101 Best Pizzas in America 2015
August 4, 2015
'You’ve tried the rest, now try the best'
101 Best Pizzas in America 2015
This is our fourth annual attempt to seek out America’s best pizza, and our third 101 (our first list covered a mere 35 — what were we thinking?). You know the expression, “It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it”? Well, we love pizza, but we make this list as hard on ourselves as we can. It’s one of The Daily Meal’s most compulsively tracked rankings. Why? Because Americans love pizza. It’s a truly democratic food, an inexorable part of Americna life, something everyone knows (or thinks they know). People take pizza very seriously. So we do too.
#101 Ghigiarelli's, Old Forge, Pa. (Red: Tomato, brick cheese)
You have to credit 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, Pennsylvania, 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 pizzerias that constitute this gutsy claim. This Twilight Zone of pizza, this pizza capital of its own fashioning, might 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 that coats your teeth and tongue in a curiously comforting yet puzzling way. The white pizza is calzone-like in that it has crust on top and bottom, but the way to go is the red pizza.
#100 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, Los Angeles, Calif. (Margherita)
New Yorkers are still waiting for the planned five New York City locations of the West Coast-based Chipotle of pizza that co-creator and former Michael Mina corporate chef Anthony Carron and Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman announced in late 2013, promising they would start “opening within the next year.”
Anyone doubtful of the possibility of quality, personalized, 60-second-cooked Neapolitan pies cooked by 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria and showing up next to the Starbucks in every neighborhood can nurture their chain-pizza skepticism, but they can’t ignore the seven locations in California, two in Nevada, one in Illinois, and international offshoots in Dubai and Japan (where seven more are slated to open over the next decade).
#99 Piece, Chicago, Ill. (Pepperoni and banana peppers)
In a city known for deep-dish, Chicagoans long ago learned how to give Wicker Park brewery and pizzeria Piece a chance (“Pizza is good for you!”). Owner Bill Jacobs had already started, sold, and made Piece with moving beyond the successful Windy City bagel family business they sold in 1999 (you’d say “rest in Piece,” but after his pizza success with Piece, he’s actually now back into bagels too!) three years before this New Haven homeboy ventured into pizza in 2002.
The haters protested, but they were soon at Piece eating this New Haven-style joint’s thin-crust red, plain (no mozz), and white (plain crust brushed with olive oil, diced garlic, and mozz) pizzas, all of which get at least a small Piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, oregano, and olive oil. Ingredients. You can have a classic New Haven pie with fresh tomatoes or clams (of course), and, in some kind of pan-New Haven Piece accord, there’s also a nod to Bru Room at Bar’s signature mashed potato pizza (No. 61). Is it puzzling to see chips and salsa and warm spinach and tomato dip on the menu? Sure, but having brought quality New Haven-style pies to Chicago and bought out his lease so he can do so for years to come, Jacobs has brought Piece of mind to Windy City denizens, and delivery to boot.
#98 Artichoke Basille, New York, N.Y. (Artichoke Slice: Artichoke hearts, spinach, cream sauce, mozzarella, Pecorino Romano)
In 2008, using what they learned while working at their family’s restaurant Basille’s in Staten Island (now closed), 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 New York City locations of Artichoke Basille's Pizza (and one in Berkeley, California), and there is still a line out the door, along with pizza fiends standing outside trying (unsuccessfully) not to burn the roofs of their mouths on the creamy, cheesy signature artichoke slice.
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 crust isn’t what it used to be, but (and we say this with love) "Cuz, you can’t argue it’s not a New York City pizza icon!”
#97 Tony's Place, Philadelphia, Pa. (Tomato Pie: mozzarella and tomato sauce)
You want fancy pizza? Yeah? Think you can handle fancy pizza? OK, go somewhere else. You won’t find it at Tony’s, thank all things holy. Like several great pizzerias on this list, Tony’s started as a place that only served tasty, salty things in order for you to buy more booze. Yes, Tony Mallamaci opened a small bar on the corner of 10th and Jackson Streets in South Philly in the late 1940s. His brother Dominic joined him, and they started selling homemade sandwiches (specialties included roast beef and meatballs) as well as thin crusts with homemade tomato sauce on top (no mozz!).
Dominic and Tony moved to the present location in 1951, drawing customers in with free slices of tomato pie. The menu has long since expanded to include pasta dinners, burgers, chicken Parm, "filet of flounder," jalapeño poppers, and a variety of other doubtful bar menu, Italian-American, and Restaurant Impossible standards. But the pizza? As anyone from Philly will tell you, “Best. Tomato. Pies. Ever.” You can top them with anchovies, pepperoni, green peppers, mushroom, sausage, and onion, and, for a limited time around Valentine’s Day, they’re even served in the shape of a heart.
#96 Micucci's Grocery, Portland, Maine (Sicilian Slab: San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, mozzarella)
Micucci Grocery was opened in 1951 by Leo and Iris Micucci, and has been family-operated ever since. It’s more sandwich counter-meets-deli-meets-dry-goods store than pizzeria. But the reason to visit this Portland icon is in back, up the stairs to the left where “slabs” of American-interpreted Sicilian-style pizza are baked and set on shelves.
The word “slabs,” doesn’t do these slices justice — a curious hybrid for sure, they’re nowhere as heavy as the gut-bombs most descriptions convey. Half-again bigger than the conventional Sicilian slice, and just as thick if wetter and more doughy, Micucci’s slabs may not be authentic Italian, but they feel like an idealized iteration of the focaccia style you’ve always sought, but never experienced.
Each is about a half-foot long. There’s an uneven inch-and-a-half to ¾-inch cornicione, which is not much different from the rest of the slice, save that it’s dryer for not being covered by the brush of sweet sauce and incomplete layer of mozzarella coating the rest of it.
“Pillowy” and “airy” have been used to describe these pizzas, and undoubtedly will be as long as Micucci continues to do things this way (the right way, mind you). Imagine a fluffy, light focaccia — almost an inch high in some places but no thinner than one third of an inch anywhere — that’s doughy and a bit wetter than most with layers of bubbles. There’s a scattering of Italian herbs on top, with cheese rivulets and sauce undercurrents around raised puffy sections of dough. There’s no undercrust to speak of, but some crispy spots of cheese in places, especially along the edges.
It’s not pizza in any other traditional regional American sense, nor can you say it’s precisely Italian. But there’s something intensely right and satisfying about it. Consider the warm, airy pleasure of freshly baked dough without much crust to speak of, the tang of sweet sauce, and the salty pull of just-melted cheese, and you get the idea of a fresh Micucci slice.
#95 Pizzeria Locale, Boulder, Colo. (Funghi: Mozzarella: pecorino, fontina, porcini, roasted white mushroom, garlic, shallot)
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 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 it’s true that there’s a gap in a market dominated by somnambulant franchises 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 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.
The full-service Pizzeria Locale in Boulder serves 14 pies (seven each white and red), among them the funghi, which, for $20, you can next-level with Umbrian black summer truffle. The menu at the "quick-serve" Pizzeria Locales in Denver (where there are two), Kansas City, and soon Cincinnati features 10 11-inch pies that are a little more mainstream (though a version of the mais pizza with sweet corn, ham, crème fraîche, and garlic did make the cut). But you can craft your own interesting combos with their 25 toppings.
#94 Pizza Delicious, New Orleans, La. (Cheese)
"Best Pizza," "Pizza Delicious" — it almost seems as though new-guard pizza parlors are being named in ways to optimize how high up they’ll show in your Google results. But New Orleans’ Pizza Delicious doesn’t need a search-engine-optimized name to get people talking about it; there’s been an amazing amount of buzz around and support for this Kickstarter success story since two New York-native Tulane grads started their pop-up–turned–brick-and-mortar Bywater institution in 2010.
The formerly one-day-a-week operation, routinely noted among best-of lists for both New Orleans and the entire country, is now open Tuesday through Sunday (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.), providing those in the New York pizza-lovers diaspora with their fix for slices from 18-inch pies in what they know of as the one true style, and preaching the faith to newcomers with cheese and pepperoni slices. There are nearly 30 available toppings, including peppadews, Sriracha pineapple, and spinach ricotta, and well as daily specials like rosemary potato with red onion and spicy béchamel and eggplant Parmesan.
#93 The Backspace, Austin, Texas (Bianca: Arugula, mozzarella, ricotta, Pecorino Romano)
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 has found success with his restaurant Parkside. But culinary degrees and hifalutin restaurant experience don’t necessarily mean you can make a great pizza.
Lucky for Austin, Cirkiel can, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at a temperature of 900 degrees. There are six pies at The Backspace, featuring toppings like fennel sausage, fig and gorgonzola, picante salame, and bacon marmellata, 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 like in Naples, or Texas-style with a glass bottle of Mexican Coke, well… that’s up to you.
#92 Cane Rosso, Dallas, Texas (Zoli: Local sausage, hot soppressata, hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, housemade mozzarella, basil)
Good pizza in Dallas? Are you kidding? Nope. Cane Rosso owner Jay Jerrier is serving some bar-raising Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified stuff. 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, house-made mozzarella, and basil, and you’ll enjoy it for sure. Just mind your wallet. 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, OK?).
#91 Zaffiro’s Pizza, Milwaukee, Wis. (EBF "Everything But Fish": Cheese, sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, onions, green pepper, black olives)
Yelp / King T
If there’s anything scientific to discovering one of the best pizzas 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, and is now helmed by Bobby's son Michael Zaffiro.
However, the tradition of a thin-crust Milwaukee pie topped with about three to four times the cheese than crust 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 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.
#90 Pizza Man, Milwaukee (Pizza Man Special: Mozzarella, Uncle Vinny’s sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onion, green peppers, black olive)
Milwaukee was devastated in 2010 when its 40-year Pizza Man tradition burned to the ground during a five-alarm fire on the city’s east side. What began in 1970 — as a small carry-out pizzeria that founder Mike Amidzich turned into a success by delivering munchie-satisfying pizzas (and a free quart of Pepsi) to stoners until 4 a.m. — had long since become a the city’s pizza-pie tradition.
After a three-year absence, a new location, “bigger, better than before,” gave stoners and pizza-lovers reason to rejoice when it opened a little bit more than a mile away from the original, returning to them menu staples like the escargot appetizer and the Ritz-thin, square-cut, 12-, 14-, and 16-inch cornmeal-dusted pies topped with 100 percent-Wisconsin mozzarella, old-school thin or 12-inch pan-style.
Order the two “Pizza Man Classics”: the Pizza Man Special and the artichoke à la mode: artichoke hearts, tomato, basil, and cream cheese — yes, cream cheese.
#89 Tarry Lodge, Port Chester, N.Y. (Goat Cheese: Goat cheese, pistachios, truffle honey)
Tarry Lodge has quite the pedigree. Its chef, Andy Nusser, cooked with Mario Batali at his first big hit, Pó in Greenwich Village, and then at Babbo, where he helped the place earn three stars from The New York Times. So it’s no surprise that Nusser has garnered acclaim with his food (and pizza) at the Batali-Bastianich outerborough spot in a century-old former speakeasy in Port Chester.
There are 12 great pizzas on the menu, but the signature is the goat cheese pie, studded with pistachios and drizzled with truffle honey. With a slight crunch and just enough, but not too many, accents of earth and sweetness from the truffle honey, this pie well represents the pizza heights to which Tarry Lodge will carry you. The restaurant’s own success has carried it and its clams, garlic, chiles, and oregano into Frank Pepe country, where it’s opened in Westport and New Haven.
