Where the Wild Things Grow
Cooking grilled pizza correctly is damn hard. There is flipping a sticky dough. There needs to be cheese without a lot of water in it, so it doesn't get soggy. The grill very rarely has uniform heat. And it all needs to happen in about 120 seconds, or about the time it takes Nic Cage to steal two automobiles.
Al Forno's George Germon (who sadly passed away last year), Johanne Killeen and their chefs have been perfecting this practice for 36 years. It is now an art form, and it is an art form that requires a continued spot on the list. Also, I've stolen their raw scallion finishing move when attempting my own grilled pizzas, and it is a crowd-pleaser. -- KA
The Art of Pizza is like the go-to neighborhood pizzeria every Chicagoland kid grew up with, except the best possible version of that. The stuffed and pan options (the two distinct species of deep dish that outsiders often don't bother to differentiate) are both sublime, and the thin crust takes you straight back to middle-school sleepovers and Little League banquets. And you can march right in without too much of a line and expect a hot-and-ready slice of any of the three for you to inhale among the cops and municipal workers who know that while this isn't the highest-profile pizza joint in the city, it might just be the best. -- Matt Lynch, executive editor
When you're from an area, you can't help but play favorites. And so it is always hard for me to branch out in Boston and admit to myself that I should look beyond the things I already love. Basically, I'm trying to say that nostalgia is a bastard, friends. But the pizzas at John Paine's Brewer's Fork in Charlestown are too good for me to ignore any longer. They have that Neapolitan quality that reminds me of the Cali-Neapolitan-style pizzas out where I live now in Northern California, thanks to the huge, purely wood-fired oven. But wood-fired pizza is not a new, nor especially remarkable style, especially for recently opened pizza joints. What separates BF out is the balance and discipline shown with the ingredients, and the fearlessness with which it gives a fuck less about sticking to conventional styles. In less-skilled hands, a pizza that reminds you of eating Alabama BBQ (Freebird) might seem like a sort of upscale CPK knockoff. Here it is a revelation. As is the clam. And the sausage. And… -- KA
I learned the hard way that the key to getting something delicious at Burch Pizza Bar is simply to make it downstairs. That requires you to completely ignore Burch Steak, the sidewalk-level beef mecca that completely redefined the meaning of "steakhouse" in the Twin Cities when Beard-nominated Isaac Becker opened shop in early 2013.
But save that giant porterhouse for another visit and grab a seat in the limestone-walled basement, where pizza is treated with just as much respect as the food upstairs. Neapolitan-style crusts emerge crisp and blistered from the white oak-fueled pizza oven and topped with thoughtful combinations. The funghi -- a mixture of creamed leeks, wild mushrooms, and Boschetto, a sweet Italian cheese spiked with white truffles -- is almost good enough to make me go vegetarian, but it was the Asian-inflected Colatura Di Alici that had me questioning if I could handle MSP winters: spicy Thai sausage, red onion, and mozzarella coat the pie beneath added flavors of basil, mint, cilantro, and lime. -- LC
Tolland is in the most random section of CT -- close to UConn just off 84, an exit I used to see all the time when driving from my mom's house in Boston down to school in Hartford. But Dave Noad, the chef/owner, is cooking up something special (he put in time at Frank Pepe's and several other pizzerias before this) in this slightly overlooked northeast corner of CT. There are two pizzas worth traveling for on this menu: the first is the relatively simple Spicy Roni, with pepperoni, red onion, and chopped chili peppers. The second is Billy's Bianco, a white pie I definitely didn't think I'd like, until the blend of garlic cream sauce, goat & ricotta, pistachio, and truffle honey melded together into some sort of beacon of fatty light. Looks like my trips back to college are going to include a few more pit stops from now on. -- KA
At this point, Cane Rosso has gained as much attention for its Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana-principled pies as for its strong ban on ranch dressing, but don't let the gimmicky reputation of the latter distract you from the first. Pizzaiolo Jay Jerrier has grown a mini Texas pie empire on the backs of simple classics like the margherita and the Ella, which adds hot soppressata to the San Marzano, mozzarella, and basil basics. On any trip, though, get a tad more adventurous with the Paulie Gee -- an ode to the eponymous Brooklyn pizza shop whose combination of soppressata, Calabrian chiles, and caramelized onions finally made me forget that important, burning question that a Cane Rosso trip makes me obsess over: who would even want to add ranch dressing to pizza in the first place? -- LC
