The Best Pizza in Every State
Plus, the ten best pizza states in America.
I spent a good deal of 2007 hanging around Detroit, back before the world became fully aware of what exactly had happened to the city. That was the year I first went to the original location of Buddy's Pizza, historically known as Buddy's Rendezvous, at the corner of Conant and McNichols. Then and now, it's an address fairly far off the beaten path, way up in the northeast part of town.
There are so many to choose from, but Buddy's is inarguably Detroit's most iconic pizzeria; since the early days, it has expanded to become a regional chain, but this bunker-like pile, distinguished from nearly everything else around it by showing signs of life, remains its spiritual home.
Buddy's goes back, way back, to Prohibition times, when Gus Guerra, an immigrant from the tiny Republic of San Marino, ran the place as a blind pig, or speakeasy. Eventually he enlisted his wife, Anna, who borrowed her Sicilian mother's recipes, and began to make pizza, cooking them in the sturdy metal trays used to store parts at the automobile plants. By the late 1940s, Detroit was on to Guerra's curious square pies, with their crispy edges and generous amounts of sauce ladled on top, cut into hearty, satisfying squares.
For the better part of a century, Buddy's has been here, right here on this same corner in Detroit, watching as the city's fortunes rose and fell, and then kept falling. The surrounding neighborhood has been in decline for much of its modern existence, but there has always been pizza, beyond the cinderblock walls and glass bricks that pass for windows, past the bocce courts and parking lot security guard and all.
To this day, the restaurant still feels kind of like a speakeasy. To enter, you must walk down a long hallway and into a windowless room, where you will be warmly greeted, like an old friend, and invited to sit wherever you'd like. The bar area is usually where the action is, at least in normal times. Post up in an adjacent booth and look at the menu, even though you know exactly what you want—a four-square pizza of your own, which means four corners, which means all the crispy edges you deserve. The cost? Just $9.99.
Back in 2007, explaining Detroit pizza to people who were not from Detroit was difficult. Was it Sicilian style? Not really—the oil-slicked crust is equally considerable, but it is always light and crunchy on the bottom, topped judiciously with Wisconsin brick cheese and a fine, fragrant sauce (Buddy's tomato-basil is legendary). On a proper Detroit pie, the cheese goes right to the edges, allowing it to bake into the porous crust, resulting in a crispy little miracle that you never really lose the taste for, once you've been there.
At Buddy's you'll find good pizza, nice people, and excellent gossip overheard from the bar, which seems to be populated by patrons who've known each other for a very long time, but then again, this is Detroit; people can be wonderfully chatty. I learned something on those visits, something I never forgot, something that came in handy recently—no matter how bad things get, there will probably always be pizza.
This was certainly true during the last year. Restaurants were failing left and right, but if you could figure out how to make pizza and get it delivered, the odds of survival appeared to improve significantly. Referred to by the New York Times as "the hero of Covid," pizza turned out to be the one thing that nearly everyone wanted and could afford. The numbers don't lie—sales by independent pizzerias, the mom and pops, grew last year in many cases, and coming into this year, things are looking mighty good for many of them.
Pizza pop-ups, powered by famous chefs and first-time dabblers alike, are suddenly everywhere. Popular restaurants where you'd wait hours for a table pivoted to takeout, to delivery, even curbside pickup, and in many cases are sticking with the program, one hopes for a long time to come.
Pizza, we were reminded at our lowest, has this unique way of rekindling the lifespark. And we couldn't get enough of it. From trucks in Portland, from scooters with ovens strapped to the back in Atlanta, from a pizza vending-machine in Baton Rouge—we don't care how we get it, just give us more pizza.
Just in time for everybody to be sitting at home refusing to eat their own cooking for one more night, American pizza culture spent the last fifteen to twenty years retooling, remaking itself, in order to give us more options, better pizza, than ever before. As late as the turn of the last century, we might have counted the number of cities where a serious pizza eater might find solace on a couple of hands. These days, it's absolutely everywhere, and you wouldn't believe how good, too.
The Neapolitan revolution has now reached into every state, sometimes deeply. There are floppy pies made by real Italians in Nashville; you have sourdough bread bakers putting their expertise to work in Sioux Falls. From Marfa, Texas, to Juneau, Alaska, to Bismarck, North Dakota, some of the most surprising pizzas uncovered during a multi-year effort to pull this list together came from some of the most surprising places. Incidentally, since the recession, and the subsequent rekindling of interest in Detroit, the city's unique style of pizza has spread like wildfire around the country, and is now even influencing the culture in New York, where you'll find that crispy, cheesy edge on an array of gorgeous square slices being sold around town.
For a minute, however, never mind the latest trends, because there has always been so much to uncover and appreciate, so much that has always been there, so much wonderful Italian-American tradition, which is a whole other universe from Italian-Italian. Do you know, for instance, about the beach pizza in Massachusetts and New Hampshire—crispy, thin squares with the provolone and the sweet sauce that you think you're going to absolutely hate, then secretly fall in love with? How about the scissor-cut strips of lean sausage pie with the malted crust in the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois? Or what of the Old Forge pie, the calling card of a blue-collar Pennsylvania town that very seriously calls itself the Pizza Capital of the World and has the highest rate of pizzerias per capita in the country? How about Utica-style pizza, a staple in New York's Mohawk Valley for longer than many of New York City's famous pizzerias? Sure, it may not be all to your stylistic taste, but every single one of these long-held regional traditions is spectacular, in its own way.
How did we make this list? While there was a certain amount of collaboration, in the end, most of the tasting fell to me, a native New Yorker with decades of experience eating pizza all across the country. I've lived everywhere from Chicago to Los Angeles to Seattle to New England, and over time I've learned that I have no specific style preference. The kind of pizza I like best is pizza, and I will try all of it, at least once.
I also understand how subjective pizza can be. In a city like New York, ask the question, "Where is the best pizza?" and you will receive at least a few million conflicting answers. Ask the question, "Why?" however, and you begin to get to the heart of the matter—pizza is personal, often nostalgic. It's about how pizza makes us feel, about what is familiar and grounding. This raises an important point—technique alone doesn't make a pizza essential to its community, or this list. The country is crawling with restaurants that have prioritized the acquisition of gear (the right ovens, the right-sounding ingredients) over passion, many of them in normal times using pizza as a sophisticated gimmick. Then, and now, some of the best pizza in this country will come from some of the most unlikely places, and out of some of the most unfashionable ovens.
In some cities, the hottest properties left me absolutely cold; better they should hang around a few more years, when we'll know just how important they are to the fabric of the local culture. Not that I discriminated against the Napoletana new wave, much of it more Neapolitan-inspired, or Neapolitan-esque (in fairness, that's what New York pizza has always been). But I always tried to be mindful not to get too swept up in trends, and not to let the new overshadow the best of pre-existing pizza culture, the kind from back before you could buy bags of Caputo flour on Amazon Prime. With any luck, the new kids will stick around for a long time. And there will be many more of them to come.
The 10 Best Pizza States in America
1. New Jersey
Before the world turned upside down, it had been established that some of the best pizza in the country was being made in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. First there was Razza, over at Grove Street, one of those sit-down places you planned an evening around, a brilliant showcase for Matawan-born Dan Richer's expert-level pizza-making capabilities, but also for the exceptional, often underrated bounty of the Garden State, from heirloom tomatoes, to buffalo mozzarella, to—yes, locally grown— hazelnuts.
After that came Bread & Salt, way up on relatively remote Palisade Avenue, Rick Easton's appealing little café, serving light-as-a-feather, impossibly perfect Roman-style pizza by the slice. Suddenly, Jersey City had become this glorious showcase for just how far we'd come with American pizza, after twenty-odd years of tinkering under the hood. Very different styles, certainly, but both Richer and Easton are working on a level most people will need to experience to appreciate—this is pizza so good, you could eat it with nothing more than a bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of flaky salt, and you'd still know it was one of the best you'd ever had.
Making it through the last year really was all about the small pleasures, and while these were pizzas you'd jump through any number of hoops for, you didn't really have to, which was kind of the greatest. Apart from a short closure last spring, Razza rather ably pivoted to become a takeout operation—every day at 3 p.m. except for Monday, a few taps on your smartphone, and in short order, you had your hands on as many pies as you could carry. These days, there are plenty of tables out front, for lingering, with a full view of City Hall across the street. Getting to the pizza at Bread & Salt requires slightly more planning; for the moment, it's a Sunday-only affair, but the advance ordering process is simple.
None of this happened by accident, even if the reasons for both ending up in Jersey City were very different. Dan Richer grew up influenced by one of the country's oldest, most accomplished pizza cultures; Rick Easton landed here—reportedly, he'd planned on Brooklyn—because it was easier and more affordable to do the type of work he wanted to do.
Both stories, in their own way, bring us to where we were going with this, which is that New Jersey is the best place to eat pizza in the country right now. The state is one in an elite group remaining true to their heritage, through long periods of time when others were too busy crashing ahead into the future to care about theirs. Imagine, if you will, what New York's pizza culture might look like, forced to exist outside of the spotlight, without the world beating a path to its door—that's New Jersey, working hard, very often without the interruption of sustained attention, mostly serving a very local clientele that will have no trouble holding them accountable.
