It’s that time of year again, friends. The time of year when we stop eating burgers and focus exclusively on the once Italian but now quintessentially American meal of pizza. As in the past, Liz and myself and a few members of our inner pizza cabal have traveled around the country, sampling all the different beautiful iterations of pizza we have in America and picking the 33 best. Some of them are legendary repeats. Others are bold newcomers in places you might not immediately throw out in any pizza argument. All of them are delicious.
As part of the excitement, we also have a pizza bracket this year, so you, the people, can exercise your right to pick your favorite from the list. Find that here. And finally, as per usual, we expect you to fill the comment section only with high praise and links to Brookstone gift certificates. Or maybe, if you have to, some suggestions on places we missed that we’ve got to hit next year.
Bread and Salt
Rick Easton is a baker. And a fantastic one at that – so much so that even The Gray Lady decided to get down from her arthritic perch above the masses to praise his pane locale. But we came for the pizza al taglio, the Roman rectangular style he’s perfected along with everything else. We would love to recommend a certain kind, but they change as the ingredients that are available to him change, so we can only implore you to go in the afternoon as soon as they’re ready and buy them all.
When I am home in Boston, I have a routine. And that routine consists of spending upwards of six to eight hours in Area Four, usually ending that time with a pizza and two to seven beers at the bar. But because I used the restaurant for so many different things (coffee, breakfast, lunch, working, drinking, etc.) I didn’t even realize how much I was truly underrating their pizza until they opened their pizza specific shop in Union Square. The beauty is in the simplicity. As they say on its site: “12-year-old starter + flour + water + salt. No oil or sugar. Ever. 3 days of fermentation. Handcrafted cheese. 1 wood-fire oven.” And that wood-fire oven produces some fantastic pizza, friends. Opt for the Carnivore if it’s on the menu. Because even perfect simplicity can be improved by soppressata, homemade fennel sausage, and bacon.
There’s always a line at Di Fara, which is in large part because of its reputation for incredible, handmade pies. But it’s also because the founder, Dom DeMarco, now almost in his 80s, is the literal hands behind each and every creation. While his children are involved, the legend is the only person who has ever built a pizza here, making sauce with simple San Marzanos, sprinkling his blend of Grana Padano, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses, and carefully snipping fresh basil across each hot pie. Rightfully, his dedication draws Dom Dreams of Pizza jokes, but the pilgrimage for a regular pie is a better goal than any bite of sushi.
The grilled pizza debate in Providence has raged on for many, many years, but we come down on the side of the originators. Al Forno’s beautiful grilled margarita pizza has been making folks happy for 30 years, which is especially crazy considering it started (and remains) an appetizer just meant to sate you before your Italian entrée comes. We could spend time talking about the three cheese blend (all Italian, mostly fontina), or the chunky Italian tomatoes, but the topper is the dotting of scallions at the very end. It elevates what would already be a fantastic pizza into something otherworldly and will make you immediately start experimenting with grilling dough at home.
Post Office Pies
Avondale is one of the most exciting neighborhoods in Birmingham for eating and drinking right now: Saw’s BBQ puts out ‘cue with Alabama white sauce that rivals the original at Big Bob Gibson’s, Avondale Brewery continues to improve the state’s burgeoning craft beer scene, and Post Office Pies holds down a spot between the two, offering pies that revolutionize the pizza scene in that city. Get the Swine Pie: Chef John Hall shows off his house-made ingredients, piling pepperoni, bacon, and sausage onto the substantial crust.
Frank & Helen’s
St. Louis, MO
Every year, we debate the inclusion of St. Louis-style pies because they’re so damn strange. Even people from St. Louis don’t seem considerably proud of their pizza in the way you might find Chicagoans or Detroiters or people from the Jersey-tomato-pie sphere. They will tell you to go to one of the fancier, Neapolitan-style places in the city proper. Perhaps it’s the cracker-thin crust. Or the very sweet sauce. Or the Provel cheese that seems made specifically to get into every crevice in your mouth and stay put. But this is America, and if St. Louis has a particularly unique style, we want to celebrate it. And so we have kept the institution of Frank and Helen’s in University City on the list. Added bonus: that cheesy garlic bread with melted Provel – it’s getting in your teeth anyway, so you might as well not fight it.
Antico Pizzeria Napoletana
At this point, opening a wood-fired, Neapolitan pizza joint isn’t a novel idea. But opening a Neapolitan pizza joint that launches a veritable Little Italy out of a not-well-loved neighborhood of Atlanta is impressive. Six years after Giovanni Di Palma started his empire, Antico still delivers crisp, thin pies topped with simple, carefully considered ingredients. Go for the basic Margherita D.O.P. and add Calabrian peppers for a bite of heat to dance with the buffalo mozzarella, garlic, and basil. And then save room to explore the rest of Gio’s spots; we recommend a cup of gelato at Caffè Antico.
