101 Best Pizzas in America for 2017 Slideshow
101 Best Pizzas in America for 2017
Since 2012, The Daily Meal has ranked America’s best pizzas, and it’s been a half-decade that’s seen America’s pizza landscape go from spectacular to otherworldly. It’s no small feat to set out to rank the best pizzas in America, but for the sixth year in a row, we’ve sought the nation's best pies and slices, considering more places than ever in our quest for the best.
#101 Inferno, Darnestown, Md. (D.O.C. Margherita)
Chef Tony Conte honed his chops as executive chef of D.C.’s Oval Room and executive sous chef at New York’s Jean-Georges before decamping to the D.C. suburbs to open Inferno, his vision of an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria. The centerpiece of the casual restaurant is a custom-tiled wood-burning oven, and it’s turning out a roster of pies that changes seasonally, based on what’s fresh and local. If you want to hug the baseline, stick with the classic D.O.C. Margherita, simply topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, fior di latte, olive oil, and basil, but be sure to order at least one other pie: the pizza with ember-roasted potatoes, roasted onions, and smoked mozzarella. There’s almost a pizza-as-naan thing that happens, and it’s really something special. Inferno is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and stays open only until they run out of dough.
#100 Il Forno, San Antonio (Entero)
Michael Sohocki had already achieved a level of renown in San Antonio with his Gwendolyn and Kimura before deciding to build his own brick pizza oven and open Il Forno last year. It’s already being hailed as the best pizzeria in town, with added perks like an in-house charcuterie program and mozzarella made in-house from local milk. The best way to experience what Sohocki is accomplishing here is to order the Entero, a bubbly, lightly charred crust topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and house-made pepperoni, coppa, and sausage. (If you like the spicy stuff, be sure to add some of the Chinese pepper-infused oil!)
#99 Crust, Cleveland (Finocchiona)
Crust, which has two Cleveland locations, may look like your standard slice joint, but it’s anything but. The care put into these pizzas starts with the dough, which is handmade every day and allowed to slowly ferment and rise, and everything is made from scratch daily. You can top your pizza with more than 30 toppings, but we suggest you order the Finocchiona specialty pie: fennel salami, red onion, red sauce, smoked mozzarella, pecorino, and rosemary.
#98 Proof, Miami (Oxtail Pizza: black garlic, caramelized onions, thyme, mozzarella)
The brainchild of chefs Justin Flit and Matt DePante, the two year-old Proof is a welcoming and casual spot that’s turning out some of the city’s finest pizzas with zero pretension. The pizza dough starts with 00 Caputo flour (de rigueur in Naples’ best pizzerias) and it gets a little tang from sourdough starter; they pies are cooked hot and fast in a 900-degree oven burning cherry and oak wood. The top selling pie is topped with shredded oxtail, mozzarella, caramelized onions, black garlic, and thyme, and it’s earned itself a legion of followers on its own.
#97 O4W Pizza, Duluth, Ga. (Grandma Pie)
Anthony Spina made waves in 2015 when he opened O4WP in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, and even though he recently moved the operation about 35 minutes out of town to Duluth, the “Jersey-style” pizzas is just as good.
Jersey-style generally refers to a Trenton-style tomato pizza where the cheese goes down first and is then topped by a sauce heavy on tomato flavor, sometimes even topped by hand-crushed tomatoes. At O4WP, it means hand-stretched dough made fresh daily and topped with housemade (one word, per AP) sauce and hand-pulled mozzarella cooked Sicilian-style, wood-fired in a gas deck-oven. But the move is the award-winning Grandma Pie cooked in cast-iron. O4WP even calls itself “Home of the Grandma Pie.” And while you have to raise an eyebrow and have a little chuckle about a Georgia pizzeria doing Jersey-style pizzas and being known for a pizza that originated in Long Island, New York, there’s nothing funny about how good this pizza tastes. They’re guaranteed to impress even the most prideful New Yorker.
#96 Metro Pizza, Las Vegas, Nev. (Milano: No sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, 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, pizza in Las Vegas. Founders John Arena and Sam Facchini’s grandparents settled 50 yards 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 daily and superior ingredients for 30-plus years. Among the specialty pies, the Milano (mozzarella, 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.
#95 The Cheese Board, Berkeley, Calif. (Changes daily)
The Cheese Board gets pizza-lovers in Berkeley lining up outside and sitting on the grass median between traffic. Has to be good pizza, right? You bet. And the whole idea behind Cheese Board is cool, too. Cheese Board opened as a small cheese store in 1967, and four years later, the two owners sold it to employees, creating a 100 percent worker-owned business of which the owner remained a part.
“I love saying to people that this seems like an impossible business model, but it works, and it works very well,” noted one longtime Cheese Board member on its 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 thinsourdough crust.
Which pie should you get? Whatever they’re serving. Just be sure to enjoy it under the sun on the median. (And look for the cheese graffiti in the sidewalk out front.)
#94 Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria, Anchorage, Alaska (Avalanche: Barbecue sauce, mozzarella, provolone, cheddar cheese, red onions, blackened chicken, bacon)
Ask anyone where to go for pizza in Anchorage and you’ll likely be directed to the renowned Midtown Anchorage nightlife spot Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria — the same pizza place that has been locals’ go-to since the late 1990s when fellow rock climbers Rod Hancock and Matt Jones, despite having virtually no restaurant experience, launched a 30-table restaurant serving draft beer and stone-baked pizzas. Now, Moose’s Tooth is regularly noted by publications looking to cast a wide net for the best pizzerias in the country. These days, the menu features almost 40 pizzas with names just as creative as their topping combinations, but the Avalanche is their most well-known, featuring barbecue sauce, mozzarella, provolone, Cheddar, red onions, blackened chicken, and bacon — a pizza that will need a similarly signature beverage, say the house-brewed and assertively hopped Fairweather IPA.
#93 Burt’s Place, Chicago, Ill. (Cheese Pie)
The name Burt Katz is just about as synonymous with pizza as you can get in Chicago. He got into the game of opening pizzerias with literature-references for names in 1963 when he got involved with Inferno (since closed). Then there was Gulliver’s, which opened in 1965, where he stayed until 1971, And Pequod’s (named for Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick), which he opened in 1971 and sold in 1986. The years have been kind to his legacy at his former spots, but his success has bulwarked at Burt’s Place, launched in 1989. Burt’s is a more restrained Chicago deep dish — a thinner base, a sensible use of cheese and sauce, and that iconic Burt Katz caramelized crust. An ownership change after Burt’s passing last year resulted in a full renovation, and even though the pizzeria (which reopened in March) may have lost some its old-school charm, loyalists will tell you that the pizza is still as good as ever.
