Food & Drink

The Best Pizzerias in America

Scarr's
Scarr's | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Scarr's | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

There’s a reason everyone loves the pizza they grew up with and it’s probably not because you were lucky enough to grow up next to the best pizzeria in the country. Unless your next-door neighbor was Chris Bianco, you love that pizza because of the experiences you had with it. You had your first pizza, your sixth-grade graduation or your first date. It imprinted on you.

How can another pizzeria compete with that? How can they break through that wall and become your new favorite? It all comes down to being unique.

The best pizzerias are one-of-kind. They serve pizzas you can spot on Instagram without a tag. They have specific flavors and textures that don’t exist in the same form anywhere else in the world. They're the originator of a style or the place that mastered it. They have stories behind them that inspire and spaces inside that transport you. And above all, they have insanely passionate people who have put their life into making a place where magic can happen…where you can love a slice of pizza just as much as the one you ate when you were ten.

Pizza -- even great pizza -- is subjective. You may like a certain pizza more, but I don’t think you’ll find many pizzerias better than the following list. These twenty-five restaurants are all very different, but each of them embodies something truly special about pizza.

Apizza Scholl’s

Portland, OR 
Every town in America seems to have a popular neighborhood pizza place with classic arcade games, but none of them serve pizza as absurdly great as Portland legend, Apizza Scholl’s. 

Scholl’s serves thin crust, but it’s definitely not New York style. The ends are puffier and more flavorful, the bottom sturdier, and there's more cheese than you expect on a pizza so refined in taste. It’s the pie I visualize in my head when I think about going out for pizza and beer, and every time I have it, it’s a deeply satisfying experience.

Master bread baker Brian Spangler has been a pizza rock star for the last 15 years, and his plain pies are killer on their own, but his toppings are fantastic, too — especially the sausage. Spangler’s also a man who lives by a specific code: overloading ingredients ruins pizza. That means you’re free to have more than three toppings on your pizza…just not at Apizza Scholl’s.

Oh, and that collection of vintage arcade games Spangler regularly rotates? That's probably the best I've seen at any pizzeria as well.

Emilia’s

Berkeley, CA
On a quiet street in Berkeley, the one and only employee of Emilia's Pizzeria quietly serves the best pizza in California four nights a week. Emilia’s can best be described as coal oven-esque, even though owner Keith Freilich is cooking in a gas oven that runs much hotter than most. His pizza is a nod to the classic joints Freilich worked at back in New York like Grimaldi’s, but the crust is more supple and flavorful, and his blend of fresh and aged cheeses is more refined. It doesn’t taste like like the classics it descended from — it actually tastes much better.

There’s a catch for pizza lovers who want to dine out though. Emilia's has a tiny footprint and there's only room for one table in the place, so it's primarily a takeout operation. But land a reservation (the website has tips) and you’re guaranteed to be served by one of the best pizza makers in the country.

Flour + Water Pizzeria 

San Francisco, CA
The original Flour + Water restaurant has great Neapolitan pies and even better pasta, but when Thomas McNaughton made the decision to open a pizzeria, he knew he had to change things up.

True Neapolitan doesn’t travel well. You can set a timer when it comes out of the oven and you're lucky if it survives for five minutes. This new incarnation of Flour + Water keeps McNaughton's notoriously high standards for ingredients, but drops the leopard spots in favor of bulbous, bready crust that's built for the long haul.

And since we're in tech country, of course there's a big innovation: the takeout window. Faster than a New York City pizza counter, the mini-storefront serves up the Big Slice, aka half a pizza folded over like a taco with some chili sauce for dipping. There's no patent on this, so I encourage every other pizzeria in the country to try it.

It’s early days for this pizzeria, which just opened in July, and it generally takes a while for a truly great pizzeria to find its footing, but Flour + Water Pizzeria is already the best pizza in San Francisco. I can't wait for year two.