St. Paul, MN
Don’t blow Punch off just because it’s become a mini-chain. When the Italian-born co-founder brought his authentic Neapolitan pies to the Twin Cities, he completely changed the pizza landscape, and the quality and dedication to the style has, impressively, transferred over to each new location. Whichever one you go to, grab a Margherita Extra and make it Doppio, so you get extra tomatoes, olive oil, and double mozzarella di bufala, which, we promise, you want.
New Haven, CT
There have been rumblings in the pizza world about quality going down at Frank Pepe now that he’s decided to open multiple spots (including one in Boston, YAY!). Those rumblings are false. The New Haven OG still makes some of the best damn thin-crust coal-fired pizza in one of the best damn pizza towns in America. The white clam pie is still a legend. And the original tomato pie is right behind it. Haters beware.
Now on our list for two straight years, Cane Rosso continues to prove that even amongst the people who shot J.R. in the ‘80s AND WON’T SAY WHO ACTUALLY DID IT, Neapolitan pizza can thrive. It helps that it adheres to the principles of Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, and each pizza is a damn masterpiece. It also helps if you make fun of those who might try and put a certain salad dressing on your pizza.
If you’ve never been to Roberta’s, it’s easy to pass the Bushwick restaurant off as over-hyped. Labels like “hipster haven” are tossed about with fervor, and the concrete-block, ramshackle architecture is talked about more than the pies and, well, there truly is a lot of hype. So we’ll just say this: Roberta’s is damn delicious and deserves all of the talk that constantly swirls about it. Take a group, hope there’s a seat in the back to drink while you inevitably wait, and then order every pie on the menu. Or at least order the Speckenwolf (speck, mozzarella, mushrooms, oregano) and the Lil’ Stinker (mozz, Parm, tomato garlic, onion, pepperoncini) and the Beastmaster (mozzarella, Gorgonzola, sausage, capers, jalapeño). It’ll only take two bites for you to finally understand what everyone’s been talking about.
By now you know the drill: get here at 11:30am or earlier, or face the possibility that they might run out of dough. Get two slices. They will be Sicilian. Get a beer. Walk outside and ask the old Italian guys sitting on the stoop and whistling at girls if they mind if you sit on the stoop with them. Eat the pizza. Drink the beer. Don’t bring up Roberto Baggio.
Chicagoans have fallen so hard for the charred, bubbly crust on these pies born from a screaming-hot 800-degree coal-fired oven (get it) that the restaurant recently expanded to a second location (sellouts!). Luckily, an extra kitchen means more room to experiment, and the new joint’s added standouts like guanciale with rosemary cream & potato to an already deep roster of flawless crust creations (the white pizza with whipped ricotta is basically happiness in cheese and crust form).
New Haven, CT
Whereas Frank opts to go big and expand, Sally stays right there on Wooster. It’s like the yin and yang of the New Haven pizza world, and it would feel weird to include just one. If you have never been before, you have to get the White Fresh Tomato because it is very much the truth, but the underrated move here is the White Potato, which intrigued me and not just because of my Irish heritage. Something about the rosemary and potato mix on that coal-fire crust makes it feel like you’re eating an old-school brunch of sorts. But definitely don’t tell them that.
Hazel Park, MI
With apologies to Buddy’s and Cloverleaf, we had to include Loui’s in Hazel Park. Not only was it the most beloved of all the Detroit-style pizza places when we asked a bunch of local chefs, it’s also got everything else we love: a throwback atmosphere that is authentic rather than a business model, and oh yeah – those damn fine red-top pizzas. Go for cheese & pepperoni and, depending on the elasticity of your pants, add in some sausage.
Coals Artisan Pizza
Opening in 2011, Coals delivered the first coal-fired pizza oven to Kentucky. To most people, that’s passable news, which is why you have to try its pies to figure out what’s so incredible here. The 900-degree oven turns the incredibly fickle, painstakingly crafted, high-moisture dough into thick, crisp, charred bases for pizzas that take their names from the Louisville neighborhoods. Go for our favorite, the Waverly, which piles on rich prosciutto, sweet fig jam, and funky Gorgonzola, plus the more expected Asiago and mozzarella and Parmesan to balance out the flavors.
Here we go again. Tom Douglas’ artisanal pizza project makes no bones about it being laser focused on very legit ‘za. After all, check the name. But the reason that we’ve chosen to include it again is a little bit because we’re obsessed with the subtle sweetness from that applewood-fired oven and a little bit because it has this strange smoked duck and concord grape pizza on the menu right now, and I apologize to the purists but it is AMAZING.