#88 Pizzeria Vetri, Philadelphia (Tonno: Sicilian tuna, onion, mozzarella, tomato sauce, peperoncino)
You can trace Pizzeria Vetri’s pedigree back to Osteria, chef Marc Vetri’s casual Italian restaurant that followed his 30-seat à la carte–turned–tasting menu Vetri. Osteria’s homemade pastas and wood-grilled fare quickly garnered local and national accolades, including a James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2008 and a 2010 award for chef Jeff Michaud (Best Chef Mid-Atlantic).
But its pizza! The Italian, thin-crust pies took on a success of their own, landing on GQ’s list of the 25 best pizzas in America. Baked egg with bitto cheese and cotechino, zucchini with stracciatella and lemon, octopus and smoked mozzarella — talk about a revelation. Thus it was in 2013 that the Vetri family bestowed upon Osteria lovers a new gift: Pizzeria Vetri.
Be sure to check off the tonno with Sicilian tuna and bursts of spicy peperoncino, but don’t leave Philadelphia without trying the Rotolo, a crispy pizza dough pinwheel stuffed with house-made mortadella and ricotta, crowned with pistachio pesto.
#87 New Park Pizza, Howard Beach, Queens (Cheese)
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 whatever respect they might have had for you (God forbid you’ve been and didn’t like it). The key to the perfect New Park slice may be in knowing how to order. Take the advice of Adam Kuban, founder of the now-defunct Slice blog turned pizzaiolo for his pizza pop-up Margot's, No. 86) and ask for it “well done.”
It will be set into their 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.”
#86 Margot's, Brooklyn (Hot Supreme: Sauce, Romano, secret cheese blend, sausage, pickled jalapeños, shaved red onion, oregano, and black pepper)
For years, our 101 Best Pizza in America list has included brick-and-mortar-less Pizza Moto, despite the fact that the mobile pizza oven lacked a place in New York City to call home. With its new outpost close to opening, it may be time for another unconventional spot to join these ranks: Margot’s. For years, Adam Kuban pizza-blogged for Slice and Serious Eats. Since then, he has perfected his own pizza, launching a weekend bar pie pop-up inside another amazing pizzeria in Brooklyn, Pizza Emily (also on this list).
What is bar pie? In his own words, Kuban describes the best bar pizza joints as “beloved gathering spots that bring together generations and social classes” serving pizza that is very thin-crusted, decidedly crisp, well done but not to the point of being burned, and “large enough to share but small enough you could house one yourself.” In his characteristically humble way, Kuban will likely thank this year’s panel, note the work he still needs to do, and describe the tough road ahead to his own place. True. But bar pizza is overdue for a higher national profile, and Kuban is the man to raise it.
Why? Because you can tell he’s becoming a master at it. Kuban tweaks his pies and his menu with some frequency (there's one called the "Collaboroni" right now, featuring a mash-up of Margot's host restaurant's signature "Colony" toppings: pepperoni, pickled jalapeños, post-oven honey), so it may take a little more time to definitively name one pie his signature. For now, we're leaning toward the Hot Supreme. There’s a hardcover-thin crust, a secret cheese blend, a thin sauce layer, Romano, sausage, pickled jalapeños, and shaved red onions. Man, oh man!
These are well-crafted pizza gems thin enough to fill you, and good enough to have you craving more almost immediately. But good luck getting in. Margot’s is a ticketed pop-up that sells out weeks in advance. Your best shot is to sign up for the email list and hope for an end to its summer hiatus.
#85 Sal’s Pizza, Mamaroneck, N.Y. (Sicilian)
Sal’s has been around for 50 years, it has a line out the door, and while the round pies are may be the most exemplary you’ve 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 former Yankee manager Joe Torre would stop 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, other than directions? Sal DeRose opened on Mamaroneck Avenue in 1964. There have been lines ever since. Now go! Can't get there soon? Delivery is never a fair way to judge a place, but you can order their pizzas from across the country.
#84 Roseland Apizza, Derby, Conn. (Plain Pie: Tomato sauce, no cheese)
Is Roseland Apizza the greatest pizzeria you’ve never heard of? At the very least, it’s one of Connecticut’s most underrated pizzerias — and this in a state known for famous pies.
Imagine the good will of a pizzeria that starts you off with a bread basket! Now hear the words “shrimp pizza” and understand that this neighborhood parlor has been slinging pies since 1935. New Haven pizza intransigents may feel right at home at Roseland — the décor has a Formica-counter-and-crowded-booth feeling that echoes the one at the more-pilgrimaged Sally’s of Wooster Street. In point of fact, Frank Pepe opened just eight years before Roseland and Sally’s opened just three years later.
The point is that if this is your first time, you’re in the right place. Start with a plain tomato pie (no cheese). You’ll want the Roseland Special (sausage and mushrooms), the fresh-shucked clam pie (white), and one of the special shrimp pizzas (it’s said to include two pounds of shrimp — no joke). And if you really feel like splashing out, there’s 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.
#83 Pizzeria Beddia, Philadelphia (No. 1: Tomato, mozzarella, Old Gold aged cheese, extra-virgin olive oil)
Yelp / Martin S
Founded in 2013 by Joe Beddia, who had the idea to make “the best pizza I can” with “the very best ingredients sourced from the best farms” in the Fishtown neighborhood northeast of Center City, Pizzeria Beddia has become the Franklin Barbecue of the pizza world, an up-and-coming Philadelphia spot catapulted to the national spotlight by Bon Appétit’s restaurant and drinks editor Andrew Knowlton. Its pizza-obsessed owner is known to have worked in some of the city’s hippest restaurants as a server before setting out on his own.
"I would say it's Neapolitan, but it's not really,” Beddia explained last year of the style of balanced-topping pies he aspires to make in his brick-lined gas deck oven. “I don't want to say New York style, either but I guess that's what it is.” There are just three pies: No. 1 (tomato, whole-milk mozz, Old Gold aged cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil with the suggestion to add cremini, salame, roasted onion, anchovy, pickled chiles, wild arugula, and/or sausage); No. 2 (collard greens, fresh cream, green garlic, Old Gold, with the suggestion to add bacon); and No. 3, called pizza arrabbiata and labeled "angry."
Angry is what you may quickly become when trying to sample this ballyhooed pie. Pizzeria Beddia is only open Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. 10:30 p.m., they don’t have a phone, only take orders in person, have a maximum order of two pizzas per party (not per person), and are cash-only. Keep in mind that there’s also no public restroom. This is important given that Beddia only serves 40 pies a night and that people start lining up as early as 2:30 p.m. “If there are more than 25 to 30 people in line, we are likely sold out,” warns Beddia’s site with “peace and love.” The place could be described as a millennial version of Brooklyn’s Di Fara.
#82 Star Tavern Pizzeria, Orange, N.J. (Thin Crust)
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 get bent out of shape when Chicago’s signature style is besmirched, but there doesn’t seem to be a similar geographic identification attached to this more nuanced, reserved, and minimalist approach. It’s a shame, save that it makes bar pie bastions like Colony (No. 51), Eddie’s (on last year’s list), and Star Tavern in Orange, New Jersey, even easier to like, and, selfishly, to eat at without battling crowds.
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-to-cheese ratio that delivers as much as you need and not more than the structural integrity can handle.
#81 Pi, St. Louis (The Delmar: Deep-dish with mozzarella, Cheddar, barbecue sauce, chicken, red and green peppers, red onion, fresh cilantro)
Converting or infecting? Either way, non-chain versions of deep- dish is are spreading beyond Chicago. Such is the mystery of pizza that the style landed in St. Louis, where Pi Pizzeria (area code 314, as in pi, get it?) launched its self-described “irrationally delicious deep-dish and thin cornmeal crust pizza,” introduced St. Louis' first food truck (they claim), supposedly became the best pizza President Obama has ever had, and has since become a successful mini-chain of its own (there are four other St. Louis spots and offshoots in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati).
That’s right, St. Louis-spawned Chicago-style pizza... in D.C.
There are 12 standards (six each of deep-dish and thin crust). Beyond topping standards like sausage and pepperoni, Pi offers zucchini, feta, prosciutto, gorgonzola, and goat cheese (they also do gluten-free thin crusts and have vegan cheese; can that really be called "pizza" [wink]?). Thin-crust purists whose blood is already boiling over the fact that Pi proudly declares that “Sauce = On top” ought look away from the signature deep-dish, The Delmar.
#80 Otto Pizza, Portland, Maine (Mashed Potato, Bacon, and Scallion)
Six years ago, the words “Maine” and “best pizza” wouldn’t have come out of even the most ardent Mainiac. This year, the Pine Tree State ranks two spots, and one of them, Portland's Otto Pizza, now sports four other locations in the state and five in Massachusetts. Not to be confused with the Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich Otto Enoteca Pizzeria (which has expanded from New York’s Greenwich Village to Las Vegas, and Boston, where it’s called Babbo Pizzeria), Otto is the brainchild of restaurateurs Anthony Allen and Mike Keon, who met through their businesses in Boston and, after becoming friends, opened Otto (Italian for “eight,” the number of slices in a pie) in Portland in 2009.
This is a topping-centric pizzeria that crafts a crispy, relatively dry golden crust that’s narrow and utilitarian. There are 21 pies (only a third of them tomato-based) and the menu is divided into four sections: cheese, veg, chicken and other meat, and — this is fun, especially because it’s the longest category — pies with bacon (and pork). Each section offers at least one double-take topping combo. Consider the three-cheese tortellini cheese pie; the spinach, white bean, and roasted garlic veg pizza; pulled pork with mango pie; and the meatloaf, mashed potato, and herb pizza. It’s the starchy topping in that last trifecta that’s drawn the most attention, though on a pie with bacon and scallion. You get creamy mashed potatoes, salty-smokiness, and a fresh scallion finish.
#79 Punch Neapolitan Pizza, St. Paul, Minn. (Margherita)
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 (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.
Punch is all about quality, and it turns out excellent pies. Peruse the menu and you’ll see that they have had some fun, 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 Margherita Extra (fresh mozzarella di bufala, crushed tomatoes from Campagna and Mount Vesuvius) is their most popular one, and that the newest pizza is the Bufalina with mozzarella di bufala, arugula, and prosciutto (no crushed tomatoes).
#78 Amore Pizza, Flushing, Queens (Plain Cheese Pie)
Yelp / Angie C
Tucked into a Flushing strip mall along with a check cashing joint, Carvel, and a Pathmark, off the Whitestone Expressway just a few minutes before it takes you over the East River to the Bronx, is an under-mentioned and quintessential Queens slice joint called Amore Pizza.
This is a no-frills sliceria that’s been around for about 40 years, the kind of spot that graces best-of-Queens lists from time to time. Truckers, taxi drivers, construction workers, and police officers stop in for super soupy slices barely thick enough to hold up to the sauce and cheese (their outrageous proportions almost make it seem like someone squared the original recipe’s measurements and left the crust to just deal with it).
There have been quibbles about this among the pizza cognoscenti, to which this year’s pizza panel replied, “We’d say ‘Shut your mouth when you chew on this insanely-satisfying slice,’ but all that cheese and sauce would burn the roof of it.”