Good Pie

Las Vegas
Everyone has a different reason for going to Las Vegas; I go for a tiny pizzeria tucked away in the back of a strip mall on the outskirts of kitschy downtown. 

Step inside Good Pie and you’ll see a shrine on the wall to grandmothers. That’s a subtle nod to the next-level grandma pies Vincent Rotolo specializes in. Generously cheesed and spotted with dollops of tangy sauce, it's just thick enough to appeal to Sicilian lovers while being approachable to thin-crust types.

More impressive is that Rotolo slayed the gluten-free dragon. His pan pizza take on what's normally a cardboard slab is without a doubt one of the very best in the country. In fact, I'd eat it over 99.9% of the "real thing."

And because we're Vegas, you know there's an encore. Good Pie shares a parking lot with the famous Las Vegas pawn shop featured in Pawn Stars, while another neighbor rents out gaudy, exotic cars who, frankly, nobody should be driving. If you catch it at the right time, not only is Good Pie great pizza, it’s people-watching heaven.

L'Industrie

Brooklyn, NY
The smallest pizzeria on this list could be a gamechanger. L'Industrie is a classic Brooklyn slice shop filtered through the mind (and hands) of Massimo Laveglia, a transplant from Florence, Italy. Laveglia combines Italian techniques and flours with the best domestic ingredients he can find to create the elevated New York slice. He's fermenting his dough longer and cooking his pies hotter in an electric oven to improve taste and texture, but the upgrades don't stop there.
 
Nobody should walk out without trying his signature slice, which has a hulking dollop of creamy burrata on top of an aged mozzarella slice, along with fresh basil, a shaving of Romano cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. This heady mix of flavors and temperatures is wholly unique for a neighborhood spot.

Just as impressive is that Laveglia is doing it all within the cramped confines of 450 square feet, so only a couple of people can even fit into the kitchen. Luckily it only takes one person to start a revolution.

Loui's
Loui's | Megan Frye/Thrillist

Loui’s

Hazel Park, MI 
Loui's lives in the shadows of Buddy's, the progenitor of Detroit style pizza, the vaguely Sicilian pizza that's currently popping up around the nation. The pizzas are made in aluminum pans with Wisconsin brick cheese that goes all the way to the edge. The sauce goes on the very top, but you'll really know it's Detroit when you see the gloriously burnt, caramelized edges. You can argue over which place has better squares, but Buddy's can't hold a carburetor to the Loui's experience. 

What seems like thousands of bottles that once held Chianti adorn the cavernous bar with kitschy lights and a staff that seems like it’s been there for decades serving an uninhibited variety Detroit style. There's more cheese, more grease and a decidedly un-organic sauce that somehow makes the rest of the flavors pop more. 

There may be no art in the kitchen or at the walls at Loui's, but it's the beating, slightly clogged heart of Detroit style pizza.

Lovely’s 50/50

Portland, OR 
Talk to pizza people about the chef they’re most excited about and Sarah Minnick’s name is guaranteed to come up. Minnick is the co-owner of Lovely’s 50/50, a pizzeria that’s quickly becoming a Portland institution.

If you’re wondering what’s on the menu…so is Minnick. Lovely’s pies aren’t just seasonal, they’re completely dependent on what she liked at the farmer’s market that week. That means ingredients and flavors you’ve never had on a pizza before like roasted kohlrabi, apricot, and even marigold petals, along with a revolving blend of aged, funky cheeses. You haven’t had anything like her rustic dough, either. It’s a naturally leavened, whole grain variety that’s as hearty and wheaty as pizza gets.

After dinner, Lovely’s 50/50 has one more trick up its sleeve. The other half of the 50/50 is ice cream made from the same organic, farm-fresh ingredients Minnick uses in her pizza.

Courtesy of Kelly Campbell

Mozza 

Los Angeles, CA
Thirteen years ago, Nancy Silverton unlocked the secret to making great pizza in Los Angeles. The founder of LaBrea Bakery, the woman who changed the way Americans view a baguette, developed a dough recipe based on her favorite bread and then put the best ingredients she could find on it. Seems simple, right? If it was so easy, why didn't anyone else do it?