Papa’s Tomato Pies
While it’s not easy to live in the shadow of New York pizza, New Jersey pies hold their own thanks in no small part to Papa’s Tomato Pies. First, it’s important to note that this is the oldest continuously operating pizzeria in America (Lombardi’s is older, but had that decade of closure), which, to us, brings the Garden State more cred than Bon Jovi, although definitely less than The Boss. Second, Jersey has its own pizza style originating out of Trenton: tomato pie. If it’s your first go around, just go for a plain pie: a light layer of cheese is added to a thin crust, then covered in sauce, which gets all caramelized and piping hot while cooking, turning into the best version of sauce that you’ll ever have.
Hood River, OR
When the topic of the best pizzas in the Pacific Northwest comes up, it inevitably goes to Portland’s Apizza Scholls whose pizza is good enough to make it worth enduring long lines. But out in the idyllic Hood River – one of the best small beer cities in the US – Double Mountain is firing up charred, New Haven-style pies that are on par with Scholls, but without the fuss. These suckers would make Frank Pepe proud, right down to the ciabatta bounce. The specialty pies are great (especially if heirloom tomatoes are in season), though with a pie this finely crafted, you’re best to just roll with the simple house-made sausage, onion, and mushroom – which packs sweet, spicy, and salty into each bite – or go spicy with hot capicola and hot peppers, which you can temper with some of Oregon’s best beer. And frankly, taking an hour to drive through the Columbia River Gorge is a way better use of waiting time than staring out into the abyss of Portland’s Hawthorne Blvd.
Stephen Lanzalotta has been making bread for years. Gorgeous, airy, crispy bread. So perhaps it was inevitable that he would eventually move on to making gorgeous, airy, crispy “slabs” of Sicilian pizza for his relatively new Maine pizzeria. Though it offers up all kinds of delicious Sicilian street foods (Italian jerk chicken!!!), you must get the Hand Slab – his original, simple, delicious, giant piece with crushed tomatoes and a Wisconsin provolone-mozzarella blend picked for its uncanny combination of melt-ability and flavor. And then maybe get a spicy meat wedge for dessert.
Thrillist’s Deputy Editor Matt Lynch is from Chicago, lives there now, and holds sway over our picks for the Midwest. But such is my enthusiasm for Pequod’s that he kindly (begrudgingly?) leaves the spot open for me each year. This love began in the early aughts when I dated a Chicago native who lived within the delivery radius of said pizzeria. And so it became a tradition to order Pequod’s whenever we’d returned from a bar or a party or eating at another pizza place.
The beauty lies in that damn crust, which is cooked in a cast iron pan and caramelizes into this crunchy handsome thing that’s making my mouth water as I type. If you ask for the “Kevin Special,” they will pretend they have no idea what you’re talking about, so maybe follow up by explaining that it’s actually just sausage and green olive.
Flour + Water
San Francisco, CA
On my first wedding anniversary, I lost a tooth biting into a slice of Flour + Water pizza. This may not sound like high praise, but in truth, the tooth was fake and loose, and the chewy, airy, delicious crust shifted it when I took a bite. So what do you do when you lose a front tooth during your anniversary dinner? Well, if you’re at a place with pizza as good as Flour + Water, you go to the bathroom, jam your tooth back in, and eat three more slices by cramming them into the back of your mouth.
Anyway, Executive Chef Thomas McNaughton may now have his hands full with other projects (and a new baby), but the quality of the pizza they’re producing under Evan Allumbaugh has stayed excellent, and the selection is frankly long overdue. The styles change daily, but recently F+W had a salumi pizza with Mangalitsa pancetta, stracciatella, broccoli rabe & Calabrian chili, and in flavor alone it was worth giving up another couple teeth.
Pizzeria Beddia won’t make it easy for you to grab a bite of its pies: there’s no phone, it’s only open four days a week – and even then only five hours – and there are only 40 pies sold each day. So, get in line long before the 5:30pm open time, and don’t bring friends – seriously. It also limits two pies per party, and you’re going to want all of those to yourself. Get a basic tomato and mozzarella pie and a pizza with spicy Arrabbiata sauce, and layer on the toppings. It’s simple – seriously, don’t expect fancy toppings – and that’s the beauty here: Joe Beddia took the lessons of simplicity from some of the legends of America’s pizza scene, learning from the men behind Di Fara and Pizzeria Bianco (both on our list) to create this tiny pizza destination. Philly, if you’ve been waiting for a reason to call in sick to work, this is it. Getting a spot in line is truly that important.
New York, NY
As it keeps making this list, we’ll try and keep it short: it does the classic Neapolitan style with that charred crust with the black spots. It started in Brooklyn, and came to Manhattan in some sort of opposite-of-people-trying-to-have-kids move. It is now famous in Hong Kong and some other Asian places. And if you don’t get its soppressata picante or its addictive stracciatella, YOU ARE A DAMN FOOL.