Not that New Jersey is some vast, remote unknowable. The state is, quite literally, on the way to everywhere else. And still, even when the world resumes normal travel, you will still have to explain to most people the importance of the work being done here. Less so than before, thankfully. In recent years, places like Razza and Bread & Salt have lured more than a few New Yorkers onto the PATH train, thanks to glowing reviews (all true, every word) in the New York Times.
Besides having the best new pizza in America, New Jersey also has some of the best, oldest pizza in America, down in Trenton, where they don't call it pizza at all, but rather tomato pie. Here, that means a relatively small amount of mozzarella on a nice, thin crust, with a generous amount of crushed tomatoes up top. These days, the two best practitioners of the style can be found in suburban Robbinsville. There's Papa's, which dates to 1912, run by the Azzaro family, who will proudly tell you that this is the oldest, continuously-operating, family-owned pizzeria in the United States. If you really want to throw it back, ask them about putting mustard on your pizza (seriously—it's kind of a tradition here). Practically around the corner, you have DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies, which until recently still operated out of a memorably outdated space in the old neighborhood. These days, the same magic still happens, the same way it has since 1947. Don't let the modern premises fool you; this is one of the finest classic pies in the entire Northeast.
In between, there is everything else, and where to start—the tavern pizza culture of North Jersey, Patsy's in Paterson since 1931, or Kinchley's Tavern way up in Ramsey, where they've been at it for just as long, just to name two out of many? How about the Jersey Shore, all the way up and down, from beautiful Sicilian-style pies at Rosie's in Point Pleasant to Manco & Manco, a boardwalk staple in Ocean City since the 1950s?
There are no wrong answers, really, as long as you promise to make two very important stops, on your way—the first in Elizabeth, where one-man-act Al Santillo continues the work his grandfather began a very long time ago at Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza. The menu reads like a list of exhibits in a pizza history museum, spotlighting different styles throughout the years. The most basic pie here, featuring generous amounts of rich, dark red sauce with the soul of a Sunday gravy, is finished with herbs and oil. This isn't just a pizza; it's a work of art.
Same deal over in Atlantic Highlands, where New Jersey native Anthony Mangieri, one of the country's most skilled practitioners of the Neapolitan style, has been posted up since his New York restaurant closed (temporarily, one hopes) last year. A very long time before Mangieri became a star on both coasts, Una Pizza Napoletana was right here, in New Jersey, and all you had to do was bother to show up.
Getting to know Connecticut pizza is relatively easy. No state wields quite so much clout out of such a concentrated pool of talent, centered in New Haven, which has been one of America's most important pizza cities for as long as there has been pizza in America. Search high and low, and you will not find a city quite so jealously protective of its heritage as New Haven. Things are in many ways as they have been for generations, going back to when Frank Pepe, a young immigrant from Naples who never learned to read, started a bakery on Wooster Street with his wife, Filomena. Eventually, around 1925, they began serving thin-crusted, coal-fired tomato pies topped with a bit of grated cheese, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, and, if you liked, anchovies, to make it a proper pizza Napoletana, in the earliest, most original sense.
Today, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana has restaurants all over the region, but you can still get that same pizza, still coal-fired, nice and thin but always a little chewy, the way a New Haven pizza should be, and it is still, and very likely will be for years to come, one of the finest in the country, as will the one you should try at Sally's Apizza (say ah-beets), also coal-fired. Just down the street, Sally's was founded in the 1930s by Salvatore Consiglio. The blackened edges contrasting with that blood red sauce is breathtaking, before you even bite in.
Chances are, however, you're in the market for a more modern New Haven classic—the white pie topped with freshly-shucked littleneck clams. While Pepe's has achieved the most fame, the one at Zuppardi's Apizza in West Haven has been a sleeper hit for years. Incidentally, their tomato pie ($7.50 for 14 inches), which is said to be founder Anthony Zuppardi's favorite pizza, topped only with grated Pecorino Romano and a bit of fresh garlic, feels like it was delivered from a different era. It is also one of the most essential pizzas being made in the New Haven area today.
There's so much more to be said about New Haven pizza, but there are also other cities and towns in Connecticut. Derby, for example, is home to the near-ancient (okay, since 1935) Roseland Apizza, flashing its vintage neon to a mostly quiet residential neighborhood that grew up on their giant pies, ranging from the humble tomato to over-the-top pizzas loaded with way too much fresh seafood.
For some, there's only one kind of pizza in Connecticut, or at least only one best pizza in Connecticut: the unbelievably thin (and yet somehow still chewy) bar pies at the Colony Grill in Stamford, also around since the end of the Great Depression. This is easy pizza to eat; the sauce and cheese practically bake down into the crust by the time it comes to your table, with a hot pepper in the middle, known around here as a stinger. For the full effect, order your pizza with a drizzle of hot oil. It's spicy, but it's more about the flavor than the heat. New York is about an hour in one direction, New Haven the same in the other—here, it's like neither of them exist, and as long as you're eating this pizza, and possibly for a long time afterward, you might not even care.
Not all of the good Connecticut pizza is ancient. One of the best clam pies in the state right now comes from Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Mystic, a superbly likable modern addition to that town's growing culinary scene.
3. New York
There has always been very good pizza in New York City, and there most likely always will be, but a couple of decades into the complete remake of American food, and after years of rising rents, we find ourselves at a crossroads.
What kind of pizza city are we going to be, in the future? Right now, that's anybody's guess, and like so much else in New York, it feels like the outcome has everything to do with money. Before the pandemic, everything that made the city one of the most alluring destinations on the planet put the local pizza culture at a distinct disadvantage. It is hardly covering new territory to point out that one of the city's main attributes is tripping over the present to see what's next.
In a town so intently forward-focused, so many of our historic institutions have succumbed to one malady or another, from mass tourism to simple mission drift. To say the pandemic laid things bare is an understatement; some of our one-time greats have become so undependable, you wonder how long they'll survive. Right now, John's of Bleecker, which opened in 1929, remains the most vital link to the past. With the world no longer beating a path to its door, the restaurant feels like the quaint, West Village hangout it once was. The coal-fired pizzas, remarkably thin-crusted, but never dry or brittle, are as pure as they come. Staring into the face of one of the beautiful, classic pies, you can easily see the origins of the modern New York style.
Long before the pandemic, New York's aggressive self-belief in its own pizza had started to seem a little dated. Roughly fifteen years ago, when the New York Times said that the best pizza in America was in another state entirely, there was outrage. By 2017, when the paper said that the best pizza in New York was probably in Jersey City, people mostly seemed to want to know how long it would take them to get there on the PATH train.
There have been bright spots in recent years, let's not forget. There's Mark Iacono's inimitable Lucali in Carroll Gardens, which even now is still a pain to get into. Roberta's, which had people trekking to Bushwick all through the recession, was there once again during the pandemic, this time for takeout. They weren't the only ones innovating their way through the mess—since last spring, a whole crop of new ventures have come online, from pizza pop-ups by accomplished chefs to winning new slice joints.
Speaking of—could the slice, in fact, be our savior? Through good times and bad, the overwhelming availability of a decent-to-exceptional piece of pizza continues to set New York well apart from the rest. Back in 1975, when the genre wasn't much worth celebrating, Pino Pozzuoli raised the bar at Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street, offering a more careful version of the city's most popular street food, with the perfect (and all-important) ratio of crust to sauce (never too much, you don't want drippage) to cheese (same). There are now multiple Joe's locations, and they are all fine; Carmine Street, however, is where you go, should you wish to understand not only what the New York slice is all about, but also why New Yorkers love it so much.
And there are so many to love, nowadays. Whatever the future holds, a sustained movement toward a better slice appears to be here to stay. What Joe's was to the 1970s, Scarr's Pizza on the Lower East Side is to the present. Scarr Pimentel grew up eating New York pizza, and worked at a number of high-profile establishments before setting out to reinvent a classic: milling wheat in the basement, subjecting the dough to the long fermentation process, using only the best ingredients. One bite of a plain slice here, and you'll have a hard time settling for less.
Not that you have to. There's still work to be done, but it's possible to see a time when far-above-average could become the norm, all across the city. For example, head next to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, land of the sloppy dollar slice. In the middle of it all, you'll find Upside Pizza, turning pie after high-quality pie out of their brick-lined oven, just around the corner from Times Square. (They opened a second location in Nolita, during the pandemic.) On the Upper West Side, at Mama's Too!, every plain slice is scattered with fresh basil leaves and a final shower of cheese before being handed over the counter, the crust cracking open in a thunderclap at first bite, collapsing into a light, chewy, beautifully-balanced crust. On it goes—there is the now-legendary Hellboy slice, an indulgent, intensely craveable marriage of sopressata and hot honey at Paulie Gee's Slice Shop in Greenpoint, the seriously underrated cheese slices prepared with love and care at Philomena's in Sunnyside, and the astonishingly good, high-quality squares coming from Corner Slice, always worth a walk to 11th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen.
Beyond the suburbs, the city wields relatively little influence on the state's pizza culture. A couple of hours north, and you're in another world entirely, or make that worlds. In Schenectady, it's thick slices of tomato pie at Perecca's Bakery, celebrating a century in business. Utica has kept O'Scugnizzo's around since 1914, with expats calling in for shipments of their tomato-forward pizzas with cornmeal-dusted crusts. In Syracuse, they cut their thin-crust pies into long strips at Twin Trees, and then there's Buffalo, for the thick boi pizzas, topped with pepperoni cups, long before it was cool, at Bocce Club, opened in 1946 and still run by the Pacciotti family.