For one, the dough process is complicated. Mozza has a true baker's crust that uses a sponge for a starter, as well as a mix of bread and rye flours and some barley malt to give a slight sweetness to the puffy crust. And not everyone can raid LA's farmer's markets for squash blossoms or knows which nooks and crannies of Italy to poke around to find the best olive oil of the season.

In the years since Mozza opened, Silverton has gained even more acclaim as one of the country's best chefs. But beyond a few weak attempts in Los Angeles, nobody else has tried to copy her signature style. Maybe it's a sign of respect, but more likely they just can't. Nancy's that good.

 

Paulie Gee's | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Paulie Gee’s 

Brooklyn, NY 
Nobody has a better story — or is more happy to tell it — than Paulie Gee. Ten years ago, Paulie was a burnt-out corporate IT consultant who quit his job and took the biggest gamble of his life. Today he’s one of the most celebrated personalities in the pizza universe with the hippest (and best) pizzerias in Brooklyn.

Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop around the corner is getting all the buzz, but there’s something truly magical about the original at 60 Greenpoint. It's a dimly-lit, gorgeous space full of brick, wood and antiques that people with much better taste than all of us chose. You’re welcome to order a margherita that you'll see made in the open kitchen, but the strength of Paulie Gee’s is the unique flavors. No place is better at combining elements Americans like about Neapolitan with unexpected ingredients to create new classics. Take the Sake Mountain Way, which features a tomato sauce made with garlic, onion, olive oil, basil, sake reduction and heavy cream. It shouldn't come out so well, but it just...does. Such is the second life of Paulie Gee.

Pepe's/Sally's

New Haven, CT
Is it cheating to combine two different places? Pepe's and Sally's are at the very top of pizzerias in their class, legends that have served oblong, chewy coal oven New Haven apizza for a combined 175 years. They're also a block away from each other and even descended from the same family. Of course, the big counter to that argument is that the two spots excel at radically different pies.

Pepe's white clam pizza is legendary, and is factually better than Sally's. Only a tiny percentage of the Sally's ride or die-ers would disagree. The definitive blend of grated romano cheese, fresh garlic, olive oil and parsley perfectly highlight the fresh clams in such an absurdly simple fashion that no other pizzeria has been able to match.

But Sally's does their own wizardry with simplicity. Their tomato pie is a beautiful mix of tangy canned tomatoes with a dusting Pecorino Romano and fresh herbs. It highlights the flakey char, which is more present at Sally's. And while fat tomato slices on a pizza are generally the universal symbol for trash, the white pie with sweet, fresh tomatoes is the big exception to the rule.

So if they're not actually the same, should they really be listed together? Eat them back to back for what could possibly be the best pizza night of your life and let me know if you still think I'm wrong.

Pequod's
Pequod's | Kailley Lindman/Thrillist

Pequod’s 

Chicago, IL
Ask someone what their favorite deep dish pizza is and if they don't ask you which kind, their opinion should immediately be suspect. After all, there's classic deep dish like Lou Malnati's, there's stuffed pizza like Giordano's and there's pan, like Pequod's. I fully endorse all deep dish pizza when it's made well, but when I'm really craving a gut bomb, Pequod's is my nuclear option.

The base of Pequod's is a thick, spongy crust with lots of spring. There's too much cheese on top (aka the correct amount) and some acidic sauce that help balance out thick chunks of sausage and other accoutrement. Then there's that soulful, caramelized rim of burnt cheese around the edge that's reminiscent of Detroit style, but goes all the way down the side of the pan.

Pan pizza pioneer and legendary character Burt Katz founded Pequod's before he later opened his own place (Burt's, of course), but since his passing in 2016, Pequod's seems to be the place where his legacy is most alive. The shop in Lincoln Park has the goods, but visiting the original Morton Grove location is an immersive experience. It's like you're in someone's basement-turned-bar that happens to serve one of the most soulful, over the top dishes of all-time. It all feels very Chicago and very Burt, and that's a great combination.

