The Best Unusual Pizzas in America Gallery
October 23, 2018
These pizzas may be unconventional, but they're still delicious
The Best Unusual Pizzas in America
Picture a pizza in your mind’s eye, and you’ll probably conjure a vision of a round pie, with a ring of crust around the edge and a gooey mélange of mozzarella and tomato sauce inside, maybe with some pepperoni tossed on for good measure. But in reality, some of America’s most legendary and delicious pizzas bear little to no resemblance to this standard pie, and we’re rounding up the best of the best.
Every year since 2012, we’ve tracked down the 101 very best pizzas in America, with some help from a wide-ranging panel of chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and other pizza authorities. For this year’s ranking, we had our panelists take a survey and choose their favorites among nearly 1,000 pies from across the country, and while many of the pizzas in our ranking can be classified as traditional, there are plenty that certainly don’t.
Some of these nontraditional pizzas are cooked in unique ways, some have toppings that can be considered outlandishuntil you take that first bite, some embody unique regional styles, and others are wild inventions that have been proven over time to have been strokes of genius. But all these pizzas have two things in common: They’re about as different as can be from your standard no-frills slice, and they’re among the very best pizzas in America.
Mustard, Papa’s Tomato Pies (Robbinsville, New Jersey)
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.
At Papa's, 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.It's an unexpected, nuanced creation that shouldn’t work, but does — a brilliant pizza you’ll crave and won’t find anywhere else.
Italian Bomb, Modern Apizza (New Haven, Connecticut)
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. 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.
Motor City, Buddy’s Pizza (Detroit, Michigan)
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. At Buddy's, a mini-chain that's perhaps the style's best-known arbiter, ry 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.
Brussels Sprout, Motorino (New York, New York)
New York's famed Motorino offers 15 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) — unless it’s late spring, when you’ll want to order the special seasonal ramp pie.
Squash Blossom, Pizzeria Mozza (Los Angeles, California)
Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton runs Pizzeria Mozza, which offers a variety of Italian specialties, from antipasti to bruschetta, but the Neapolitan pizzas steal the show.
Their list of 22 pies ranges from $17 for a simple pie of anchovy, tomato, and Fresno chiles, 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.
Deep Dish, Pequod's (Chicago, Illinois)
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 completely unique 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.
Hot Oil Bar Pie, Colony Grill (Stamford, Connecticut)
This thin-crust bar pie institution in Stamford, Connecticut, is notorious for its no-frills demeanor, for its no-special-options policy, and for not making exceptions.
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.
The Saint Louie, Speedy Romeo (Brooklyn, New York)
Speedy Romeo has been steadily building a reputation since opening in a former auto-parts shop in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn in 2012. There are 10 varieties of thin-crust pies fired in a wood-burning oven; the menu features fun pie names with enticing ingredient combinations to match. Consider The Dangerfield (pork and veal meatballs, ricotta, béchamel, and garlic chips), The White Album (roast garlic, ricotta, pecorino, béchamel, and Provel), and the speck, pineapple, Provel, and grilled scallion pie named for American surf rock guitarist Dick Dale.
We suggest you order “The Saint Louie,” where Provel cheese is accompanied by Italian sausage, pepperoni, and pickled chiles. Crazy creamy with bites of meaty respite from the cheese and a healthy degree of heat, The Saint Louie isn’t a sideshow; rather, it’s the reason to visit this New York-ified version of a St. Louis classic that more of the city’s residents need to discover.
Margherita, Al Forno (Providence, Rhode Island)
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 across the ocean, but it's perhaps best known as the birthplace of the grilled pizza.
It’s a style that celebrity chefs have been noting on TV for a while now, and it’s even being honored by the team behind New York’s Emily, who will be serving grilled pizza at their newest pizzeria. 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.
Tomato Pie, De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies (Robbinsville, New Jersey)
De Lorenzo’s serves serious tradition with their pizza — 71 years’ worth. De Lorenzo’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 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 homemade meatball topping) to make this curveball even more effective: This septuagenarian pizzeria serves a tuna tomato pie, too.
Tonno, Pizzeria Vetri (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
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 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. Marc Vetri has moved on, selling his restaurant group to the Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters, but the plaudits remain. Be sure to check off the tonno with Sicilian tuna and bursts of spicy peperoncino.
Sonny's Favorite, Jon & Vinny's (Los Angeles, California)
Everything Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo touch turns to gold, including their restaurants Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec, and Petit Trois. And at Jon & Vinny’s they’ve turned their attention to creative Italian fare and irresistibly delicious and unique pies that toe the line between New York and Neapolitan style. These pizzas are light and crisp, with a slightly spongy texture and a blistered cornicione, and toppings are always applied with an eye toward balance and proportion. The most popular pie? Sonny’s Favorite, which is topped with tomato, mozzarella, onion, Grana Padano, and a liberal amount of smoky Nueske’s bacon for good measure. Why aren’t more people topping their pizzas with bacon?
Mashed Potato and Bacon, Bru Room at Bar (New Haven, Connecticut)
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. The thing to have is the mashed potato pizza with bacon (no sauce), which once may have sounded ridiculous but has since become embraced as a local icon. It’s covered with thick béchamel, 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.
