The 21 Best College-Town Pizza Joints in America
Beer, packaged ramen, and pizza: consider them the three staples of the college diet. And if there's one common thread across college towns, it's the presence of at least one great pizza joint, one whose very mention gets students and alumni alike salivating.
For our first-ever list of America's best college pizza spots, we focused largely on proper college towns (sorry, NYU students, but you're very smart and have great pizza). And while we love us some Pokey Stix, we strayed away from the mega-chains that campuses love.
Are there better pizzas in the world? Sure. But at a certain time and place -- often 2am after a day of tailgating -- these are absolutely perfect. Feast your eyes on our 21 favorite college-town pizzas from throughout the nation. And when you're done, tell us what we missed in the comments below.
'Noch's (Harvard students are busy, they don't have time for extra syllables) has been satiating smart kids in its unassuming corner digs for 50 years now. Have your order ready (there will be a line, and the guys behind the counter tend to frown on indecision), though if you want the optimal order, you are getting two Sicilian slices: one tomato basil, one pepperoni make for a damn fine combo. You could also do quite well getting one appetizer slice and one of the fantastic oven-warmed subs, but this is a pizza article! Snag a table if you can, wait for your slices to heat up, stare at the huge mural of the joint's long-nosed namesake and his whale nemesis, and prepare to wonder what kind of pizza alchemy led to crust that's so delightfully crisp on the outside yet pleasingly doughy within. You've made a wise choice, friend.
University of South Carolina
Every weekend, Columbia's Five Points neighborhood is the embodiment of your parents' nightmares when they dropped their kid off at college: it's basically the chaotic party you always dreamed college would be. And at the heart sits the Village Idiot. The enormous, NY-style slices are great, but if you've got time to kill, the specialty pies (not typically on the slice rack) are the move. The Freshman Fifteen -- double cheese, pep, buckets of ranch -- makes good on its name, while the blackened chicken-jalapeño Rajun Cajun will leave you sweating like a fiend with dragon breath. Not that that would stop a curbside make-out session in Five Points. Sorry mom. The nightmare is as real as the pizza is delicious.
University of Missouri
This beloved Missouri institution is full of quirks: it keeps a bottle of WD-40 inside the beer fridge as part of a decades-long inside joke, and assigns you ridiculous names for when your order is called. More importantly, the pizza is damn good. These guys make their own dough from scratch, and buy sticks of pepperoni to slice on-site into thick pieces of spicy perfection that pool grease so effectively that they offer hand towels instead of standard cloth napkins. (Pro tip: whatever you order, order it with pepper cheese). And while pizza by the slice is the norm in places like New York, it's a rare find in mid-Missouri -- one that Shakespeare's doles out every day for lunch. It gets packed during Mizzou game days and weekend nights, but the hour-plus wait is worth it. Just make sure you eat before tailgating; it deserves to be enjoyed with a fully coherent palate.
Michigan State University
Bell's will always be an institution on Grand River. Pizza House is great, but it's more an Ann Arbor favorite (a city you won't find here, because GO GREEN). But EL's Hamster Cage parking lot is now the go-to for great pizza day and night thanks to Georgio's, which pops out enormous slices of standards, but gets extra points for stunt pizzas that actually deliver, from a gyro slice topped with lamb meat and tzatziki to a baked potato pie with sour cream squiggles and bacon. There are also Chicago-inspired stuffed slices, of which spinach is king, though we're not gonna begrudge you for passing it over for a honking slice of nacho cheese pie after hours. Watch the freshman 15 hit you before the first half of the semester.
University of Wisconsin
Plenty of pizza spots try to go the whole "we're gonna get really weird with our toppings" route to disastrous results. Ian's really commits, and damned if the whole thing doesn't work out spectacularly -- unless you're stuck behind a stoned sophomore vacillating between that one slice topped with smoked brisket and tater tots and that other one topped with pepper Jack, chorizo, and chipotle creme. Help the dude out, though, because there's really just one move here, and it's the occasionally imitated but never-quite-duplicated mac n' cheese (insert obligatory Wisconsin remark here). Between the sheer carb-on-carb indulgence and the interplay of the creme sauce with the cheddar-mozz blend that keeps everything together on top, it really is the perfect late-night choice. That's especially true if you hit it with some of that Frank's hot sauce that's sitting on the counter.
University of Florida
Though any self-respecting Gator who's enjoyed all-you-can-drink liquor pitchers at Balls has a special place in their heart for Pizza by the Slice, arguably no pie in the state of Florida matches up to what available at Satchel’s. First, the place is part pizza restaurant and part bizarre souvenir store, where you can shop for all sorts of novelties while you wait the requisite two hours for a table, which might well be in an old VW bus, if you're lucky. The pizzas come in either deep-dish or thin-crust form, so whether your parents were transplants from the Midwest or transplants from New York, there's something for you here. Toppings are all fresh from nearby farms, and it makes its own soda in-house. All part of the reason why Satchel's trademark bumper stickers could give Salt Life a serious run for most ubiquitous car decorations in Florida.
