A San Francisco Pizza Odyssey

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A San Francisco Pizza Odyssey

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My recent trip to San Francisco was abbreviated by a nasty cold, which sadly ate into my precious pizza time. I was bummed about not hitting all the pizzerias on my list, but upon inspection of my photos I realized I quite a few. The Bay Area is one of my top locales for pizza in the entire country because of its variety and quality. Check out these beauties and see for yourself, then go eat them.

NOTE: For more Bay Area pizza reporting, check out SF Part 1, SF Part 2, SF Part 3, and SF Part 4 from back in 2010. Thrilling reads.

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Casey’s Pizza (truck)
Rotating locations:
Tuesdays - Spear and Mission, 11am-2:30pm
Wednesdays - Sansome and California, 11am-2:30pm
Thursdays - Spear and Mission, 11am-2:30pm
Saturdays - Hayes and Octavia, 12-6pm 

I heard about Casey’s Pizza years ago but never got a chance to try it until last week. Good news: it’s awesome. Casey’s makes “old world pies revisited,” which means they’re single-serving pies with more sturdiness than their Neapolitan cousins. The pizza is perfectly balanced, with small chunks of low-moisture mozzarella scattered atop bright crushed tomato. This was one of my favorite pies of the entire trip!

Here’s Casey and his sweet truck.

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Pizzeria Delfina
3621 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

There are a few locations of this awesome pizzeria but I’ve only been to the location on 18th Street in the Mission. The pizza here is solid. Crust is thin and crunchy in the center but thicker on the outside. Based on Casey’s recommendation, we ordered the “broccoli raab” pizza. Solid pie with great flavor balance.

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Una Pizza Napoletana
210 11th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Una Pizza Napoletana is a special place. It used to be in NYC but moved to the west coast a few years back. This was my first visit since that move. The man at the helm is Anthony Mangieri, whose attention to detail is incredible. He’s going for a product that’s as true to pizza’s origin as possible. That means limitations on ingredients and toppings. There are only five pizzas on the menu (six on Saturdays) and the dough is made from only flour, water, salt, and yeast. Anthony uses no commercial yeast, so this is 100% natural fermentation. The flavor is outstanding. The mozzarella is cut into small strips, just like most pizzerias in Naples. I didn’t get a clear read on the tomato because the olive oil was so strong, but they definitely fit the pie. On this particular day, Anthony was using a California oil that had a bold flavor. I liked it a lot, but the edge crust was a bit overwhelming compared to the rest of the pie and it seemed a little undercooked. Even so, this was a tasty pizza that exists in a different category from all the other pizzas I ate in San Francisco.

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Del Popolo
855 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA

Next up was Del Popolo’s brick and mortar. They used to just have a beautiful shipping container trailer (maybe they still do?), but now there’s a whole restaurant for your sitting needs. We tried two pizzas: the pizza Margherita and the pizza with homemade sausage. I preferred the sausage pie, but didn’t get a good photo. They do a pretty typical quasi-Neapolitan pizza. It’s good, but the tomato (combo of Italian and California) was too strong for me. This is a beautiful restaurant and it was PACKED the night we rolled in. Be sure to make a reservation!

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Slice House
680 2nd St
San Francisco, CA 94107

Tony Gemignani is one of the country’s top pizza makers and his home base is right in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Of his three restaurants in that neighborhood, Slice House is the only to offer pizza by the slice. San Francisco has some solid pizza, but the one style it’s lacking is this by-the-slice format. Slice House is at the top of the list for slice pizzas in this town. It’s a bit steep at $5 for a cheese slice, but you won’t find a better option anywhere nearby. Slices are big and floppy, just like their NYC brethren. The oven that makes these suckers is a coal-fired WoodStone unit but the pizza comes out closer to that of deck oven slice shops. 

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Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton St
San Francisco, CA 94133

The flagship of the Gemignani empire is Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. This is Disneyland for pizza lovers. They have seven different ovens and something like a dozen different pizza styles on the menu. That’s insane. Most of these pizza styles require their own dough formulations and I have no idea how they manage it all. They clearly figured it out because this place is jammed from the minute they open and the kitchen runs super smoothly based on the 20 minutes I spent watching the action.

