some for being more crisp and airy with more complex flavor.
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.
Pequod’s originator Burt Katz moved on from this endeavor after just a few years to take a break before opening a new pizza stalwart in 1989, Burt’s Place, but the years have been kind to his legacy. Pequod’s deep dish pizza, known for its “caramelized crust,” takes pride in the chewy, crusty, quasi-burnt cheese crust that forms along the outer edge of this cheesy casserole, adding a welcome degree of texture that probably wouldn’t be necessary if it wasn’t nearly an inch thick. But it is. And it does add that texture. And you can thank the fact that they spread a thin layer of cheese along the outer part of the crust where it darkens against the side of the pan.
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.
The bar pie. In the annals of all things pizza, it is perhaps one of the most underrated styles. The maligned proponents of the pile-it-on philosophy behind deep dish pies get themselves bent out of shape when Chicago’s signature style gets besmirched, but there doesn’t seem to be a similar geographic identification attached to this much more nuanced, reserved, and minimalist approach to pizza. It’s a shame, save that it makes bar pie bastions like Colony, Eddie’s, and Star Tavern in Orange, N.J. even easier to like, and selfishly, to eat at without battling a crowd. Owned and operated by the Vayianos family since 1980, “The Star” is run by former attorney Gary Vayianos, whose kitchen turns out super-thin, crispy, to-the-edges-with-the-sauce toppings, with a sauce and cheese ratio that delivers as much as you need and not more than the structural integrity can handle.
Star Tavern Pizzeria
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.
San Francisco’s Mission may have changed quite a bit over the past decade, but as Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer 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 look out (!) 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.
Anybody interested in tracing America’s love affair with pizza back to its beginning will inevitably be led to Lombardi’s. Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1897, and in 1905, started selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string to workers of Italian descent who took them to their jobs (because most couldn’t afford the entire pie, it was sold by the piece). The pizzeria was run by the Lombardi family, first by Gennaro’s son, John, and then his grandson, Jerry, until it closed in 1984, and was reopened 10 years later a block away from the original location by Jerry and John Brescio, a childhood friend.
These days, Lombardi’s almost always seems packed. There’s a thin crust, a cornicione that doesn’t have much bubble or puff, and a thorough layering of a sauce that’s tangy and not overly sweet or salty. There’s no shredded mozz layering but the fresh stuff, well-spread out. Even if you’re not a fan of this kind of cheese on your pie, you’ll probably like this. Is it New York City’s best pizza? No. Still, Lombardi's is a touchstone. And when looking out on New York's pizza landscape, the devotion to a pizza from a time when it didn't mean artful charring and contrived, golden-tiled ovens is comforting, even if that just means the pizza of 1994.
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 only dream of, and was reportedly one of Sinatra and DiMaggio’s favorite joints. Still, the original location is one of the most underrated and un-hyped 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 — do not reheat.
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!
De Lorenzo’s serves up some serious tradition with their pies — some 67 years' worth. While the Trenton location closed in 2012, the tradition (that started in 1947) lives on in the newer Robbinsville location. 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).
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.
It may now sport some 20 locations, but the original Regina Pizzeria has been a local hotspot 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.
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.
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 either a margherita pie or what the guys at John's like to call, the "Boom Pie," (according to a manager, they say "Boom!" to themselves right before they serve it): oven-roasted tomato, garlic, and basil.
Photo Modified: Flickr / MsSaraKelly
You hear plenty of people tell tales of their outer borough 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. The sausage comes from the S&D Pork Store just blocks from Crosby Avenue, and is applied in generous, juicy, fennel-spiked chunks barely held in place by copious amounts of melted cheese.
Of course, after you try the sausage pie (sausage, tomato sauce, and mozzarella) you need to taste the wet-hot, messy creamy ricotta-ripping masterpiece that is the Louie & Ernie’s white pie.
What is it with these computer guys turned pizzaiolos? Like Paulie Gee, who has characterized himself as having “masqueraded as a computer geek,” Bronx-born software engineer Jeff Varasano found a passion for pizza that led him down a saucy, bubbly road to pizza stardom. The beneficiary has been Atlanta, where Varasano has made a well-documented six-year stab at recreating his version of the Patsy’s pizza, which has credited with changing his life. The fact that the pizza isn’t quite Patsy’s-esque isn’t a bad thing. There’s a much taller cornicione, one featuring a shard-thin exterior that gives way to pliant air pockets and a soft underlying crust, which means more textural variation with each bite. Varasano's serves eight specialty pizzas, and two traditional pies: the Margherita di Bufala, or "Nana's," which is the house special: mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce with a “secret blend of herbs” and the suggested sweet roasted red peppers.