It must make every pizza place in Austin go crazy when they realize their best pizza comes out of a truck in front of the Violet Crown Social Club. And it must make everyone in Detroit crazy to think that some of the best iterations of their pizza are coming from a food truck in Austin (though, to be fair, it was started by Detroit expats). And it does make me crazy thinking about how fantastic the Detroiter (smoked pepperoni under the cheese, more on top) is, and how I want to order another right now and ship it to Cali. Bonus: don’t sleep on its “bar-style” pizzas, which are in the traditional tavern style. Especially the one with ham and maple syrup.
First off, this is not Detroit-style pizza. This is more like a pizza you might find in New York. Second, you won’t care about that distinguishing factor once you bite into its signature Supino with roasted garlic, black olives, chili oil, ricotta, and mozzarella. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it says “trill tomatoes and all that good stuff” on its damn menu.
New Orleans, LA
While Domenica is, in practice, a full Italian restaurant, the pizzas make it a destination, which is why PIZZA Domenica was, perhaps, the most fool-proof restaurant opening Alon Shaya could’ve made. Now over a year old, the pizza-only restaurant, with its wood-fired oven concept, thin and crisp crusts, and high-quality toppings layered in unique combinations, is just as delicious as at the original spot. Just without the distractions. Get the clam that’s loaded with spicy chilies and bold garlic, add extra clam (trust us) and some pepperoni, and appreciate the fact that the strong drink program from Domenica was also carried over: the jalapeño tequila, mezcal, ginger beer, and citrus Smokey & the Bandito pairs incredibly well with a hot pie.
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
San Francisco, CA
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: you see the menu at Tony’s, and you think, “This is crazy. There are too many styles of pizza and too many options. Can he really pull off a Detroit pizza, and a Jersey tomato pie, and a Napoletana, Romana, and Sicilian? Plus a coal-fired New Haven style? AND A ST. LOUIS?” Yes. Yes, he can. And each style would give the best pizzas in whichever particular region they come from a run for their money. And if Tony’s doesn’t offer up enough styles for you, head to Capo’s down the street, his take on all of the Chicago-style pies.
It’s now been 10 years since Pizzaiolo opened its doors on Telegraph Ave in Oakland and decided to start serving pizzas using simple techniques and local ingredients. That these pizzas ended up being some of the best pizzas in the country is a whole other thing, but it’s true: Pizzaiolo’s consistency and adherence to its mission is the reason it keeps popping up on this list (also maybe the rapini and house-made sausage pizza).
We cannot say it any stronger or in a way that better lets you read about VIPizza in a Queens accent than our freelancer John Houlihan once did, so we leave you with his words: “VIPizza on Bell Blvd in Bayside serves up the best Sicilian slice I have ever eaten. EVER. They’ve torn down and rebuilt since I was a kid, so of course you get all these jadrools who think they know something: 'It’s not the same as it was, cuz!’ 'My Uncle Lou said it used to be the best, but now it’s just okay.’ B.S. It’s incredible. It’s awesome. Be quiet. Thank you. There’s a good reason it’s been in business for half-a-friggin’ century.
"There’s no reason to get a regular slice at VIPizza. I’m sure it’s probably great, but I’ve never had one because, WHY? So many places have a low turnover on Sicilian. It’s the most hit-or-miss thing in the world. Either it doesn’t heat up right because it’s been sitting out too long, or they don’t put enough effort into it because they don’t sell as many… whatever the problem, VIPizza doesn’t have it. Perfect Sicilian slice. Marone.”
We say it every year, and we’ll continue to say it every year until the drones eventually take over: having a best pizza list without Chris Bianco’s pizzeria would be like having a school with no teachers. The man is almost singlehandedly responsible for starting the pizza renaissance in America and has inspired many of the chefs also on this list. But if you require some sort of timely hook to get to Arizona, fine: he now has an outpost in Tucson, too.
Vito and Nick’s
Despite the national attention paid to the heftier deep dish, this is the kind of pizza most Chicagoans were raised on: thin, cracker-y crust cut into smaller squares (making it all the more easy to talk yourself into “one more piece”), and nobody does it better than Vito & Nick’s, a South Side institution that hasn’t changed in decades, other than maybe adding some new plaques from the local Little League teams it sponsors. Get yourself a sausage pizza and a pitcher of Old Style and experience a true Chicago legend.
Los Angeles, CA
This is the place for East Coast expats to go when they’re eating their feelings after another one of their screenplays based on their life growing up in Westport gets rejected. Nancy Silverton’s joint is also by far the best pizza in California south of San Francisco, and one of the best examples of the power of the California-style: charred Neapolitan style pizzas using local Cali ingredients with aplomb. Or in some cases, an actual plum.