Every year, The Daily Meal sets out on an intrepid search for America’s best pizzas. Quixotic? Yes. Well-intentioned and comprehensive? Check. It’s also methodical, and we’d argue, the most reliable snapshot (or Instagram story — wink, wink) of pizza greatness at that moment. This marks our seventh ranking of America’s best pizzas, and the sixth time we’ve set out to find the 101 best.
It’s a fantastic time for pizza in this country. The Neapolitan wave that has crashed across America has brought with it a greater familiarization with regimented technique; meanwhile, Roman al taglio pizza (pizza by the cut) has landed and is quickly proliferating. There’s more fascination with pizza than ever (podcasts, Instagram accounts, on-demand episodes), and an increasing focus via writers and pizza-makers on America’s own regional styles.
Take, for instance, Chicago's “Hungry Hound” Steve Dolinsky, whose new book, “Pizza City, USA,” makes a case for Chicago being America's greatest pizza town, tossing the deep-dish cliché to the curb to show off what is actually a great thin-crust city. Buffalo, New York, has garnered increasing national attention for its own little-appreciated style; bar pies and the New Haven style are becoming more widespread; and of course, Detroit continues to Motor City its way across pizza menus nationwide.
There’s even cross-pollination of regional styles: Witness Trenton (now Robbinsville) mustard pies meeting Detroit-style pizza at Lions, Tigers, & Squares. And thankfully, there’s even a renewed focus, courtesy of places like Scarr’s and Sofia Pizza Shoppe, on revisiting New York City slice culture by reasserting the care and quality ingredients that have seemed to be steadily slipping for years thanks to dollar slice joints.
This has all contributed to making it even more difficult than ever to rank the country’s best pizzas.
We’ve always prided ourselves on seeking out the best, most trustworthy way of reliably ranking America’s pizza greatness. Here’s how we come up with our list: We research the newest best places, then build a survey of great pizzas from around the country — nearly 1,000 pizzas in total were considered in 2018, a hundred more than 2017. It’s a growing number that could quite possibly force us to institute a years-on-the-ballot rule akin to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
We start by defining the perfect pie. What are the essentials? Considering the varied pizza styles (Neapolitan, Sicilian, New York, Connecticut, California, Detroit, St. Louis, bar pie, deep-dish, grandma… we’ll stop ourselves there), that’s a loaded question. Suffice it to say, no matter your pizza denomination, we believe the following qualities are basic to the platonic pie: a nuanced sauce, neither too sweet nor too salty (assuming that the pie has sauce); good-quality, well-distributed cheese (assuming that it has cheese); good-quality and sensibly combined toppings; a flavorful, savory crust; and, perhaps most important aside from the overall quality of the ingredients, a judicious, well-balanced, and pleasing ratio of sauce, cheese, toppings, and crust that maintains a structural integrity no matter the style.
(Speaking of crust, what is this fancy-pants term “cornicione” that figures in many of our captions? Cornicione, pronounced "cor-nee-CHO-neh," is Italian for cornice or moulding, and in pizza terms it means the edge, crust, or rim on a pizza.)We called upon a blue-chip, geographically diverse list of pizza panelists — chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and other pizza authorities — asking them to vote only for places where they’ve actually eaten. All told, 59 qualified experts weighed in this year.
We then called upon a blue-chip, geographically diverse list of pizza panelists — chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and other pizza authorities — asking them to vote only for places where they’ve actually eaten. All told, 59 qualified experts weighed in this year.
A sampling of our panelists includes former Eater restaurant editor and host of the upcoming show “Meat Life” Nick Solares; Scott’s Pizza Tours founder Scott Weiner; A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours’ Tony Muia; chef Elizabeth Falkner; Pizza Therapy’s Albert Grande; Pizza, a Love Story’s Dean Falcone; Pizza Quest’s Peter Reinhart; Pizza City USA’s Steve Dolinsky; Taste of New Haven’s Colin M. Caplan; Barbara and Eric Cheifet of Barb and Eric’s Pizza Adventures; Slice of SF’s George Matelich; Pizza Recs’ Lance Roberts; Pizza Lover Chicago’s Felicia Steffen; Chicago Pizza Tours’ Jonathan Porter; Buffalo Eats’ Donnie Burtless; filmmaker Gorman Bechard; and Worst Pizza’s Craig Agranoff.
(If you’re in food media or are a recognized pizza expert and you believe your input would improve this list, send us an email with your pizza cred and we'll consider you for our panel in 2019. And go ahead and join our Pizza Facebook page while you’re at it.)
This year, the experts finalized a list that spanned 20 states, narrowing the geographic scope from 2017 by three. The top five states for pizza included New York (36); California (10); Connecticut (9); New Jersey (7); and Illinois (6). From last year, New York picked up only one spot, California held strong at 10, Illinois lost six spots, and New Jersey picked up one. Perhaps most interestingly, though, seven out of the top 10 spots were in New York City, the most ever (four in Manhattan and three from Brooklyn). And Brooklyn beat out Manhattan overall, with 15 entries on the list to Manhattan’s 10. So who made the list? Here are the 101 best pizzas in America.