As part of our year-end review, we're revisiting some of the most popular stories of 2014. Here, Thrillist catalogues some of the best pizza shops in the country.
Pizza may have its roots in Italy, but by now it is intensely and utterly American. Aside from maybe hamburgers and BBQ, no other food in this country is so intensely regionalized, as evidenced by everything from the deep-dishes and pans of Chicago and Detroit, to the coal fire and clams in New Haven, to the inventive fresh ingredients topping Cali’s wood-fired Neapolitan pies.
As this is our second year naming our 33 best, Liz and I scoured the country, talked to all of our editors, and happily ate so, so, so much pizza in an effort to give you a list that includes the greatest examples of our myriad regional styles, as well as the best overall pies in the country. So pull up a chair, put a napkin in your shirt, and enjoy this mozzarella, brick, Provel, and goat-covered slice of America’s 33 best pizzas:
Credit: Al Forno
AL FORNO — Providence, RI
Pizza here is not the main course. It is an appetizer for your entrees, something to be eaten in moderate fashion. But that doesn’t necessarily happen anymore. The inventors of grilled pizza (Chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen) have been doing it for over 30 years, and, even though they make hundreds of pies a night, it’s all done by the one grill guy, and they are delicious, which you’ll realize as soon as you’ve gotten a taste of that maple charcoal-charred crust and the peppery oil-inflected mix of tomatoes and cheese. So, okay, maybe pizza is the main course.
Credit: Antico Pizza Napoletana
ANTICO PIZZA NAPOLETANA — Atlanta, GA
The Neapolitan spot, the first to bring the style to Atlanta, turns 5 this month and returns for another year on our best of list. The dough is still tangy and crisp, cooked in a hot two-minute stint in the oven, where cheese melts into San Marzano-based sauce and fresh basil crisps happily. Grab the Pomodorini (cherry tomatoes, basil, bufala mozz, and garlic) for a twist on the simple style, or order the San Genero for a little bit more: the flavor combinations hit by the fatty, spicy sausage, sweet & spicy red peppers, mozzarella, and cipollini onions are a quick reminder of why you need to line up early for Antico before the pies run out.
Credit: Buddy’s Pizza
BUDDY’S PIZZA — Detroit, MI
A holdover from last year’s list, Buddy’s has, since 1946, made that strange hybrid that is Detroit-style pizza — using double-stretched dough cooked square in a pan to give it a caramelized crust, Wisconsin brick cheese, meats tucked under said cheese “to enhance flavor and prevent charring”, and that “Red Top” flavor of a sweet tomato sauce poured over the top. Before I’d ever had one of these, I disdained this type of pizza. Spoke ill of it in public forums. But once I actually had it, things changed, and now — if I’m staring at myself in the mirror when things are quiet — I’d likely admit that it just might be my favorite style of pizza in the country. SHHHH. Don’t tell California.
Credit: Drew Swantak
BEST PIZZA — Brooklyn, NY
The folks behind Brooklyn Star and Bushwick it-girl Roberta’s took the maybe-not-intentional star of the latter’s show and put it in a storefront that may be impossible to Google, but absolutely declares what Brooklyn pie-lovers will find: the Best Pizza. Pizza maestro Frank Pinello bought out the other BK folks two years ago, and continues to draw crowds who know to look for his sesame seed-studded thin-crust that announces the white pie, which buries tangy caramelized onions under gooey cheese. It’ll change your idea of paper plate NY-style pizza, even if that was previously the highest honor you gave a slice joint.
Credit: Sarah Miknis
BOCCE CLUB PIZZA — Buffalo, NY
Bocce Club looks like a basic, local pizza joint. And it is that, but it’s also so much more, dipping it’s sauce-stained toes into the labels of mom & pop and local legends. Dino Paccioti, the current owner’s Dad, returned from his service as a court reporter for the Nuremberg Trials to work at what was clearly a Buffalo hotspot, Bocce Club — a sandwich shop with bocce courts. He bought the club in ’46, tinkered with a pizza oven he found in the basement, and created his Buffalo-style pizza with flavor-packed, fluffy dough that edges between thin and thick, a sweet, secret tomato sauce, and housemade mozz. Topped with thick rounds of pepperoni that happily pool bites of grease, Bocce’s current pizza more than makes up for the lack of bocce courts we wish we could play on.