The pizza in this photo was actually baked next door in the Slice House coal oven. Pretty rad how you can order from Slice House while sitting in Tony’s. I decided to lump it in with my thoughts on Tony’s because it’s a whole pie and I ate it while sitting at the Tony’s bar, so the experience fits more with Tony’s than it does with Slice House. The pepperoni slice I had at Slice House was good, but this pie was awesome. It’s a classic Margherita pizza (I think their menu lists it as a Tomato Pie) very reminiscent of Lombardi’s in Manhattan but - dare I say - better. It’s thinner and has more bite. Cheese coverage is perfect and the sauce is ON TOP of the cheese, which I adore. Lots of people do this in NYC - Totonno’s, John’s, Arturo’s, Grimaldi’s, Juliana’s - so there’s traditional precedence for it. In Trenton, NJ (well sort of, all the Trenton places moved to nearby Robbinsville, NJ) they also put the sauce on last. They also call what they serve “tomato pie.” So there you go. 

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Since Tony’s has so many options, I’ll let them have two photos in this little report. The pizza above is their Grandma pie. What is Grandma pizza? Read this piece from Bon Appetit for the full scoop. If you want the basic gist, it’s a rectangular pizza that’s saucy and thick, but not as thick as Sicilian. Tony’s offers two versions - a sweet and a spicy. The difference is the sauce and we didn’t want to choose one grandma over the other so we opted for half of each. The photo above shows the sweet sauce on the left side of the pie and spicy sauce on the right side. Both were delicious, but I really dug the spicy side. These are not subtle flavors on this pie. The sweet is sweet and the spicy is spicy. Tony means what he says!

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Capo’s Pizza
641 Vallejo Street
San Francisco, CA

Just one more Tony Gemignani pizzeria to cover: Capo’s. This is a truly awesome Chicago style restaurant that goes way beyond deep dish pizza. Everything here is perfect. The red booths are perfect, the lighting is spot on, the walls are dotted with photos of mob bosses and federal agents counting dirty loot. There’s even a working phone booth in the corner, which you can use to call anyone anywhere FOR FREE! It’s insane. Speaking of FREE, Capo’s even gives complimentary Italian wedding soup. Dang, that’s so cool. 

I unfortunately didn’t eat much here because the aforementioned illness was taking its hold, but what I did taste was super good. Let’s start with that deep dish pizza you see above. It’s actually a stuffed pizza, the bulky cousin of standard deep dish pizza. Stuffed pizza has two crusts, with ingredients inside and on top. That braided crust is how they keep the two doughs together. Classy. They put the cooked sauce on after the pizza bakes, so it’s not soggy at all. I need to go back for a proper taste, but the two bites I had were enough to guarantee my return.

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This thin crust is more my speed. Chicago had thin crust pizza before it had deep dish, so this is definitely an authentic thing to serve in a Chicago style restaurant. The crust is snappy and flat, topped with herby sauce and cupped pepperoni. The cornmeal on the bottom is abrasive, but totally makes sense. It enhances the already mighty crunch! I totally need to come back here with a bunch of friends and eat everything. 

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Pizza Moda
1401 University Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702

Next up was a special stop with The Godfather (my actual godfather, not a mobster) and Richard. Richard and gluten don’t get along, so we hit up a place in Berkeley called Pizza Moda. We dabbled in both gluten-full and gluten-free pizzas but I have to admit to enjoying the gluten-free the most. It had a nice snap and crunch! This place also has really cool large-format Italian movie posters. Super cool. 

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PizzaHacker
3299 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

I first met Jeff Krupman back in 2010 when he was making pizza on a homemade wood-fired rig called FrankenWeber. He was selling pizza on the street, mostly to intoxicated customers on their way out of the bar. The juxtaposition of this super-focused guy making pizza surrounded by drunks only highlighted his level of intensity. I followed Jeff’s progress as he consulted with a pizzeria called The Forge and later as he opened his own PizzaHacker. I stopped by in July 2014 and had some pretty decent pizza, but what I had last week just may be the best pizza I’ve ever had in the Bay Area. You read that right. This place is churning out some seriously incredible pizza and you absolutely need to get over there. 

Jeff ditched the MacGyvered Weber grill and picked up an electric oven from PizzaMaster oven (made by Bakepartner). It’s not the visual stunner most pizzerias are using, but it does one hell of a job for Jeff and the PizzaHacker crew. The crust is crisp, yet relenting. It has flavor beyond the usual salt thanks to a combination of excellent flour from Central Milling and long fermentation. Toppings are locally sourced when possible and they taste the way they’re supposed to taste. This is just an honest pizza. Respect.

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But it gets better. We ate our way through three pies, one of which was a kitchen mistake we were fortunate enough to inherit, then we decided to go for the gold and ordered a marinara pizza. It’s a bold move because the pizza marinara is just tomato, herbs, oil, garlic. That’s it. Nothing to hide behind. If a marinara is good, it’s a mark of an excellent pizzeria. If the marinara is the best pie at the end of a long day of pizza eating, it’s a reminder that sometimes the simple things in life are the most interesting.

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