There is a right way and an incorrect way to argue for Chicago pizza, and even the genre's most ardent supporters can get it wrong. There exists, after all, no one style of deep-dish pizza. Nowadays, you have countless kinds lumped together under a giant mountain of Wisconsin mozzarella, like so many splinter groups within the Baptist faith. Classic, stuffed, pan pizza—they are all quite different, and you won't know which one is right for you, until you get there.
Things were simpler, back in the day. Said to have been invented by Ike Sewell at Pizzeria Uno, back during World War II, deep dish used to be a relatively modest affair. Semolina added to wheat flour gave the crust, typically rich in butter or oil, its signature yellow hue. Other than that, it's much like a regular pizza, but in a different order—sausage and fresh peppers, then fresh mozzarella cheese, topped with generous amounts of tomato sauce. Height-wise, your original deep-dish pie would not be all that formidable.
Then things took a turn, somehow. Even though the classic pizza at Lou Malnati's remains close to the original ideal, popular, often over-stuffed monstrosities began to define the genre, for worse or for better.
One of the earliest arrivals on the modern scene was Burt Katz, who opened his first pizzeria in the early 1960s. Katz preferred to call his version "pan pizza," and over time became famous for his crusts, which achieved a distinctive caramelization during the baking process, thanks to the slices of mozzarella carefully tucked down along the edges.
Katz was famously the founder of Pequod's, which for many is the beginning and end of the pan pizza conversation (or deep-dish in general, for that matter), but Burt's Place in Morton Grove, which he opened in 1989, after selling Pequod's, feels more like Katz country, even after a recent retooling. (Lefty's Pizza in Wilmette, founded by one of the original partners in the recent Burt's reboot, is a fine option on the North Shore.)
People eat a great deal of pizza here, and you can ask anybody who's tried—one is only able to indulge in so much deep-dish at a time. Most pizzerias in the region, in fact, sell the absolute opposite—the thinnest of the thin-crust, always square-cut, like so much other pizza throughout the Midwest. A hungry person could down an entire round by themselves. You'll find great versions at Pat's Pizza, serving Lincoln Park for the better part of a century, at Marie's Pizza and Liquors in Mayfair, since 1940, where you will find strolling musicians on the weekends, at least in normal times. There's Pizza Castle in Gage Park, and Fasano's in suburban Bridgeview, too, but nobody quite comes close to thin crust essential-ness like Vito & Nick's, a gloriously classic tavern on the far Southwest Side, where the granddaughter of Vito and the daughter of Nick, Rose Baracco George, runs the show. They've been using the same dough recipe since the 1940s, and nearly everyone goes for the sausage.
That's not the end, however. There are so many other styles to be appreciated in this part of the world. Square slices, of all different kinds, have been a thing here for generations, and in very recent times have enjoyed a considerable comeback. Honor tradition at D'Amato's, going for generations in West Town, or better yet, at Freddy's Pizza & Grocery in suburban Cicero, historically one of the more Italian places in America. Their Sicilian pies have remained a neighborhood staple.
Trace the lineage of modern-day Neopolitan pizza in America and soon enough you'll soon come across Jonathan Goldsmith's Spacca Napoli. There's still an attention to detail here that is so often lacking in other, newer restaurants working with the style.
Don't leave town without poking your head into recent import Bonci, straight from Rome—pizza al taglio could be the next big thing, and you might as well be introduced via the real deal. Crust-centric but nice and light, and topped with all sorts of different seasonal finds, this is pizza that's beautiful to look at, as well as eat.
Not much more than a decade ago, most Americans didn't know that Detroit had its own style of pizza, which never really made sense—it wasn't like Michigan didn't know how to export an idea, after all; Domino's, headquartered in Ann Arbor, had only grown to become the largest pizza chain on the planet. (Domino's is, quite definitely, the very opposite of a good Detroit pizza.)
And yet, somehow, we got there, finally—nowadays, Detroit's square pies, with their distinctive crispy edges, plenty of Wisconsin brick cheese, and a quality tomato sauce on top, are cropping up all over. In more than one other state on this list, it's some of the best pizza being made right now. Detroit pizza goes back to 1946, when Gus and Anna Guerra introduced the city to the style at Buddy's on Conant and McNichols. Guerra split amicably from the restaurant a decade or so later, opening his own place in Eastpointe. These days, if you're not loyal to Buddy's, which is now a regional chain (the original being the best), chances are you're loyal to Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant. Unless, of course, you're a diehard Loui's Pizza fan; since 1977, the musty, cozy, family-owned restaurant has been a staple in Detroit-adjacent Hazel Park, serving up one of the heartiest versions of the style. Not that there hasn't been any movement in recent years. One of the best new versions comes from the recently opened Michigan & Trumbull, where two Detroit natives have sensitively updated the template, introducing some excellent topping combinations, and paying close attention to ingredients. Regular pies are a steal for as little as $10. For more on the vibrant, ever-evolving Detroit pizza scene, check out our city guide for more of the most exciting new additions to the landscape.
Don't neglect the rest of the state—Fricano's wafer-thin pies have been the pride of Grand Haven since before anybody else in the state was serving pizza, based out of an 1800s era boarding house; the slightly thicker style has been a hit at Mr. Scrib's, in Muskegon and Grand Haven, for generations.
The first thing to know about pizza in California is that it did not, in fact, begin at Spago in the 1980s, when Wolfgang Puck began topping pies with smoked salmon and goat cheese and what have you. It did not begin, either, with California Pizza Kitchen, later that decade. In fact, it didn't start anywhere in Southern California, but rather up north, many years before.
The first Italians arrived here during colonial times, long before California was a state, and things pretty much snowballed from there. In the late 1800s, there were more Italian immigrants on the West Coast than in all of New England. Many landed in San Francisco, where North Beach was, and remains today, a center of Italian-Californian culture. Here, you find Tommaso's, the first pizzeria on the West Coast, dating back to 1935, right around the time cities like New Haven, Connecticut, were getting serious about pizza. This is to say, Tommaso's, by American standards, is very old, still firing up its vintage wood-fired brick oven to cook rather formidable classic pizzas.
Not that progress hasn't been made. San Francisco practically invented the modern sit-down pizza restaurant, an idea that spread rather rapidly throughout the country over a decade ago. The groundbreaking A16 bounced onto the scene in 2004, before everyone was buzzing about pizza again, then came the ingredient-centric Pizzeria Delfina in 2008, followed by Flour & Water in 2009, still among the finest of the wave of artisanal, wood-fired pizzerias that followed.
Every year since, it has always seemed like somebody's up to something interesting, and often very good, but it wasn't until 2015 until Tony Gemignani, a Bay Area native raised on a farm where they grew apricots, that thing got exciting in North Beach again. These days, it feels like so much longer since Tony's Pizza Napoletana opened. Feeling every bit as chummy and laid back as a bustling parlor in suburban New York City, Gemignani and crew are remarkably adept at doing justice to well over a dozen regional styles of American pizza. The signature pie is one of the most meticulous recreations of a Neapolitan pie you will find, anywhere.
Los Angeles' journey from pizza semi-desert to enthusiastic laboratory can be traced back to 2006 when Nancy Silverton opened Pizzeria Mozza at Melrose and Highland. She may now be playing on an extraordinary crowded field (some of the contenders she's an investor in) but this is still one of the West Coast's most essential (and unique) pies. For our complete guide to the best pizza in Los Angeles, click here.
A while back, an enterprising trade publication put out a list, one that somebody ought to update at some point, ranking the places in the country with the highest number of pizzerias per capita. At the top of the list was the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre region, which likely would not have achieved such a prestigious score without the town of Old Forge, nestled into the hills between the two cities.
Serving a population of less than 8,000, you have at least a dozen pizzerias, most of them selling rectangular trays (that's local speak for a whole pie, a slice is called a "cut") of simple, soft, Sicilian-esque cheese (Wisconsin white cheddar) pizza, with well-oiled crusts that end up nice and crisp at the bottom. If you grow up with Old Forge pizza, which came onto the landscape about a century ago now, you tend to think a great deal of the stuff, even if others do not. The town recently decided to promote itself as The Pizza Capital of The World, and if anybody was laughing, that didn't stop it from happening—you can take your picture next to the sign on Main Street, while you wait for your pizza at Arcaro & Genell, where a giant, 12-cut tray goes for $15.
Pizza is always personal, but in Pennsylvania, it can be an intensely local affair. Old Forge is no more than five miles from downtown Scranton, and here already, you will find people rolling their eyes in the general direction of the neighbors, and their weird ideas about layering chopped raw onions beneath the sauce, which is a very Old Forge move. Imagine then, what happens when you start to travel even further into the state, or south to Philadelphia, where you will find plenty of people who do not know that Old Forge even exists.