#92 Reservoir Tavern, Boonton, N.J. (Cheese Pie)
Tucked away on a quiet side street near the Jersey City Reservoir in Boonton, New Jersey, is Reservoir Tavern, serving some of the state’s finest brick-oven pizza and Old World Italian fare since 1936. Run by the Bevacqua family since day one, this no-frills bar and dining room commands a lengthy wait every night of the week. While the chicken française, fried calamari, lasagna, homemade sausage and peppers, and shrimp fra diavolo are flawless, it’s the pizza that puts it on the map. The crust is thick, crisp, and chewy; the sauce is tangy; and the cheese is ample; and it all comes together to form a stunning pie.
#91 Micucci 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, 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 six inches long. There’s an uneven inch-and-a-half to three-quarter- inch cornicione, not much different from the rest of the slice, except that it’s drier for not being covered by the brush of sweet sauce and an incomplete layer of mozzarella that coats the rest of it. “Pillowy” and “airy” have been used to describe these pizzas, and undoubtedly the descriptions will hold as long as Micucci continues to do things this way (the right way, mind you). Imagine a fluffy, light focaccia — 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 with cheese rivulets and sauce undercurrents around raised puffy sections of dough. There’s no undercrust to speak of, but crispy cheese in places, especially 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.
#90 La Nova, Buffalo, N.Y. (Pepperoni)
La Nova is a Buffalo legend, and is celebrating its 50th year in business. Sure, it’s been great at getting its name out there by doing everything from sponsoring local professional sports teams to giving away thousands of T-shirts, but there’s no denying that the pizza is spectacular. There are at least 21 toppings to choose from and 19 set specialty pies, including square pies, thin-crust pizzas, and “The Big Joe” 30-inchers, but we suggest you stick to their classic round pie, which (in typical Buffalo fashion) is loaded with more sauce and cheese than you might think necessary as well as an ample amount of pepperoni, which curls up into little “cups” and chars slightly as it cooks (giving rise to the distinctly Buffalo pizza term “cup and char”). Consider leveling-up your crust for free with sesame seeds, onion, garlic, Cajun spice, or Parmigiano-Reggiano. And make sure you order some barbecue wings, too — La Nova is famous for inventing this style in the 716 as well.
#89 Deniro's, Depew, N.Y. (Pepperoni, Stinger)
Deniro’s is a perfect representation of the classic Buffalo-area pizzeria: no frills, no fuss, big menu, spectacular pizza. You can choose from a huge variety of salads, appetizers, subs, “Pizza Lunas” (similar to calzones), and more than 20 different specialty pizzas. The pizzas are crisp on the bottom and topped with as much sauce and cheese as they can handle, and the pepperoni has the classic “cup and char,” but this is also a great spot to try the classic Buffalo “Stinger” pizza, which comes topped with hot sauce, mozzarella, steak, and chicken fingers.
#88 Sofia Pizza Shoppe, New York City (Classica: Plum tomato sauce and mozzarella)
Midtown Manhattan has fewer great slice joints than you might think, and this inspired Tom Degrezia and Matthew Porter to open their own pizzeria on First Avenue, Sofia Pizza Shoppe. (Degrezia’s grandfather opened Brooklyn’s renowned J&V Pizzeria (#49) in 1955.)
A plain Classica slice fresh from their Marsal & Sons gas oven is more saucy than cheesy, its crust fully brown and the combination of those three ingredients no thicker than a No. 2 pencil. It folds sharply with few cracks and leaves a finger- and thumbprint’s worth of grease on the plate.
Beyond the plain cheese baseline, they offer 10 toppings: Italian Gaeta olives, roasted eggplant, cherry peppers, mushrooms, sliced onions, roasted peppers, garlic, pepperoni, sweet fennel sausage from Faicco’s, and grass-fed beef meatballs. The spinach-dip slice is a masterpiece, meticulously dolloped so as to fashion some in each bite, and the seasonal heirloom tomato grandma tastes like a summer day. Of course, the holy grail is the Doughdici, an appointment-only, poofy-crust pizza that Degrezia lets rise for 12 hours after a three-day ferment. It’s almost pizza as soufflé, and it’s a game-changer.
#87 Pizza Gruppo, New York, N.Y. (Shroomtown: Portobello, shiitake, button mushrooms, truffle oil, marinara, mozzarella)
New Yorkers understand thin-crust as part of their pizza knowledge birthright. Still, few truly know the ultra-thin style represented at the country’s famed bar pie specialists; think Lee’s Tavern, Eddie’s, and yes, Gruppo. So Jimmy Fallon got thrown out one night and claimed the staff was rude. Yes, they refuse to do things that most other pizzerias would never think twice about, like sell you a round of dough to take home to make your own pizza with. So what? That’s their prerogative, right? These are unique pies with a super-thin crust right up to the very last part of the barely-thicker-than-matzo, crunchy edge. There’s an almost equal ratio of cheese to crust, just slightly less cheese, a delicious if minimalist canvas for their 12 topping combinations. Standouts include the Shroomtown (marinara, mozzarella, Portobello, shitake, button mushrooms, and white truffle oil) and if you dig heat, the custom jalapeño pie: thin slices of pepper evenly distributed for a spicy effect.
#86 Papa’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville, N.J. (Mustard Pie)
Lombardi’s 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 made this list of America’s best pies again. And the family behind this operation is key: The recipe has been passed down 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 everything from garlic to mushrooms and pepperoni to meatballs, or add anchovies for a salty kick. But it’s tradition that makes Papa’s special, so order their signature tomato pie. But because you’ve made the trip, brought friends, and are hungry, order a Papa’s tangy original: the mustard pie.
Yes, it sounds crazy, but don’t 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.
#85 Colony Grill, 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 four locations (ones in Fairfield, Milford, and Norwalk), and they’ve added salad and breakfast pizzas to the menus. Go figure.
What you’re going to want to do is order the hot oil bar pie with sausage (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 (melty like you remember from the orange-oil-covered slice at your childhood favorite pizzeria), and how the sting of the oil brings you right back to the sip of beer you’ll want while savoring each bite.