Pizza Brain 

Philadelphia, PA
When Pizza Brain opened in 2012, it was touted as the first "Pizza Museum." There is real history in Brian Dwyer's massive collection of pizza memorabilia, but more than that, it was a reminder how much fun pizza is and how it's intrinsically tied to both communities and popular culture. And, oh yeah, they also served pizza!

Today, the script has flipped. All the toys and records and classic photos are still there, but customers aren't there because of the past -- they're there for the present. Pizza Brain doesn't serve New York style, it serves "American pizza" with a golden brown crust from a brick oven. They do artisan takes on the classics, but they've got a playful, seasonal menu that's seen bahn mi pies, lamb curry, and lowcountry boil-themed pizzas with andouille sausage shrimp, pureed potatoes and sweet corn. These don't feel like gimmicks though, partly because the crew is talented and partly because the intention behind it is so pure -- to celebrate pizza and unite everyone.

Seven years later, a pizzeria that was made solely to honor pizza history has earned its own place in it.

Pizzana 

Los Angeles, CA 
Daniele Uditi grew up in an artisan bread baking family, working at one of the very best pizzerias in Italy. To some that may be a dream, but he found the rigid Neapolitan codes restricting at times. So when he moved across the world to find a new life in Los Angeles, he threw the rules out window and made something wholly original.

On first glance Pizzana may look like regular Neapolitan, but lift up a slice and you'll notice there isn't anything soupy or floppy about this pizza. The crust is delicate, but it's also more crisp and flavorful than a traditional Neapolitan pie thanks to a hand-mixed dough that is gently fermented and baked slightly longer at a lower oven temperature. Uditi also uses special cooling racks and serving plates that vent the bottom of the crust so the slices retain their structural integrity. 

Uditi isn't just pushing boundaries with the dough. Take for example the Neo-Margherita, a deconstructed version of the classic, or the Cacio e Pepe pie. 

Leave it to an Italian to re-invent Italian pizza.

Pizzeria Bianco

Phoenix, AZ
Fifteen years ago, Pizzeria Bianco was already known as the best pizza in the country. How can someone possibly top that? If you're Chris Bianco, the one true Jedi master of pizza, you reach out beyond Arizona and inspire a legion of men and women around the country to make the best pizza they possibly can. You've probably seen the results at the amazing new pizzeria in your neighborhood, but to really understand the pizza renaissance of the last decade, you have to make the trek to where it all started: Phoenix.

Bianco has given away one of his secrets from the start: cultivate relationships with local farmers and producers who treat the land right and, in turn, treat them right. But what he can't teach is the thing that makes all six pizzas on his menu work perfectly -- balance. For him it's not just about the ratios, it's about the ingredients themselves. At Pizzeria Bianco the tangy mozzarella cheese his team makes in-house works perfectly with his organic California tomatoes, which impeccably pair with the dough his brother makes from local wheat. These are all ingredients that go together easily, but when you try his pizza, you realize he's seeing another dimension.

If you have any doubts, try the Rosa, a rustic mix of Parmigiana-Reggiano, red onion, rosemary and Arizona pistachios. It's still one of the most unique and delicious pizzas that's ever been invented and it's only gotten better since he was considered the best in the country.

Pizzicletta

Flagstaff, AZ
You can find hidden gems in small towns all over the country, but Arizona might house the one that gleams the most. Pizzicletta is a tiny pizzeria owned by Caleb Schiff, a former geologist who fell in love with Neapolitan pizza ten years ago while biking across Italy. Today he's cooking up one of the most refined, naturally-leavened pizzas in the country, on a bustling drag in Flagstaff.

