Chefs and bakers are transforming pizza from greasy pies in cardboard boxes to Slow Food–worthy creations with crackly, charred crusts and ingredients directly from the farmers’ markets.
© Squire Fox
Co., New York City
Jim Lahey is one of the country’s elite bread bakers, so when he decided to open a pizza place, it was huge news. The Sullivan Street Bakery founder had his eureka moment while doing a flatbread demo on a truck at a farmers’ market. More than three years later, he launched Co. (a.k.a. Company). Toppings are remarkable, like the fresh spinach on the three-cheese Popeye—a favorite of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s, one of Co.’s owners. But what people can’t stop talking about is the crust: Made with Lahey’s famous no-knead dough, it’s both chewy and crisp, and ever-so-slightly tangy. “I love the restraint of pizza,” Lahey says. “It’s haute but still has street-foodness.”
Courtesy of Motorino
Motorino, Brooklyn, NY
Cooking at Manhattan’s BLT Fish would not seem like the first step toward making great pizza. But Belgian-born Mathieu Palombino found that he liked specializing in one kind of food. And he loved pizza. So he traveled from Italy to California, tasting pies and perfecting a bready, well-salted crust. Then he worked on toppings like brussels-sprout leaves with speck (smoked pork). Lastly, he designed the space. “Marble-topped tables are so important,” he says. “You want to hear plates being set down.”
Great Lake, Chicago
It would be so easy to miss Great Lake. It doesn’t have a website. Its hours are erratic. It seats 14 at most. Peer into the window of the tiny storefront restaurant in Edgewater, and the place looks more like a shop, selling items like Amish popcorn. The spot is run by husband-and-wife Detroit natives Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza; Lessins assembles pies to order and then masterfully chars them in his beloved gas oven, which is cranked up to 650°. Some toppings are baked onto the ethereally crisp crust; others—like the Mona cheese on the spinach pie—are added when the pizza is just out of the oven.
Marzano, Oakland, CA
Named for the exalted Neapolitan tomato, Robert Holt’s new spot gets its wood-fired oven blazing for brunch, when the menu includes a handful of breakfast pizzas, all of which can be ordered with a perfectly cooked runny egg on top. The wood-smoke-infused crust is thin, crisp and chewy—an ideal showcase for toppings, some of which are as light as tricolore salad. In the evenings, heartier toppings include romanesco broccoli with Calabrian chile, Penn Cove mussels marinara and prosciutto with wild arugula. Plus—a terrific idea—Marzano recently started selling flash-frozen pies for customers to take home with them.
Riva, Los Angeles
Jason Travi has a straightforward approach to restaurants: They have to focus on a food he could eat every day. At his first spot, Fraîche, that food is pasta. At Riva, it’s pizza. “And I pretty much do eat pizza every day now,” he says. His pastry-chef wife, Miho, perfected the chewy, charred crust. “We bake in a brick oven at 700°,” says Travi. “Some people will say that’s too hot; some people in Naples think it’s too cold.” Toppings are Italian in spirit, with one exception: the crème fraîche on the sliced-potato-and-Fontina pie.
Dough Pizzeria Napoletana, Castle Hills, TX
Doug and Lori Horn are the best kind of pizza makers: total fanatics. In 2007, they opened Dough near San Antonio, in an area best known for Mexican food. Dough makes Neapolitan pies with thin, crackly crusts and all manner of Italian meats and cheeses (like Robiola Bosina), plus extras like oak-roasted mushrooms. A wood-fired oven provides a supersonic 90-second sear. Soon, Dough expects to receive certification that it meets the exacting standards of VPN, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, as set forth by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture. That will make it part of a pizza elite of only 28 restaurants in America.
Pizzeria Paradiso, Washington, DC
For the past 18 years, this pizza pioneer served only 35 people at a time in a snug row house. This summer, the restaurant moves into a much bigger space. The wood-burning oven will turn out Neapolitan-style blistered pies with a long list of toppings, from the classics to bottarga (dried roe).
Joey's in Miami. Photo © Simon Hare.
Exceptional Pizza, Plus Pasta & More
City House, Nashville
Try the Margherita pie.
Gjelina, Venice, CA
A Cal-Ital place with great lamb-sausage pizza.
A new modern-Italian restaurant.
Pizzeria Bianco. Photo © John Hall Photography.
Old & New Pizza Classics
Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
Arguably America’s best pizza, with beautiful, wood-fired crusts.
Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco
An offshoot of Delfina restaurant, from Craig Stoll.