15 Great Pizza Restaurants That You Must Visit
Pizza is about as varied and beloved a genre, as opinionated a subject, and also as accessible a food as there is, which makes determining the country’s best pizzas a truly challenging task.
Yes, pizza is tough to rank responsibly. But once again, that’s just what The Daily Meal set out to do.
1. Frank Pepe’s, New Haven, Conn. (White Clam)
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America’s best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria. Frank Pepe opened his doors in Wooster Square in New Haven, Conn., in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza. After immigrating to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16 from Italy, Pepe took odd jobs before opening his restaurant (now called “The Spot,” next door to the larger operation). Since its conception, Pepe’s has opened an additional seven locations.
What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie (“No muzz!”). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe’s is the best of them all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano and grated parmesan atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
2. Di Fara, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Di Fara Classic Pie)
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York and Sicilian-style pizza Wednesday through Sunday (noon to 4:30 p.m., and from 6:30 p.m. to 9 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 where the underside of the pizza can trend 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, parmesan, plum tomato sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, mushroom, onion, and of course, a drizzle of olive oil by Dom.
3. Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix (Marinara)
“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 made trip to the storied Phoenix pizza spot he opened more than 20 years ago. The restaurant serves not only addictive thin-crust pizzas but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood-oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads and homemade country bread. The wait, once routinely noted as one of the worst for food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco opening for lunch, and the opening of Trattoria Bianco, the pizza prince of Arizona’s Italian restaurant in the historic Town & Country Shopping Center (about 10 minutes from the original). This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (that Rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature Marinara will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, oregano, and garlic (no cheese).
4. Una Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco (Margherita)
When Anthony Mangieri, pizzaiolo for the East Village’s Una Pizza Napoletana, closed in 2009 “to make a change,” move West, and open somewhere he could get “a chance to use his outrigger canoe and mountain bike more often,” it was the ultimate insult to New Yorkers. You’re taking one of the city’s favorite Neapolitan pizzerias, defecting to a temperate climate, to people who denigrate New York’s Mexican food? So you can canoe and mountain bike? Traitor! Good for Mangieri, and good for San Franciscans, who inherited one of the country’s best Neapolitan pies (if only Wednesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. until they’re “out of dough”). A thin crust with chewy cornicione, a sauce that’s tart and alive, an appropriate ratio of cheese … you could almost imagine yourself at the pantheon to pizza in Naples: Da Michele, a place where the pizza is poetry and pizza poetry is on the wall. Mangieri harkens that same ethos on his website — check out the pizza poem “Napoli” — and delivers the edible version to his patrons. There are only five pies, all $25 (a $5 hike since last year), plus a special Saturday-only pie, the Apollonia, made with eggs, parmigiano-reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, salami, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, garlic, sea salt and black pepper. But when you’re this close to godliness, you don’t need extras. Keep it simple with the margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil ,fresh basil, sea salt, tomato sauce) and know the good.
5. Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles (squash blossoms, tomato, burrata)
Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton teamed up 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, which is attached to the main restaurant, offers a variety of Italian specialties, from antipasti to bruschetta, but the Neapolitan-style pizzas steal the show. Their list of 21 pies ranges from $11 for a simple aglio e olio, a classic cheese pizza, to $23 for a more unique pie with squash blossoms, tomato, and burrata cheese — 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, Singapore (!), and soon, San Diego.
6. Roberta’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Margherita)
Say Roberta’s is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city’s rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you’d still be selling it short. Roberta’s is in Bushwick six stops out of Manhattan on the L, and it’s one of the city’s best restaurants (it even serves one of the city’s hardest-to-score tasting menus). In Bushwick! Pizza may not be the only thing at Roberta’s, but its Neapolitan pies are at the high end of the debate about the city’s best (and according to an interview with the blog Slice, inspired another great pizzeria on this list, Paulie Gee’s). Yes, some of them have names like “Family Jewels,” “Barely Legal,” and – after disgraced New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Wiener – “Carlos Danger,” but you can afford not to take yourself seriously in an environment where Brooklyn hipsters and everyone else tolerate each other when your pizza is this good. As much as the Amatriciana and the Bee Sting (when Roberta’s goes mobile) may tempt, the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is Roberta’s pizza Lothario.
7. Sally’s Apizza, New Haven, Conn. (Tomato Pie)
Sally’s Apizza is a New Haven classic, operating from the same location where they opened in the late 1930s in New Haven’s Wooster Square. Their pizza is traditionally thin-crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic and “mozz.” The pies look pretty similar to what you’ll find down the street at Frank Pepe, which any New Haven pizza believer will note is because the man who opened Sally’s is the nephew of the owner of Pepe. The folks at Sally’s will be the first to tell you that Pepe makes a better clam pie, but their tomato pie (tomato sauce, no cheese), well, they have the original beat there.
8. Flour + Water, San Francisco (Margherita)
Although this San Francisco restaurant claims to specialize in house-made pastas, their pizza is formidable. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the thin-crust pizza at Flour + Water blends Old World tradition with modern refinement, according to chef and co-owner Thomas McNaughton. Pizza toppings vary depending on what’s in season, making each dining experience unique, but Flour + Water’s textbook Margherita is amazing. Heirloom tomatoes, basil, fior di latte, and extra-virgin olive oil … if only the simplicity implied by the restaurant’s name could be duplicated in pizzerias across the country.