#77 Pizza Moto, Brooklyn (Margherita: Tomato, fresh cow’s milk mozzarella, basil, pecorino, olive oil)
Dave Sclarow hasn’t gotten the recognition he’s deserved since he first welded together a portable pizza oven able to withstand New York’s unforgiving asphalt and went into business in 2008. But if you’ve attended one of the many events where he’s served Pizza Moto's signature slightly smaller-than-average Neapolitan pies, you’ve seen 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 several mobile ovens, which can be found all over Brooklyn and Manhattan between April and November, but in 2014, he and partner Anna Viertel made it much easier for New Yorkers to pin the accolades on what has thus far been a moving target by firing up gas deck ovens in Berg’n Beer Hall to create their version of a “classic New York slice shop.”
And now, plans for the first Pizza Moto restaurant to open on Hamilton Avenue in Red Hook, Brooklyn, seem to be close to fruition. The team reportedly restored a turn-of-the-century oven found in an abandoned South Brooklyn storefront, and have stocked the storefront with wood. It would be shocking if this doesn’t quickly become a destination institution.
#76 Area 4, Cambridge, Mass. (Clam and Bacon: Clam sauce, bacon, Pecorino, hot pepper, and parsley)
“Simple is hard,” notes the Area 4 website. “We do it right.”
How many pizza spots have a mission statement? Maybe a handful we’ve ever visited, a group that includes one of the greats, Da Michele in Naples (in the form of a poem). Area 4's states the owners' (Michael Krupp and Michael Leviton) dedication to using local and sustainable ingredients. Factor in dough made from a 30-plus-hour fermented, 12-year-old starter (flour, water, and salt) by chef and partner Jeff Pond, homemade cheese, and a wood-fired oven, and you get one of Boston’s best pies, a pizza whose style is kind of like a neo-Neapolitan with a super-charred cornicione on steroids.
The signature noted by the restaurant when we reached out was the clam and bacon, but if you want to take a page out of President Obama’s book, order the mushroom and fontina (mushroom sauce, pecorino, and gremolata) and the Carnivore (mozz, tomato, soppressata, sausage, and bacon), his order earlier this year. From all reports, the man knows good food.
#75 Ernie’s Pizzeria, New Haven, Conn. (Plain Pie)
We’ll stop you there. Not that these aren’t amazing pizzerias, but the comebacks against well-known New Haven spots are enough to start a molten-cheese versus scald-your-mouth sauce debate you really don’t want to be a part of. There are so many great places that haven’t been given national attention. And Ernie’s Pizzeria in New Haven, almost exactly four miles from Frank Pepe, is among them.
These days, Ernie’s (named for its founder) is run by his son, Pat DeRiso, who has sworn he would never divulge his father’s crust recipe. It’s a recipe that’s been kneaded out in New Haven for nearly 45 years. Sausage and mushroom and bacon and garlic are some noted combos, but when we called Ernie’s, they said to try the plain pie (mozzarella). Who are we to argue?
#74 Ernesto's, Boston (Ernesto: White pizza, fresh chicken, broccoli, mushrooms)
Yelp / Pete K
Boston really is an underrated pizza city. Whenever people talk pizza (the ones you trust, that is), things break down between New York, Brooklyn, New Haven, Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Never Boston. As though Boston hasn’t had any significant Italian-American population to speak of over the past century. One of Boston’s gems that hasn’t gotten nearly the acclaim it deserves is North End staple Ernesto’s Old World Pizza on Salem Street.
While perhaps not D.C.-jumbo-slice big, the thin slices at Ernesto’s are huge — each a quarter of an 18-inch-pizza-huge. And this spot, which has been around for more than 30 years, isn’t some one-slice pizza pony. Press them, and you might find locals have a hard time deciding between the namesake Ernesto and the chicken ranch pie that, let’s face it (ranch dressing, chicken, mozzarella, bacon, onion, and tomatoes), you know you want to order. How to decide?
Calmati! Try the classic. Try the ranch. And if you’re there on Friday or Saturday, try the Caribbean shrimp and shrimp scampi pies. Because there’s always room in your freezer for leftovers of the nation’s best pies.
#73 Pizza Rock, Las Vegas, Nev. (Margherita: Dough mixed by hand using San Felice ﬂour then proofed in Napolietana wood boxes, San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P., sea salt, mozzarella ﬁor di latte, fresh basil, extra- virgin olive oil)
This Vegas outpost, one of the some 11 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. Your goal? Try to score one of the only 73 Margherita pies made daily using Tony’s award-winning recipe.
#72 Brooklyn's Pizza, Hackensack, N.J. (Cheese and Tomato)
Yelp / May C
Heritage is everything. The people you know, right? Except not enough of us know that Brooklyn’s Pizza in Hackensack (and its other two locations, Edgewater and Ridgewood) is an extension of New York City pizza royalty. “Oh yeah? Who?”
You know Patsy’s of First Avenue in East Harlem (No. 16)? Right, Patsy Lancieri’s brick, coal-oven Patsy's, where Lancieri’s nephew Pat Grimaldi worked as a teenager, where he learned his craft before opening his own successful spot, Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. Well, with a little tutelage, Hackensack’s, er, Brooklyn’s Pizza in Hackensack was opened by the nephew of that Uncle Pat. “Our pizza is made the same way it was in the 1930s, with the freshest ingredients and our made-in-house whole milk mozzarella, then cooked in our 1000-degree coal-fired brick ovens,” notes owner John Grimaldi.
You know these pies. Those imperfectly round, pockmarked, blinding-white, homemade mozz rounds, the surface swirl-splashes of sauce that snake through them — they’re classic New York City coal-fired pies. Order appropriately.
#71 Metro Pizza, Las Vegas (Milano: No sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino romano, garlic olive oil, basil)
Gennaro Lombardi’s influence is such that his Spring Street shop almost directly resulted in what’s generally accepted as one of, if not the best, pizzas in Las Vegas. Founders John Arena and Sam Facchini's grandparents settled 50 yards away from Lombardi’s, and "ever since those early days, pizza has been at the center of [their] family life" (their parents’ first jobs were feeding coal into the bakery ovens where Sicilian pizzas were made for the neighborhood’s immigrant families).
Metro Pizza (born in 1980 as Original New York Pizza, and renamed in 1986 when they expanded) has been making handcrafted pies with dough made fresh each day and superior ingredients for 30-plus years (there are now six locations). Among the specialty pies, the Milano (mozz, ricotta, pecorino romano, and garlic) is a white pie worth noting. Of course, you’ll want to give a nod to at least one of the six "East Side Pizzas" named for New York City streets like Mulberry, Mott, and Bleecker.
#70 Barone's Famous Italian Restaurant, Los Angeles (Barone's Famous House Combination: Sausage, pepperoni, and green peppers)
Yelp / Bobby C
Frank Monteleone passed away in 2010, but Los Angeles pizza the tradition he started at Barone's with his siblings in 1945 lives on. There are two interesting legends about how Barone's iconic style came to be. According to the restaurant, the square shape of the pizza came to be mostly out of practicality: to fit more pizzas in the oven. And the signature Monterey Jack cheese blend?
According to Frank's son Tom, that came about because one day, the restaurant didn't have mozzarella cheese. "It came cut in rectangular pieces, so they just pieced it on top like a puzzle," he told The Los Angeles Daily News. "People would see the guys eating this square, thin-crust pizza and want one. That's how it started. We never changed the shape or the cheese."
There are nine pies on the menu, including barbecue chicken (with cilantro), Hawaiian, and an Alfredo sauce chicken pizza, but the classic is "Barone's Famous House Combination," with sausage, pepperoni, and green peppers.
#69 Double Mountain Brewery, Hood River, Ore. (Heirloom Pie: White pie with house-made pesto, whole-milk mozzarella, fontal, pecorino romano, and fresh, local, organic heirloom tomatoes)
It says something about New Haven-style pizza that you can find a menu ode to it nearly 3,000 miles from Wooster Street. Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River (from Portland, that’s about an hour east toward Connecticut), may have been named for Mount Hood and Mount Adams, the two volcanoes seen from Hood River, but the pizza menu’s heart is in New Haven:
“We make our 16-inch pizza pretty much the same way they do it in New Haven, Connecticut, the pizza capital of the world. We run our ovens at close to 700 degrees F, cooking the pizzas super-fast and creating spots of superficial char on the crust. It creates great flavor.”
How did a brewery in Oregon end up making Connecticut-style pizza? Owner Matt Swihart opened Double Mountain a block away from Full Sail Brewing, where he worked as a brewer for more than a decade. Former co-owner Charlie Devereux is from Connecticut and loved New Haven-style pizza. He saw there was a gap and wanted to bring brick oven pies to Hood River. More than seven years after opening, Double Mountain has gone from brewery upstart to pizza exemplar, its pies noted as among the state’s best, ones that feature a thin crust using regional grain from just over the river in Washington and integrate as many fresh and local ingredients as possible.
Best of the best? Double Mountain spokesperson Anneke Ayers noted the Truffle Shuffle and the Jersey Pie (sausage, onion, and mushroom) as fan favorites (in that order), but the specialty pie (whatever it is), is the real move. Of those, the asparagus pie is beloved, but according to Ayers, “Our current specialty pie is one of the most coveted seasonal pies we make, the Heirloom Pie. It is the perfect summertime pie made with fresh heirloom tomatoes with a pesto base made with local basil.”
#68 Pizzeria Uno, Chicago (Numero Uno "The one, the best": Sausage, pepperoni, onion, pepper, mushrooms, chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella, Romano)
It’s just as easy as ever to rile New Yorkers with the old "Chicago’s pizza is better than New York’s" poke. "But it’s not even pizza," they’ll exclaim, "it’s a casserole!" Cue Jon Stewart’s epic rant (he’s wrong about hot dogs, by the way).
They’re right, but it’s here to stay. All the more interesting to note it was not an overnight success (they had to give it away at first), and that the thick, buttery pizza wasn’t even the foundation for the restaurant’s initial idea.
Consider Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel’s report about Uno’s beginnings, which suggests, "Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada." Uno founders Ike Sewell (a Texan) and Ric Riccardo planned to serve Mexican fare, “But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food." When Riccardo suggested pizza, which he’d experienced in Italy during the war, Sewell proposed a more substantial version than what was available in Little Italy. Thus, the style featuring "buttery ‘out-of-this-world’ crust" and generous amounts of cheese.
Sure, the company is now based in Boston, and there are presently more than 140 Uno Chicago Grill restaurants in some 24 states, South Korea, and the Middle East. Certainly, pizza experts will quibble about where, or if, it should rank on this list, and compare it with Chicago’s other deep-dish pies, but there’s something to be said about visiting the original in Chicago (though the only Chicagoans visiting will be there to accompany out-of-town guests) and ordering "Numero Uno — The One. The Best" topped with the works: sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella, and romano.
#67 Domenick and Pia’s, Waterbury, Conn. (Pepperoni)
Yelp / Sheila T
Every year, hundreds of well-known places are considered in pursuit of the 101 Best Pizzas in America, and locals across America cry foul about pit-stops along the pizza-writer trail getting attention when their local pizzeria is “10 times better” (usually followed by “You don’t know what you’re talking about”). In the case of Domenick and Pia DeRosa’s eponymous spot in Waterbury, they may have a point.