Credit: Cane Rosso
CANE ROSSO — Dallas, TX
At this three-location Dallas-area mainstay, pizzas cook in about one minute in a 900-degree oven. That might seem fast, but the pies are the result of an insane amount of prep. The chef — Italian-trained by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana – puts two days worth of love into dough batches, while the mozz is hand-pulled daily and layered over sauce that consists of fresh, manually crushed tomatoes. Thus, a simple Neapolitan Margherita is a thing of beauty, a lightly charred, chewy work of art days in the making. But if you want to really up your game, order up the Motorino, topped with locally made sausage, Calabrian chiles, and housemade burrata cheese. Regardless of what you get, make sure your dining partners get their own. Art like this is meant to be hoarded. Also, don’t ask for ranch. Ever.
Credit: Flickr/Krista (edited)
DENINO’S — Staten Island, NY
Staten Island has more than its fair share of phenomenal pie spots, but Denino’s is the OG. So much so, that the corner at which the shop has sat since the ‘30s is named Carlo Denino’s Way, in honor of the founder. So, just go ahead and order the Garbage Pie, pretend you’re not confused by the name, and get a few extra napkins ready to handle all the salivating you’ll be doing while waiting for that sausage, meatball, and pepperoni beauty to hit your table. Order it well-done, and you’ll be extra happy.
Credit: Graham Blackall
DOMENICA — New Orleans, LA
John Besh’s Roosevelt Hotel restaurant has normal entrees and even one of the best lasagne bolognese you can track down in New Orleans, but no one was ever fooled here: you came to get the pizza. It was so dominating that the chef opened Pizza Domenica this year, so people can have even fewer choices on the menu and just lust over all the perfect pies. But the OG is still our pick, so head down to NOLA’s business district, maybe save room all day long so you can start with the famous whole-roasted cauliflower appetizer, and then gorge yourself on their delicious pizzas. We love the spicy salami and capers-topped Calabrese as well as the speck, honey, and peaches-covered Gorgonzola pie, but you’ll be hard pressed to make a wrong choice here.
Credit: Laura Hayes
ETTO — Washington DC
We, at the Thrillist, are fans of the 2Amys, as evidenced by its inclusion on last year’s list. So when Peter Pastan and Amy Morgan joined forces with the Standard beer garden guys to open Etto, we were aggressively enthused. But, and this is a good thing, the pizzas aren’t quite the same, and it likely has to do with the fermentation process for the dough, and the fresh flour they mill in-house. It also might help that the meats on the pie are also cured in-house, which brings us to our order: if they’ve got it, go with the Sausage and “Friarelli” with rapini and mozzarella, plus a Bell’s Oberon and some of their 24-month hand-sliced prosciutto di Parma & spicy capicola salumi, and then just kind of sit there in awe for awhile, rinse, wash, and repeat.
EVO — Charleston, SC
Like the olive oil it riffs its name from, EVO (Extra Virgin Oven) focuses on simplicity and quality, and its crisp, yet tender-in-the-middle crusts and bounty of local ingredients land the Charleston spot back on our cheese and pepperoni-laden list for a second year. 2013’s move still stands: opt for a pesto-laden pie (EVO has mastered the classic sauce), but get a little bit crazy with the pistachio pesto option. The hearty nuttiness cuts the fromage blanc, Parm, mozzarella, and creme fraiche in all the right ways.
FARMSHOP — Larkspur, CA
Welcome, this is a Farmshop. Strange Phish song references aside, we didn’t think this would be anywhere close to our top 33 when we silently judged it sitting in the very fancy Marin Country Mart, across from the Larkspur Landing ferry. And then they brought out their incredible California Tomatoes pie, with Ramini mozzarella di bufala, basil, Parmesan, olive oil, sea salt, and a bubbling crust pocketed with fiery black char. And also scissors. And while we sat slicing away at the pie, we ordered a Bianco, which — that day — came with spicy peppers, chorizo, and broccoli rabe. And then we ordered the California Tomatoes pie again. And put away the rest of the menu. I’m sure there are other wonderful things at Farmshop, but do yourself a favor: ignore them, and order all of the pizzas.