9. Motorino, New York City (Brussels Sprout)
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th St. and headed West, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease, renamed the space Motorino, and the East Village pizza scene hardly skipped a beat. Motorino offers a handful of spirited pies, including one with cherry stone clams; another with stracciatella, raw basil and Gaeta olives; and the cremini mushroom with fior di latte, sweet sausage and garlic. But contrary to every last fiber of childhood memory you hold dear, the move is the Brussels Sprout pie (fior di latte, garlic, Pecorino, smoked pancetta and olive oil), something both Hong Kong natives and Brooklynites can now attest to since Palombino opened (and reopened) his Asian and Williamsburg outposts earlier in 2013.
10. Al Forno, Providence, R.I. (Margarita)
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, R.I., Al Forno offers a quintessential Italian dining experience 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. The restaurant bakes their pies in wood-burning ovens as well as on grills over hardwood charcoal fire. Their most notable grilled pizza? The Margarita. It’s served with fresh herbs, pomodoro, two cheeses and extra-virgin olive oil.
11. Modern Apizza, New Haven, Conn. (Italian Bomb)
Established in 1934 as State Street Pizza, Modern’s coal-fired brick oven puts out pizza in the same thin-crust style. It’s likely that you’ll hear it spoken about as the place “the locals go instead of Pepe’s and Sally’s.” That may be so. The atmosphere is great — wood paneling, friendly servers, a clean feeling — but it doesn’t play third-string just because it’s not on Wooster. Modern’s pies are a little topping-heavy with less structural integrity. Given the focus on toppings, the iconic Italian Bomb is the pie to try: bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion and pepper.
12. Totonno’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Margherita)
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t be around anymore. Consider first that it was opened in Coney Island in 1924 (by Antonio “Totonno” Pero, a Lombardi’s alum). Then factor in the fire that broke out in the coal storage area and ravaged the place in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction (and some reported $150,000 in repairs) incurred in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy when 4 feet of water destroyed everything inside the family-owned institution. You’ll probably agree that Brooklyn (and the country) should be counting its lucky stars Totonno’s is still around. And yet it does more than that.
It 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 festishizing of pizza to the days of its inception at Lombardi’s. The coal-fired blistered edges, the spotty mozzarella laced over that beautiful red sauce … ah, fuggedabout all the teary-eyed try-too-much words, this is Neptune Avenue! This is Brooklyn! This is Totonno’s. And this, is how you make pizza.
13. Paulie Gee’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Regina)
With a love for pizza, little formal training, without finishing high school, with a career he has characterized as having “masqueraded 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 the dream of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment a 10-minute walk from the subway to Manhattan on the Polish word-of-mouth, no-lease real estate wire still went for less than $2,000.
This backyard do-it-yourselfing pizza passionista put it all on the line and earned every kind word he’s gotten. Greenpoint isn’t much to look at, but Paulie Gee’s is a pizza lover’s home, a clean, rustic space that looks like a barn but puts out a pie to rival every Naples memory you’ve had or dreamed of having. There are some 19 pies, all great in their own right and featuring clever names and great topping combinations — In Ricotta Da Vita, Ricotta Be Kiddin’, and the Luca Brasi (no anchovies) — but when The Daily Meal checked in with the pizzeria, the Regina was the pie noted as the signature: mozzarella, tomatoes, pecorino romano, olive oil and fresh basil. And panelists agreed that Paulie’s Regina well deserved a top spot among America’s 20 best pizzas.
14. Apizza Scholls, Portland, Ore. (Apizza Amore)
Apizza Scholls has some of the best pizza in Portland, and some have argued, north of San Francisco — and that’s using an electric oven! But they do have some guidelines for patrons interested in composing their own topping combinations on their 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, sausage and basil includes capicollo, house-cured Canadian bacon, cotto salami, arugula, jalapeño and pepperoncini. Heads-up: bacon is “not offered for build your own toppings.” If you aren’t up to building your own pie, there are 10 classics to choose from, including the signature Apizza Amore: margherita with capicollo (cured pork shoulder). The signature Amore features a spicy kick offset a bit by the somewhat sweet mozzarella and balanced sauce. That’s amore!
15. South Brooklyn Pizza, New York City (New York Style)
Quick, who makes New York City’s best slice? That’s a tricky question. While known as a great pizza city, New York’s state of the slice isn’t what it you’d think, especially while it’s in the grip of the Neapolitan craze and $0.99-cardboard drunk food (you’d almost prefer D.C.’s jumbo slice). But there’s hope in the form of the East Village’s South Brooklyn Pizza, where owner Jim McGown espouses a conventional gas oven that gives the upskirt a slight char that seems just right. A slice of the signature New York Style pizza takes time (on average, up to 10 minutes), but it’s worth the wait. The San Marzano sauce is neither too sweet nor acidic and is topped with layers of thin, ovoid mozzarella slices, dotted with fontina cubes and finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil, basil and grated pecorino or Grana Padano. The thin crust cracks, but carries the cheese and sauce all the way up the slice, tangy bite after bite. No, the idea of a $4 slice doesn’t sit right, and blame Di Fara if you want (it’s arguably as good if just as inconsistent) but in a world of dollar slices that don’t, South Brooklyn does.