Like another famous Dom about 100 miles south (Dom DeMarco of Brooklyn's Di Fara, No. 2) Domenick and his wife Pia have been making pies their way for a long time. Just three years after marrying in Italy in 1961, they decided to open a pie shop that sold by the slice like New York City pizzerias did, an idea their landlord and carpenter scoffed at. They’ve moved once over the years, but otherwise they’ve proved everyone wrong, using the same mixer, ovens, and recipes all this time.
“It’s a sweet sauce,” the nonagenarian pizzaiolo said in a video last year. Domenick still comes in from time to time to help, although he doesn’t do very much heavy lifting anymore. But his tradition lives on in the pies they make every day.
These are old-school Neapolitan pizzas: super-thin undercarriage and an old-school crunchy cornicione — no doughy chew. There are no fancy toppings here — try the pepperoni — just an approach to pizza that mirrors the couple’s philosophy on how to have a good marriage: adherence to moral values. “We made a vow before God to stick together in sickness and in health,” Domenick explained. And in pizza.
#66 Osteria, Philadelphia (Parma: Mozzarella, fontina, arugula, prosciutto di Parma)
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 lots of hype to live up to. Marc Vetri, Jeff Michaud, and Jeff Benjamin conceived the idea on a trip in Tuscany, and Philadelphians (and with their newer Moorestown spot a 20-minute drive away, now New Jerseyans) have to be glad they followed through.
There are three "Pizze Napoletane": the mortadella with pistachio pesto, marinara, and porchetta (how often do you get a spit-roasted topping?). Pizze Tradizionali include gourmet twists like octopus and red chile flakes; baked egg with Bitto cheese and cotechino; and stracciatella and lemon (the latter an underused pizza topping). And the wine list isn’t half bad either, with more than 100 Italian wines to accompany your award-winning pie. Osteria’s acclaim has also 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.
#65 Home Slice Pizza, Austin (Pepperoni and Mushroom)
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 Austin 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: 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.
#64 Ken’s Artisan Pizza, Portland, Ore. (Margherita)
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. There's been a cultish love for it in Portland 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 rollercoaster — once they get inside, that is (there tends to be a wait).
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.
#63 The Original Tacconelli's Pizzeria, Philadelphia (White Pizza: Spinach and tomato)
"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. Especially if you haven’t reserved dough, in which case you may wait until tomorrow (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 pie (let’s assume times were simpler in 1946, when the place opened), but most who taste it say it’s worth the effort.
There are four pies: Tomato (no cheese), regular (a little cheese and sauce), white (salt, pepper, cheese, and garlic), and the Margerita (sic) (fresh basil and mozz). These are wide crusts, liberally sauced and topped, and not uniform. You can customize with spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, sweet peppers, anchovies, onions, prosciutto, basil, and extra cheese — just remember there’s a three-topping max per pie, and that the owner at times prefers a two-topping limit (nothing like arbitrary rules).
The move at Tacconelli's may be the "Signature," often unlisted: white pizza with spinach and chunks of tomato and garlic. Consider this the kind of place to take friends so you can order more pies.
#62 Pizzaiolo, Oakland, Calif. (Rapini and house-made sausage)
Pizzaiolo founder Charlie Hallowell was raised in suburban Connecticut on a modest diet of TV dinners and Chef Boyardee. As Pizzaiolo’s website explains, through some completely unexplainable, miraculous twist of fate, he found himself working in the Chez Panisse kitchen, where, for the first time, he felt engaged and enlivened by his job, and the intellectual life that permeated the culture there.
After eight years, Hallowell set out on his own, determined to make sure that about 98 percent of the time he would buy only locally grown, organic, seasonal meat and produce (he uses organic flour milled in Oakland), sourced from small farmers and ranchers he trusts.
Pizzaiolo changes the menu daily to reflect what they’re getting, so nailing down a signature pie is tough (the Margherita is one of their most popular, and there’s a marinara), but with ingredients like potato, pancetta, summer squash, rapini, wild nettles, and gremolata, and add-ons like house-made sausage, Calabrian peppers, and farm egg, you can be sure any of the seven other pies will feature interesting combos. Pro tip: Swing by in the morning and you may be able to score one of the city’s most underrated doughnuts.
#61 Bru Room at BAR, New Haven, Conn. (Mashed potato and bacon)
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. 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. That all results in a definite check-it-off-your-list item.
#60 Pizzeria Lola, Minneapolis, Minn. (Korean BBQ: Grass-run farm beef short ribs, mozzarella, scallions, arugula, sesame and soy-chile vinaigrette)
“A Korean immigrant, inspired by the pure love of food, joy, and her mother’s own delicious cooking, quits her day job, opens an artisan pizza pie place, and names it after her dog,” notes Pizzeria Lola’s website. “Is there anything more American than that?” Probably not, unless you add expansion, which seems to be in the works as well.
Onetime stage actress Ann Kim graduated from Tony Gemignani's International School of Pizza in January 2010, and in less than a year, she’d opened Pizzeria Lola, where she serves Neapolitan-style named for her Weimaraner — wood-fired pies cooked out of a copper-clad oven under tomato-can track lighting quickly photographed by hungry food bloggers. Just a few years later, Pizzeria Lola was named the 2014 Independent Pizzeria of the Year by Pizza Today.
There are 14 pies, most of which feature combos you’re familiar with, along with less common toppings like peppadew peppers and guanciale, and add-on toppings you don’t see everywhere, like boquerones (white anchovies, likely to make converts out of anti-anchovy pizza purists) and garlic confit. Two pies of particular interest highlight Korean flavors. There’s the signature Korean barbecue pie and the Lady ZaZa (Italian red sauce, house-made kimchi, Korean sausage, serranos, scallions, sesame, and soy-chile glaze).
#59 Hog & Hominy, Memphis, Tenn. (The Prewitt: Fontina, tomato sauce, boudin, scrambled eggs)
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 agrodolce; 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 nine pies on the menu, which are tended to in a painstakingly monitored oven on the side of the restaurant, among them the very enticing Red-Eye (pork belly, egg, Fontina, celery leaf, and sugo), I Like Meat (Porcellino's bacon, Canadian bacon, sausage, and pepperoni), and The LMB with heirloom tomatoes, pickled green tomatoes, basil, and ancholade (a purée of anchovies, crushed garlic, and olive oil). But the signature is the The Prewitt, with Fontina, tomato sauce, boudin, and scrambled eggs. Try it, Mikey. You’ll like it.
#58 Matchbox, Washington, D.C. (Fire & Smoke: Fire-roasted red peppers, Spanish onions, chipotle pepper, tomato sauce, garlic purée, smoked Gouda, fresh basil)
Once upon a time in Washington, D.C., the word “pizza” held little meaning. Twenty, even 10 years ago, talking pizza to its denizens 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. Yes, there was something fun about the Jumbo slice, but when a city uses Ledo as a benchmark... well, moving on.
Times change. Where once there was barely more than Manny & Olga’s (thank goodness for long-timer Pizza Paradiso), now, besides 2Amys and Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza (both ranked in 2015), there’s Ghibellina, Graffiato, and Seventh Hill (all were in the running). There’s even an “upscale jumbo’ slice, Italian Kitchen on U (context is everything). Seriously, though, along with the aforementioned, Matchbox numbers one of the D.C. spots helping to put the city on the map.
Now, there are five additional locations besides the flagship joint in Chinatown that launched in 2002 (two others in D.C.; one each in Virginia, Maryland, and Palm Springs, California [which recently underwent a menu revamp]; with new spots in Dallas and Virginia in the works) 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.
Could Matchbox become the next Cheesecake Factory? No, seriously, that’s a question people are starting to ask since news broke that its restaurant group is seeking $11 million from public investors to fund a national expansion to 48 locations by 2020. The answer? Maybe. Just ask yourself to name the last pizza chain of any quality that’s grown that big.
#57 Zuppardi’s, West Haven, Conn. (Special: Mozzarella, mushroom, sausage, marinara)
Frank Pepe, Sally's Apizza (No. 5), Modern Apizza (No. 13), and Bar and the Bru Room (No. 61) round out New Haven’s big four pizza names, but there are great, lesser-known pizzerias, one on the other side of I-95 in West Haven that has been around almost as long: Zuppardi's, open since 1934 (though they may be ahead of the others in terms of entering the twenty-first century in one way at least: they launched a food truck this year). The origins? Domenico and Angelina Zuppardi’s bakery, which was passed down to Tony and Frances Zuppardi, and in the 1940s was turned into a pizzeria by Tony (who was a baker in the Navy) when Domenico became ill.
Zuppardi's has its own take on Connecticut's renowned thin-crust style (they call it “a Napolitano-style pie”) and a philosophy handed down to co-owner Lori Zuppardi (read the full interview) from her father that goes like this: “The last bite has to be as good as the first when people eat our pizza." 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 is the Special: 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, with garlic and bites of crisp and wet escarole and soft bean interspersed. All good Italians know that escarole and bean soup is a great winter savior. Here, you’ll find it on a pie. Prego!
#56 Lee's Tavern, Staten Island, N.Y. (White Clam Pie: garlic, mozzarella, baby clam, no sauce)
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. Obviously, you're having a clam pie. But remember that these are super-thin pies. You're going to want more than one. Your second course? The pepperoni (pictured), which surfaces thinly-sliced, crisp, pepperoni craters cradling shallow and delicious pools of salty oil, the kind you'd never pat with a napkin.
#55 Coppa, Boston, Mass. (Salsiccia: Tomato, spicy pork sausage, ricotta, roasted red onion, and fennel pollen)
Even if you’re just a casual food TV watcher, you may be familiar with Coppa’s James Beard Award-nominated chef Jamie Bissonnette. The stocky, affable, tattooed chef was a Chopped champion in 2011, the same year he became the winner of the Food & Wine People’s Best New Chef award.
Coppa, his South End enoteca in Boston with Beantown’s über-chef Ken Oringer, is one of the city’s pizza darlings, having been named Boston’s best upscale pizza in 2010 by Boston Magazine, which noted that it has some of the most magnificent pizza crust around: "crunchy, chewy, smoky, and soft all at once."
There are six pies, all tough choices. Coppa cites the Salsiccia, with tomato, spicy pork sausage, ricotta, roasted red onion, and fennel pollen, as its most popular, but just as exciting are the 'nduja (with tomato, spicy Calabrian pork sausage, burrata, and oregano) and the bone marrow (white pie with smoked bone marrow, beef tongue, and horseradish).
#54 The Cheese Board, Berkeley, Calif. (Changes daily)
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.
“I love saying to people that this seems like an impossible business model, but it works, and it works very well,” notes one longtime Cheese Board member on their website.
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 began serving one vegetarian pizza, placing fresh ingredients and unusual cheeses atop a thin, sourdough crust.
#53 Gino’s of Long Beach, Long Beach, N.Y. (Special Pizza: Sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, onion, mozzarella, tomato sauce)
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 that still packs during the winter, a pizzeria, with amazing murals, that families come into off the beach, a place where they serve something for everyone, though most notably pizza, as they have done for some 50 years.
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.