FLORIOLE — Chicago, IL
It may seem odd to bestow such prestigious pizza praise on a place only serving it one night a week. But when the place in question is one of Chicago’s best bakeries, and the night in question is Friday, when they take all their flour-based wizardry and channel it into gloriously charred, flawlessly textured crusts that serve as the base for that week’s parade of innovative toppings, it just feels right. Each week there’s a red option and a white option (get both, obviously). Think topping schemes like heirloom tomato with raw milk cheddar Mornay and Iberico de Bellota lardo from a local salumi shop. Or charred cauliflower with walnut-cashew Romesco, crescenza, and pickled hot peppers. Then think about going back the next week. [Editor’s note: We just heard from the bakery, and they’re taking a monthlong pizza hiatus, but will serve again in November.]
Credit: Grant Condon
FRANK AND HELEN’S PIZZERIA — University City, MO
It’s been around since the ’50s. It has a paneled ceiling and Formica tables, and is the opposite of fancy. It is also the perfect St. Louis pizza place, and the best place in the city to get a traditional St. Louis-style pie with its cracker-thin crust that stays surprisingly crisp and not soggy, sweet tomato sauce, and Provel cheese — a mixture that combines Swiss, provolone, and cheddar, and, when done right, sticks to the roof of your mouth immediately, and basically refuses to come off. Because they are polite, Frank and Helen’s will offer you up traditional cheeses and “normal-style” pies. Resist. You know why you’re here.
Credit: Flickr/Kent Want (edited)
FRANK PEPE — New Haven, CT
You can’t keep Frank off the list, so let’s just reprise what we’ve said before: he’s been around since 1925, he’s the OG of the New Haven style (thin crust coal-fired pie with charred flour bottom), and his most famous pizza (the White Clam Pie) has no sauce and just a touch of cheese on it. He’s expanding now, opening a place in Boston after already hatching several more in CT, and looking to do what you do when you’ve basically created an entire style of pizza, but that doesn’t change the fact that — if you’re within 60 miles of New Haven — you need to go to the original, and pay tribute.
Credit: Sonya Highfield Photography
GALLERIA UMBERTO — Boston, MA
Editor’s Note: Because this was on the list last year, and will likely stay on the list until they remove it from my pizza oil-greased hands, I’m going to repeat what I said then, since it very much holds up: get here before noon. Please. And don’t worry about decisions. You don’t have a choice: just get two slices of pie (there’s only one, and it’s Sicilian, and it’s fantastic), maybe some arancini if you want to get crazy, and a domestic beer; drop $7; and there you go. Because Umberto is only open until the dough runs out (and it usually does by 2pm or earlier, most days), you know you’re getting a fresh slice that isn’t sitting under a heat lamp, and you know it’s going to be light and airy and on a focaccia-style crust. And you know it will be glorious.
Credit: Magnus Lindqvist Courtesy of Garage Bar
GARAGE BAR — Louisville, KY
The Lousiville spot combines two Southern paradigms: Naples’ iconic pizza and the American South’s flavor and funk. While this twist certainly doesn’t make it traditional Neapolitan, the pizza rolling out of this former-auto service station still has that delicious crisp, but chewy crust. The thing is, no one here will judge you when you add country ham to your ricotta, fior di latte, and local lettuces white pie. Because country ham pairs so much better with Garage Bar’s stellar lineup of bourbons and craft beers, than your run-of-the-mill pizza topping. Also, please start with the boiled peanuts. This used to be a Southern gas station, after all.
Credit: Gennaro’s Tomato Pie
GENNARO’S TOMATO PIE — Philadelphia, PA
LeSean McCoy is probably on your fantasy team, and he’s one reason tens of thousands of inebriated Eagles fans pack themselves into South Philly’s Lincoln Financial Field. Since January 2013, less tipsy crowds (but, likely, also Eagles fans) have been squeezing themselves into another South Philly spot — this time for the finest thin-crust Neapolitan pizza in the whole gosh darn city. Walking into Gennaro’s is like stepping back in time (tiled walls, WWI-era posters), though back then they probably didn’t have a fancy oven that mimics a coal oven without needing any of that pesky coal. Bring cash, your favorite booze, and prepare to inhale a simple pie made with whole-milk mozzarella, freshly crushed tomatoes, and olive oil.