#84 Pizzeria Beddia, Philadelphia, Pa. (Tomato, mozzarella, Old Gold aged cheese, extra-virgin olive oil)
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 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 four pies, currently: No. 1 (tomato, whole-milk mozzarella, Old Gold aged cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil with the suggestion to add cremini, pepperoni, roasted onion, anchovy, pickled chiles, and/or sausage); No. 2 (asparagus, fresh cream, oyster mushroom, and ramps); No. 3, the “Arrabbiata” (labeled “angry”); and No. 4 (tomato, anchovy, garlic, oregano, and Old Gold).
Angry is what you may become when trying to sample this ballyhooed pizza. Pizzeria Beddia is only open Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 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.”
#83 Pizzeria Locale, Boulder, Colo. (Build Your Own)
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, but this restaurant really knows how to bring it.
The pizzeria has two Denver locations, two in Overland Park, one in Kansas City, and two in Cincinnati, and it offers 12 “Classics,” (eight red, four white), or you can build your own from a selection of more than 25 toppings, including eggplant, Calabrian chiles, corn, smoked mozzarella, pork meatballs, and prosciutto. The 11-inch beauties that emerge from the oven have the potential to revolutionize the fast-casual game. If this is the future of pizza, we’re all for it.
#82 Serious Pie, Seattle, Wash. (Sweet fennel sausage, roasted pepper, provolone)
You’d expect no less than pizza greatness from Seattle star chef and James Beard Award winner Tom Douglas, and at his two Serious Pie spots in Seattle 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.
#81 Del Popolo, San Francisco, Calif. (Margherita di Bufala)
What started as an extremely successful food truck is now a Nob Hill must-visit with a Bib Gourmand nod from Michelin. The brainchild of Jonathan Darsky, the former pizzaiolo of the acclaimed Flour + Water in San Francisco (he left in 2010), the restaurant offers eight pizzas, all made with expert precision. The white pie with mozzarella, ricotta, basil, and garlic and one topped with housemade sausage, harissa, pecorino, olives, and cilantro are both standouts, but the Margherita di Bufala, made with crushed tomato, basil, and buffalo mozzarella, is a masterpiece.
#80 Sotto, Los Angeles, Calif. (Margherita)
Sotto was opened five 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 a couple years back).
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 eight pies on the menu, all cooked in the Stefano Ferrara oven imported from Italy. They feature interesting ingredients like Castelvetrano olives, house-cured pork cheek, buckwheat honey, and the spicy spreadable Calabrian sausage called ‘nduja, and add-ons that include arugula, anchovy, egg, salame picante, and pioppini mushrooms. Our calls 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.”
#79 Gjelina, Los Angeles, Calif. (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 salted anchovy with tomato cream and capers, and guanciale with green olives and Fresno chiles, but when you see housemade sausage, you know what you have to do: Order the un-sauced lamb sausage pie featuring confit tomato, rapini, pecorino, and Asiago.
#78 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, Los Angeles, Calif. (Margherita)
This small chain was founded by former Michael Mina corporate chef Anthony Carron and Umami Burger’s Adam Fleischman, and today there are six LA locations, two in Vegas, six in Dubai, and one each in Tokyo and Qatar (a New York expansion sadly never materialized). You can build your own pie from a wide variety of toppings or choose from a variety of “Trust the Chef” styles (including one with porchetta, peppadews, fennel pollen, and arugula and another with butternut squash, caramelized onions, bacon, and rosemary), but we suggest you start with the classic, and essentially perfect, margherita.
#77 Pizzeria Lola, Minneapolis, Minn. (Korean barbecue: Grass-run farm beef short ribs, mozzarella, scallions, arugula, sesame and soy-chili 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.
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 pizzas named for her Weimaraner. They’re wood-fired pies cooked out of a copper-clad oven under tomato-can track lighting quickly photographed by hungry food bloggers.
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, housemade kimchi, Korean sausage, serranos, scallions, sesame, and soy-chile glaze).
#76 Vito & Nick’s, Chicago, Ill. (Sausage)
In a city dedicated to deep-dish pies, this family-owned restaurant has been serving up thin-crust pizzas to Chicago residents since 1946, when they added them to their family’s tavern menu. Vito & Nick’s doesn’t believe in delivery, their co-founder having gone as far as to say they’ll never do it — “If they want a truly great pizza, they will come in for it.” It’s a philosophy that seems to be working for them — as the note on their website demonstrates (“If you don’t know about us, you will”), the owners are fairly confident in their popularity. The thin-crust, tasty sausage, and generous cheese and sauce covering will likely leave you in agreement.
#75 Nellcôte, Chicago, Ill. (Sunnyside Up Organic Egg: D.O.P. fontina, mozzarella, arugula)
Named for a French mansion once inhabited by the Rolling Stones, Nellcôte is the place you go for pizza whose flour is actually milled by the restaurant and a super-thin crust that has been described by Serious Eats’ Daniel Zemans as being akin to whole wheat in texture and flavor. There are eight “fork and knife” pizzas, including pies with Taleggio and ramp, wood-roasted mushrooms, broccoli, n’duja, and housemade fennel sausage, but the move here is the Sunnyside-Up Organic Egg with D.O.P. fontina, mozzarella, and arugula, which, unless you have an egg aversion (so sorry), will probably sound as runny, luxurious, and delicious as it actually is.
#74 Bocce Club Pizza, Buffalo, N.Y. (Pepperoni Pie)
Going strong since 1946, Bocce Club was founded by Dino Pacciotti shortly after he returned from World War II and is today run by his son, Jim. The pizza recipe hasn’t changed much since then: Dough is made from scratch and hand-stretched daily, pizza sauce is made fresh daily, and the cheese is 100 percent whole milk mozzarella. The place has kept up with the times, though: It was the first Buffalo pizzeria to offer takeout in corrugated boxes (1955), and the first to offer half-baked pies to finish cooking at home (it’ll now ship them nationwide). As for the pizza, it’s beyond reproach, and sets the standard for Buffalo pies against which all others are judged. We suggest you stick with the Original Bocce Pizza with just sauce and cheese, topped with high-quality pepperoni that curls into the familiar “cup and char.”
#73 Providence Coal Fired Pizza, Providence, R.I. (Rocket: Margherita pizza — tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil — topped with arugula and Pecorino)
Open since 2012, Providence Coal Fired Pizza is a newcomer to the national scene, but its Pennsylvania-coal-fired pies cooked at 900 degrees Fahrenheit captured the attention of pizza-lovers. 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. Its co-owner and co-founder, Rhode Island native Richard Allaire, has worked with Gary Danko, Mario Batali, and Susur Lee.