The original De Lorenzo's was around for so long that there was no bathroom. Before it closed in 2012, I went there and found that out the hard way. But now it exists only in Robbinsville, in fancier digs with bathrooms and salads, but still with those beautiful Trenton-style tomato pies, which -- for the laymen -- is basically pizza in which the cheese goes on first, and then the toppings and crushed tomatoes. For some diehards in the Jersey area, even calling tomato pies "pizza" is an issue. I don't care about that, but I do care about the fact that getting a pie with sausage and hot peppers from De Lorenzo's is still one of the essential parts of any Jersey trip, whether or not you have to use the restroom. -- KA
San Francisco, CA
Last year, when this former pizza food truck finally went brick-and-mortar, we celebrated the occasion by putting it on our Best New Restaurants in America list. This year, it was an easy shift over to best pizza, where the freedom of not having to be stuck in a truck has released Jon Darsky’s creativity and turned the place from the best pizza truck into the best damn pizzeria in SF. If you want basics, no one is doing a better house-made sausage pie, but the real winner is the Butterball Potato, which is helped out by a generous dose of hot honey from Mike Kurtz, the very same genius who developed hot honey for Paulie Gee's, came out to California to peddle his spicy delicious wares, and immediately hit it off with Jon. The resulting relationship and that leek, fontina, hot honey, potato combination is a win-win-win for all of us. -- KA
Staten Island, NY
The true testament of a borough's love for a pizza place? Naming the street after its founder. Such is the case with Staten Island favorite Denino's (located on the corner of Port Richmond Ave and Hooker Pl, renamed Carlo Denino's Way after his passing). Staten Island is still, somehow, New York's most overlooked borough, but no pizza list is complete without it, especially because Denino's makes the perfect New York-style pizza (if that even means anything anymore) with thin crust, cheese that bubbles up to the edges, and just the right amount of sauce. Don't eat here with your dad if you don't want to hear lots of bad jokes, because the go-to order is the "Garbage Pie," which is greasy in the best way possible and topped heavily with sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, mushrooms, and onions. Be sure to get it well-done. -- Lucy Meilus, New York editor
Di Fara hardly needs additional praise -- it's topped best pizza list after best pizza list since people started getting paid to write words about pizza on the internet for a living. But it's not just a lot of false blog hype and long lines; Di Fara truly is the best in New York, and that's all thanks to Dom DeMarco. The now-80-year-old opened his Midwood pizza shop in 1964, and still makes every single pizza himself today (hence the long lines). The pies are made mostly with imported Italian ingredients (like San Marzano tomatoes, which make for one of the simplest and best sauces in the city -- plus a blend of Grana Padano, mozzarella, and Parmesan) and the crust is exactly as New York crust should be: thin and crunchy around the edges and softer in the middle. Ave J may be a trek that most New Yorkers shy away from, but if you haven't had Dom's pies, you haven't eaten pizza in New York. -- LM
Do you like websites? Because Dino's has my favorite pizza website of all time, considering it features dancing pizzas and a great giant hand pointing to the location in Seattle. Also, it's best viewed on "Netscape." Actually a project from Brandon Pettit and Molly Wizenberg of Delancey’s wood-fired pizza fame, Dino's is essentially an ode to Jersey, in terms of both its tomato pie style (which we've been celebrating on the list this year) and the actual physical style of the joints you find there. And in case you're rolling your eyes at the idea of an ironic throwback, wait until you try Brandon's square, basically Sicilian pizza. Unlike the site, this stuff is best viewed in person. -- KA
New Orleans, LA
When you're the kid-sister spot of Alon Shaya's Domenica and Shaya -- which has earned so many awards in its 15-month life that it should get a pair of Nike shoes named after it -- you could easily rest on your figurative, flour-covered laurels and reap the benefits. Thankfully, PIZZA domenica does nothing like that.
Take, for example, the muffuletta pizza, an ode to the meat-stacked New Orleans sandwich, which ended up on my table during my last visit. What could easily be a tourist-friendly gimmick is a remarkably inventive pie, and the myriad toppings -- mortadella, spicy salami, biting olives, provolone cheese, and a spiral of garlic aioli -- are as balanced as the original sandwich, yet so much better. Another favorite is the roasted carrot, which utilizes the surprising combination of thin red onion, crispy Brussels, beets, earthy hazelnuts, and the bright pop of goat cheese. But whatever pie you grab, start with the hulking, house-smoked chicken wings, which are coated in a glorious mess of Calabrian chile-infused sauce and served with pickled slivers of celery and a Gorgonzola fonduta, and are likely to turn you off ever eating another spot's wings. -- LC
Every trip to Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's territory is like a a miniature life crisis for me. Do I swing around to dive bar the Holding Pen for one of my favorite burgers in the country -- a smashed, griddled masterpiece -- or do I grab a seat in Hog & Hominy, where the chef-duo's pizzas -- like the fontina-, boudin-, and scrambled egg-topped Prewitt pie -- are so fantastic that I’m able to completely ignore the rest of the impressive Italian menu?
