San Diego's Finest Pizza Places for a Legit Slice
While New York and Chicago continue to have their childish shouting matches over who makes the best pizza, we’ll just be down here enjoying some of the finest cheese and crust creations in the country -- and we’ll probably head to the beach afterward because, well, we can. San Diego has no shortage of pizza places serving up varied takes on the classic childhood foodstuff, from no-frills slice shops to tavern-style restaurants with perfect pie/pint pairings, and it’s time everyone else realized it. Here are the best damn places to eat pizza in San Diego.
Local favorite serving Neapolitan-style pies
This neighborhood favorite, now with outposts in South Park, Liberty Station and Encinitas, offers three dozen different pies ready to crush your carb and cheese cravings (all of which can be made gluten-free). You really can’t make a bad call, whether you go for something simple like the margherita or try something more unusual, like the Agenese, which is loaded with porcini mushrooms, shrimp, scallop, ricotta, and mozzarella. Pro tip: Hold onto the olive oil and balsamic from bread service, as you’ll want a puddle of it to drag your crusts through.
Well-rounded Italian spot using specialty pizza dough
The pizza makers at this hopping Italian restaurant owned by the same team behind Bencotto invested some serious dedication into crafting the perfect pizza dough. Made with yeast and flour imported from Italy, it slowly ferments for four days before it’s stretched, topped, and baked in a brick-lined gas oven. The Bencotto pizza -- with ricotta, mozzarella, and the same pink pancetta sauce that tops noodles next door -- deserves a spot on your must-eat list.
Classic & reliable NY-style slices
This beloved slice shop is known for classic, NY-style pies that clobber your hunger with the strength of a heavyweight. The Whitestone (a white pie with mozzarella, garlic, and dollops of creamy herbed ricotta cheese) is a must, but so are the calzones and house specialties like the triple-threat Porko (pepperoni, sausage, and meatballs), so it’ll probably take a few visits to find your favorite. The no-frills seating area is fine for a quick bite, but if you want a full pie, it’s better to call ahead for a fresh one to-go. There’s no delivery, and the parking situation is a permanent pain in the butt, but pies this good are worth the trouble.
Go-to near UCSD for deep dish (or NY-style)
Regents deserves props for doing many things very well. There’s an excellent draft list, along with worthy appetizers like scorching hot wings, Buffalo cauliflower, and crispy Brussels sprouts, plus all manner of salads and sandwiches... but the pizza is where it really shines, of course. You can get a whole pie if you’re willing to wait, or head directly to the slice case for instant gratification. There are many different varieties of NY-style and Chicago deep-dish pies here (a rarity!), so the only responsible thing is to get one of each.
Cucina Urbana and Cucina EnotecaBankers Hill and Del Mar
Elegant sister restaurants with elevated pizza and robust wine lists
When you want a nice night out but aren’t prepared to ignore your pizza craving, this duo of restaurants is the perfect compromise. The thin-crust pies baked in a 600-degree oven tend to lean slightly cheffy, but familiar flavors ensure they’re never too precious. The pancetta and Brussels sprouts (a béchamel sauce pie with fontina, red onion, roasted garlic, and chili) is an excellent choice. Want something more traditional? The spicy coppa (a red sauce pie with spicy salami, house-made mozzarella, pepperoncini, Calabrian chili, and basil) is like a grown-up pepperoni pizza.
Casual mini-chain for Roman-style pizza by the square
High standards and a commitment to perfection in the details secure this Roman-style pizza shop’s reputation as one of the top destinations for pizza in San Diego. The rectangular slices are crafted from a dough that takes three days to develop, resulting in a crisp and airy crust that is easier to digest than your standard NYC-style pie. Premium toppings like homemade basil pesto, truffle pate, and organic chicken seal the deal. The best plan of attack is to pair up with a partner and sample several varieties, like the Bapo, truffle porcini, and pollo e pesto.
Cozy craft beer bar with wood-fired pies
Thin-crust pies with crisp, blistered edges and an excellent selection of brews keep this Normal Heights pizzeria busy. It should come as no surprise to hear we wish there was another location (or locations) in the works. For now, we’re more than happy with the cheese-heaped quattro formaggi and meat lovers' pies topped with house-made sausage and chorizo.