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 percent to 30 percent char on the outside of their pies (watch them being made if you want — just go up to the “pizza bar”). Among their 11 standards, the Rocket is the restaurant-designated signature — 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 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, get The Steak (shaved steak, roasted onions, creminis, hot peppers, provolone, and Great Hill blue cheese). Don’t forget they cook other things in the oven besides pizza, most notably the crunchy coal-fired wings.
#72 Pizza Brain, Philadelphia, Pa. (Forbes Waggensense: mozzarella, fontina, grana padano, basil, smoked pepperoni, tomato sauce)
When you’re craving great pizza in Philly, go no further than this 19th-century brick building in Kensington. You’ll find thin-crust pizza cooked in the double-deck gas-fired oven at the cash-only joint Kickstarted in 2012 by Ryan Anderson, Joseph Hunter, Brian Dwyer, and Michael Carter. As you wait for the crew to cook your pie, bask in Pizza Brain’s unique ambience, their pizza memorabilia museum (featuring what Guinness World Records called the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia), or rummage through their pizza tattoo book for laughs. Pizza Brain’s “Jane” is their version of a Margherita — a cheesy trifecta of mozzarella, aged provolone, and grana padano blended with basil — a good place to begin. The salty and satisfying Forbes Waggensense is the one that was ranked No. 72 by our panel: mozzarella, fontina, grana padano, basil, smoked pepperoni, and tomato sauce.
#71 Lorenzo 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 it has since been rebuilt and is still selling those cheap, delicious slices (with the prideful worst service).
#70 Amore Pizza, Flushing, Queens (Plain Cheese Pie)
Tucked into a Flushing strip mall along with a check-cashing joint, Carvel, and a Pathmark, off the Whitestone Expressway, just minutes before it takes you over the East River to the Bronx, is an under-mentioned and quintessential Queens slice joint: Amore Pizzeria.
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).
#69 Little Vincent’s, Huntington, N.Y. (Cold Cheese)
If you don’t think there’s any good pizza on Long Island, you’re not looking in the right places. There are plenty of great pies — pilgrimage-worthy pies, in fact. And one of them is on the North Shore in one of the island’s best towns for food, heck, given the bustling restaurant scene, bookstore, and independent movie theater, one of its best towns, period. Little Vincent’s has been named to Long Island’s best of lists for years, but hasn’t gotten much love nationally.
The joint near the corner of Main Street and New York Avenue doesn’t suffer for business. It’s nearly impossible to score a booth around dinnertime during the week. Forget weekends. Little Vincent’s is a tangy, saucy pie with a crispy bottom and a bit of a flop, but in a good way.
There’s a thin crust, a very light, puffy cornicione that has a strong crunch and gets beautiful bubbles, and they do not skimp on cheese. In fact, cheese is one of the reasons Little Vincent’s has started getting national attention. Little Vincent’s “Cold Cheese Slice,” a fistful of cold cheese served on top of the hot piece of pizza, is a practice brought to Huntington by college students returning home to Long Island from school in Oneonta in upstate New York. It’s actually really good, and not a gimmick (read more for why), but don’t be distracted by novelty, the regular cheese pie (and the pepperoni for that matter) are reason enough to visit.
#68 King Umberto’s, Elmont, N.Y. (Grandma)
By now, most pizza-lovers know what a grandma pie is, or have at least heard it. But just because it’s now well-known doesn’t mean everyone knows how to make a great grandma pie. Those looking to establish a baseline still need to visit Long Island, and try it at its birthplace, King Umberto. 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.
#67 Williamsburg Pizza, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Cheese)
Sometimes it’s better to let a place speak for itself. So consider what could easily be described as a pizza mission statement as posted by pizzaiolo Nino Coniglio and the rest of the team behind Williamsburg Pizza a few years ago: “We consider pizza one of the most important foods on earth. The soul of a true Brooklyn-style pizza doesn’t reside in fancy gimmicks or a host of bizarre toppings. The key to an authentic New York City pie is an obsessive devotion to ingredients of the highest quality and consummate freshness. Our delicious pizza is handcrafted using only the finest and freshest ingredients beginning with our old school Brooklyn thin crust; to our homemade San Marzano tomato sauce; to our grande mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino romano cheese — made fresh daily or imported directly from Italy. And when tossed together, the result is absolutely delicious.”
#66 L&B Spumoni Gardens, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Grandma Slice: thin-crust Sicilian pie with mozzarella, tomato sauce)
Don’t visit Gravesend in Brooklyn and only go to L&B Spumoni. While you’re there, you might as well go to Di Fara and Totonno’s, too — they’re so close that it would be wrong not to visit them (say nothing of roast beef pit stops Brennan & Carr and Roll-N-Roaster).
Started in 1938 by Ludovico Barbati, an immigrant from Torella dei Lombardi (an hour east of Naples), the L&B Spumoni tradition began with Barbati learning how to make pizza in a garage, then peddling it in a horse and wagon until setting up at the current spot on 86th Street in Brooklyn. L&B Spumoni Gardens is now in its fourth generation, still serving its signature thin-crust Sicilian-style square pies with a light coating of mozzarella paired with tomato sauce (though tragedy struck last year when co-owner Louis Barbati was shot in an apparent attempted robbery). Don’t leave without having some spumoni for dessert. Some say it’s better than the pizza.
#65 Emily, Brooklyn, N.Y. (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 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, inside which it also nurtures über-pizza blogger Adam Kuban’s own bar-pie pop-up, Margot’s . Everyone lives happily pizza after and it all happens in Brooklyn! See? Almost too good to be true.
Tough tomato sauce, because Emily (with its original location in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and a newer one in the West Village) and its co-owners Emily and Matt Hyland produce some of New York City’s best pies. If you haven’t been, hightail it over to taste the bubble-and-char-blistered “Classic” (sauce made with puréed Jersey tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil). They also happen to serve one of the best burgers in the country, and with Emmy Squared on this year’s list, own two of America’s best pizzerias.
