New York, NY
No pizzeria in America has had a faster rise from upstart to legend than Scarr's. On first glance it seems a classic haunt that has always existed, but the pizza there is a couple steps above the classic slice. That's because Scarr Pimentel is maniacal about the details, which means using organic ingredients when he can and even extends to milling his flour in the basement.
And though he nails regular slices and individual pan pies, the Sicilian hits the sweet spot for me.
Scarr's got the details right in the space, too. The booths and wood paneled walls don't feel like a retro throwback, they're just what everyone instinctively wants from a NY slice joint. The crowd in back is a mix of die-hard fans, skaters, pizza tourists, and people who are definitively cooler than you, but everyone feels welcome. It's like going to a religious service -- everyone puts aside their differences to worship at this new temple of pizza.
Scarr says that milling wheat berries fresh helps with digestion and eliminates the gluten hangover some people feel after pizza. I'm happy for those people, but all it means to me is that I have a green light to order an extra slice.
90's hip-hop is a big part of Slim & Husky's, a fast casual pizza spot opened by three Tennessee State grads which recently expanded to Atlanta. It's always thumping in the cavernous space, it's imbedded in the art on the walls, and it's in the menu. Pizzas with three types of pepperoni are generally great, but when they have a name like Rony, Roni, Rone! you could be dealing with genius. Polish off your meal with one of their 5 specialty cinnamon rolls, and the notion is confirmed.
Slim & Husky's is a fun spot but its commitment to community is where it really stands out. I can't think of another pizzeria that's hosted a city council debate like they did in August. S+H also gives out PREAM (Pizza Rules Everything Around Me, of course) scholarships to Nashville teens who work at their shop and have excelled at class.
Slim & Husky's is a reminder for everyone that great pizzerias aren't always about just the food.
Would you believe the best, most authentic Neapolitan pizza in the entire country is made by...a Jewish guy from Chicago? Spacca Napoli owner Jonathan Goldsmith is a social worker turned pizzaiolo who reveres Italian culture as much as anyone I’ve ever met, including Italians. He's fluent to the point where he unconsciously drops in Italian into everyday conversation, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn he trained with the masters of pizza in Naples.
That's most apparent in his dough. Every batch is hand-mixed at Spacca, so the pizza comes out as light and pillowy as you can get. The toppings are traditional, but he's always experimenting with ingredients like ancient cheeses he picked up on research trips to Italy.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Goldsmith isn't that he's been able to crack the upper echelon of the pizza world and win respect in Italy. It's that he's still working on getting better. He never stops experimenting with his dough to see if he can reach new heights, and based on his track record, he probably will.
New York City has more classic coal oven pizzerias than any other place, including big names like Patsy’s and Lombardi’s, but the best one is on a street full of auto shops in Coney Island. Family-owned since forever and currently run by Cookie Cimineri and Annette Balzano, the two granddaughters of the founder, Totonno’s is the reigning heavyweight champion of classic New York pizza.
Long-time pizzaiolo Michael Gammone also deserves credit. He doles out a balanced sauce-to-cheese ratio that was perfected over the course of generations on a thin, just crisp enough crust speckled with the perfect amount of char. This is the platonic ideal of an old school pie.
Totonno’s has been through a lot, especially in the last decade. There was a fire in 2009 and extensive flooding from Hurricane Sandy that almost put it out of business. But those setbacks and the resulting rebuild have only made it stronger.
It may be 95 years old, but Totonno’s doesn’t feel like a historical artifact — it’s a thriving pizza powerhouse in its prime, and it’s been there almost longer than any other pizza place in the country.
Sometimes the cover song is more fun than the original, and such is the case at Tribute Pizza in San Diego. Every pizza on the ever-changing menu is an homage to a classic pie from a pizza legend like the restaurant’s patron saint, Chris Bianco, or another inspired interpretation of something the staff loves, like their favorite burrito place down the street.
Owner Matt Lyons consistently cranks out fantastic pies and bread from his wood-fired oven, as well as the most readable, and often hilarious menu in the pizza world. To wit, my favorite recent special — The Vodka Sauce 3.0: Russian Interference/Calabrian Collusion, a tribute to the legendary vodka slice at Rubirosa in New York and Robert Mueller.
Tribute gets bonus points for always coming up with extensive and delicious vegan and vegetarian options, and for special touches like serving Miller High Life in actual champagne bottles sitting inside a stainless steel ice bucket.