The answer, obviously, is to wear the finest elastic-waist pants available, camp out from early afternoon into the night, and eat both. -- LC
I've been a Galleria Umberto fan in the North End since I was a tiny person who could make no decisions for myself. And so I put Umberto on the list each year, and my friends from Somerville would tell me I was stupid and that they had a spot that was better without all the hype. But finally this year, I caved and visited Leone's just to shut them the hell up. And something horrible happened. They were right. Well, maybe not BETTER -- I will fight for Umberto till I die, but at least, upon my visit, I couldn't believe how good the Sicilian was: airy, but actually physically heavy to hold, with a bready depth and good acid contrast with the tomatoes. And so I have to give it the proper due this year. Or, if nothing else, make my annoying friends wait for their lunchtime pizza a little longer. -- KA
Hazel Park, MI
Buddy's has cemented itself in the hearts and valves of Detroiters by more or less perfecting MoTown's signature pizza, a deep-dish, red-top ode to brick cheese, which creeps over the corners of the rectangular pie and transforms the buttery crust into caramelized pizza candy. How do you beat that? Well, you go to the old-school Hazel Park wonderland that is Loui's, which has become a go-to spot for Detroiters, including chefs, who named it the best pie in the Motor City. We still, of course, love Buddy's. We always will. But with a generous dose of pepperoni and a ridiculous dose of cheese, Loui's has managed to out-perfect a perfect pizza. -- Andy Kryza, senior editor, Food & Drink
Mark Iacono's Carroll Gardens pizza joint can proudly claim Beyonce and Jay Z once skipped the Grammys to eat there, but even without those bragging rights Lucali would still hold it down as one of the city’s best. There are only two options on the menu: pizza and calzone, and both are made with a doughy-but-thin crust that offers just the right amount of char. The pizzas come with a tangy sauce and plenty of fresh mozzarella, and are very ingredient-focused, which means you've got several fresh topping options to pile on. While we can't be certain which toppings Beyonce chose, we're going to go ahead and assume they were garlic & basil, Parmesan, and spicy pepperoni -- because that's just a really good order. -- LM
If you're reading this story, then you've already realized this, but let me put it into words anyway: Neapolitan pies are no longer a unique quality for a pizza shop. Wood-fired ovens and crisp dough are as expected at good spots as that delicious garlic-butter sauce was with every Papa John's order when I was a kid in decidedly Neapolitan pizza-free Alabama. What is a surprise still is the lack of pretense and the low-key neighborhood pizza joint atmosphere that DC's Menomale has maintained.
This semi-hidden gem in the still-quiet Brookland is run by VPN-certified pizzaioli Ettore and Maria Rusciano, who source all their ingredients from Campania, the Southern Italian region that calls Naples its capital. Their diavola -- my go-to on any menu that has it -- marries fior di latte mozzarella, spicy salami, red peppers, San Marzano tomatoes, and basil on a pie that -- yes, after a few minutes in the hand-built, wood-fired oven -- lets the quality of ingredients sing. -- LC
It's well known that Executive Editor Matt Lynch decides the pizza spots we include each year in the Chicago area, because he lives in Chicago and eats an embarrassing amount of pizza. But, as long as we've done this, I have made him save one spot on the list for Pequod's because I am still obsessed with its near-perfect cast-iron pan pizza, and that famous caramelized crust that's cheesy and crunchy and should have its own pizza-crust restaurant (think about it, entrepreneurs of Portland!). My move is to get sausage and green olive, but you're welcome to get anything you like, as long as you know in your heart of hearts that all other orders are incorrect. -- KA
Portland's pizza cred has long centered on New Haven-esque Apizza Scholls and Neapolitan OG Ken's. They're still huge (and delicious), but we're retiring them to the hall of fame. That's because Portland, being Portland and all, is in a pizza boom, with more than a dozen high-end pizzerias opening in the past three years. Trouble is, they're all kinda similar: wood-fired and low on toppings, they're mostly Neapolitan pies that are great and all, but often interchangeable.