#64 Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza, Elizabeth, N.J. (Sicilian: pepperoni, mozzarella, pizza sauce)
What can you say about Al Santillo? Santillo may be the least well-known great pizza tradition curator in America, the gatekeeper to three generations of pizza-making and one of the most unique pizzerias in America. The man has tomato sauce running through his veins. Al Santillo’s grandfather, who had long made focaccia for his family at home, decided to try it as a business in 1950. “He wanted to keep the place open in the evening and make a little more money, so he started making pizza,” his grandson Al has noted. “In 1957, he bought the brick oven I use now.” It’s an oven Al says is called a low-arch, one whose every brick was cut by hand, and which he insists, “permits infinite possibilities in temperature and character.”
Pizza infinity is difficult to conceive, but Santillo’s is something you just have to experience for yourself. You can only do takeout from Al’s living room — it houses the massive cathedral-like oven that requires a 20-foot-long peel to retrieve the pizzas. And be prepared to order by the year — Al preserves every pizza style he can for posterity. They range from the 1940 Genuine Tomato Pie (no cheese) to the 2011 San Marzano “Tomatoes Over the Cheese” Pizza. But there are other intriguing options like Lasagna Pizza, thin-pan, Roman-style, Italian bread, and an off-the-menu grandpa pie as well. Start out with a 1957-Style Pizza Extra Thin (14-inch round), or the popular Sicilian pizza, or just ask this quirky, pizza-possessed master to make you his own spontaneous creation.
#63 Mike’s Apizza & Restaurant, West Haven, Conn. (Broccoli rabe and sausage white pie)
Mike’s Apizza in West Haven isn’t a nationally known Connecticut pizzeria like Frank Pepe or even its noteworthy neighbor a few blocks away, Zuppardi’s. But within West Haven, Mike’s has been famous for consistency since it was opened by Mike Buonocore in 1942. “No one ever says it was good this week and not next week,” its current owner, grandson Mike Buonocore, explained. “It has a lot to do with the same people working here all the time.”
Mike’s had to move twice, settling into the current 85-seat, double-dining room spot in 1975, and it has stayed in the family, passing first to Mike’s son Frank (“Butch”), then to his son Mike. But even as the surrounding area has become less Italian, it remained that quintessential neighborhood joint. “Mainly family works here,” Mike explained. “Through the years, the kids have gotten older and then the kids work here. You know what I mean?”
We do. Mike’s turns out thin-crust, cheese-thread inducing Neapolitan pies — small (12 inches) and large (18 inches) — tomato, Buffalo chicken, clam, and a clam casino pizza (no sauce) with whole baby clams, peppers, and bacon, to name a few. But if you listen to Mike (and you should listen to Mike), order the broccoli rabe and sausage white pizza.
#62 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 and Regina. 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 the door for these thick, over-the-edge-of-the-pan cheesy, saucy, completely over-the-top Sicilian slices. That’s right, the Sicilian is the only pizza option, and the joint is cash only. Though it opens at 11 a.m., it closes at 2:30 p.m. (or whenever the dough is gone), so don’t delay.
#61 Area Four, Cambridge, Mass. (Clam & Bacon)
Area Four’s owners, Michael Krupp and Jeff Pond, are dedicated to providing local and sustainable ingredients. Factor in dough made from a 30-plus-hour fermented, 16-year-old starter (flour, water, and salt) by chef 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 pizza is 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 (mozzarella, tomato, soppressata, sausage, and bacon) — his order from a couple years ago. From all reports, the man knows good food.
#60 Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco, Calif. (Salsiccia Pizza: Housemade 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 to four restaurants. 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 11 “Neapolitan-inspired” thin-crust pizzas. 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: housemade fennel sausage, tomato, bell pepper, onion, and mozzarella. Then ask if there are any secret-menu options! They’ve been known to offer some, most recently, at least one could be ordered by name, the Purgatorio: two farm eggs baked in tomato sauce with mozzarella and pecorino romano.
#59 Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles, Calif. (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 $12 for a simple aglio e olio, a classic cheese pizza, to $25 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.
#58 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 roller coaster — 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.
#57 The Backspace, Austin, Texas (Bianca: arugula, mozzarella, ricotta, and pecorino romano)
With a pedigree that includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and stops at The French Laundry and Café Boulud, it’s not a surprise that chef Shawn Cirkiel found success with his restaurant Parkside. But culinary degrees and hifalutin restaurant experience don’t necessarily mean you can make great pizza.
Lucky for Austin, Cirkiel can and does, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at 900 degrees F.. There are seven pies at The Backspace, featuring toppings like fennel sausage, kale pesto, and picante salame. 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.
#56 Pizzeria Uno, Chicago, Ill. (“Numero Uno “The one, the best”: Sausage, pepperoni, onion, pepper, mushrooms, chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella, romano)
It’s interesting to note that deep-dish was not an overnight success (they had to give it away until customers became acclimated), and that the thick, buttery pizza wasn’t the first inspiration for Pizzeria Uno. Consider Chicago Tribune’s restaurant critic Phil Vettel’s report about its beginnings, which suggests, “Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada.”
Uno founders Ike Sewell (a Texan) and Ric Riccardo first planned to serve Mexican food, “But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely.” When Riccardo suggested pizza, which he’d tried in Italy during World War II, Sewell had in mind a more substantial version.
Thus, the style featuring “buttery ‘out-of-this-world’ crust,” and generous amounts of cheese. Sure, the company is now based in Boston. No, you don’t have to visit Chicago to experience it (there are locations of the chain spinoff, now called Uno Chicago Grill, throughout the country). Some pizza experts may quibble about where it should rank compared with the city’s other deep-dish pies, but there’s something to be said about a pilgrimage to the original (though the only Chicagoans visiting will be there on behalf of 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.
#55 Pizano’s, Chicago, Ill. (Rudy’s Special: Mozzarella, sausage, mushroom, onion, green pepper)
Along with Katz, “Malnati” is another name synonymous with Chicago pizza history. Rudy Malnati Sr. opened his first restaurant, Pizzeria Uno, in 1943. Uno and his son Lou went on to storied success. But his other son, Rudy, has been just as much a part of any conversation about Chicago’s great pizzas since he opened Pizano’s in 1991. There are now six Pizano’s locations, all known for serving equally good thin and deep-dish pizzas. You have a choice between their buttery and flaky “world famous, gourmet, deep-dish pizza” (don’t forget to allow a half-hour for it to cook), or the thin-crust 12-inch or 14-inch pies.
#54 Giordano’s Pizza, Chicago, Ill. (Italian Easter Pie)
It wasn’t enough for Chicago to invent its own deep-dish pizza style — no, they had to invent two. The recipe for Giordano’s stuffed pizza is one that the restaurant claims has evolved over more than 200 years, beginning outside Turin where Mama Giordano, “famous around town for her exquisite cooking,” was well-known for her most beloved meal.