#52 Regina Pizzeria, Boston, Mass. (Melanzane: Homemade ricotta, marinara, oregano, eggplant, red onions, basil, Pecorino Romano, and mozzarella)
Opening in Boston’s North End in 1926, just a year after the famed Frank Pepe in New Haven, Connecticut, Regina Pizzeria has some serious cred. But where Frank Pepe’s expansion over recent years denotes a business on rise, you have to wonder at Regina’s business plan. Consider: it once sported some 20 locations, but filed for bankruptcy earlier this year with the intention of getting out of bad leases (there are currently 16).
The pizza? Made using dough from 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. There are nearly 20 different pies, some made traditionally, while others — like the St. Anthony’s, a white pie with Regina sausage, sausage links, roasted peppers, and garlic sauce — are unique.
But the pie singled out by Regina as their most popular is 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 distinctive flair.
#51 Colony Pizza, Stamford, Conn. (Sausage Pie)
This thin-crust bar pie institution in Stamford, Connecticut, is notorious for its no-frills demeanor, no-special-options policy, and for not making exceptions (which Colony’s website admirably calls “classic American charm”). There are signs, though, that this reputation may be thawing. Consider the special corned beef and cabbage pizza for St. Patrick's Day, which 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 (two more in Fairfield and Milford and one to come in Norwalk), and they’ve recently added a salad pizza to the menus. Go figure.
What you’re going to want to do 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 special about the equal amounts of ingredients you likely won’t have had before, the way 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 your childhood favorite pizza place), and how the sting of the oil brings you right back to the sip of beer you’ll want while savoring each bite.
#50 Pizzeria Paradiso, Washington, D.C. (Bottarga: Paradiso tomato, minced garlic, parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg, bottarga)
If there’s a face for Washington, D.C.’s pizza’s saving grace, it’s that of owner and chef Ruth Gresser, who cut her chops in San Francisco in the late 80s and made her personal pizza foray in 1991, when she opened the first Pizzeria Paradiso. “We opened Pizzeria Paradiso so we could make the kind of pizza we longed for but couldn’t find in the D.C. area,” she notes on her site, “the kind of pizza where the crust was the most important part. So we started with a wood-burning, domed, stone oven able to cook at a temperature of 650 degrees.”
The original Pizzeria Paradiso, located on the second floor of a small townhouse in Dupont Circle, was upgraded and relocated to P Street, and has since been joined by spots in Georgetown and Old Town (all three feature beer lists offering 200 bottled beers and a traditional British-style cask ale). Bottarga isn’t the first ingredient you’d expect on a restaurant’s self-described signature pie, but that’s what you get: salty accents to the slightly sweet tomato touch, a nice garlic edge, and some light herbs, Paradiso’s Bottarga pie might just be showing off by adding its egg finish, but you probably won’t mind. coFor a next-level move, check out Gresser’s fast-casual pizzeria Veloce, which also serves scrambled egg-topped breakfast pies.
#49 Harry’s Pizzeria, Miami, Fla. (Short-rib: Boneless short ribs, caramelized onion, Gruyère, and arugula)
It says something about America’s growing obsession with pizza that this list features a significant number of James Beard Award-winning chefs — namely that there’s a growing interest, and undoubtedly still more fascinating and fun pizza on the horizon. In the case of Miami’s Harry’s Pizza, that would be chef Michael Schwartz (Best Chef: South in 2010), who opened his casual neighborhood joint in 2011 (his restaurant group’s first foray into pizza) and named it after his son (Coconut Grove now sports a location, too).
There are 10 hand-formed thin-crust pizzas on chef de cuisine Daniel Ramirez’s menu, all made with dough made in-house daily with double zero and wheat flours (for $2 more you can go gluten-free) and cooked in a wood-burning oven. You’ll be tempted by pizzas featuring rock shrimp, eggplant, slow-roasted pork, and MGFD bacon with potato and Gruyère, but don’t miss the short-rib pizza.
#48 Galleria Umberto, Boston, Mass. (Sicilian)
Galleria Umberto in Boston’s North End is generally lost among Boston’s better-known pie shops, like Santarpio’s (No. 36) and Regina (No. 52). That’s curious, because, as put forth a few years ago by one Gadling.com travel blogger, it may very well be one of America’s best cheap slice places. But the fact that it’s somewhat under the radar is probably preferable to the locals, because as it is, there’s already a line outside for these thick, over-the-edge-of-the-pan cheesy, saucy, completely over-the-top Sicilian slices anyway. That’s right, that’s the only pizza option, the Sicilian (and it’s cash only!). And while they open at 11 a.m., they close at 2:30 p.m. (or whenever the dough is gone), so don’t delay.
#47 Providence Coal Fired Pizza, Providence, R.I. (Rocket: Margherita pizza topped with arugula and pecorino)
Opened in 2012, Providence Coal Fired Pizza is a relative newcomer to the national scene, but its 900-degree cooked, Pennsylvania-coal-fired pies pretty immediately captured the attention of pizza lovers living in the Creative Capital. The original location (a second opened in North Kingstown), within walking distance of the Providence Performing Arts Center and the city’s convention center, is in the historic, 130-year-old Conrad building, whose eclectic architectural mix of Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissance styles may be as close to Gaudí as you can get in Providence. And its co-owner and co-founder, Richard Allaire, who worked at Radius in Boston (now closed) and counts on his résumé cooking experiences with Gary Danko, Mario Batali, and Susur Lee, is a Rhode Island native.
The pizzaiolos make a dough with more water than flour so it can stand up to the intense coal heat, and shoot for about a 20- to 30-percent char on the outside of their pies (you can watch them being made if you want — just go up to the “pizza bar”). Among their 11 standards, the rocket is the restaurant-described signature pizza — a Margherita topped (right from the oven) with fresh arugula and pecorino.
If a salad-topped pizza doesn’t get the tomato sauce in your veins pumping, try the much-lauded pepperoni, or the pizza named for the building, The Conrad (roasted onion, sausage, roasted peppers, mozzarella, pecorino, and rosemary). There’s also an interesting clam pie that pairs fingerlings with local clams and adds roasted red onions, rosemary, pancetta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. For something else you don’t see very often on a pie, get The Steak (shaved steak, roasted onions, creminis, hot peppers, provolone, and Great Hill blue cheese). Don’t forget that they cook other things in the oven besides pizza, most notably the crunchy coal-fired wings.
#46 Serious Pie, Seattle, Wash. (Sweet fennel sausage, roasted pepper, and provolone)
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 (Virginia, Westlake, Pike) that’s exactly what you get. These are thin-crust, oblong pizzas about a foot long and imbued with serious soul (there are also huge corniciones).
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 with toppings like Yukon gold potato, soft-cooked free-range eggs, smoked prosciutto, truffle cheese, snap peas, StraCapra (a washed-rind semi-soft goat cheese), and clams, but you’ll want to try the sweet fennel sausage, roasted pepper, and provolone pie that was voted one of the top 50 pizzas in the country this year.
#45 Varasano’s, Atlanta, Ga. (Nana's: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, herbs and spices)
What is it with these computer guys–turned–pizzaiolos? Like Paulie Gee (No. 21), who 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. Atlanta has been the lucky beneficiary. It’s the city where Varasano has made a well-documented six-year stab at recreating his version of the Patsy’s pizza (No. 16), which he credited with changing his life. The fact that the pizza isn’t quite Patsy’s-esque isn’t a bad thing. There’s a taller cornicione featuring a shard-thin exterior that gives to pliant air pockets and a soft underlying crust. This means more textural variation with each bite. And with his success, other new locations.
Varasano's serves two traditional pies: Margherita di Bufala and "Nana's," which is the house special: mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce with a “secret blend of herbs” (sweet roasted red peppers are suggested, too). There are eight specialty pies with a variety of toppings (including interesting ones like Emmenthaler, a pinch of lemon zest, and spiced olives) that come standard, but menu notations suggest extras. Speaking of which, if you want to build your own or add to menu standards, there are 14 toppings (including handmade meatballs). They do recommend adding only one to avoid overloading the thin crust, and call out capicola as “our best topping.” P.S. Varasano doesn’t make it often, but his Sicilian-style pie is supposed to be amazing, too. So it’s always worth asking about.
#44 Pizza Domenica, New Orleans, La. (Calabrese: Tomato, spicy salami, mozzarella, capers, olives)
Would you expect a Mississippi-born, Louisiana-bred, former Marine Corps reservist to serve one of America’s best pizzas? Probably not, but chef John Besh does at the New Orleans restaurant Pizza Domenica (Italian for "Sunday") that’s part of his restaurant group. At the helm? James Beard Award winner Alon Shaya (Best Chef: South), who is also executive chef and partner of sister spot Domenica, which also has pizza on the menu (the former is in Uptown, the latter in the renovated and historic Roosevelt Hotel — and is making waves with his personal take on Israeli cuisine at Shaya, which Times-Picayune critic Brett Anderson just called “one of the best new restaurants to open in New Orleans so far this decade.” Exciting stuff.
And the pizza? The slightly imperfect circles ringed with light, puffy, and black-blistered crusts, the centers of the pies sauce-speckled and beautifully topped with stellar (and fun) ingredients like bacon and eggs, peach and pecans, roasted carrots, smoked pork, salsa verde, and Chisesi ham — you’ll have a hard time choosing between the 12 pizzas made in the Pavesi pecan-wood-fired oven. So don’t. Order the most popular pie, the Margherita, try the signature Calabrese, then wild-card your third choice by choosing either the smoked pork (mozzarella, red onion, Anaheim chili, and salsa verde) or the wild mushroom (tomato sauce, bacon, onions, and egg).
Is there a difference between the pizza menus at Pizza Domenica and Domenica? At the moment, yes. The former serves a chicken pie (zucchini, onion, roasted peppers, and mozz), a pepperoni pizza, and the “Tutto Carne” (fennel sausage, bacon, salami, and Chisesi ham), and Domenica serves a white pie with ricotta, mozza, roasted garlic, and basil.
#43 Sotto, Los Angeles, Calif. (Margherita)
Sotto was opened just four years ago in a below-ground space in Pico-Robertson (“sotto” is Italian for “below) on the western side of a city that’s no slouch when it comes to good pizza. But chefs Zach Pollack and Steve Samson melded their mutual love for southern Italian cuisine and shared work history (Grace, Sona, and then Pizzeria Ortica, which they opened together in Orange County) into a place that these days quickly comes to mind when many discuss the best pizza in Los Angeles (LA Weekly called it that earlier this year).
What’s the big deal? Hyper-micro-leopard spotting all around the cornicione and a center that looks like a shallow crater of molten cheese and crushed tomato about to burst up through the tabletop like some other culinary-worldly pizza volcano. There are nine pies on the menu, all cooked in the Stefano Ferrara oven imported from Italy. They feature interesting ingredients like maitake mushrooms, pea tendrils, dandelion greens, buckwheat honey, fennel pollen, and the spicy spreadable Calabrian sausage callsd 'nduja (which makes appearances on two pies), and add-ons that include arugula, anchovy, egg, salame piccante, sausage, and prosciutto. Last year’s call to determine which pie the restaurant considered its signature returned a common response: Margherita. That may be so, but you’d be remiss to not order the guanciale as well — house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, and what then-LA Weekly critic Jonathan Gold estimated to be “two bucks' worth of fennel pollen” — a pizza he described as “among the piggiest pies in town.”