University of Oregon
Pegasus Pizza may be higher quality, and Track Town is the iconic delivery pizza, but when it's late at night and you've been drinking at Rennie's Landing or -- God forbid -- Taylor's, you go to Sy's New York Pizza. New Yorkers would likely deny its authenticity, but we're too busy getting cheap, delicious, cheesy, greasy slices to care (and honestly, so are they). You can add basically any topping to a slice, so you won't need to order a whole pizza to satisfy a particular craving. Skip the bready Sicilian style and stick with the thin crust, and don't forget to add a pile of 25-cent garlic knots; those will help soak up the three Rennie's Lemonades you just downed.
New Haven isn't exactly hurting for great pizzerias, considering it's arguably home to the country's best (oblong) pies. So what sets BAR apart from beloved, coal-fired classics like Frank Pepe, Modern Apizza, and Sally's? It's a straight-up, raucous college club through and through, complete with rock shows and randy dance parties. Oh, and the pizza? It's a younger version of the New Haven style -- the crispy, rhombus-shaped pies are a touch thinner and cooked in a gas oven (not the old-school coal). The move here is the mashed potato pie with bacon on top. If it sounds like something only a student stoner could love, just know that Momofuku frontman David Chang is a fan. This is New Haven pizza in nightclub form. And in a town full of great pizza, it's the ultimate college bar mutation of the classic pie.
University of Massachusetts
Antonio's has grown to spread the love of BBQ steak & bacon pizza to other towns -- including neighboring Belchertown, Providence, and even College Station, TX -- but the original remains the true classic it was from the moment the doors swung open in 1991. Antonio's is billed as an NYC-style pie, but come on: New Yorkers aren't clamoring for a black bean avocado pie, or a surf & turf topped with steak and shrimp. Nah, this is Amherst-style pizza, a magical college pie that's as good at 2pm as it is at 2am, though at 2am you can probably house more slices, which is a good thing, because the combinations on offer are endless. Pray for Sicilian. And don't fear the crab.
University of California -- Santa Cruz
The Seabright neighborhood haunt's contribution to college food staples is twofold, considering it doubles as a bottle shop. The pies are the main attraction at this super-chill spot, where grad students, undergrads, and locals find common ground in straight Cali-style pizza marked by a chewy, wood-fired crust loaded with fresh toppings ranging from fresh pork sausage to cashews and sun-dried tomatoes. Engfer actually gives you the impression that you're eating something healthy... until you hit the nearby beach and realize your pizza addiction has translated pizza dough to a doughy physique. Luckily, the place offers up a workout in the form of a front-of-the-house ping-pong table. That's exercise, right?
University of California -- Berkeley
UC Berkeley and activism go together hand in hand, so it should come as no surprise that Berkeley's top pizza spot has a do-gooder side. Sliver donates money to charity and raises awareness about human trafficking. But as admirable as that is, its pizza alone draws in students and the community. You can always order a plain ol' cheese pie, but the draw here is the daily changing pizza of the day. Recent selections included a roasted eggplant-pecorino joint, a summer squash-mozzarella jam, and a cremini mushroom with Bulgarian feta concoction. Oh, and if you're afraid of commitment, it's just $1 to try a third of a slice. That's the sliver, in case you hadn't figured it out.
It's a general rule that pizza always tastes better when you eat it in a divey joint covered in wood paneling and graffiti -- and that's something IU students have known since they started patronizing Mother Bear's Pizza in the early '70s. Chicago-style pies reign supreme here, though they've got a fluffier consistency than eating those heavy-as-a-brick pies from Illinois. The Divine Swine specialty pie is a favorite, which combines pepperoni, sausage, Hoosier ham, and smoked bacon. Especially broke students know that you can score a 10" one-topping pizza for $6.95 on Tuesdays if you buy a drink. Luckily, Mother Bear's doesn't have to twist anyone's arm with a killer beer list that includes regional favorites like Bell's and Indiana's own 3 Floyds.
If restaurants could have personality disorders, Varsity would be like a '90s serial killer. It's a diner first opened in 1926 that serves egg sandwiches and omelets Monday through Friday mornings to bleary-eyed students. It's a place where 'Cuse fans gather for March Madness to drink cheap beer, eat wings, and huddle around a few TVs. But it's mostly a pizza shop and it churns out about 200 16" pies each day (or 300+ on game day). The NY-style pizza is dished out in slices too, with favorites like the chicken wing covered in blue cheese, and spinach and feta. Just know that if you swing by when a game's going on in the Dome, the hard part is not deciding which kind of pizza to order, it's finding an empty seat.
University of Oklahoma
At 3am, we're not discounting the deliciousness of Pizza Shuttle's Frosty Fingers delivered right to your door. But if you're on two legs in Campus Corner, get ye to New York, which is exactly what it sounds like: no-nonsense, floppy, semi-authentic New York-style pies by the slice. None of the typical college pie stunt stuff applies here: the craziest thing on the menu is an alfredo pie -- its excess sauce pairs perfectly with dripping garlic rolls. There's also a fantastic selection of calzones on offer, in case you're still worried about getting grease on your shirt. Don't skip the wings. Maybe skip the shrimp scampi… you don't want to be playing Russian roulette with your duodenum at this point.