Her “Italian Easter Pie” became a double-crusted, ricotta-stuffed tradition in the Giordano family, one Italian immigrants Efren and Joseph Boglio, the original owners of Giordano’s, used in 1974, on Chicago’s historic South Side, when they opened their first pizzeria. The stuffed pie features a thin bottom crust topped with nearly an inch of cheese and toppings then topped by an even thinner crust layer then topped with a slightly chunky tomato sauce. Whether or not you believe anything this thick is served in Italy and claimed there to be Italian, there are now some 56 Chicago locations (and more in Florida, Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota) serving this version of stuffed pizza.
#53 Pizzeria Vetri, Philadelphia, Pa. (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 housemade mortadella and ricotta, crowned with pistachio pesto.
#52 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 post-game 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.”
#51 Louie and Ernie’s, Bronx, N.Y. (Sausage and Onion)
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 in 2010, 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.
#50 Paulie Gee’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. (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 DIY pizza passionista put it all on the line and earned every kind word he’s gotten.
Paulie Gee’s is a pizza-lover’s haven, a clean, rustic space that resembles a barn but puts out a pie to rival that of every Naples memory you’ve had (or dreamed of having). If you count the suggested add-on combos, the vegan options, and the “secret pizzas,” there are practically too many pizzas to count (50? 60?), 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. There are currently Paulie Gee’s in Baltimore, Chicago, and Columbus, Ohio, with a planned outpost in Miami and a slice joint in Brooklyn on the horizon.
#49 J&V Pizzeria, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn (Cheese)
J&V, that’s John and Vinny (John Mortillaro and Vincent DeGrezia), were two friends who founded a pizzeria at the corner of 63rd and 18th Avenue in what was then (in 1950) a much more Italian Bensonhurst. Wood paneling, Formica booths, and metal napkin dispensers have all the hallmarks of a classic slice joint, one whose tradition is kept up by the family: John’s widow, Stella, his son, Joseph, and his brother, John. They keep things simple at this joint — which is considered to be one of the first to have sold by the slice — with a revolving deck oven, a choice of a round pie, square pie, or grandma pizza, and not even 10 toppings (the old familiars: pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, sausage, olives, you know the drill). Slices from the classic round pizza are super thin, narrow isosceles that pack more flavor than you’d expect at first glance. Save room for the chicken “JoJo,” a chicken Parmesan on a half loaf of garlic bread that’s been making a name for itself among locals over the past decade.
#48 Juliana's Pizza, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Margherita)
It can truly be tiring to explain the Grimaldi’s-Juliana’s thing, so the best tack anyone can really take when it comes to this deep-seated pizza saga is to just go to both places, preferably one after another on the same day, when there’s plenty of time to explain the New York pizza genealogy behind the two intertwined spots, and taste the history yourself. Following is the abbreviated version in one sentence: After learning from his uncle Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri, who in turn had learned from Gennaro Lombardi, Patsy Grimaldi opened a place called Patsy’s in DUMBO in 1990, whose name he changed to Grimaldi’s before selling it to a customer who lost the lease to the original space, which he then reopened as Juliana’s (named for his mother, Maria ”Juliana” Lancieri Grimaldi), serving the same pizza he started the place with. Sigh… ignorance, bliss, and all that. These days, the lines may be longer at Grimaldi’s (ranked higher on this year’s list), but ironically, those looking for the authentic Grimaldi’s experience really should be hitting up Juliana’s where the crust has gained a reputation among some for being more crisp and airy with more complex flavor.
#47 Emmy Squared, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Roni Supreme: sauce, mozzarella, lots of pepperoni, Calabrian chili)
It could have been enough for Matt and Emily Hyland to open a neo-Neapolitan pizza joint with a refined take on a thinner cornicione, to serve one of the city’s best new burgers, and by hosting former Slice pizza blogger Adam Kuban on Saturdays, to act as incubator for one of the more exciting pizza stories in recent memory. Opening a second pizzeria, one focusing on Detroit-style pies (pan-cooked, thick crusts, sauce on top of the cheese), in a metropolis notorious for pizza pride and skepticism if not disdain for Midwestern pizza styles, should have been tempting fate. But they doubled down and won. The pizzas are thick but fluffy with frico-edged, crispy crusts that even co-owner Emily Hyland has called her favorite part of the pies.
There are six red pies and four white ones, a playful take on Hawaiian style, and another that includes homemade ranch dressing. But the pie to not miss is the Roni Supreme: sauce, mozzarella, lots of pepperoni, and Calabrian chile. The pepperoni curls up so that it’s crispy and salty against the cheesy top and pools of tangy-sweet sauce dribbled on top.
#46 Razza, Jersey City, N.J. (Bufala)
Razza opened just across the Hudson River from New York in Jersey City in late 2012, and it quietly became renowned locally for its wood-fired pizzas prepared by chef-owner Dan Richer, who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Award and is so meticulous about his craft that he was nicknamed “the Jiro of Bread,” after the sushi chef featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. But it wasn’t until New York Times critic Pete Wells showed up this year that pizza lovers across the river really took notice. Wells gave it about as glowing a review as possible, even going so far as to deem it “the best pizza in New York.” Not only has Richer perfected his crust — it’s crisp from end to end and its inside is soft with a complex flavor — he’s also meticulous about his toppings, which he sources locally. The mozzarella on his Bufala pie, for example, comes from water buffalo from Jersey’s Sussex County; he had to wait years for the herd to grow large enough to ensure a steady supply of the notoriously difficult-to-perfect cheese. And as for the sauce, Richer told the Times that he waits for the latest vintages of tomatoes from California, New Jersey, and Italy to be canned each January before blind-tasting and grading them all, then blending them like fine wine. When assembled, the pizza is damn near perfect.
#45 Delorenzo's Tomato Pies, Robbinsville, N.J. (Tomato Pie: mozzarella and tomato sauce)
DeLorenzo’s serves serious tradition with their pizza — 70 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 closed in 2012 when 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 ($1.75 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.
#44 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 believe it or not, 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.
#43 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. Sure, he’d done this kind of thing once before, leaving behind his Point Pleasant, New Jersey, Una Pizza incarnation in favor of Manhattan. But still. 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, from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., or until they're "out of dough"). Motorino opened in Mangieri's old East Village spot, which softened the blow, but any New Yorkers who don't think it was a loss for the city are kidding themselves.