This is understandable. Philadelphia is one of those intensely lucky cities that not only has an overwhelming amount of pizza, but is also, stylistically, all over the map. Whatever your mood, somebody is doing it, and chances are they are doing it incredibly well. From spartan square slices brought out from underneath the counter at the fantastically dingy La Rosa Pizzeria in South Philly to the saucy pies that have been coming out of the oven at Tacconelli's in Port Richmond since 1948, there's plenty of the classic stuff to love, but more than in most Northeast cities, recent developments can be equally exciting, if not more. It has been nearly a decade since Joe Beddia opened his pocket-sized pizzeria on Girard Avenue in Fishtown, setting the wheels for the current renaissance more or less in motion. Today, Pizzeria Beddia, with its neo-Neapolitan pies topped with a tangy aged alpine cheese made in Pennsylvania, is practically old itself. It's now a full-blown restaurant, a few blocks away, and in its place, Pizza Shackamaxon sells some of the city's best New York-style slices. For our complete guide to the best Philadelphia pizza, click here.
Don't get stuck, because there's only the rest of the state to contend with. Grab a slice of Philly-style tomato pie, an unglamorous but beautiful square of bread smeared with sauce, and maybe kissed with a little cheese from the shaker, typically served room temperature as a snack, at the absolute relic Conshohocken Bakery in Conshohocken, or better still, at Corropolese Bakery & Deli in Norristown. Then, head west. If you're curious, you can stop in the central part of the state for square cuts from the drive-thru at Best Way, another hyper-regional favorite, or in Johnstown for formidable regular pies at Old Franco, a low-slung shack on the fringe of town painted like the Italian flag.
Ultimately, however, your destination is Pittsburgh, which has a little bit of everything, and a lot of provolone to put on top of nearly all of it. Not so much at Il Pizzaiolo on Mount Lebanon, slinging Neapolitan-style pies to discerning locals since the 1990s, but definitely at Beto's, where the square slices get piled high with shaved cheese after they come out of the oven; the restaurant goes through more than 500 pounds of provolone on a busy day.
Surely not for much longer now, but throughout last winter and up to as recently as a few weeks ago, the visitor to Boston's historic (and extremely Italian) North End would most likely have had the streets nearly to themselves, particularly earlier in the day, before the neighborhood really started to wake up. One thing seems to be back to normal, however—before opening its doors in the morning, usually shortly before 11, there is now nearly always a line in front of Galleria Umberto.
Not that this is such a bad thing—a little bit of standing around can be good, the better to get to know the old-timer regulars, some of them not so patiently waiting for the appearance of the first of the Sicilian-style pies the Dauterio family has been known for, dating back to their arrival from Avelino in the 1950s. Now, as before, you don't wait too long to show up—the restaurant, if one can even call it that, still sells out, even in the absence of the armies of slumming office workers that typically spill into the neighborhood from the Financial District. Come much past noon, and it might mean no pizza, no arancini, no panzarotti or calzones for you.
The cavernous Hanover Street shop, which seems to have not changed much since they started serving here in the mid-1970s, has all the charm of a small town bus station from the era—barely lit, barely furnished, ugly tile floors. This is a cash-only establishment. Luckily, everything about Umberto's is a trip back in time, including the prices, and you'll only need a couple of bucks to eat well. There's nothing revolutionary about the pizza here—thick squares, with a nice crunch down below, tomato sauce, unremarkable cheese, baked until tiger spotted, but that's not the point. In the new and improved Boston, Umberto's offers a welcome reminder that keeping with the times might not only be overrated, but furthermore, if you're really good at what you do, the times can go dump themselves into the harbor.
A maze of one-way streets away, Regina Pizzeria has gone in the opposite direction. One of the country's older pizza joints, opened in 1926 with a relic of an oven dating back to the late 1800s, there are now pizzerias Regina in mall food courts and strip centers throughout the region, and most of them are a disaster. The Thacher Street original, however, remains as good as gold. Here, they still use that same brick oven, even if it hasn't burned coal in nearly a century. The classic, neo-Neapolitan pies that come out of there won't change your life, but they're often astonishingly good, displaying far more attention to detail than many a similar pizza found a few hours down I-95, starting with dough from a nearly century-old family recipe, and ending with generous amounts of whole milk mozzarella on top.
Who makes the best pizza in Boston? Depends on who you ask, but this list is not a democracy, and that honor easily goes to Santarpio's in East Boston; in now-times drive barely five minutes by tunnel (and a world apart) from the North End. Thanks to a relatively obscure location, even normally, you don't get the same kind of crowds here. During the last year, you could park right on the block, place an order through your phone, and slip through the back entrance into the kitchen to pick up your pizza barely fifteen minutes later. Starting out around the turn of the last century as a bakery, the pizzas to this day have a baker's touch, with a scraggly, blistered, almost Italian bread-like crust that doesn't shy away from the spotlight—a balanced sauce takes center stage, rather literally, never overpowered by the cheese; the plain pies are outstanding, pies with lots of the house sausage are even better.
Boston likes to play the field, but Massachusetts is home to at least three very distinctive regional styles, the first being Greek pizza, which for these purposes is only Greek in the sense that it was invented by a Greek guy who opened a pizzeria somewhere in New England. A Greek pie is a crust-forward affair, thick but when done correctly, never a stodgefest; the tomato sauce will be insignificant, and the cheese will be a blend of mozzarella, typically cut liberally with cheddar. You will find this style in every corner of the state, from The Berkshires to The Cape, where it's George's Pizza House in Harwich Port you want.
From here, things get downright strange, but in the best possible way. Generations of South Shore Boston natives grow up loyal to their own local style, typically called bar pizza. Buttery, soft crusts could almost be used to make a decent tart, and at classic taverns like the Lynwood in Randolph, they're sometimes filled with salami and baked beans, a house specialty. You think you're going to hate it, and then you try it, and maybe not the beans again, but even a plain pie, topped with blistery cheddar cheese—tremendous. Similar story, way up on the other side of Boston, where summers (and anytime, really) are all about beach pizza—thin squares topped with sweet tomato sauce and provolone cheese. Don't knock them until you've tried one, or two, or three, or four, at originator Tripoli Bakery in Lawrence and elsewhere. Cristy's Pizza in Salisbury Beach is the friendly competition.
Unsuspecting visitors to Steubenville have been known to walk out of DiCarlo's Pizza more than a little confused, which is understandable, because Ohio Valley pizza is not the pizza most Americans (or anybody, really) will be used to. It goes back to World War II, when a young Primo DiCarlo came home from the front inspired to recreate something he'd eaten in Italy, and convinced his parents, who had been running an Italian grocery in the city since the turn of the century, to give it a whirl. The pizza DiCarlo's serves today is focaccia-like, crunchy on the bottom crust, nice and airy, with an exceedingly simple sauce of quality California tomatoes, and then, what's this, a mountain of uncooked toppings? Confounding some, infuriating others, and making the rest of us terribly happy, the best introduction to one of the country's most hyper-regional styles will be keeping it brutally simple, with just a little of the aged provolone on top—try a slice for contrast between the grated cheese and the cooked base, and if you're not a fan, just close the box and wait a few minutes. See? All better now. There are locations throughout the region, and this is still very much a family affair, now into the third generation of DiCarlos. At the distinctive, mid-century Pizza Inn flagship—look for the neon sign out along Sunset Boulevard—you'll often find plenty of locals eating their slices (a steal at $0.95 each) in the parking lot.
The great thing about Ohio is there's more where that came from. Pizza-wise, this is as balkanized a state as you will find, each city and region very much into their own style. The other great thing about Ohio is that most of these styles remain a complete mystery to the outside world. If you love pizza and think you've seen it all, we'll raise you, say, Youngstown, where Brier Hill-style pizza, named for the local Little Italy that thrived during the city's industrial heyday, is legendary among everyone who grew up on slices sold at church pizza sales, which are a thing around here. This is blissfully simple stuff, a thick but never leaden crust, topped with rich, red sauce, bell peppers, and a shower of Romano cheese. The originator of the style, St. Anthony of Padua, in the old neighborhood, still holds weekly pizza sales (you'll have to reserve in advance), but anytime is a good time for a Brier Hill pie at Wedgwood Pizza. Owner Fernando Riccioni recently turned 90, but you'll still see him around the three area locations (try the Austintown original, first).
From here, things get slightly less esoteric, but no less worthwhile. In Cleveland, there are pan-style pizzas topped with a provolone at institutions like Geraci's in University Heights, now over a half-century old, or Mama Santa's, in the city's Little Italy. Things thin down considerably in Columbus, home of the Johnny Marzetti noodle-beef-cheese casserole, in case you needed a reminder that the Midwest really does start here. Terita's does the regional style proudest, operating out of its little North End bunker for more than 60 years now. This is definitely a thin-crust town, but the dough at Terita's has never been an afterthought. By the time you get to Dayton, another town that's incredibly proud of its pizza, you're down to the bare, cracker-crust walls, loaded up with toppings. Locals like to debate big names like Cassano's (which used to automatically salt the bottom of the crust before baking) and Marian's Piazza, but it's one-offs like Pappa's Pizza Palace in Miamisburg (and Joe's back in Dayton, if you like a slightly thicker crust) that work the hardest. On and on it goes. There's Hamilton, where the pizzerias are also known for their fruit pies (try both Chester's and Milillo's, both local institutions). There's Akron, where the salads you order with your pizzas are mostly grated cheese. And we haven't even gotten around to the overwhelming number of regional chains that, for many Ohioans, are the first and last word in best local pizza, depending on—of course—which chain they grew up with.