Credit: Hog & Hominy
HOG & HOMINY — Memphis, TN
Pizza may not be the star of this Memphis Italian-meets-New South hotspot, but it should be. Hometown boys Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman enthusiastically combine their heritages into beautiful and delicious plates and the pies continue to stand out. It’s hard to err here, but first give your taste buds a bite of the Prewitt: the ideal combo of Cajun boudin sausage, fontina cheese, tomato sauce, and — oddly, but deliciously — scrambled eggs.
Credit: Andy Kryza
KEN’S ARTISAN — Portland, OR
New Haven-style Apizza Scholls might get more spotlight (it made our list last year), but Ken Forkish wrote the book on pizza. No, for real. It’s called Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, and its title reveals the secret of these Neapolitan pies, which combine crunch and impossible chew to perfection: simplicity. With locally sourced ingredients fired up in the rustic pizzeria’s centerpiece wood-powered oven, each pie packs an explosion of flavor. The best bet is the salty prosciutto pie, with meat that is sliced to the point of translucence as to reveal underneath it gobs of goopy cheese and sweet (but not too sweet) sauce. Whatever you order, drop an extra $2 for a pile of fresh arugula up top. Not just to appease your Mom, but also because the nutty, bitter, salt-sprinkled greens transport the simple pie into a complex flavor symphony. Also, to appease your Mom.
Credit: Flickr/Jason Eppink
MOTORINO — New York, NY
Just to be different from the rest of the cool kids in New York, Motorino started in Brooklyn, then moved to Manhattan. It’s still there, in the East Village, but it also returned to its Williamsburg roots last year with a bigger second location. And then there are two in Hong Kong, and another in Manila, naturally. Charred-yet-chewy Neapolitan pies like the Prosciutto di Parma or an oddly appealing Brussels sprout number are obviously a must, but if you’re in BIllyburg, it’s also worth getting a hulking porchetta calzone for the table. And then eating the whole thing yourself.
Credit: Allicia Leaper
PAPA’S TOMATO PIES - Robbinsville, NJ
Papa’s is the oldest continuously operated joint in the country, but you don’t get legendary status just for being old (just ask Derek Fisher). No, the legendary status comes from establishing the tomato pie, then making the best one for over 100 years. Sort of like an inside-out pizza, tomato pies put the sauce forward, splashing it down on top of the cheese. But Chicago-style this ain’t: Papa’s — recently relocated from Trenton — goes thin and crunchy on the crust, with just enough cheese to sneak through the sweet sauce. Toppings are sparse, if you even need them, and buried in the fray. They also do a mustard pie, with yellow mustard baked into the crust, if you’re brave. Don’t be brave. You’ll be denying yourself the taste of pizza history.
Credit: Tim Kang/Courtesy of Paulie Gee’s
PAULIE GEE’S — Brooklyn, NY
As you muscle open Paulie Gee’s massive wooden doors, you feel like you’re entering a barn. But then you walk in and… your feelings do not change at all! The ceilings are high, the wood is ancient, and the lights don’t really live up to their name. But as long as you can smell and taste the “eff it, we’re trying that” wood-fired Neapolitans — like the house favorite Hellboy with Berkshire sopressata piccante and seriously spicy honey, or the Greenpoint Benedict with Canadian bacon and, yes, hollandaise — you’re good. Even when the place is running hot, Paulie will probably stop by your table just to say hi. He once asked my date if she was a famous actress, making him better at pizza-making AND more charming than me. But I didn’t care; I was already madly in love with his pies.