University of Colorado
You will not find the best pizza slice of your life in Boulder. But if it's 2am and you're a 21-year-old CU student with a powerful hunger after a powerful night of drinking, Cosmo's slices are hard to beat. While plenty of students eat (and work!) there, locals often swing by for a cheap, quick bite. Each slice runs about $3, and is about the size of former CU basketball star Chauncey Billups' leg. Don't forget the spicy ranch, which elevates every bite of pizza. There's a reason Cosmo began bottling this stuff and selling it in local supermarkets: it's got a heat that lingers without being overpowering, and it meshes beautifully with the NY-style thin crust. You can dip without judgment at Cosmo's. In fact, it's encouraged.
University of Arizona
When it comes to college-town pizza, the New York style dominates (when it comes to college sports, not so much). Rocco's, however, goes Chicago. And it does it three ways: buttery deep dish, big-ass thin crust, and stuffed -- which jams all the toppings in between two layers. The latter's the best option, especially in the form of the Great Chicago Fire (sausage, jalapeños, green peppers, onions, and sadly, no Tums), but regardless of what you get, don’t skimp on the Italian beef sliders. And while this is more sit-down than most of the other by-the-slice places on this list, it does offer takeaway slices of the enormous deep dish. One slice should more than satisfy. But maybe get two. Especially if mom’s buying.
University of Montana
So many of the spots on this list are notable for late-night slices. The Bridge? Not so much. It closes at 10:30, making it more a pregame spot than a last-minute hangover preventative. But the Bridge has something most joints don't: pizza happy hour, wherein the hours of 3-5pm (beer o'clock, if ever it existed) get you a slice of gourmet pie and a beer for $3-$3.50. Considering Missoula's one of the nation's most underrated beer cities, it doesn't take an economics major to figure out that a slice of fancy pizza -- think walnut and Gorgonzola or prosciutto and pineapple chutney... or just cheese -- and a craft beer is a great deal. The wings and sandwiches are great too, if you're rich (by college standards, $8 is like getting caviar and steak). But if you're a Monte on a budget, this is where you can get fed without sacrificing quality.
University of Iowa
Pronounced "polly-eyes," in case you were thrown by all those vowels, the Pagliai family came to Iowa via Florence and started a pizza-making tradition the likes of which Iowa had never seen. Indeed, several ex-employees and siblings have gone on to propagate the Pagliai name in other towns, but the Iowa City mothership's been in the family since 1962. The welcoming booths and young kids prepping your pie behind the counter definitely give the place a throwback vibe, but you won't have much time to admire the atmosphere when you're digging into a Palace Special, layered with pepperoni, sausage, beef, and mushrooms and fired to bubbly, cheesy happiness in one of the 1,000-degree brick ovens.
A South Bend tradition rivaled only by a certain gilded football squad, Rocco's is a family-run institution that has had Notre Dame ties since the beginning. The patriarch of the Calabrian family that runs it worked in the Notre Dame cafeteria before opening the restaurant with his wife in 1951. The recipes remain unchanged -- if you're in need of a booze-soaking, cheese-laden pepperoni slice, this spot has you covered, but even the most ardent carnivore might be surprised by the veggie combo, fragrant with basil and garlic along with a light sprinkling of cheese. You'll feel like you're hanging out at your football-loving Italian grandma's house, which, on some level, you kind of are.
Duke, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State
Rivalries dominate the Triangle between Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh, but Pie Pushers practices something that even the most contentious forces can get behind: pizza diplomacy. This mobile truck comes rolling into the best bars and events between campuses, so at any given time, it's within walking distance of Duke, UNC, or NCS. Thin-crust pies temper fluff and crust, and they're remarkably cheap, considering the ultra-fresh ingredients on offerings like the roasted chicken & pesto State of Nirvana. Don't skimp on the dry-rubbed wings. Consider Pie Pushers a savory cousin to your favorite ice cream truck. Just don't be surprised if the bar you're in empties the minute it rounds the corner.
University of Kentucky
Pies & Pints -- currently making a play for chain dominance -- isn't your average beer-and-pizza joint. For one, it's less "power hour" and more specialty beer bar, pouring up fantastic craft options and Belgian essentials the likes of which you'd normally have to study abroad to find in Wildcat country (don't worry, there's a handy guide to all the styles on offer, in case you thing "gueze" is a fancy word for "BAND-AID"). The pies, too, deliver on the exoticism, with chewy crust playing host to everything from shrimp & Thai curry to a pizza take on the Cubano. Of course, fancy toppings are nothing if there's not a solid base. Luckily, plain ol' cheese does the trick too, and when it's game day, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better beer/pizza/football combo.
Lee Breslouer, Matt Lynch, Meredith Heil, Matt Meltzer, and Christina Stiehl contributed to this story.