At some point, however, you'll be happy to snap back to the pizza present, and there have been some impressive new developments—there are the lovely, neo-Neapolitan pies at Il Rione, one of Cleveland's best restaurants, summer nights and Margherita pizzas on the patio at Harlow in Lakewood; Cincinnati, one of the more pizza-deprived corners of the state, finally did the right thing and outsourced to a certain pizza capital, just a few hours up I-75—Taglio makes one of the finest Detroit-style pies you'll try in a state where they teach you to roll your eyes at Michigan from birth.
As with so many other processed foods introduced into the American diet during the 20th century, the inventors of Provel cheese, key ingredient to a St. Louis-style pizza, were most likely convinced that they were doing a good thing. Created right after World War II for a local grocer, the idea was that everybody loved pizza, except for that pesky real mozzarella (yes, seriously). Great cheese and all, sure, but it was really hard to get a clean bite, and back then, people hadn't yet figured out that photos of cheese pulls made great content. What, the inventors wondered, if there were a pizza cheese that melted like no other?
Like an early, food-focused version of those disrupters in Silicon Valley, sitting around answering questions nobody was actually asking, they came up with a highly-processed blend of provolone, Swiss, and cheddar, packaged it in giant bricks, and the rest is pizza history. Provel melts alright, at low temperatures even, and it looks great when the pizza, otherwise just your usual Midwest, cracker-thin, party-cut pie, comes hot out of the oven.
Founded in 1964 and now boasting approximately 100 stores, Imo's is the most high-profile Provel pusher; the right way to eat a St. Louis pie is to load your pizza up with stuff. Not just any stuff—follow everyone else's lead and get a Deluxe pie, overloaded with sausage, bacon, and veggies; it's a killer combo of tastes and textures. You'll see why St. Louisans love their pizza so much, to the point where they order it over the internet, once they move to other places.
Few practitioners will be found fussing over one of America's most divisive regional pizza styles quite so thoroughly as the Faraci brothers, Pete and Vince Faraci, who own Faraci's Pizza in Manchester (the family started out in Ferguson in the 1960s, but sold that location back in the 1990s). To the uninitiated, the pizzas might once again look much like any other Midwest thin-crust, but the amount of work that goes into these pizzas is astonishing. Three days to make the dough, sauce from scratch, meats processed on premises, and a brick-bottom oven for the bake. Yes, the cheese is Provel, but there's a little sprinkling of Pecorino Romano at the end, just to class things up. If you don't get St. Louis pizza after eating one of these lovingly made pies, you may just be in the wrong city.
Supposing you're now on board, continue your education at Frank & Helen's in University City, a mid-century pizza parlor complete with the lamps and wood paneling and everything. Newer on the scene but also widely appreciated is Liliana's Italian Kitchen, a comforting St. Louis-style red sauce joint, where you can opt for a blend of mozzarella and Provel on your pizzas, or skip the Provel altogether, which these days is not all that unusual. At the terrific little Melo's Pizzeria, they make a great, very modern tomato pie, with just a hint of Grana Padano. Pizza nights at the city's most up-to-date bakery, Union Loafers, were a smash hit during the pandemic, and same with the admirable Neapolitan pies at Noto Italian Restaurant in St. Peters, a lifeline for a restaurant that had opened only months before everything went kaboom.
The Best of the Rest:
Like many of us, Marco Butturini had a tough year. The Veneto-born, 20-year veteran of some of the South's most decorated restaurants (Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega, Chez Fonfon) had finally gone out on his own, opening Le Fresca at the very end of February 2020. His brother, a partner in the business, had to make a quick trip home to Italy shortly thereafter, landing him right in the middle of the pandemic, with no way to get out. Call it the ultimate test, or tests, which the restaurant, centered around a handsome wood-burning oven, has so far passed with flying colors. If you're looking for suggestions, the sausage is made in-house.
Of course, it didn't take an Italian to get Birmingham hooked on pizza—ask the generations of locals who practically grew up on the arcade games and thin, cheesy, party-cut pies at Davenport Pizza Palace in Mountain Brook, the kind of place where you always half-expect a little league team to burst through the doors in a celebratory mood.
Beau Schooler used to surprise the hell out of unsuspecting visitors to Juneau, not a few of them desperate for something good after days on a cruise ship, with his work-of-art, wood-fired Neapolitan pies at In Bocca al Lupo, a rustic Italian spot serving the last thing you might expect to find in this part of the world. How gratifying to see the restaurant powering through what had to be one of the worst years for Alaskan tourism, of all time—then again, the locals always knew what they had on their hands: one of the best restaurants in the state.
No pandemic was going to stop Anchorage from turning up to the Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria, a fixture on the local pizza landscape since the 1990s, when rock climbers Rod Hancock and Matt Jones opened up shop in a space much smaller than the one you find today. Grab a buzzer and wait your turn. (Don't skip the smoked salmon spread.)
Picture it: Phoenix, 1987. A young Chris Bianco leaves New York to start a new life in the desert and ends up slinging pies in a supermarket to make rent. The late-1980s were different times—this was the decade of Spago, of people making jokes about goat cheese. It was the age of the barbecue chicken pie at California Pizza Kitchen. New York was on the outs—the New York Times would later pronounce the era a dark one for New York City pizza culture, going so far as to say it had been on life-support. Who knows, things could have been very different if the Bronx-born Bianco had stayed, but would the city, at the time in the throes of addiction to the cheap and quick and easy, have known what to do with Bianco's exemplary approach to quality and execution? Phoenix sure did, and don't you forget it.
Since 1994, Pizzeria Bianco has been one of the most important, best-loved restaurants in the Southwest, inspiring countless pizza makers across the country (and the world) to raise their game, and keep it there. In Flagstaff, duck into the tiny Pizzicletta for wood-fired pies made by geologist-turned-pizza geek Caleb Schiff, who cycled across Italy and came home determined to master the craft.
Hot Springs isn't the first place you expect to find one of those fancy pizzerias where the tomatoes are imported from Napoli, and you're supposed to reserve your dough during busy periods to avoid disappointment, but Brooklyn expat Anthony Valinoti isn't your average Arkansan, not that there's anything wrong with that. The big, beautiful pies at DeLuca's are cooked at 725 degrees in a custom brick oven—they're Neapolitan style, but also New York style, in that they're well-structured, unpretentious, and generous. Little Rock and Conway got lucky with Zaza, a smart spot for nice, Neapolitan-inspired pies; get yours topped with ham and bacon from Petit Jean Meats, an Arkansas favorite for a century and counting.
There are plenty of cities that have only recently acquired a serious pizza culture, but few have seized on the idea quite so urgently as Denver, currently doing the most to make up for lost time. Every American neighborhood, for starters, deserves a spot like Pizzeria Lui, where a local baker works the wood-fired Acunto oven, turning out Neapolitan-meets-Mountain State pies from a converted liquor store in an unglamorous part of town. With bench seating and a casual atmosphere, it's the kind of pizza place you bring the kids, when the kids are ready to learn about great pizza. Ask for some of the house hot sauce, which goes great on everything. (Temporarily closed for renovations.) For the downtown-bound, two locations of the smart Cart-Driver serve up a nicely-blistered margherita pie, complemented by Prosecco on tap. Back before Detroit-style pizza was everywhere, it was getting raves at Blue Pan Pizza, with two locations in Denver.
Your Delaware pizza education will be brief, but memorable, and if you are lucky it will happen in Rehoboth Beach on a beautiful summer evening, just steps from the sand. That's when the walk-up windows at the approximately half-dozen locations of Grotto Pizza (a slight exaggeration, okay) and Nicola Pizza (just two locations) will likely be the heart of the street-side action, everybody lining up for slices topped with cheddar cheese and swirls of sweet tomato sauce at Grotto's, and for the Nic-O-Boli at Nicola's, a lava bomb of beef and cheese and pizza sauce barely contained by an oven-charred envelope of tasty crust. Grotto's will proudly tell you that only a handful of people have ever learned the secret of the dough, which bubbles up beautifully around the edges during the cook. Anybody who leaves their crusts behind is wrong.
There are plenty of Europeans who wished they lived in Florida—some of them are making moves to do just that—and the odds are good that a few of them are Italians who will open pizzerias, or at least that is how it seems these days. All apologies to the Northeast pie guys trading on their heritage down here, but when you want the best, just go somewhere they speak Italian, the modern kind, like Mister 01 in Miami, named for the O-1 Visa granted to Renato Viola, a well-regarded pizza maker from the old country who came to the United States because some very smart person in government decided we needed his pizza skills. From humble beginnings, the restaurant has grown to five locations in the region—the better for everyone to have access to Viola's delicious and distinctive star-cornered pies, with pockets of creamy ricotta cheese. Giovanni Gagliardi comes from pizza royalty in Caserta; in Miami Beach, he opened La Leggenda, said to be Gagliardi's nickname back home. The terrific Neapolitan pies ought to answer any questions you might have.