#42 Pizza Rock, Las Vegas, Nev. (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)
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.
#41 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, and it’s so popular that additional locations have opened in Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin. 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?).
#40 Home Slice Pizza, Austin, Texas (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 pizzeria to greatness (there is a certain invincibility those slices can make you feel while eating one walking down the street Saturday Night Fever style). The end result at Home Slice Pizza has been a South Austin smash hit: New York-style Neapolitan thin crust slices and pies (try the pepperoni and mushroom) that just might inspire a South Congress strut, Tony Manero-style.
#39 Pizza Domenica, New Orleans, La. (Calabrese: Tomato, spicy salami, mozzarella, capers, olives)
There’s pizza on the menu at both Pizza Domenica and Domenica, which is Italian for Sunday (the former is in Uptown, the latter in the renovated and historic Roosevelt Hotel — sister restaurants within the Besh Restaurant Group). The slightly imperfect circles are 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, and salsa verde — you’ll have a hard time choosing between the pizzas (11 at Pizza Domenica, nine at Domenica) made in the Pavesi pecan-wood-fired oven. So let us do it for you: Order the most popular pie, the Margherita, and try the signature Calabrese (available at both restaurants), and at Pizza Domenica, finish off with a pizza take on the classic New Orleans muffuletta sandwich (provolone, cured meats, pickled vegetables, olives, and garlic aioli).
#38 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. That became even more evident last year, with the opening of its first Manhattan location in the West Village. And why shouldn’t Denino’s conquer the City? It’s led the Staten Island 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 (along with another location in New Jersey), and they keep pulling regulars in for their sweet Italian sausage pie, tossed in crumbles over a light, pliant crust.
#37 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.
George passed away a couple years ago, but chef David Reynoso carries on Al Forno’s tradition. 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 six 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.
#36 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) 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.”
#35 Co., New York, N.Y. (Popeye: Pecorino, gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper, garlic)
Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Co. (pronounced Company) opened in 2009 in a competitive pizza market. With nearly a dozen different restaurants at every corner, Co. was up against stiff competition. But its quality pies had more than just staying power. Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery, 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.
#34 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, Eddie’s (on 2014’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.
#33 Zuppardi’s, West Haven, Conn. (Special: Mozzarella, mushroom, sausage, marinara)
Frank Pepe, Sally's Apizza, Modern Apizza, and Bar and the Bru Room, 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 21st century in one way at least: they launched a food truck a couple years ago). 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 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!
#32 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 don’t want to be 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 46 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?
#31 Santarpio’s, Boston, Mass. (Mozzarella, sausage, garlic)
The local favorite 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.
#30 Flour + Water, San Francisco, Calif. (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.
There’s a limited pizza menu that typically features just four pies. But the toppings vary depending on what’s in season, making dining experiences unique. Consider these recent examples: green zebra tomatoes, garlic scapes, lemon basil, scarmorza, charred Jimmy Nardello peppers. 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.
#29 Varasano’s, Atlanta, Ga. (Nana: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, herbs and spices)
What is it with these computer guys-turned-pizzaiolos? Like Paulie Gee, 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 re-creating his version of the Patsy’s pizza, 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.
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 12 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 options, there are 17 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.
#28 Umberto's Pizzeria & Restaurant, New Hyde Park, N.Y. (Grandma Pie: thin-crust pie topped with mozzarella and plum 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 is. If there’s a Long Island pizza royalty, coronate Umberto’s Pizzeria (not King Umberto’s in Elmont — another story). You can thank Italian-born founder Umberto Corteo (from Monte di Procida near Naples) and his brother Joe, who opened 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 mozzarella 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 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 Umberto’s employees Rosario and Sal Fuschetto (who, it should be noted, make no mention of the original Umberto’s on their 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.
Grab a corner.
#27 CoalFire Pizza, Chicago, Ill. (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.
#26 Spacca Napoli, Chicago, Ill. (Diavola: Blended San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte, spicy salami, basil, Calabrian, chili powder, extra virgin olive oil)
Spacca Napoli stands out from the rest of the Chicago pizza pack due to its unique take on Neapolitan-style pizza. The pizza is consistently applauded for its authenticity, as owner Jon Goldsmith travels to and from Naples regularly to study the flavors of the region. Customers can dine on the prosciutto e rucola, bufalina, pistachio, or salsiccia when they're looking for an expertly prepared pie, but the thing to order is the Diavola (blended San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, spicy salami, basil, Calabrian chili powder, extra virgin olive oil). Questo è tutto ciò che serve!
#25 Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Margherita)
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. 23). He supposedly trained Pasquale “Patsy” Lancieri, who opened the first Patsy’s in East Harlem (No. 12). 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 50 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 F 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.
#24 Piece, Chicago, Ill. (White Pie)
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 mozzarella), and white (plain crust brushed with olive oil, diced garlic, and mozzarella) pizzas, all of which get at least a small piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, oregano, and olive oil. 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. 44). 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. Piece out.
#23 Lombardi’s, New York, N.Y. (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 mozzarella 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.
#22 Rubirosa Ristorante, New York, N.Y. (Vodka: Vodka sauce and mozzarella)
Five years ago, the buzz among the New York City pizza cognoscenti was around South Brooklyn Pizza, Motorino, Roberta’s, and Paulie Gee’s . These days, the latter three make up the old guard of pizza newcomers who have set the standard, and South Brooklyn Pizza has (for the most part) 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. 9). A.J. passed away a couple years ago, and the chef, Albert Di Meglio, left to open his own restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (where, yes, there’s pizza on the menu), but it’s still difficult to get a table at Rubirosa.
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 mozzarella.
#21 Buddy’s Pizza, Detroit, Mich. (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 over the last 71 years, 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 in New York with Emmy Squared. Try 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.
#20 Prince St. Pizza, New York, N.Y. (Spicy Spring)
If you’re looking for the first Ray’s pizza (not the Original Ray’s, Famous Ray’s, Original Famous Ray’s or any other iteration of Ray’s) on Prince between Elizabeth and Mott, don’t bother. The famed pizzeria of 27 Prince Street opened in 1959 by Ralph Cuomo, a member of the Luchese crime family, closed in 2011 after a dispute with the landlord. While losing a piece of New York City’s pizza history (Ray may have been in the mob, but the pies were perfection all the way up to his death in 2008), you can take comfort in the pizza continuity that has soldiered on in the space since Prince Street Pizza started serving their “SoHo Squares” in 2012. Owner Frank Morano, who grew up on slices at Ray’s and uses his family’s Sicilian recipes, installed a new gas-fired, brick-lined Marsal & Sons oven in the half of the space that used to be Ray’s take-out slice shop to fire up seven signature Neapolitan pies and five styles of square slices.