Credit: Kathryn Katz
PEQUOD’S — Chicago, IL
Matty Lynch is our senior editor in Chicago, and a knowledgable pizza eater of great renown. And when it came time to pick the Chicago spots on the list this year, he was kind enough to save room for my FAVORITE PIZZA IN THE COUNTRY, and that is Pequod’s. In terms of the deep-dish game in Chicago, Pequod’s is constantly under-the-radar, overshadowed by the likes of Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s, or the other caramelized crust, more pan-pizza-than-technically-deep-dish big name: Burt’s. But even the great Burt started at Pequod’s, and I fell in love with this pizza many years ago, when I used to spend all my time in Chicago, trying to re-create that Josh Hartnett Wicker Park movie. My move is sausage and olive, which pairs rather nicely with that ridiculous ring of caramelized cheese along the crust, so do yourself a favor and make it your move too, MATT.
PIZARO’S — Houston, TX
If you thought you could take Houston’s best pizza and maybe go pick it up and bring it home while you watched that Mistresses show featuring the Asian chick from Lost, you are very wrong. No take-out. Chef Bill Hutchinson got his Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN, y’all!) as a legit pizzaiolo, and keeps everything just so, in order to ensure you’re getting one of the best damn Neapolitan pizzas in all of Tejas. We like the Calabrese, which mixes in spicy sopressata and pepperoni with that mozzarella and basil. So order one, but promise you won’t try and take it home. Bill wouldn’t like that at all.
Credit: Pizzeria Bianco
PIZZERIA BIANCO — Phoenix, AZ
I am, admittedly, tired of Bianco. I wanted to remove it from the list. I wanted to pick another fresh spot that people hadn’t heard of, so that they could yell at me in the comments, and tell me the entire list was invalidated. But you can’t. You can’t take Chris Bianco’s place, now over 25 years old, off of any pizza list, because he was the originator of the artisanal trend, and we owe much of the best pizza in the country to chefs trying his pizza, and then deciding to open their own spot (Nancy Silverton of Mozza, for one). Bianco is essentially the Milk and Honey of the pizza scene, and you don’t mess with a legend. So here he stays. Try the Sonny Boy.
Credit: Pizzeria Mozza
PIZZERIA MOZZA — Los Angeles, CA
Another holdover from last year, Mozza is always SoCal residents’ response when people from the East come over and immediately denounce all Southern California pizza, and then try and learn to surf for a couple of months before moving back home. Batali, Bastianich, and Silverton’s joint has turned into a national powerhouse (so much so that there’s now one in SAN DIEGO!!!), but that doesn’t mean they still don’t make some of the best ‘za on the Left Coast, especially their delicious egg, guanciale, escarole, radicchio, and bagna cauda pie.
Credit: Liz Childers
POST OFFICE PIES — Birmingham, AL
Wedged between a BBQ joint and an excellent new brewery (both spots’ owners are involved in the pie shop, too), Post Office Pies is part of a giant, calorie-laden reinvigoration of a long-desolate Birmingham nabe. Maybe if all city restorations were lucky enough to be filled with this good of beer and surrounded by such a porky smell of smoke, all of America would be wallowing in the wood-fired pizzas of a chef who trained at legendary Manhattan restaurants Per Se and Gramercy Tavern. But, for now, the rest of the country has to be jealous of Birmingham and its access to the Swine Pie — laden with thick slabs of pepperoni, savory sausage, and bacon, buried beneath cheese and topped with fresh basil — which pairs oh so well with Avondale Brewing Co’s Battlefield IPA.
Credit: Flickr/Aaron Landry
PUNCH PIZZA — St. Paul, MN
Naming a pizza shop that has multiple fast-casual locations around MN one of the best in the country might seem strange, but one of the co-founders grew up in Italy. Pizza was surprisingly invented there, and not inside the first Papa John’s in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Anyways, he was desperate to bring authentic Neapolitan to the Midwest, where he moved. And he did, sourcing ingredients directly from Italy — including the all-important wood-burning oven custom built for his location, which still stands in the original location that most agree is the standout. Make sure to order the Margherita D.O.C., which scores you extra San Marzano tomatoes and olive oil, plus a regular amount of mozzarella di bufala. And while you dine, look for a hidden ceramic cat, an adorable ode to real pizzeria-dwelling cats in Italy who are responsible for catching mice in their respective restaurants.