Pork Trifecta, EVO (Charleston, South Carolina)
EVO, which stands for "extra virgin oven," offers fresh, wood-fired, Neapolitan pizza made with seasonal and local ingredients. The menu has expanded beyond the original five pizzas to include Margherita, pistachio pesto, pancetta and Brussels sprouts, speck and pumpkin, potato and corn, mushrooms and eggplant, sausage and peppers, and the Pork Trifecta (with marinara, house-made sausage, pepperoni, bacon, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano), and a four-cheese calzone (provolone, Asiago, mozzarella, and ricotta). The 25 extra topping choices and five types of cheese also allow customers to construct a towering feast of their own.
Ciccio, Monza (Charleston, South Carolina)
Monza uses imported Italian wheat flour, Neapolitan yeast, and filtered and pH-balanced water to develop their version of the most traditional-style pizza possible, but the toppings are anything but traditional. The pies are baked in the wood oven at a sweltering 1,000 degrees F, allowing for a thin and crispy crust, and are topped with mozzarella with fresh and usually regional ingredients. Our recommendation is the Ciccio, with mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and garlic.
Korean Barbecue, Pizzeria Lola (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
There are 14 pies at chef Ann Kim's Pizzeria Lola, 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: The Lady ZaZa (Italian red sauce, house-made kimchi, Korean sausage, serranos, scallions, sesame, and soy-chile glaze) is delicious, and we highly recommend the Korean barbecue pie with grass-run farm beef short ribs, mozzarella, scallions, arugula, sesame and soy-chile vinaigrette
White Clam, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (New Haven, Connecticut)
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana 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.
What to order? 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. It's a combination that makes this pie one of the most iconic dishes in America. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon.
Sicilian Slab, Micucci Grocery (Portland, Maine)
SJ TY L./Yelp
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 is in back, up the stairs to the left where “slabs” of American-interpreted Sicilian-style pizza are baked and shelved.
The word slabs, doesn’t do these slices justice — a curious hybrid, they’re nowhere near as heavy as most descriptions convey. Half-again bigger than the conventional Sicilian and just as thick, though wetter and more doughy, Micucci’s slabs may not be authentic Italian, but they feel like an idealized iteration of the focaccia you’ve always sought, but never experienced.
Each is about 6 inches long. There’s an uneven cornicione (the ring of crust along the edge of the pizza), not much different from the rest of the slice, except drier for not being covered by the brush of sweet sauce and an incomplete layer of mozzarella over the rest of it. “Pillowy” and “airy” have been used to describe these pizzas. 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 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 and crispy cheese, especially the edges.
Wood Oven Roasted Potatoes and Onion, Inferno Pizzeria (Darnestown, Maryland)
Inferno 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 his vision of an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria. The centerpiece of the casual restaurant is a custom-tiled wood-burning oven, which turns out a roster of pies that changes seasonally based on what’s fresh and local.Be sure to order the pizza with ember-roasted potatoes, roasted onions, and smoked mozzarella.
Bacon and Clam, Joe Squared (Baltimore, Maryland)
Guy Fieri and Food Network Magazine have turned Joe Squared into a required road trip for fans of Flavortown, but it’s also a checklist spot for pie trekkers hoping to hit the best pizzas in every state. These pies aren't pan, grandma pizza, or Detroit-style pies, but thin-crust pizzas that are just square and cooked in a coal-fired 800° oven for a minute. Why square? Joe has explained that he likes pizza with edges and that pizza boxes are square, which seems both logical and hard to argue with. Order the funkiest of the bunch, topped with bacon and clams.
Nduja, Jay's Artisan Pizza (Buffalo, New York)
At Jay's, here are nine 12-inch pies made with imported Italian mozzarella and cooked in a 900-degree wood-fired oven. There’s the obligatory marinara and Margherita pizzas. The quattro formaggio and Amanda (fontal, gorgonzola, chile flakes, and homemade chile honey) are crazy good. But the Nduja, with garlic, basil, fresh mozz, fontina, red onion, Berkshire ‘nduja and Calabrian chile honey… oh, yeah. These aren’t strict Neapolitan pizzas — Jay uses ingredients like California tomatoes instead of San Marzanos — but you won’t find anything more legit.
Carbonara, Pizzeria Bebu (Chicago, Illinois)
Bebu's14-inch pies are dark, crackle-crunchy rimmed affairs with a wide range of toppings and a New York-meets-Neapolitan look. Indeed, among their 14 classics, you’ll find an "Ode to Rubirosa" (vodka sauce, nutless pesto, fresh mozzarella), an homage to the modern classic New York pizzeria in Nolita, and the White Squall (garlic, littleneck clams, bacon, parsley, lemon, and Crystal hot sauce).
But if you’re feeling adventurous, opt for one of the 11 pies under the "Shhhhhh..." header on Bebu’s menu. Pies range from plain cheese to topping combinations like potato and rosemary or chimichurri and vodka sauce. Or snatch up a Carbonara, a white pie with caramelized onion, house-cured pancetta, egg, scallion, and black pepper. It's among the best pizzas in Chicago, and easily one ofthe best pizzas in the state.
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