Pizzicletta is tiny, with room for just 15 hungry customers, and the menu is even smaller at just 5 pizzas, but there are enough add-ons on specials to keep it fresh. Schiff makes an A+++ Margherita, but he also makes one of my favorite pizzas anywhere: the Amore oi Mari. A salty, creamy base of marscapone and pecorino romano set the stage for peppery arugula, thinly-sliced prosciutto, and a drizzle of meyer lemon olive oil that cuts through it all and and brings the bold flavors into focus. 

The only knock against Pizzicletta -- the occasionally long waits outside on cold nights --  recently disappeared when Schiff installed a second oven in nearby Dark Sky Brewery. With a great selection of beers on tap and five new pies on the menu there, this treasure doesn't seem like it's going to be hidden for much longer.

Razza

Jersey City, NJ 
Every night there's an electricity in the line on Grove Street in Jersey City. They're all waiting to get into Razza, a charming neighborhood place that just so happens to serve the very best pizza in the country.

Going to Razza always feels like an event, and that's wholly due to the obsessive focus and dedication of chef/owner Dan Richer. He's got a beautiful wood-burning oven in the dining room, but he's not out to make cheffy, ornate pies. He just wants to make food that tastes as good as humanly possible, and in this case it's pizza that's perfectly crisp with a tender, flavorful crumb and cravable toppings, like best pepperoni I've ever had.

For some, knowing the terroir of the tomatoes or the rigorous work that goes into prep can heighten the experience, and Richer is an incredibly engaging host who can walk you through the farms he works with or the years of experimentation he went on to make that slice on your plate perfect. But he’s even happier if you’re simply loving the food. 

Some people hate lines, but I love them. They build anticipation, which makes food taste better, and if a line is consistent for long enough the restaurant rarely disappoints. In the case of that line on Grove Street, it's one that can't possibly end any better.

Scarr's
Scarr's | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Scarr's

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.

Slim & Huskys 

Nashville, TN
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.

Spacca Napoli 

Chicago, IL 
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.

Totonno's

Brooklyn, NY
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.

Tribute Pizza 

San Diego 
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.

Vito & Nick's
Vito & Nick's | Matt Lynch/Thrillist

Vito & Nick's 

Chicago, IL
Everyone eats deep dish pizza in Chicago -- everyone except the people who actually live there. The true pie in Illinois is something much closer to Vito and Nick's, the city's first square cut, tavern-style pizza.

Vito and Nick's opened as a bar in 1923 and started slinging pie in 1946, and it hasn't changed much since then. It's not surprising that they'd use the same recipe, but very few restaurants are using the same purveyors after 70 years. 

The first time I ever had it, it reminded me of a transcendent Tombstone pizza, and I mean that in the very best possible sense. The crust is firm enough to hold a healthy coating of mozzarella and way too much extra-fatty fennel sausage, but it's more pliant and less crackery than the standard bar pie. 

I can believe that there's a Chicago thin-crust pizza just as good somewhere in the city, but I know that none of them serve Old Style beer as cold, and none are as blissfully uninterested in the passage of time as Vito and Nick's.

Zoli's

Addison (Dallas), TX
Jay Jerrier had great success with his VPN-certified Neapolitan pizzeria Cane Rosso, but when he wanted to do something less formal he brought NY transplant Lee Hunziger in to handle the oven at Zoli's. Zoli's serves up top shelf slices and Sicilians that don’t seem too far removed from the east coast even though they’ve got shops in Fort Worth and Addison, TX. But Zoli's really shines when it embraces its heritage and goes off script.

Soppresata marmalades grace more than a few pies, while brisket and BBQ sauce get in the pen with pepperoni on the Meat Fight pizza. “Everything is bigger in Texas” may be a cliche at this point, but Zoli’s embraces it with specials like the double-crust Meatzilla, loaded with a shocking amount of pepperoni, meatballs, soppresatta and sausage.
 
Sometimes “too much” is just the right amount, and Hunziger and Jerrier have paved their own lane in the pizza world — New York by way of the Lone Star State.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Eatmail for more food coverage, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Lance Roberts is a food writer in Los Angeles and has more pizza picks at pizzarecs.com@lanceate