For the past four years, The Daily Meal has ranked America’s best pizzas, and every year the same pizzeria — the legendary Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut — has claimed the title. While technically it might be correct to say that the emperor has no cheese (Pepe’s signature pizza is a clam pie with “no muzz” [mozzarella]), there’s nothing wrong at all with the reigning champ. Its quality hasn’t declined; the lines to get in are just as long as ever. But this year, it’s been upset by another legendary pizzeria, one New York pizza fanatics will be happy to know brings the crown to where they’ve been saying for years that it rightly belongs.
If you’re as passionate about pizza as we are, you know our bona fides and you know the drill. We’ve been at this for a while. We’ve obsessively cast as wide a net as possible across the country to search for the best pizzas. All year, once each annual list appears, we research new spots ourselves and follow up on the discoveries of others wherever they are across the country. We tap friends for recommendations, pore over reader tips, argue, seek out experts to help us rank responsibly — and eat as much pizza as we can.
We know that no list is perfect, least of all one involving a subject people feel as strongly about as pizza. Unlike many arbitrary lists, though — rankings diversified for the purpose of geographical engagement, “expert” listicles chosen by a handful of New York’s food writers — these rankings were approached methodically and comprehensively, and bring a great deal of pizza expertise to bear. (Last year, we even got “America's foremost authority on pizzaology,” Blondie’s Dagwood Bumstead, to weigh in.)
We start by defining the perfect pie. What are the essentials? Considering the varied pizza styles (Neapolitan, Sicilian, New York, Connecticut, California, Detroit, St. Louis, bar pie, deep-dish, Grandma…we’ll stop ourselves there), that’s a loaded question. Suffice it to say, no matter your pizza denomination, we believe the following qualities are basic to the platonic pie: a nuanced sauce, neither too sweet nor salty (assuming that it has sauce); good-quality, well-distributed cheese (assuming that it has cheese); good-quality and sensibly combined toppings; a flavorful, savory crust; and perhaps most important, other than the overall quality of the ingredients, a judicious, well-balanced, and pleasing ratio of sauce, cheese, toppings, and crust that maintains a structural integrity no matter the style.
(Speaking of crust, what is this fancy-pants term “cornicione” that figures in many of our captions? Cornicione, pronounced "cor-nee-CHO-neh," is Italian for cornice or moulding, and in pizza terms means the edge, crust, or rim on a pizza.)
From defining the perfect pizza we went big, considering more than 800 spots in every corner of the country — slightly more than last year. How did we narrow this number down to just 101? To begin with, we ate at as many pizzerias as possible ourselves. This editor has personally visited 50 places that made the list this year. The Daily Meal’s in-house pizza experts — including eight-time James Beard Award winner and Daily Meal editorial director Colman Andrews and the site’s senior eat/dine editor Dan Myers, along with our city editors, Daily Meal Council experts, and Culinary Content Network bloggers — pitched in.We called upon a blue-chip, geographically diverse list of pizza panelists — chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and just plain pizza authorities — asking them to share their considerable pizza experience with us.
But we also called upon a blue-chip, geographically diverse list of pizza panelists — chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and just plain pizza authorities — asking them to share their considerable pizza experience with us, but to vote only for places where they’ve actually eaten. (If you’re in food media or are a recognized pizza expert and you disagree with this list and didn’t vote for it, send us an email with your pizza cred and we'll consider you for our panel in 2017.) All told, 55 qualified experts weighed in this year.
So who says the 101 pizzas on this list are the country’s best? A sampling of our panelists includes Former longtime “Best New Restaurants” columnist for Esquire and author of Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet Newsletter John Mariani, Scott’s Pizza Tours’ Scott Weiner, I Dream of Pizza’s Jason Feirman, Worst Pizza’s Craig Agranoff, Best Pizza Book’s Liz Barrett, PizzaQuest.com’s Peter Reinhart, Real Food, Fake Food’s Larry Olmsted, and Pizza Therapy’s Albert Grande. Obviously, when pizza is the topic at hand, these folks know what they’re talking about.
This year, the experts finalized a list that spanned 23 states. The top 11 states for pizza included New York (29); California (10); Connecticut (9); Illinois (9); New Jersey (5), Pennsylvania (5); Massachusetts (4); Oregon (4); Georgia (3); Rhode Island (3); and South Carolina (3). For the fourth year, the birthplace of American pizza, New York, featured the most pizzas. It was a resurgent year all-around for the Empire State, adding two pizzerias to its 27 spots in 2015. In 2016, Brooklyn reigned once again, but it and Manhattan both dropped two spots, falling to 11 and 9 respectively. Queens (3) and Staten Island (1) both dropped spots since last year, and the Bronx held strong with the one and only Louie and Ernie’s. One fewer state was represented this year (so long, Missouri), which enabled Illinois to gain ground on Connecticut as one of the top four states for pizza.
So who made the list? You can click into the slideshow to dive into the captions, or if you’d prefer to get your blood pressure going, go directly to the full ranking. We don’t want to give too much away here, but suffice it to say, as much as we love all the new places that have been opening up to great acclaim, pizza joints operated by people dedicated to tending and advancing pizza heritage, tradition, and quality, as well as those pushing the envelope, we’re happy to see this classic Brooklyn spot top this year’s list.
So let’s raise a slice, pizza fanatics: to hot pizzas and warm cardboard boxes; to pans, peels, cheese, sauce, and crust; to the folks who craft their ingredients into something magical; to pizza greats A.J. Pappalardo of Rubirosa in New York (No. 10) and George Germon of Al Forno in Providence (No. 31), both of whom we lost in 2015; and to New York, home of the nation’s best pizza — this year, at least.