#42 Emily, Brooklyn (The Classic: Sauce, mozzarella, basil)
Not a fan of romantic movie plots? Keep in mind that this one ends with you eating pizza. What are we talking about? One of the cutest pizza love stories ever. Girl and boy's first date? At grilled-pizza icon Al Forno (No. 32) in Providence. Boy and girl's first meal together? Pizza. Girl looks across pie and knows she’ll marry boy. 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 (No. 86), within. Everyone lives happily pizza after. And it all happens in Brooklyn! See? It’s almost too twee to be true.
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. If you haven’t been, hightail it over to taste the bubble-and-char-blistered “Classic” (tomato sauce made with puréed Jersey tomatoes, mozz, and basil). And if you’re looking for a side, they also happen to serve one of the best new burgers in the country (No. 38 on this year’s list of the 101 Best Burgers in America).
#41 Rubirosa Ristorante, New York City (Vodka: Vodka sauce and mozzarella)
Three years ago, the buzz among the New York City pizza cognoscenti was around South Brooklyn Pizza (now closed, sadly), Motorino (No. 19), Roberta’s (No. 3), and Paulie Gee’s (No. 21). These days, the latter three 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. Since then, the new addition to that “old guard of pizza newcomers” is 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 stalwart, Joe & Pat's (No. 32 in 2014).
The slice at Rubirosa (which New York Magazine reported was named for a Florence, Italy, restaurant whose owners named it in turn after international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa) is the kind that inspires cross-section marveling and game-changing pizza paradigm shifts. Those who consider the city’s average dollar-slice 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 (impressive enough), and there are nine 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, and the one panelists voted vociferously for, was the vodka pie with fresh mozz.
#40 Gjelina, Los Angeles (Lamb Sausage: Confit tomato, rapini, pecorino, Asiago, no sauce)
This Venice neighborhood spot serves Italian favorites to diners hanging out on the trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The menu ranges from charcuterie and cheese to oysters, and includes an impressive wine list, but the pizza is the draw. Gjelina offers a roster of crispy, thin-crust pies (15 at last count) as well as thoughtfully conceived dishes prepared using market-fresh ingredients. There are enticing pies like the squash blossom pizza with burrata, the cherrystone clam with tomato cream and pecorino, and guanciale with green olives, and Fresno chiles, but when you see house-made sausage, you know what you have to do: order the un-sauced lamb sausage pie featuring confit tomato, rapini, pecorino, and asiago. Mwha!
#39 Delorenzo's Tomato Pies, Robbinsville, N.J. (Tomato Pie: Mozzarella and tomato sauce)
DeLorenzo’s serves serious tradition with their pizza — 68 years worth. It was launched in Trenton in 1947 by Southern Italian immigrant Alexander "Chick" De Lorenzo; today, Delorenzo’s tradition is upheld by his grandson Sam Amico at the new location in Robbinsville, opened in 2007 (the original was closed in 2012 when its stewards, Gary and Eileen Amico, retired).
DeLorenzo’s makes a clam pie, albeit with tomato sauce (New Haven pizza purists, beware!), but customers can add to small or large tomato pies by selecting from a range of toppings ($1.50 each) including anchovies, artichokes, basil, spinach, black olives, broccoli, garlic, hot peppers, mushrooms, onions, sausage, roasted peppers, sweet peppers, and pepperoni. We list these fastballs (as well as the $3 homemade meatball topping to make this curveball even more effective: this near-septuagenarian pizzeria serves a tuna tomato pie, too.
#38 Pete's New Haven Style Apizza, Washington, D.C. (New Haven: Clams, garlic, oregano, extra-virgin olive oil, pecorino Romano)
“We know you need good pizza,” notes the website for Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza to its Washington, D.C., patrons. As anyone who has lived in or visited this East Coast swamp… er, city, over previous decades would agree, “Apizza, Amen.” As Neapolitan chewy crusts rapidly proliferate, there’s another, perhaps more interesting pizza trend that’s spreading slowly yet steadily: New Haven style, as pioneered by the venerable Frank Pepe (No. 1) in that Connecticut city.
And with Pete’s, Wooster Square-style is saving Washingtonians from pizza purgatory. The business (which has expanded to Arlington, Friendship Heights, and Silver Spring) is owned and managed, for the most part, by two couples who have connections to D.C. and Connecticut, some of whom have training from the Culinary Institute of America. The inspiration for Pete’s started with Joel and Alicia Mehr (Joel managed a pizzeria in Manhattan and Alicia grew up in New Haven County), who teamed up with Thomas Marr and Kerri Knowles-Marr, who attended the CIA (her family is from Connecticut). They’ve created a chef-driven, New Haven-style pizzeria founded on quality ingredients (they shred their own mozz ordered from a co-op of local farms in Wisconsin). The result? A charred, thin crust, a wide pie, and, well… just go. You’ll understand.
What to order? Ack. That’s tough. There are 20 different pies to choose from — in sizes small (9 inches), medium (14 inches), and very large (18 inches). The baseline in this case, of course, is the New Haven, an homage to the Frank Pepe original — a white pizza with clams, garlic, oregano, extra-virgin olive oil, and pecorino Romano. Though the Long Wharf, which adds shrimp, basil pesto, red onions, garlic, and lemon oil to local Chesapeake clams should be another next-level consideration.
Who’s Pete? There are two. Big Pete is Alicia Mehr’s father (he lived in New Haven), and Little Pete is her son with cofounder Joel Mehr. But, as their website notes, “If your name is Pete and you’re a regular, we’re named for you too.” As good as this pizza is, anyone who walks in the door should claim Pete as their middle name.
#37 Umberto's Pizzeria & Restaurant, New Hyde Park, N.Y. (Grandma Pie: 16-by-16-inch-square, 12-slice thin-crust pie topped with mozzarella and plum tomato marinara sauce)
If Staten Island is Gotham’s least heralded pizza borough, Long Island has long gone uncelebrated as the New York pizza trove it truly is. That’s OK. Let hipsters queue in Brooklyn — Long Islanders know those carless city schmucks don’t know how good Nassau and Suffolk pizza country is. Long Islanders even have a pizza style, one that has caught on over the past decade since Erica Marcus publicized it in 2003.
If there’s a Long Island pizza royalty, coronate Umberto’s Pizzeria (not King Umberto’s in Elmont — that’s another story). You can thank Italian-born founder Umberto Corteo (from Monte di Procida near Naples) and his brother Joe, who opened the Original Umberto’s of New Hyde Park in 1965.
Their humble joint turned into a self-described “majestic Tuscan architectural two-story restaurant with a full-service cafe.” Regardless, Umberto’s slings superior pizzas. Most notably, the grandma: a square, 12-slice, 16-by-16-inch thin crust pie topped with mozz and plum tomato marinara. Haven’t experienced this thin, crispy-crust satisfaction? Start here. It’s generally regarded as the originator of the grandma slice.
Why? How did the style spread? According to Pizza: A Slice of Heaven (which any pizza lover refers to as the most important pizza tome ever written), the brothers made the pizza "Mama made" for themselves and friends, but didn’t menu-item it. They opened satellite pizzeria King Umberto with another Corteo brother, Carlo, which upon his retirement was sold to two Umberto’s employees, Rosario and Sal Fuschetto (who, it should be noted, make no mention of the original Umberto’s on their own site). A Slice of Heaven author Ed Levine reports that two pizza makers Rosario and Sal hired who’d gotten their start at the original Umberto’s saw the potential of the grandma pie and put it on the menu.
So maybe you have them to thank for this light, thin, crispy-chewy pie with light crushed tomato sauce and a scattering of mozzarella that every pizza-proud Long Islander knows is better than Sicilian, better than deep-dish, heck, better than many pizzas you’ll find in Manhattan.
Whatever you believe, you’ll want to be sure to make the move of every grandma. Grab at least one corner.
#36 Santarpio’s, Boston (Mozzarella, Sausage, Garlic)
The local favorite (Usher’s too, apparently) has already seen its fair share of fame after winning various best-of-Boston pizza lists over the years. Santarpio's, which opened in 1903, sticks to their traditional roots when it comes to the infamous slightly chewy and satisfyingly wet slices. Their menu consists of a variety of options, but includes a list of customers' favorite combos, 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. First-timer? Order Santarpio’s most popular pie — mozzarella, sausage, and garlic — to establish a baseline.
#35 Denino’s, Staten Island, N.Y. (Sausage)
Residents of the Forgotten Borough have long known what the rest of New York City, and more recently the country, are beginning to understand: When it comes to pizza, Staten Island doesn’t play. 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 John died, Carlo introduced pizza at the tavern, and locals have been ordering bar pies and downing them with pitchers ever since. A third generation of Denino’s runs the operation now (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.
#34 Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco, Calif. (Salsiccia Pizza: House-made fennel sausage, tomato, bell pepper, onion, mozzarella)
San Francisco’s Mission has changed over the past decade, but Mission visionaries and Pizzeria Delfina owners Craig and Anne Stoll haven’t lost a step even as they’ve expanded. The menu is 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-Reggiano), and look out! A cherrystone clam pie with tomato, oregano, and hot peppers. But your first move should be the Salsiccia: house-made fennel sausage, tomato, bell pepper, onion, and mozzarella.
#33 2Amy’s, Washington, D.C. (2amys: Tomato sauce and mozzarella)
Once upon a time, the District of Columbia was a pizza desert, 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 pizza for good. They suffered locals’ misplaced love for Ledo’s and watched with frustration as Adams Morgan’s jumbo slices edged increasingly close to the half-smoke as one of the city’s signature dishes. Thankfully, those days are over. Thank 2Amy’s.
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 take a bite, you know 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) No. 33 on this list of America’s 101 best pizzas — higher than a good number of pizzerias in New York.
#32 Al Forno, Providence, R.I. (Margarita)
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, Al Forno offers quintessential Italian dining 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.
It’s a style that celebrity chefs have been noting on TV for a while now, and that’s spawning its own offshoots. The restaurant bakes pies in wood-burning ovens and on grills over hardwood charcoal fire. Their most notable grilled pizza? The Margarita (sic). It’s served with fresh herbs, pomodoro, two cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil.
#31 Lorenzo’s and Sons, Philadelphia, Pa. (Cheese Pie)
Native Philadelphians have a love/hate relationship with the tourist trap that is South Street. The drinks are overpriced, the shops kitschy, but this is where they spent teenage years seeing bands, visiting novelty shops, and getting a slice from Lorenzo’s.
A no-frills, all-flavor pizza joint, Lorenzo and Sons wouldn’t hesitate to toss you to the curb if you asked for anything other than a cheese pizza. There is nowhere to sit. You can’t use the restroom. And most likely, you waited for 30 minutes before even ordering. But when you’re selling slices the size of a customer’s face for three bucks a pop that are absolute perfection every time, you have some wiggle room to be gruff.
In 2012, the beloved pizzeria burnt down from what the fire department said was an issue with the wiring in the ceiling above the oven and grill exhaust duct on the first floor, but has since been rebuilt and is still selling those cheap, delicious slices (with the prideful worst service).
#30 Lombardi’s, New York City (Pepperoni)
Anybody interested in tracing America’s love affair with pizza to its origins will find the way to Lombardi’s. Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1897, and in 1905 he started selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string to workers of Italian descent who took them to work (because most couldn’t afford a pie, it was sold by the piece). The pizzeria was run by the Lombardi family — first by Gennaro’s son, John, then his grandson, Jerry — until it closed in 1984, and was reopened 10 years later a block from the original location by Jerry and John Brescio, a childhood friend.