Need proof that good pizza can and does happen pretty much anywhere in America? Take a little trip down to Savannah, where you will find Pennsylvania native Kyle Jacovino fastidiously recreating the Neapolitan pizzas of his Italian travel dreams at Pizzeria Vittoria, which operates out of a shipping container, facing a beautiful garden courtyard, in a part of Savannah tourists have yet to overrun. These pizzas, very often works of art, might have been the last thing you were expecting to eat in this city; right now, they ought to be near the top of your list.
Georgia has something of a track record for manifesting good pizza into existence, where there was none to speak of before. The Bronx-born Jeff Varasano opened Varasano's in Atlanta, back in 2009, with a plan to replicate his favorite New York pizza and serve it to the masses; it worked, and then some. Around that same time, Italian expat Giovanni Di Palma opened Antico Pizza Napoletana, serving puffy Neapolitans to go. The business has evolved considerably over the years, but this is still one of the South's best.
Great pizza isn't as difficult to find in the Aloha State as you might think. A decade ago now, people were eating beautiful pies out of a very pricey Ferrara oven at Prima in Kailua like it was nothing, but sadly that didn't last. The restaurant closed in 2019 (who inherited that oven, we wonder) and O'ahu's Neapolitan pizza-loving crowd was forced to look elsewhere. Brick Fire Tavern, which opened Chinatown in 2019, and moved during the pandemic, fits the bill for a lot of people, but for us it's pizza guy James Orlando's Fatto a Mano, a mobile operation that has proved itself during the last couple of years as one of the most essential operations in the state.
Dan Guild rode into Boise back in the early aughts from his native New Haven with a promise of good pizza. After spending an extraordinary amount of time working to get it right, Guild delivered and then some; Casanova Pizzeria serves the kind of pies that your average Idahoan had perhaps never seen, no offense. Look, it wasn't every day you found a serious Napoletana, as in, the real thing, with anchovies, but Boise not only responded, it fell in love, leaving so many pizza lovers heartbroken when the first shop ended up closing. The story ends happily, however, like a good Hollywood movie. After too many years away, Guild is back, Casanova is back, and right in the middle of the pandemic to boot, when the city needed him most. Where were the pizza lovers eating, in the interim? No doubt more than a few of the pies—a pleasing cross between New York-style and Neapolitan—at Tony's Pizza Teatro, another local favorite.
Indiana is bordered at length by three of Food & Wine's Top 10 Pizza States in America, so it doesn't take a brain genius to figure out that Hoosiers eat a ton of the stuff themselves; some of it is good, or even spectacular. While the occasional exception can be made in other regions, Northwest Indiana—the part of the state where you can hop on a suburban train and be in Chicago in no time—is where most of the magic tends to happen, whether you're talking the sturdy, generously topped thin-crust at Doreen's in Dyer (with a sister restaurant just over the state line), or crusty, careful wood-fired pies at Stop 50, Chris and Kristy Bardol's modern classic tucked into the woodsy Michiana Shores community, where a walk down to the lake might land you in neighboring Michigan. The dough is made from an heirloom sourdough starter, and the pies are generous and beautiful to look at. The style, let's call it modern thin crust, is very different at The Rolling Stonebaker in Valparaiso, the artistry nearly as impressive.
Your first scissor-cut strip of Quad Cities pizza will most assuredly not be your last, not if you can help it. With a distinctive, crispy-chewy crust rich in malt and molasses, generous heaps of crumbled lean sausage (the classic topper) shrouded in low-moisture mozzarella, and a conservative amount of spicy, fragrant tomato sauce hidden way down at the base, this isn't the pizza you're used to—chances are, it's better. One of the country's strongest regional pizza styles remains, however, one of the hardest to find off its home turf, which is the part of Iowa shared culturally with neighboring Illinois. At the great Harris Pizza, where never-frozen dough is hand-stretched, they still use custom-made mozzarella and a fresh, locally-made blend of sausage seasoned lightly with fennel and red and black pepper. The restaurant started out in Rock Island, Illinois, and still thrives there, but these days, it is outnumbered by branch locations just over the Mississippi River, where it competes with other locally loved names like Uncle Bill's Pizza, and proper dive bar Gunchie's, tucked away in a quiet Davenport neighborhood, turning out some of the best pizzas in that city.
With a modest loan from Mom, brothers Frank and Dan Carney opened a pizza place in Wichita, back in 1958, by the name of Pizza Hut. It would grow to become the world's biggest pizza restaurant brand, a distinction it enjoyed until relatively recently. (Domino's squeaked past them, a few years back.) Since the heady peak-Hut era, back when you dined in, and they had those great salad bars, and kids across America were furiously reading enough books to earn a free personal pan pizza, Kansas has kind of been coasting, not that there aren't some great candidates for a broader audience. In Kansas City, there's 1889 Pizza, a modern mom-and-pop operation, making some of the finest pizza—wood-fired, Neapolitan-style—on either side of the state line. Here, they need two tiled ovens in order to meet demand. On the other end of the culinary spectrum, there's the classic Old Shawnee Pizza, a suburban KC staple for decades. Their claim to fame? A crab rangoon pie. Anyone who spends much time in Lawrence inevitably ends up at Limestone Pizza, where instead of carelessly tossing a few basil leaves on top, they drizzle basil oil, which packs a serious flavor wallop.
From downtown Louisville, it's a pleasant walk across the Ohio River (via the old Big Four Bridge, converted in modern times from railroad to pedestrian use) to the birthplace—Jeffersonville, Indiana, 1984—of Papa John's. At times that seems like it might be Louisville's go-to pizza, given all the branch locations you see, driving around town. A good few years before all that, however, Benny Impellizzeri was working a string of pizza ovens in the city, introducing his own restaurant, Impellizzeri's back in the late 1970s. To this day, even after a short closure back in the mid-aughts, the pizzas here remain a firm Louisville favorite. The Sicilian-style deep dish, your best bet on the menu, is like a high-walled swimming pool filled with cheese and toppings. If it's modern, glamour-puss pizza you're after, look to Camporosso in Fort Mitchell, just a short hop from downtown Cincinnati. They've been known to confound the odd local with their gorgeous, often admirably true-to-style Neapolitans.
New Orleans had more pizza than you might expect prior to 2012, when the New York expats behind Pizza Delicious launched their weekly pop-up, but the year was definitely a watershed moment; a brick-and-mortar in the Bywater followed soon after, and these days, Pizza D, as it's widely known, can be found slinging well-balanced slices and properly gigantic pies that would fit in just fine up north. For something very local, head to Creole Italian legend Venezia's in Mid-City (look for the fantastic old neon sign, beckoning passersby on Carrollton), where hearty, red sauce-centric meals begin, if you are doing it right, with a simple, hand-tossed cheese pie flecked with plenty of dried oregano.
Maine's Italian culture is perhaps not widely celebrated beyond the state line, but Mainers certainly take it for granted. From treasured one-offs to popular local chains, you're never far from pizza. Opened in 1949, the family-operated Micucci Grocery in Portland has been a lunchtime staple for years, serving light, focaccia-esque Sicilian-style squares (known here as slabs) to go; Greek pizza, that New England suppertime staple, puts on a fine performance at the cash-only Pizza by Alex, a Biddeford institution since 1960; up in Lewiston, even the plain pies at local institution Luiggi's come with ham on top (just go with it). While The Cabin in Bath's claim of having "the only real pizza in Maine" may have made more sense in the 1970s, their classic pies are still very much worth a stop, perhaps on your way (way, way) up the coast to Brooksville, where pizza nights at Tinder Hearth—one of the state's many intensely good bakeries—are well worth planning your week around, should you ever be lucky enough to find yourself within striking distance.
With a few notable exceptions, mostly only appreciated by the people who grew up with them, Maryland is where the Eastern Seaboard pizza magic ends, and rather abruptly at that—maybe it's that there's so much else to eat, but cross in from Pennsylvania or Delaware, and pizza culture is suddenly persona non grata, at least relative to the situation over at the neighbors. Not that there aren't exceptions—the deep dish, lard-in-the-dough, back fin crab pies at Matthew's, purporting to be Baltimore's oldest pizzeria, are a firm favorite in Highlandtown, a neighborhood that supports more than a few notable retro institutions. Flash-forward to the present and over to exurban Darnestown in Montgomery County, where Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana offers one glimpse of the possible future of pizza in the DMV—here, accomplished chef and owner Tony Conte makes one of the finest tomato pies anywhere, a deceptively spare beauty with Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, a hint of parmesan, garlic, and fresh basil.
Actress turned award-winning chef Ann Kim has been known to say that she makes and serves the food that she likes to eat, and more often than not, that food has been pizza. Opening her dream restaurant in 2010—Pizzeria Lola, named for her dog—caused no shortage of controversy within her immediate family; her South Korean immigrant parents were baffled as to why a Columbia grad would choose such a life. Minneapolis, on the other hand, was all in from the beginning, lining up for Kim's inventive, wood-fired pies, some of them topped with homemade kimchi. A New York-style slice shop, Hello Pizza followed, out in suburban Edina, and then in 2016, Kim opened Young Joni, a bold restaurant that garnered national acclaim, where the menu revolved around—you guessed it—pizza. Neo-Neapolitan pizza, to be specific, is what Kim calls it, made in a giant, copper-clad Le Panyol oven. (If you've never had a Korean short rib pie, you'll find a rather legendary one here.) Pizza and Minnesota go way back—did you know that pizza rolls were invented here?—and more often than not, the style is thin-crust Midwest, nearly always square cut. Mama's in St. Paul (established in 1964) and Dave's Pizza in Bemidji (since 1958) serve up fine examples of the genre.