Pizza Jerk has, in half a year, stepped up to become the first truly Portland pizza (well, in style… a Wu-Tang pizza joint's pretty effin' Portland). Newly opened by the mastermind behind legendary Bunk Sandwiches -- to whom pork belly owes a debt -- Jerk makes pies that are a hybrid of New York and New Haven styles, and they nail both sides perfectly (ditto for a Detroit-inspired pan pie with brick cheese). And this isn't some stunt-pie bullshit, either. It's lowbrow comfort with a chef's touch, which includes house-smoked pork on the Hawaiian (a sin in New York); a clam pie with bacon; a Korean BBQ pie with kimchee; and a Sunday Sauce pie with bolognese, huge meatball slices, sausage, little pepperoni, and a pile of ribs on top. They're paired with homemade mozz sticks and… dan dan noodles? Because who gives a shit when everything's this good? But the thing is, a fancy, overloaded pizza is only as good as its base. Luckily, a regular ol' cheese slice is a thing of greasy, floppy beauty, too. And lo, a Portland-style pizza was born. -- AK
Los Angeles, CA
Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich & Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza fundamentally changed the pizza game in LA when it opened in 2006, turning out single-serving pies with a dough that was equal parts just-crispy in some spots and fantastically soft and chewy in others. Now, the much more casual Romana, tucked just around the corner from the OG Mozza, is taking that game-changing attitude and applying it to Roman-style pies. The dough is fermented for a full 24 hours before it's baked, resulting in a thin crust that's somehow loaded with even softer and even crisper pockets, and topped with California-fresh ingredients like on the spicy broccolini & sausage pie, which also gets a kick from roasted garlic mascarpone and a dusting of pecorino. On top of that, it's still serving Cube's famous fried chicken (the aptly named "Best Fried Chicken Ever!!"), which is something that no other pizzeria can ever claim. -- Jeff Miller, Los Angeles editor
I went to Pizzeria Beddia begrudgingly. The thing is: I hate waiting in line for stuff. As much as I love food, I don't love the way food tourism currently works, what with the fetishization of the rare product and having to stand in line as if I'm trying to get a new sneaker release at Supreme, only to see that item disappear into my stomach minutes after spending all of that time waiting.
But here's the other thing: Joe Beddia worked with Chris Bianco. And so I sat in line for one of the 40 pies he makes a day, very ready to say it was overrated and that the entire enterprise was a sham. And then something happened. It wasn't. Dammit if it wasn't a beautiful, perfectly cooked slice of perfection. So stand in line if you must. This is not a pizza to be trifled with. -- KA
Every year we include Chris Bianco's original pizza place, because Chris Bianco started the artisanal pizza movement way before it was even considered a movement or the word "artisanal" was annoying and meaningless. He just wanted to make a really good pizza, spent a couple of years in Italy figuring out how to do it, resettled in AZ from NY in the '90s, and began making the essential pizza in America. Chefs studied what he did, and learned that, if the thing that you're making is great enough, it doesn't matter where you're doing it. And so Bianco's will stay on this list until the drones eventually start writing this list for me while an auto-driven Uber takes my lifeless body to the nearest Amazon Prime-sponsored hospital. -- KA
Los Angeles, CA
Nancy Silverton's joint has been on our list basically every year we've had one, so if you live in Southern California and you haven't been yet, I don't think I can do anything else for you. -- KA
I'm obnoxiously, sometimes irrationally, prideful about my home state, so it has made me so thrilled to give Post Office Pies a much-deserved spot on our list for the last three years. Its Avondale 'hood is a microcosm flaunting Birmingham's impressive evolution into a vibrant town that fosters local art and businesses, and this pizza spot represents all of that: hometown chef returns after stints at NYC's Per Se and Gramercy Tavern to open something that can rival the best in the country, but whose industrial, casual interior and Molinari salami-topped pepperoni pie are just the right fit for a changing, re-emerging Southern city. -- LC
New York, NY
What are the chances that the best slice joint in New York is three blocks from the office in which this story was written? I'm not a pizza-data scientist (unfortunately), but I'm going with "remote." There's a human tendency to overinflate the goodness of things nearby, as it promotes the also-human drive for laziness; how else might you explain Browns fans? And despite combatting that inclination while pizza-ing all over the city, I've still never had a more consistently satisfying and ideally constructed foldable street slice than Prince Street's. The cheese is abundant but never out of proportion, the sauce touched with sweetness, and the crust thick enough to reign it all in, but not to the point of over-aggressive doughiness that lesser pies default to. Aside from the very necessary plain cheese, some swear by the pepperoni-studded Soho Square Sicilian slice, but when I veer off-script, it's directly towards the rich, creamy, yet somehow balanced vodka sauce slice. Considering you probably don't work three blocks away, screw it: just get all three. -- Ben Robinson, editorial director
New Haven, CT
This year, for the first time in a while, we only have one New Haven pizza shop. As much as we love Frank Pepe, the continued expansion makes it hard to master the product in all locations, and so we are sticking by Sally's, which continues to be a beacon of coal-lit truth to visit on Wooster whenever we have one of our many distinguished speaking engagements at Yale.