These days, Lombardi’s is almost always packed (their 110th anniversary, 5-cent pizza celebration queued a line around the block). There’s a thin crust, a cornicione without much bubble, and a thorough sauce layering that’s tangy and not overly sweet or salty.
There’s no shredded mozz layering but the fresh stuff, 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 (sometimes, it's worth re-establishing your baseline). 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.
#29 Una Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco, Calif. (Margherita)
When Anthony Mangieri, pizzaiolo for the East Village’s Una Pizza Napoletana, closed shop in 2009 "to make a change," move west, and open up somewhere he could "use his outrigger canoe and mountain bike more often," it was the ultimate insult. You're taking one of the New York City’s favorite Neapolitan pizzerias to people who denigrate New York's Mexican food? So you can canoe and mountain bike? (He was for real, by the way — there’s even a mini documentary about his bicycle passion.)
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, until 9 p.m., or until they're "out of dough"). Motorino (No. 19) opened in Mangieri's old East Village spot, which greatly softened the blow. But if you don't think it was a loss for New York, you're kidding yourselves.
#28 Lucali, Brooklyn (Pepperoni)
A pinch of Di Fara’s Dom DeMarco, a dash of the murals of Gino’s of Long Beach (No.), stretch the un-sauced classic Coney Island Totonno's (No. )crust a bit wider, add a few intangibles, and you’re close to the pizza experience Mark Iacono has made famous at his Carroll Gardens pizzeria Lucali since opening in 2006. There’s that classic New York thin-crust style and justified whispers about old-school execution praised at New York’s storied and beloved institutions. Eating pizza in Lucali’s warm, softly lit environs, you wonder how Iacono seems to have magically inherited Gennaro Lombardi’s pizza primogeniture. Iacono, who survived a stabbing in 2011 that left him with no feeling in about 50 percent of his body, hasn’t slowed, drawing crowds and fans at the original Brooklyn spot, and he’s receiving similar accolades at his Miami location.
#27 Apizza Scholls, Portland, Ore. (Apizza Amore: Marinara, fresh and aged mozzarella, pecorino, grana, olive oil, cured pork shoulder, basil)
Apizza Scholls serves some of the best pizza in Portland, and, some argue, north of San Francisco. And with an electric oven! It’s not an unquestioning, Erich Segal Love Story mutual obsession, though. The pizzeria does have guidelines for patrons composing their own topping combos on Apizza’s 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, house-made sausage, and basil, includes Olympia Provisions capicollo, house-cured Canadian bacon, cotto salami, arugula, and pepperoncinil. (Yes, you can also top pies with jalapeños, mushrooms, pepperoncini, ricotta, green and black olives, and, sigh, truffle oil.) Just remember: bacon is "not offered for build your own toppings."
If you aren't up to building your own pie, there are 13 classics to choose from with names like "Pig & Pineapple," "Tartufo2 The Electric Boogaloo," and "Sausage & Mama." Among them, you’ll find the signature Apizza Amore: Margherita with capicollo (cured pork shoulder) that has a spicy kick offset by the somewhat sweet mozz and balanced sauce. That’s amore!
#26 Antico Pizza Napoletana, Atlanta, Ga. (Pepperoni)
Giovanni Di Palma’s Antico Pizza Napoletana opened in 2009, and has since established itself among most Atlantans as the city’s best pizza. Last fall there were some serious allegations about interference in a federal labor investigation leveled against its owners, but that won't stop its many fans from arguing that it's among the top pizzerias in the country anyway. There are 10 choices, between the six traditional pies and four pizzas from the “Specialità” menu. The classics include the Margherita D.O.P., marinara (San Marzano, garlic, oregano, Romano, and white anchovy), Bianca (fior di latte, ricotta, mozzarella di bufala, pecorino), capricciosa (mushroom, artichoke, prosciutto cotto, and mozzarella di bufala), pomodorini (fresh cherry Vesuvian tomato, mozzarella di bufala, garlic, and basil), and diavola (sopressata, peperonata, and mozzarella di bufala).
The specials? There’s the San Gennaro with sausage and onion, the "Lasagna" with meatball and ricotta, the broccoli rabe-laced Verdura, and the sausage and rabe-laden Napoletana. Order any of these and you’ll be happy, but they should be your second pie. Your first? The Margherita D.O.P. with the heretical addition of pepperoni. Old-World Neapolitan meets New-World meat-loving.
#25 Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Chicago (Chicago Classic: Deep dish with sausage, crust made with butter, mozzarella)
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 his chain to 42 locations at last count.
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).
They do actually make a thin-crust pie, but what’s the matter with you? You’re not visiting for thin-crust, so make sure one of those picks is the Malnati Chicago Classic: a casserole (remember, deep dish isn’t technically pizza) made with Lou's lean sausage, some extra mozzarella, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on buttercrust. "It's authentic Chicago!"
#24 Kesté, New York City (Kesté: Tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, Gran Cru olive oil)
"This is it. New York’s #1," notes Kesté’s website. And in fact, that’s what the restaurant’s name means in Neapolitan dialect: "This is it." Six years after opening in 2009, it’s hard to argue that Kesté doesn’t belong in the conversation. This is the place you take Italians — better yet, Neapolitans — or anyone who has experienced Italy’s pizza culture, when they ask for demonstrations of New York’s Neapolitan pizza IQ.
It’s the same old scene: They sidle in skeptically, protest, complain, critique the menu, décor, you, and then they taste Roberto Caporuscio’s pizza. They catch themselves, begrudgingly and not out of politeness, noting it is close to the real thing — fine, at least better than they could’ve imagined. It’s as good a compliment as Italians can give.
It elicits that reaction for a reason; Caporuscio was born and raised on a dairy farm in Pontinia, Italy, an hour from 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.
Kesté has that signature chewy crust, the soft, slightly soupy middle, the balance of quality ingredients. Close your eyes and you’re transported to the back alleys of Naples. 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, and Gran Cru olive oil takes the restaurant’s name proudly, and doesn’t let it down.
#23 Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn (Pepperoni)
Being able to do the mental gymnastics intrinsic to understanding the history behind one of New York City's — 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.
Gennaro Lombardi opened what’s generally regarded as America’s first pizzeria (Lombardi's, No. 30). He supposedly trained Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri, who opened the first Patsy’s in East Harlem (No. 16). His nephew Patsy Grimaldi opened a place, also called Patsy’s, in Brooklyn’s DUMBO in 1990 (he’s said to have also learned his craft from Jerry Pero, son of Anthony Totonno Pero, who founded Totonno’s — another story), but had to change the name to Grimaldi’s after his uncle died and his aunt sold the Patsy’s name.
Three years later, Patsy sold the Grimaldi’s at 19 Old Fulton Street to Frank Ciolli, whose two children expanded the Grimaldi’s brand to nearly 46 restaurants across the country. But Ciolli lost the lease to the original space and had to move into a larger former bank building next door on 1 Front Street. That’s when Patsy swooped out of retirement into the original Grimaldi’s space to open Juliana’s.
It comes down to this: Patsy Grimaldi, whose pizza lineage goes back to family members trained by Gennaro Lombardi, is making pies at a restaurant called Juliana’s in the original Grimaldi’s, and Grimaldi’s is right next door.
With that all said, you’re just about at the front of the line (remember: no credit cards, no reservations, no slices, and no delivery!). So sit down and order something simple: a Margherita 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.
#22 John’s of Bleecker Street, New York City (The Boom Pie: Oven-roasted tomatoes, garlic, and basil)
Yes, John's of Bleecker is on the tourist rotation, but there's a reason it’s become a New York City institution. Pizza is cooked in a coal-fired brick oven the same way it's been done there since 1929. Choose from their available toppings (pepperoni, sausage, sliced meatball, garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms, ricotta, sliced tomatoes, anchovies, black olives, basil, and roasted tomatoes), and you can scratch your name into the walls like the droves before you.
What can't you do? Order a slice. Pies only. And in this case, you’re going with either a Margherita 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 tomatoes, garlic, and basil.
#21 Paulie Gee’s, Brooklyn (Regina: Mozzarella, tomatoes, pecorino romano, olive oil, fresh basil)
With a love for pizza, little formal training, no high school diploma, a career he has characterized as involving him "masquerad[ing] 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 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 resemble a barn but puts out a pie to rival that of every Naples memory you’ve had (or dreamed of having). At last count, there were some 45 pies (if you count the suggested add-on combos, the seven vegan options, and the 15 "secret pizzas"), all featuring clever names and great topping combinations — Ricotta Be Kiddin’ Me, Feel Like Bacon Love (“there is no bacon on this pizza!”), and the Orange You Paulie Gee? — but when The Daily Meal checked in, the Regina (on the secret menu) was noted as the signature: mozzarella, tomatoes, pecorino romano, olive oil, and fresh basil.
Paulie has had expansion plans since 2013 — his reported idea being to partner with owner–operators in cities across America. While the Portland, Oregon, spot is now in doubt, openings in Miami and Baltimore seem on the horizon.
#20 Tony's Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco, Calif. (Margherita: Dough mixed by hand using San Felice ﬂour then proofed in Napoletana wood boxes, San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P., sea salt, mozzarella ﬁor di latte, fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil)
It’s something to be considered a Neapolitan pizza expert — 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 that. It’s another to also proudly offer, and be commended for being a master of, all pizza styles. But that’s the story at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Yes, the signature pie is Tony’s award-winning Neapolitan: hand-mixed dough made with San Felice flour and proofed in Napoletana wood boxes, then topped with San Marzano tomatoes, sea salt, mozzarella, fior di latte, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. Just keep in mind that only 73 of these champion pizzas are made each day, so get there early. But the menu also offers critically acclaimed versions of pizza in the styles of California, St. Louis (yes!), Italy, Sicily (awesome!), New York, Rome, classic American, and even Detroit (sweet!). You could accuse Gemignani of showing off. Then again, there’s truth in the expression: “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”
#19 Motorino, New York City (Brussels Sprout: Fior di latte, garlic, pecorino, smoked pancetta, olive oil)
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th Street, left New York City, and headed west, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease and 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 one with cremini mushrooms, 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 (on which that oft-maligned vegetable is joined by fior di latte, garlic, pecorino, smoked pancetta, and olive oil), something Hong Kong, Singapore, and Manila natives and Brooklynites can now attest to since Palombino opened (and moved and reopened) his Asian and Williamsburg outposts in 2013. Unless it’s late spring, when you’ll want to order the special seasonal ramp pie.
#18 Co., New York City (Popeye: Pecorino, Gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper, garlic)
These pies have staying power. Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Co. (pronounced Company) opened in 2009 in a competitive pizza market. But its quality pies have more than staying power. Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery (which was featured on this list in 2013 at No. 73), 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.
#17 Gino’s East, Chicago, Ill. (Cheese Deep Dish)
Gino’s may be the ultimate in Chicago deep dish pizza, with a history dating back nearly half a century (2016 will mark 50 years). The story starts with two taxi drivers and their friend who became frustrated with rush hour traffic and decided to open up their own pizza place just off the famed Michigan Avenue strip in downtown Chicago. The restaurant, and the graffiti on its walls (it’s a Gino’s tradition to carve your name on the wall if you’re a regular), have been considered a city mainstay since its conception.