You’ll want to start with their simple mozzarella and sauce signature square, but don’t leave without trying the Spicy Spring. It’s topped with tangy-sweet fra diavalo sauce, fresh mozzarella, and spicy soppressata that turns into crispy circles that cradle shimmering pools of oil. This is a grease-on-your-face slice, the kind whose sauce ends up on the white dress shirt of the investment banker standing next to you. Make sure you get a fresh slice and ask for a corner (and for any pepperoni that falls off in the pan). “No other square can compare.”
#19 Joe’s, New York, N.Y. (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). That was followed pretty quickly by their first location in Brooklyn (in Williamsburg), where they promised not to lose sight of their blue-collar virtues — they’ll still sell pizza for $2.75 a slice.
#18 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. 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 pepperoncini. (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 mozzarella and balanced sauce. That’s amore!
#17 Roberta’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. (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, 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.
The appellations of Carlo Mirarchi’s pizzas have ranged from echoing schoolyard slang and literary references to clever puns, and recently, just an eggplant emoji. No matter whether you choose the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, and basil), or the Famous Original (tomato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, oregano, and chiles), or the Family Jewels (mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, prosciutto bread crumbs, garlic, and basil) you’re guaranteed a chewy cornicione and an exemplary neo-Neapolitan pie.
#16 Pequod's, Chicago, Ill. (Deep Dish with sausage and pepperoni)
Pequod’s originator (the late 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 (recently renovated under new ownership) 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.
#15 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.”
#14 Gino’s East, Chicago, Ill. (Cheese Deep Dish)
Gino’s may be the ultimate in Chicago deep-dish pizza, with a history dating back half a century (2016 marked 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 Gino’s tradition to carve your name 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 14 locations, even expanding into neighboring Wisconsin for all those cheese-lovers, Arizona, and to Texas of all places, where the cornicione gods know there’s a need for more good pizza.
#13 Totonno’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. (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, forget about 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.
#12 Patsy’s, New York, N.Y. (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 — and don’t reheat.
#11 Motorino, New York, N.Y. (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 nine 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 (there’s also a third option in New York coming to the Upper West Side). Unless it’s late spring, when you’ll want to order the special seasonal ramp pie.
#10 Lucali, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Pepperoni)
A pinch of Di Fara’s Dom DeMarco, a dash of the murals of Gino’s of Long Beach, stretch the un-sauced classic Coney Island Totonno's 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.
#9 Joe & Pat's Pizzeria, Staten Island, N.Y. (Vodka: Vodka sauce, mozzarella, basil)
The home of Staten Island’s thin crispy crust pizza has been family-owned-and-operated since it opened in 1960. Joe & Pat’s has sweet sauce and pizza that is so thin you can eat seven slices without feeling stuffed. It’s got that airiness that spawns lighter-than-air adjectives, but still has a great crust and a weighty enough bottom that their slices don’t get floppy.
The folks at Joe & Pat’s note their vodka pie (vodka sauce, mozzarella, and basil) as one of the customer favorites, but they do killer veggie, pesto, and buffalo chicken pies (just accept it already), and are happy to accommodate you with everything from topping pies with beloved, but not necessarily omnipresent Italian-American ingredients like scungilli, clams, shrimp, artichoke hearts, and fried calamari to making your pizza 14-inch, 15-inch, Sicilian, grandma, gluten-free, individual-sized, or even heart-shaped (no, it’s not gimmicky when a place is this sincere: “We speak English and Italian.”)
And if you like what you taste at Joe & Pat’s, well, you’re going to want to check out the sister restaurant Ciro’s opened in 1997 by their brother Ciro Papparlardo, and Rubirosa on Mulberry Street in Manhattan.
#8 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. Their children, Bob, Ruth, and Rick, have carried 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). The owners were recently given the green light to sell the business, and while we don’t imagine that a new owner would feel compelled to change anything, we suggest you visit soon.
When you do, keep in mind that while Sally's staff have been known to admit that Pepe’s clam pie is better, the tomato pie here (tomato sauce, no cheese) has the original beat.
#7 Lou Malnati's Pizzeria Chicago, Ill. (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 49 Chicagoland 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 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!"
#6 Di Fara, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Classic Round Pie: Mozzarella, parmesan, plum tomato sauce, basil, olive oil, sausage, peppers, mushroom, onion)
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York- and Sicilian-style pizza Tuesday 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.
#5 Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, AZ (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 some of the best food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco starting to serve lunch, the opening of three additional Phoenix locations, and one that’s coming to Los Angeles, making it one of the city’s most hotly-anticipated openings.
Even though Bianco no longer makes every pie the restaurant turns out (a bout of “baker’s lung” nearly killed him), 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 margherita will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil.
#4 Kesté, New York, N.Y. (Kesté: Tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, gran cru olive oil)
Dasle K./ Yelp
"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." Eight 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.
Owner Roberto Caporuscio (who runs the restaurant with his daughter, Georgia) was born and raised on a dairy farm in Pontinia, Italy, an hour from Naples. He’s the president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (APN — Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers) in the U.S., the Italian governing body that teaches the 150-year-old art of Neapolitan pizza-making and certiﬁes adherence to authentic procedures.
Kesté (which has since expanded with a few more locations citywide) 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.
#3 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.
#2 John’s of Bleecker Street, New York, N.Y. (“The Boom Pie”: Oven-roasted tomato, 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 (sliced meatball, pepperoni, ground sausage, sliced tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, basil, ricotta, mushrooms, onions, peppers, anchovies, black olives, and garlic), 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. And if you can’t make it there in person, the team has finally perfected something that’s been eluding them for years: delivery.
#1 Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn. (White Clam: Clams, grated Parmesan, olive oil, garlic, oregano)
Ga Young L./ Yelp
After a year slightly further down the list, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana has returned to the top of the heap, as we’re once again naming it the best pizza in America. 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, one in New York State, and one near Boston, operated by Pepe’s 10 great-grandchildren (all of which use original recipes to make their coal-fired pizza).
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.