What's a terrific little restaurant like TriBecca Allie Cafe doing, slinging wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas in a town like Sardis, Mississippi, population well under two thousand people? Simple, really—entrepreneurial couple moves from elsewhere (in this case, New York) for family, the husband builds himself a backyard oven to tinker with bread and pizza, selling them at the farmers' market in nearby Oxford, and before you know it, everyone's telling them to open a restaurant, which they did. And then all the people who told them to open a restaurant showed up, again and again, apparently, because Dutch and Rebecca Van Oostendorp's one-of-a-kind operation has been around for a decade already. Emily Blount didn't come to Mississippi from New York, but the West Coast native spent plenty of years there before coming to Oxford and opening Saint Leo, a smart Italian spot with some mighty fine pizza of the thoroughly modern variety.
Bob Marshall, the proprietor of Biga Pizza in Missoula, arrived in town from the East Coast back in the early 1990s and stayed, opening up this casual but warm spot for brick-oven pies with creative toppings, back in 2006. The city he fell for years earlier responded in turn. Fifteen years later, it's still very much a love match, and perhaps more than ever, now that they've successfully mastered the art of delivery, a pandemic-era necessity. Craving pizza in Bozeman? Brake for gorgeous sourdough pies at Blackbird, a local favorite for over a decade.
In this part of the world, when the question is pizza, the answer will often be Valentino's, a popular destination for sturdy, pan-style pies founded in Lincoln back in the 1950s, now boasting scads of locations—some with full-blown buffets—throughout the state. But Nebraska pizza culture runs deeper than that, particularly around Omaha, which supports an impressive number of older pizzerias, a vestige of the city's rich Italian heritage. For starters, throw things way back with hearty Sicilian-style slices at Orsi's Italian Bakery & Pizzeria, a local favorite since 1919. There's plenty to try, in between—the hamburger pizza, another rectangular classic at the neon-lit La Casa Pizzaria, around since the 1950s, for one. But it's awfully difficult to resist the siren call of the all-up-to-date Lighthouse Pizza, a modern classic for fine, very large slices (with sauce, for dipping) and creatively-topped, hand-cut fries. They're open late, and there's a drive-through—no wonder they've already opened a second location.
Las Vegas is a pizza town, a pretty damn good one, and it didn't happen yesterday, either. Back in 2005, for example, long before Neapolitan-ish became a thing in upscale shopping centers across the United States, Settebello was bringing actual pizza Napoletana to suburban Henderson. These days, there's all kinds of good pizza within your grasp here, starting with gorgeous Grandma pies, thoroughly convincing Detroit-style pizza, and some of the best gluten-free crust in the country at Vincent Rotolo's Good Pie in the Arts District. Don't skip town without a visit to California pizza legend Tony Gemignani's Pizza Rock, which may not be a complete substitute for a visit to his San Francisco pizzerias, but a margherita pie here can be awfully good. Pizza lovers in Reno are in a particularly festive mood these days—after an extended pandemic-related closure, Smiling With Hope Pizzeria, famous throughout the industry for training and hiring people with learning disabilities, is back to churning out some of the best New York-style pies west of the Rockies.
When you're wandering around New England and come upon a pizza house, or a house of pizza, or anything to do with pizza and house in the same sentence, what you're probably getting is a Greek-style pie, whether you know it or not. New Englanders know what this means (they invented the genre, after all): a well-oiled, generously-proportioned crust, tomato sauce riddled with dried herbs, heavy on the oregano, and too much cheese on top, typically mozzarella blended with cheddar and/or provolone. This will never be the greatest pizza on earth, but in capable hands, it can be a real pleasure to eat. Tilton's House of Pizza in Tilton often meets that mark, with their buttery, generously topped, unrepentantly Greek monstrosities. Not far from I-93 north of Concord, consider this an essential stop on your way home from a day of rigorous outdoor recreation in the White Mountains.
One of the things you have to accept, living in the sunny, pizza-loving uplands of the Northeast, is that there are parts of the country, your country, where people do things to their pizzas, unspeakable things, things involving pineapple, or sometimes ketchup. There are places, even, where people will start a ruckus if you deny them their nearly-legal right to ranch dressing with their pizza. How else, they may ask, are they supposed to eat the crust? At Dion's, an Albuquerque-born regional chain beloved within its home state, a good many of their pizzas don't get out the door without a side of the house ranch infused with green chilies. Try it once, and while you might not ever feel comfortable in front of your pizza-elitist pals, odds are just fine you'll be trying it again. It's delicious. (They sell it in bottles, so you can indulge at home, away from prying eyes.) Albuquerque's Golden Crown Panaderia is famous for green chile bread and biscochitos, but they also make a great pizza—keep it local with the choice of either blue corn or green chile crust.
Peyton Smith is among the country's more skilled practitioners of pizza Napoletana, and you would know this, had you already ventured to downtown Winston-Salem, home to Mission Pizza Napoletana and one very handsome wood-fired Ferrara oven since 2014. Smith is also an excellent reminder that when it comes to great pizza, where you come from (Smith grew up right here) and who your friends are (not a lot of national media hanging out around Winston-Salem, one imagines) mean nothing. What counts is passion, attention to detail, and ultimately, what comes out of that exceptionally hot oven. Long-fermented dough, a proprietary sauce blend and high-quality ingredients go into the puffball pizzas that beg to be consumed on the spot. This is one of those all-too-rare places where you catch a glimpse of Neapolitan pizza's origins as a portable (and entirely elegant) street food. The Carolinas have absorbed a considerable number of New Yorkers over the years; Anthony Guerra grew up on Long Island with Umberto's of New Hyde Park, working at Kesté before going his own way--his Oakwood Pizza Box has been kind of a big deal around Raleigh since opening in 2017.
A smart little Neapolitan-inspired pizza joint and coffee bar called Fireflour, built around a wood oven imported from Naples, is probably not the first thing you wander into Bismarck looking for, but North Dakota's state capital will surprise you like that. Owner Kenny Howard had a design career in California, where he was inspired to open his own restaurant, which he did with his wife, Kendra, nearly a decade ago. Over in Fargo, it's classic, square-cut, Midwest thin-crust all the way—with braided edges that neatly hold in all your toppings—at Sammy's, a fixture on the scene since the 1950s.
Mike Bausch quit law school in the Bay Area and moved to Tulsa without any kind of grand plan. He had a brother here working in the corporate world, who would call him up and tell him stories about people waiting in hours-long lines to get into chain restaurants in the suburbs, and why didn't they open a halfway decent restaurant of their own? In 2006, they did just that. Today, Andolini's is the most serious pizza place in the state, make that places plural, because there are already a handful of locations in the region, serving up thoughtful, neo-Neapolitan pies. The Demarco of Brooklyn is a tasty (and immediately recognizable) tribute to a certain, very well-known pizzeria in that particular New York City borough.
Trace back to that big pizza moment, right after the turn of the century, and Portland was right there, doing the pioneer-level stuff it does so well. 2005 is when baker Bryan Spangler made his side project a real thing by opening Apizza Scholls, introducing the city and very soon, flabbergasted national food writers, to his genre-defying pies—big, beautiful things, too structurally sound to be Neapolitan, too meticulous to be just another New York-style number. Throw in a couple of vintage arcade games and you had this irresistible, new wave neighborhood pizza parlor thing happening—cue lines out the door. Countless awards and so much spilled ink later, Scholls remains one of the best in the country.
Of course, Spangler wasn't the only one innovating back then. In 2006, Ken Forkish opened Ken's Artisan Pizza with chef Alan Maniscalco, inspiring a generation of pizza makers (and pizza eaters) to aim higher. Things we take for granted now—long-fermented dough, the very best tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, wood-fired ovens—weren't the norm back then, and it would be a number of years before all that stuff became quite so accessible as it was in Portland. Accomplished chef Sarah Minnick never intended to end up running a pizza place, but the 2008 recession had other ideas. Happily, Lovely's Fifty Fifty stuck around, serving up meticulous, farmers' market-focused pies (nettles and guanciale pizza was a recent hit) throughout the pandemic.
There was plenty of pizza in the littlest state—home to the highest per capita percentage of Americans claiming Italian heritage, fun fact—for generations before Johanne Killeen and her late husband, George Germon, had the idea to cook their thin-crusted pies, topped with the best fresh ingredients, on the hardwood charcoal grill at their Providence restaurant, Al Forno, in the early 1980s. Saying that Al Forno's grilled pizza pulled focus is putting it mildly—the couple had even the Italian government standing at attention, earning them a certificate of authenticity rarely granted to an American restaurant. That's probably not going to happen any time soon for the creator of the Wimpy Skippy, Rhode Island's other claim to pizza fame; the spinach pizza pocket, stuffed further with pepperoni and black olives, was created at nearby Caserta's in Federal Hill, one of the country's last great Italian enclaves. Their Sicilian-style square slices come with just tomato unless you specify cheese, which it doesn't really need—the crust and sauce are just that flavorful.