Pies begin with a buttery crust that crumbles as soon as you take a bite; it's stuffed with a layer of fillings (ranging from sweet Italian sausage to pineapple), then topped with a more-than-healthy serving of mozzarella and finished with crushed vine-ripened tomatoes. Their success has led them to open 16 locations, even expanding into neighboring Wisconsin for all those cheese lovers, and to Texas of all places, where the cornicione gods know there’s a need for more good pizza.
#16 Patsy’s, New York City (Cheese)
Some would say 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 favorites.
Still, the original is one of the most underrated and under-hyped pizza classics in the city. It’s a curious thing given the history and quality, though there are some caveats. Patsy’s pizza is so thin, and relatively short, that you can scarf down six slices at the counter. That’s what you’ll want to do, anyway — there’s something about this pizza that makes it miraculous just from the oven, but as exponentially unimpressive if you let it wait.
The move is to order the plain cheese, eat, and repeat — don’t order a reheat.
#15 Pequod's, Chicago, Ill. (Deep Dish with sausage and pepperoni)
Pequod’s originator Burt Katz moved on from this endeavor after few years to take a break before opening a new pizza stalwart in 1989: Burt’s Place (now closed) in Morton Grove, just north of Chicago. But the years have been kind to his legacy. Pequod’s deep dish, known for its “caramelized crust,” earns points for its chewy, crusty, quasi-burnt cheese crust that forms the outer edge of this cheesy casserole, adding a welcome degree of texture that probably wouldn’t be necessary if it weren’t nearly an inch thick. But it is necessary. And beautiful. 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.
#14 Totonno’s, Brooklyn (Margherita)
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t exist. Consider that it was opened in Coney Island in 1924 (by Antonio "Totonno" Pero, a Lombardi’s alum). Factor in the coal storage area fire that ravaged it in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction and subsequent rebuilding costs (the Daily News 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 agree that Brooklyn (and the country) should count its lucky stars Totonno’s is around. Yet Totonno’s 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. 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.
#13 Modern Apizza, New Haven, Conn. (Italian Bomb: Bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion, pepper, tomato, mozzarella)
Established in 1934 as State Street Pizza, Modern is known for its coal-fired brick oven that still puts out pizza in the same thin-crust style. You'll likely hear it described as the place "locals go instead of Pepe and Sally's." Perhaps. The atmosphere is great — wood paneling, friendly servers, a clean feeling — but it doesn't play third-string because it's not on Wooster. Modern's pies are slightly topping-heavy with weak structural integrity. Given the topping focus, the Italian Bomb is the pie to try: it’s topped with bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion, and pepper.
#12 Papa’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville, N.J. (Sausage)
Lombardi's (No. 30) may be responsible for "America's first pizza," but as Nick Azzaro, owner of Papa's Tomato Pies, isn't shy about saying, Papa's — established in 1912 — is America's oldest continuously owned, family-owned pizzeria. With more than 100 years under its belt, no wonder Papa’s again made this list of America’s best pies. And the family behind them is key. Why? The recipe has been passed through generations, and survived a 2013 move from Trenton to Robbinsville.
The Azzaro family cooks made-to-order pies customizable in a variety of ways. You can choose between everything from garlic to mushrooms and pepperoni to meatballs, or add anchovies for a salty kick. It’s the tradition that makes this restaurant unique, so you’ll be ordering their signature tomato pie. But because you’ve made the trip, brought friends, and are hungry, you should also really order a Papa's tangy original: the mustard pie.
Yes, yes, it sounds crazy, but don’t you doubt for a second that it works. Forget The Times’ claim that the pepperoni mustard pie tastes a bit too much like a hot dog. Their palates may be a bit too, ahem, “refined.” It tastes less like a hot dog, or any of the over-the-top hybrid creations fast food companies are flinging themselves at, than an unexpected, nuanced creation that shouldn’t work, but does — a brilliant pizza you’ll crave and won’t find anywhere else.
#11 Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix (Margherita: Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil)
"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 visited 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 starting to serve lunch, 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), and an outpost in Tucson.
It seems that every year someone comes out with an article declaring one pie (Tony’s by Forbes) or another (Great Lake, R.I.P., by GQ) the best in the country (Pizzeria Beddia by Bon Appétit). In a country with this much pizza talent and innovation, it’s sometimes good to remember that some of the classics are still at the top of their game. And Pizzeria Bianco is now an American classic. 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).
#10 Joe’s, New York City (Cheese)
Since 1975, Joe’s Pizza has served fresh, hot, cheesy slices to tourists and residents alike, making it a truly iconic New York City landmark. It’s as synonymous with New York City as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Everyone has a favorite slice joint, but if the city were to have just one, this would be it. It’s made every conceivable best-of list (many of them tacked on the walls and in the windows), and for good reason. 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).
It took about 38 years for Joe’s to try to capitalize on its West Village success, opening an East Village location on 14th Street a few years ago that turns out a similar-quality product — if with slightly less demand (consider this side-by-side comparison). Recent news indicates they’ll be opening their first location in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, where they promise not to lose sight of their blue-collar virtues — they’ll still sell pizza for $2.75 a slice.
#9 Coalfire Pizza, Chicago (Margherita)
You don’t expect pizza restraint in Deep-Dish City, 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 have heeded that advice for almost a decade now, enjoying the thin crust that emerges slightly charred and bubbly from Coalfire’s 800-degree clean-burning coal oven. And this summer, they’ll be able to do that at a soon-to-open second location.
#8 Buddy’s Pizza, Detroit (Motor City: Cheese blend, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, pine nuts, tomato basil sauce)
Detroit’s signature square pizza style is like a Sicilian slice on steroids. There's crisp, thick, deep-dish crust action, often formed from the process of twice-baking in square pans that have been brushed with oil or butter, and a liberal ladling of sauce spread across 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 sold it to Billy and Shirlee Jacobs in 1970 (their son Robert Jacobs helms it now).
Different stewardships, same results — a passionate following for cheesy, chewy pies — the difference being there are now 11 locations and the rest of the country is catching up. You may think that Detroit-style is confined to its home region, but consider that 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 at several of his restaurants; and the style has started catching on in Texas and New York.
You’re going to want to try at least two pies: 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, and tomato basil sauce.
#7 Louie and Ernie's, Bronx, N.Y. (Sausage Pie: Sausage, tomato sauce, mozzarella)
You hear people’s tales of outer-borough travels to Di Fara in Brooklyn, but the Bronx deserves its own pizza paean, and Louie and Ernie’s is up to the task of making this borough the pizza destination it deserves to be recognized as (according to The New York Times, it actually started out in East Harlem in 1947 but moved to its current location in 1959).
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.” He was right. It’s that can’t-wait-for-it-to-cool, burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth-it's-worth-it good. The sausage (made with 80-year-old recipes) comes from the S&D Pork Store four blocks down Crosby Avenue, and is applied in generous, juicy, fennel-spiked chunks barely held in place by copious amounts of melted cheese.
The only thing stopping this place from becoming a national destination is its location in the deep Bronx. No matter. Thanks to Cosimo and Johnny Tiso, who bought the place from Ernie Ottuso in 1987 (and who sell restaurant T-shirts for $5 a pop — when was the last time you saw that?) Louie & Ernie’s keeps turning out amazing pies to the locals who know they have a good thing.
#6 Flour + Water, San Francisco (Margherita)
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 dining experiences 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 restaurants across America.
#5 Sally’s Apizza, New Haven, Conn. (Tomato Pie: Tomato sauce, no cheese)
Sally's Apizza is New Haven royalty, operating from the same location where they opened in the late 1930s in New Haven's Wooster Square. In truth, if it weren’t for nearby Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Sally’s would probably be talked about with similar reverence. Their pizza is traditionally thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and "mozz." Of course, the pies at Sally’s look pretty similar to what you'll find down the street at Frank Pepe, because the man who opened Sally's (Salvatore Consiglio) was Pepe's nephew.
Sal passed in 1989, and his wife Flo followed in 2012, but their children Bob and Rick carry on the tradition of terrific pies (cash only and no reservations) Wednesday through Sunday (starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and at 3 p.m. on weekends). Since then, there have been reports that Sally's is for sale, but New Havenites need not panic, New Haven Register's Mark Zaretsky informs us that Bob and Rick have "made it clear that any deal, if it comes, would likely involve them staying on."
Sally's staff have been known to admit that Pepe’s clam pie is better, but the tomato pie here (tomato sauce, no cheese), has the original beat.
#4 Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles (Squash blossoms, tomato, burrata mozzarella, tomato sauce)
Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton teamed 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, attached to the main restaurant, offers a variety of Italian specialties, from antipasti to bruschetta, but the Neapolitan 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 — 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 and Singapore (though their San Diego outpost didn’t work out). No matter where you eat this pizza or what you order, you’re going to get a beautifully executed, superior puffy cornicione and excellent ingredients.
#3 Roberta’s, Brooklyn (Margherita)
With all the development and gentrification along the L line in Brooklyn that has happened since Roberta’s opened in January 2008, the great Brooklyn vs. Manhattan restaurant debate seems quaint, and it’s almost difficult to remember there was once a time when this great pizza joint was considered a trek.
OK, so Bushwick may not be on the average New Yorker’s rotation, and the pizzeria’s owners have been in the news as part of a few legal disputes, but at this point, if not part of the city’s pizza old guard, Roberta’s is without question a member of New York’s pizza icons, one that has inspired other great pizzerias, among them another one on this list, Paulie Gee’s (No. 21).
The appellations of Carlo Mirarchi’s pizzas have ranged from echoing schoolyard slang to literary references and clever puns. No matter whether you choose the Cheesus Christ (mozzarella, Taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper, and cream), the Scrivener (buttery Melville cheese — Herman Melville, after all, wrote "Bartleby, the Scrivener" — along with chevrotin, spinach, double garlic, and Calabrian chiles), the classic Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, and basil), or the Famous Original (tomato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, oregano, and chiles), you’re guaranteed a chewy cornicione and an exemplary neo-Neapolitan pie.
#2 Di Fara, Brooklyn (Classic Round Pie: Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, plum tomato sauce, basil, olive oil, sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onions)
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 Saturday (noon to 8 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 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 when 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, Parmigiano-Reggiano, plum tomato sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and of course, a drizzle of olive oil by Dom.
#1 Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn. (White Clam: Clams, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, garlic, oregano)
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana celebrated its 90th birthday in June and is enjoying its third consecutive year at the top of this list. And why shouldn’t it be named America’s best pizza? This is a checklist destination, one you’ll have to make a pilgrimage to if you want to discuss the topic of America's best pizza with any authority. The New Haven icon opened in Wooster Square in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza made by an Italian-American immigrant. After arriving in the United States in 1909 at the age of 16, Frank Pepe (watch him at work in this video) took odd jobs before opening his original restaurant (the location, now called "The Spot," is now an adjunct to the main Pepe's location).
There are now seven locations around Connecticut and one in New York State operated by Pepe’s 10 great-grandchildren (all of which use original recipes to make their coal-fired pizza), with a new Boston pizzeria scheduled to open in the fall.
What’s the move? As if you didn’t know! Two words: Clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Of course, Pepe’s summer special, their seasonal “fresh tomato pie” made with locally grown tomatoes, is worth its own trip (and the addition of shrimp to a tomato pie is an under-hyped gem of a combination). No matter what you’re thinking of ordering, expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.