Bru Room is much younger than its New Haven cousins — it started kicking out brick-oven pizzas in 1996 when it was added to BAR. But you can make the argument that its pies are just as good if not better than Modern's. They do the red, white, and red “with mozz” pies, same as the others, and a clam pie that's very respectable. But the thing to have is the mashed potato pizza with bacon (no sauce). The pie sounds ridiculous. And looking a bit like it’s covered with thick béchamel, it kind of is. But the mashed potatoes are well seasoned and fairly creamy for having just baked in an oven, and there’s lots of garlic. A definite check-it-off-your-list item.
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.
"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, the oven, you, and then they see and taste Roberto Caporuscio’s pizza. They catch themselves, begrudgingly and not out of politeness, noting that it is quite close to the real thing — fine, at least better than they could have imagined it could be in America.
It elicits that reaction for a 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 proudly, and doesn’t let it down.
Keste Pizza/Anthony Bianciella
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.
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 (which has previously been 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.
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!
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.
If you talk to anyone from Queens about pizza, you won’t be able to get away without talking about the 1956 brick-oven stalwart New Park PIzza. If you haven’t been, they’ll quickly lose all respect they might have had for you (God forbid that you have been and you didn’t like it). In fact, you might as well have just become invisible. The key to the perfect New Park slice may be a bit of ordering attention. Take the advice of the now-defunct Slice blog founder Adam Kuban and ask for your slice “well-done.” It will be set into New Park’s second set of ovens where the bottom will come close to being burnt. “It's not, though,” notes Kuban, “[it] just adds a bit more flavor. The cheese will brown and crisp in spots. The slice will have some serious pizza-burn potential — but you won't care. You will eat that slice and immediately order another.”
A few years ago, the buzz among the New York City pizza cognoscenti was around South Brooklyn Pizza, Motorino, Roberta’s, and Paulie Gee’s, among others. These days, Motorino, Roberta’s, and Paulie Gee’s make up the old guard of pizza newcomers who have set the standard, and South Brooklyn Pizza has gone to that big cardboard box in the sky. The checklist Manhattan pizzeria that has seemed to come up time and again in have-you-been yet conversations over the past few years is now Rubirosa in Nolita, a spot opened by former Esca cook Angelo (A.J.) Pappalardo who learned how to make a super-thin crust, and barely-there cornicione at the age of 12 at his father Giuseppe's Staten Island restaurant, Joe & Pat's (#33 on this year’s list). The slice at Rubirosa (which New York Magazine reported was named for a Florence, Italy restaurant whose owners named it after international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa) is the kind that inspires cross-section marveling and sets the stage for game-changing pizza paradigm shifts. Those who consider the city’s average thick crusts the New York baseline finally understand the nuance of pizza. This is one of the few places you can walk into and ask for a stracciatella pie , which is impressive enough, and there are 10 standards on the menu that you’ll want to rotate through including the classic, supreme, and "tie-dye" (vodka, tomato, pesto, fresh mozzarella), but the pie the restaurant singled out to us, and the one panelists voted up very high on this year’s list for the first time was the vodka pie with fresh mozzarella.
The local favorite has already seen its fair share of fame after winning the Best 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.
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 in 2013.
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 favorite 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.)
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.
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").
It’s one thing to be considered an expert on how to make Neapolitan pizza — and with too many awards to count (eight-time world champion pizza acrobat, first-place world champion pizza maker, first-place Roman pizza world championships of pizza makers) Tony Gemignani is definitely considered that. It’s another thing to also proudly offer, and be commended for being a master of, any and all pizza styles. But that’s what goes on at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Of course the signature pie is Tony’s pizza cup winner in Naples, Italy: dough mixed by hand using San Felice flour then proofed in Napoletana wood boxes, and topped with San Marzano tomatoes, sea salt, mozzarella, fior di latte, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil; just 73 of these champion pizzas are made each day, so get there early if you want one for yourself. But the menu also offers critically-acclaimed versions of pizza in the styles of California, St. Louis, Italy, Sicily, New York, Rome, classic American, and even Detroit. You could accuse Gemignani of just showing off, but then again there’s the old expression: “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”
With a love for pizza, little formal training, no high school diploma, 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 still isn’t much to look at, but Paulie Gee’s is a pizza lover’s haven, 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 are some 19 pies to choose from, 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 their 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 10 best pizzas.
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t exist 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 it in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction and subsequent rebuilding costs (some reported $150,000 in repairs) incurred in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy when four 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 festishization 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.
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.
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 San Diego.
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
"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 tend 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 embark on a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria. Frank Pepe opened 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," adjacent to the larger operation). Since then, Pepe 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.