You could spend a weekend in Charleston with a focused mind—difficult, considering how much else there is to eat here—and not get to all the pizza worth trying. Where to start? The thin and gorgeous, Roman-style pies at Melfi, hot out of the wood-fired oven, each one all but painted like a canvas? Monza Pizza Bar, for meticulous, Neapolitan beauties, where even the yeast comes from Naples, and the toppings are as fresh and local as each season allows? Classic cheese pies and good beer at neighborhood gem D'Allesandro's? And don't neglect the forerunning EVO Pizza, a smart mainstay in North Charleston founded by a passionate duo who met working at FIG, one of the city's best restaurants.
The Napolitano family is well-known in Sioux Falls for Breadico, the most exciting bakery to hit South Dakota in some time, so nobody was surprised when their follow-up effort, Pizza Di Paolo, which would highlight the carefully-crafted pizzas customers had come to love at the sourdough-centric bakery, came out swinging in 2019 with a wood-fired hearth they eventually had to ditch, replacing it with two gas ovens—keeping up with demand quickly proved too difficult. Open since 1959, Charlie's Pizza House in Yankton is proudly the longest-running operation in the state, and exactly the kind of pizza parlor you might expect to find in South Dakota—the meatball and sauerkraut pie is one of their top sellers.
From Neapolitan pies so thoroughly real-deal they've been known to spark arguments over whether the pizza was actually cooked, to gorgeous pies served sit-down at some of the city's finest restaurants, to old-school spots where the proprietors trade on their New York and New Jersey roots, plus recent popular imports from other American cities, and (almost done!) some fascinating ideas all of its own, Nashville has a little bit of everything and is, at this moment, one of the South's most important pizza towns. The much-celebrated Folk pivoted to takeout during the pandemic, making it even easier to try one of Philip Krajeck's inventive pies. Also popular but completely different is Slim & Husky's, a community-minded, flatbread-style original that launched in 2017 and is already spreading like wildfire throughout the South. Don't miss the bold new St. Vito Focacciaria, for slices of sfincione, a specific style of Sicilian, here topped with fontina cheese, tomato, and fresh oregano.
Maybe you've heard, people are moving to Texas, lots of people, from all over the country, which explains why a state where pizza isn't really a thing traditionally has been so busy embracing everybody else's. One of the very best in the state right now? The Detroit-style pies at Via 313, which started, like so much else in Austin, as a trailer, back in 2011, when two brothers from Detroit decided to introduce the pizza they grew up with to what turned out to be a very receptive audience. There are now multiple locations, in and out of Austin, with more to come this year.
From equally humble beginnings, Cane Rosso in Dallas has grown into a multi-city enterprise, serving one of the most faithful pizzas Napoletana in the state; their Zoli's spinoff in suburban Addison could very well be the next big thing, serving up honking-huge New York-style pies with some very creative toppings. There are serious gems scattered throughout the state, you just have to know where to look—Neapolitan pies in casual surrounds from a local chef at Il Forno in San Antonio, pizzas with seasonal toppings (sometimes from the backyard garden) at Coltivare in Houston, and pretty much anything coming out of the oven at lovely little Para Llevar in Marfa.
Italians and Utah go way back, to the mid-1800s, when Joseph Toronto arrived with the first wave of pioneers, in the employ of Brigham Young. These days, you can catch glimpses of their contribution to the culture, from the legendary Caputo's Market in Salt Lake City to the national smash-hit Creminelli Fine Meats, which at one point was operating out of the basement of Caputo's, not to mention one of the first truly Neapolitan pizzerias in the country, Settebello, founded in Las Vegas and exported to Salt Lake, all the way back in 2006. So maybe you don't find great pizza on every corner nowadays, though it certainly exists, at places like Ti Amo, a charming labor of love in a Bountiful strip mall, where the Bonfanti family turns out some excellent, wood-fired pies. Many Utahns grow up on Litza's Pizza, founded in 1965 by local restaurateur Don Hale—the medium thick, hand-tossed pies are iconically Salt Lake.
A summer evening in the idyllic Mad River Valley, sharing rustic, New World pies from the wood-burning, earthen oven at American Flatbread—is there any pizza experience in the state more immediately essential? Even during the pandemic, a wander in the gardens at the original Lareau Farm location while you waited for takeout remained a highlight. Founded by the visionary George Schenk in 1985, the company is now owned by the Massachusetts-based Flatbread Company, itself inspired by Schenk's original idea. There are locations in Middlebury and Burlington, the latter also home to the much newer, but also worthy Pizzeria Verita, combining Neapolitan technique with a love of Vermont ingredients.
The only thing more authentically Neapolitan than the pillow-like pizzas practically flying from the oven at Pupatella in Arlington is Enzo Algarme himself. Frustrated by so many places promising and then never really delivering the style he grew up with, the Naples native got his start back in 2007, and the response was overwhelming, to say the least. Pupatella now has four Virginia locations, and one across the Potomac in the nation's capital.
Decades before, Bob and Karen Crum revolutionized things in the Charlottesville region with Crozet Pizza, going back into the late 1970s, and the pies to this day stay close to their hippie-era roots; the business is now owned and operated by their children and grandchildren. Norfolk got lucky with the surprising, wood-fired margherita pies at The Bakehouse, a prime example of what happens when—and you'll see this cropping up in so many states, nowadays—bread people also become pizza people. (Spoiler alert—you end up eating all your crusts.)
There was a time in Seattle history when the Rainier Valley neighborhood was so Italian, people used to call it Garlic Gulch, so you might expect there to be no shortage of pizza in town, and you would be correct. Skip the expensive trial and error—instead, board the ferry for Bainbridge Island, which is something you should be doing more anyway, just for fun. Here, Italian expat Pino Sordello owns the humble but charming Via Rosa 11, a casual Italian market and cafe tucked away in cute Rolling Bay. There are higher-profile destinations for wood-fired Neapolitan pies in Seattle; this one happens to be better. You've more pizza to try, before you get back on the boat; Bainbridge's best-known chef Brendan McGill (Hitchcock) recently opened the rustic-sleek Bruciato, turning out a worthy runner-up.
This is the state that once invented the pepperoni roll, said to have been favored by miners in search of the most portable lunch they could find. To this day, The Mountain State remains one of the more unappreciated strongholds of Italian-American culture in this country. We'll start in old Clarksburg, where red sauce practically runs from the tap, or at least it did historically; among the no-frills Italian bakeries and dimly-lit restaurants with their secluded backrooms that could tell more than a few stories, there is Vito's, serving up the regionally popular rectangular pies shrouded in generous amounts of stretchy mozzarella. Compare and contrast with the same style at Colasessano's in nearby, also very Italian-American-rooted Fairmont—everyone's got a favorite.
Modern pizza culture has not passed West Virginia by; starting as a one-off catering to outdoor adventurers that come from around the world to get wild in the New River Gorge, Pies & Pints in Fayetteville has grown to include locations in multiple states. So far, Pizzas & Cream has yet to expand behind its secluded hollow in Nebo, which is pretty far from everywhere. Anyone who's made the trek knows, however, that a summer evening outdoors with their brick oven pies and homemade Italian ices and gelato is well worth the ride.
There are some terrific, widely reported stories about the evolution of pizza cheese in America, and how the distinctive mozzarella you find on a New York slice came about when mafia dons Al Capone and Joseph Bonanno began pressuring pizzerias into buying the cheaper, more processed cheese produced with milk from mobbed-up dairy farms in Wisconsin's idyllic heartland. There's less pizza-related mystery and intrigue swirling around the state these days, at least as far as we know—there are, on the other hand, a few very clear truths, one of which is that around here, thin is in. Call it what you like—bar pie, tavern pie, pub pizza—but these are some of the slightest creatures around, and very few people have mastered the craft like Maria's in Milwaukee, dating back to 1957. Today, the cash-only, no-liquor establishment (decorated with more Jesus and Elvis-related paraphernalia than you might have expected to find) still thrives under the ownership of Bonnie Crivello, founder Maria Traxel's daughter. Normally, you will find Crivello tending to the dining room where customers wait as long as it takes for the massive, square-cut rectangular pies, the flaky crust shaped by a dough sheeter, and usually too generously-sized to be contained by the trays they're delivered on. On your first visit, order double what you think you'll need—these are not so much pizzas to be eaten, as inhaled. Super-thin round pies, also typically bar-cut, are the norm around Wisconsin. They're served on lace paper doilies at Wells Brothers, a fixture in Racine since the Roaring Twenties; back in Milwaukee, Zaffiro's has been a firm favorite for even longer than Maria's.
From tentative mobile operation to one of remote Gillette's favorite hangouts—it's been quite the ride, full of twists and turns, for Pizza Carrello. Launched off the back of a truck (so to speak) in 2011 by entrepreneurial couple Ariane Jimison and Rachel Kalenberg, the restaurant—centered around a wood-fired oven—turns out pies made with a steady hand; the margherita with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella is finished off with a potent flourish of garlic-infused olive oil. And speaking of spoiled small towns—Casper is where the pioneering Mark and Kristy Dym chose to open a branch of their pioneering Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana, which started out in Denver back in 2008 as Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza. The name may have changed, but the pies are still some of the finest in the time zone.