Slice shop for Sicilian and NY-style pizza
Sicilian-style pizza is difficult to find in San Diego, but nobody does it better than this longstanding shop in North Park. Don’t be fooled by the modest digs: Aside from perfecting the namesake style, it also does a bang-up job on New York-style pies. Not sure what to order? The Sicilian-style Almost Lasagna is a great pick, featuring loads of meatballs, ricotta and savory red sauce. Daily specials like the $7 slice-and-a-beer deal on Tuesdays encourage mid-week pizza consumption, while everyday prices are so reasonable that it makes sense to order one pie of each style and plan on lots of leftovers.
Neapolitan-style pies in a classy, airy atmosphere
BIGA gets top marks for offering quality pizza, made with fresh local or imported Italian ingredients, in a light-filled space you’ll want to linger in. Two 850-degree ovens crank out carefully charred crusts in just 90 seconds. You really can’t go wrong here, but the Napoli pizza with sopressata, house-made Italian sausage, guanciale, rosemary, and house-made fior di latte is pretty much perfection.
New takes on famous pizzas, and a thoughtful wine list
Launched in 2016 by a bonafide pizza nerd, this cozy neighborhood spot situated in a former post office pays homage to beloved pies from pizzerias across the nation, like Roberta’s in Brooklyn, Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, and the food court in Costco (no joke!). Owner Matt Lyons finely tuned every detail of the operation to turn out the best possible pizza, including sourcing a specific brand of flour, splurging on a 1,500-pound wood-fired Renato oven, and installing a reverse osmosis system to make the water just right.
Stylish restaurant with surprising pizza and must-have desserts
Pizza might not be the first thing you gravitate towards at a place like Herb & Wood, but it’s a solid choice for a square (OK, technically round) meal with the same gourmet ingredients and inspired flavor profiles you’ll find in the pasta and meat dishes. When in doubt, opt for the Spanish chorizo and taleggio cheese with peppers, onion, and honey; it's a salty/sweet pairing that’s a spicier, more sophisticated riff on the classic ham-and-pineapple combo.
Popular coffee roaster that doubles as a pizza joint
Using old-school methods established by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, Caffe Calabria’s puffy, charred outside and uber-thin, crisp crust is baked for 60-90 seconds in a 905-degree, oak wood-fired oven. There’s no wrong choice here, but the Salsiccia is an absolute knockout, made with organic San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte, grana padano and house-made fennel sausage, under a scattering of fresh basil leaves. Just remember that pizza's only served Wednesday through Sunday, and plan accordingly.
A North County favorite for nearly a decade
For almost 10 years, Wade and Kristi Hageman have been turning out impossibly thin, beautifully charred pizzas, made from dough that’s been fermented for three days and baked a few minutes longer than traditional Neapolitan pizza, giving it a crackling crisp crust and soft crumb. Simple, high quality embellishments range from the brightly flavored Signature pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, lemon zest, red onion, basil, and extra virgin olive oil; to the Staff Favorite, house tomato sauce, sausage, basil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and a drizzle of heavy cream. If you can, save room for their signature dessert, a creamy, delectable butterscotch pudding.
Hand tossed goodness in an unexpected setting
Old Town isn’t the first neighborhood that springs to mind when you’re craving a slice, but Pizza Bella has been serving its award-winning pies there for nearly fifty years. Hand-tossed and stone-baked, these are medium-thick, chewy slices that can stand up to a load of hearty toppings, with pies ranging in size from the personal (8in.) to the gigantic (20in.). Build your own custom creation, or opt for a house combination like the Sigma-Chi: mixed sauces (red and pesto), Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni, and primavera vegetables in sizes personal.
Milanese-style pizza paired with biodynamic wines
Pairing Petra flour imported from Veneto with a 48 hour rising process, Ambrogio15’s paper-thin, Milanese style pizza can be ordered with a custom crust made from either white, whole wheat, or gluten free flour. You can’t miss with the classic Margherita, or the indulgent Hannibal Lecter (with San Marzano tomato DOP, mozzarella fior di latte, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, spicy salame Calabrese, Italian sausage, porchetta, imported prosciutto cotto, and organic grilled red bell pepper). Pair your pie of choice with a bottle of vino sourced from a consortium of small scale biodynamic winemakers in Italy. A new outpost is slated to open in 2020 at Del Mar Highlands.
Three different styles of Chi-town pizza
Lefty’s offers all three classic Chicago styles: crispy tavern style, deep-dish, and stuffed, along with other non-pizza hometown favorites like Italian beef sandwiches and classic Chicago hot dogs. Toppings range from veggie-laden to big and meaty, and just about every combo between. Call ahead if you’re choosing the stuffed pizza option, as they take an hour to fully bake.
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