Get the White Potato: you'll feel like it's a mistake at first, until you can't stop stuffing that perfect mix of two kinds of cheese melted together with rosemary, potatoes, and onions into your mouth. Oh, and wash it down with East Haven's own Foxon Park white birch beer. It’s like root beer mixed with minty licorice, and topped with secrets. -- KA
The best part about a visit to Santillo’s is the fact that you can eat pies from any era. While Tony's in SF is more of a Mystique-like shapeshifter -- in that he can do Detroit- and NY- and St Louis-style pizzas as well as many of the original purveyors -- Santillo's is the master of capturing pizzas from any decade. And so you'll see orders for a 1940 "Genuine Tomato Pie" with no cheese, or a 1959 that's thick and saucy, or even the head-scratching 1990 with a softer-style "American" crust. My favorite is both the Roman style and the classic, the 1964 style with EVOO & Parmesan: it tastes like the best pizza from a childhood in Jersey I never had, but now am kind of pining for. -- KA
Now on the list for the second straight year, Stephen Lanzalotta is a baker supreme, and his "hand slab" Sicilian pie can dance against nearly anyone and hold its own. But the reason for the second-straight inclusion is something we didn't have the first time around (possibly because it's 32in): the arrabbiata thin crust with "angry" red pepper-spiced sauce and Biellese pepperoni. It's a revelation -- all peppery, garlicky, delicious spice and meat on a perfectly crisp crust -- and enough of a reason to skip lobster in Maine for at least one meal. -- KA
Asbury Park, NJ
In Jersey, where pizza history runs deep, I did not want to pick a place that garnered mentions in the local papers like "a progressive Brooklyn mindset" and "hip new sourdough pizza joint." Those are trigger buzzwords that cause me to grimace and wish for the pre-Hot New Food Town era. But that was before we tried the pizza. And dammit, Steve Mignogna, Shanti Church, and baker Josh Stewart make fantastic pizzas (and really good breads). The winner on the menu seems to keep in the Paulie Gee trend -- it's the Beekeeper's Lament, with hot Calabrian soppressata and local honey. It is salty and spicy and sweet all at once, with a giving, soft pizza dough that shows the time and effort they put in. It's nearly enough to prevent me from being a cynical grouch. -- KA
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco is rich with delicious pizza joints, but most of the great ones adhere to the same basic style: a sort of Californian Neapolitan move with charred and chewy crusts and fresh local ingredients. And Tony can do that. But the reason he is always on this list is because this man can also do pretty much every other style of pizza that we're celebrating on this list (NY, New Haven, Detroit, Sicilian, ST. LOUIS??!?, etc.) and he does most of them better or at least on par with the originators. -- KA
Detroit pizza is having its moment right now. Just look at social media: the Detroit signature square slices are everywhere, possibly because they’re so damn handsome to shoot from above, but also because Detroit’s style -- with its medium deep dish, nearly Sicilian airy texture, caramelized sides, and crunchy, buttery bottom -- was one of the last to remain somewhat regional.
But thanks to people like Brandon and Zane Hunt -- two brothers raised in Detroit who came out to Austin six years ago and launched the first pizza trailer outside of Violet Crown Social Club on East Sixth in 2012 -- Texans and anyone else who roams through Austin now comes away with a hankering for this delicious pizza. They now have two full-service spots on top of the two trailers, with appetizers and salads and everything, but their commitment to the pizza, and to helping give Detroit style its well-deserved moment in the spotlight, keeps them on the list for another year. Oh, and their bar-style pizza is pretty damn good, too. -- KA
Pizza trends come and go. Vito and Nick's does not. It spans generations, cultures, and shifting city demographics on the strength of little more than the cracker-crusted, square-cut pies that Chicago expats really miss when they leave. Get one with the homemade Italian sausage and a pitcher of beer. Make that a pitcher of Old Style, actually, because that's your only beer option. Actually, this place DID get a little crazy and add Old Style Light a while back. But hopefully it doesn't go changing too much else. -- ML
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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist's national writer-at-large, and just put all his money into hot honey bonds. Follow his can't-fail monetary advice: @KAlexander03.
Liz Childers is Thrillist's cities director and is unwilling to put all her money in hot honey because of losses suffered in the chili oil downturn. Follow her: @lizchilders1.