Credit: Jeff Waraniak
RUGGERO’S — Flint, MI
In its 56 years of family-owned life, Ruggero’s has survived the turmoil of Flint’s continual crisis — and several location changes — to remain a warm spot in the city’s culinary scene. It’s a joint that does everything right, from pastas to cutlets to sandwiches. But the pizza is the draw here, a perfect circle of old-school pizzeria-style goodness that has become a staple of Michigan comfort-food offerings with its chewy crust and wrist-strainingly piled toppings. But for the real deal, skip the whole pies and get the pizza special, which features two gargantuan slices of Ruggero’s legendary square slices (and a salad, but whatever), a combination of Sicilian and Detroit styles that’s as thick and dense as the bricks that comprise the streets in downtown Flint. But they taste better, because they’re made of cheese, garlic, and pepperoni, not clay. They’re also the best slices the city has to offer.
Credit: Flickr/Carl Lender (edited)
SALLY’S APIZZA — New Haven, CT
Unlike Pepe’s and its expansion, Sally’s has to be given credit for staying focused on its one location on Wooster Street in New Haven, though the lack of dilution to their product means the wait times for both a table and pizza are almost offensive, until you taste their famous white fresh tomato pie cooked in the same charcoal-fired oven as the other New Haven favorite that shall not be named. I like it with hot peppers added, even if it tends to get me bad looks from the purists.
Credit: Serious Pie
SERIOUS PIE — Seattle, WA
James Beard Award winner Tom Douglas is a beast. Not in the literal sense, but more in the sense that — in Seattle — whatever he touches tends to turn into the type of gold you actually want to eat. And so it was for Serious Pie, his 2006 artisanal pizza project, which features a crazy delicious crust cooked in an applewood-fired oven that usually is credited to baker Gwen Grande, not to say Douglas didn’t invent it himself, OKAY? HE’S A GREAT BAKER TOO! Anyway, get the Prosser heirloom tomato, burrata, salsa verde, pine nut pie. At first you’ll be like, “Why am I getting pine nuts on my pizza, this is stupid,” and then you’ll eat it, and Tom Douglas will walk by and wink at you, and YOU WILL BE CHANGED. Don’t tell him I mentioned the whole Grande thing.
Credit: Flickr/Simon Law
UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA — San Francisco, CA
I put off going to this place for a long time, even though it is in my city, mostly because I’d heard all the rumors: an NYC pizzaiolo was moving to SF and wanted to do the best Neapolitan pizza in the city, which happens to be a style just about every artisanal pizza maker in SF also adheres to. He would make each one, and you would wait in a long line, but you would be so revered by the time you got there that you wouldn’t care. I hated everything about that idea. And then I ate the damn pizza, and it was delicious, and I’m not even ready to talk about it yet, frankly, but my God, it certainly deserves to be on the list.
Credit: Matt Lynch
VITO AND NICK’S — Chicago, IL
Chicago is a complicated city, especially when you consider the expanse of styles in their pizza game. For those who think it is simply a deep-dish pizza haven, we put forth Vito and Nick’s, another survivor of last year’s list, who’ve been making square-cut, crispy-crusted pies since 1932. Our senior editor in Chicago recommends the sausage, which comes buried like a delicious, meaty treasure under a tidal wave of cheese.
Credit: Grant Condon
EDITOR’S PICK: TONY’S PIZZA — San Francisco, CA
If you’ve ever seen the X-Men movies, then you’re likely familiar with Mystique, that shape-shifting mutant who is able to shift into whoever she wants to be. Tony Gemignani is able to do that with pizza styles. In 2007, he was named the World Champion Pizza Maker at the World Pizza Cup in Naples. The first American to ever win. He is also the US Ambassador of Neapolitan Pizza, as awarded by Naples, who’ve only given that title to three people in the world. He has his own school of pizza. It’s all almost too much. And then you see his menu, which offers up all sorts of styles, and again you’re suspicious, because you’re so used to the singularly-focused purists that you think maybe it’s not going to be as good. Until you try it, and you realize he’s doing a Detroit-style Red Top comparable to Buddy’s, a white pie with clam & garlic that rivals Pepe’s, a Trenton-style tomato pie as good as Gennaro’s, and so many other styles that’re all at such a high level, you think you might be kidding yourself. But the scariest part? You’re not.
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