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America's Best Pizza Pies

PARLOR GAMES: THE CLASSICS

New York Lombardi's Coal Oven Pizza 32 Spring St.; 212/941-7994; large cheese pizza $13.50. Behold that tangy, resilient crust, so expressive it sings in your mouth. The pepperoni is the stuff of legend, especially when augmented by addictive oven-roasted peppers. Of course there are brick walls, checkered tablecloths, and a white-tiled coal-burning oven—this is America's oldest pizzeria, a relic from 1905.

New Haven Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana 157 Wooster St.; 203/865-7602; large cheese pizza $12.95. Sally's A Pizza 237 Wooster St.; 203/624-5271; large cheese pizza $13.20. Pilgrims of the pizza faith call Pepe's Mecca. Ascend to heaven with the fabled white clam pie—and stay there as you swing by Sally's, just two blocks away, for a pizza with fresh tomatoes (in season) or broccoli rabe. Pepe's archrival is equally famous, a little younger, and a tad friendlier. Whose creations are better?The question could start a religious war in New Haven.

San Francisco Tommaso's Restaurant 1042 Kearney St.; 415/398-9696; large cheese pizza $17.50. A cozily cavernous room with the inevitable murals of Naples and a buzzing location in North Beach, one of America's great Little Italys. None of it would matter if the pies weren't so good. Kissed by the blistering heat of a wood-burning oven that's been cranking since 1935, the ur-Neapolitan dough is chewy and puffy, even weighed down with all-American frills.

Chicago The Original Gino's East of Chicago 633 N. Wells St.; 312/943-1124; large cheese pizza for two $18.11 Major-league Chicago-style pizzerias—Uno, Due, Lou Malnati's—all have their supporters, as well asdetractors who bemoan the general decline in crust quality. But many tough critics give a nod to this institution founded by cabdrivers. Expect jaw-challengingdeep-dish pies piled with everything from spinach to a sausage patty the size of a satellite dish. Gino's recently moved, graffiti-scrawled walls and all, to its new location.

UPPER-CRUST: THE BOUTIQUES

PhoenixPizzeria Bianco 623 E. Adams St.; 602/258-8300; pizza from $5. Here it is, folks: possibly the greatest pizza this side of the boot. For his hand-kneaded dough, Chris Bianco, the Michelangelo of pizzaioli, uses organic flour, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt from Brittany. The toppings—deluxe San Daniele prosciutto, mozzarella smoked over applewood, mesclun greens—are so irresistible, even a10-year-old might swear off Domino's. At least for an hour.

Cambridge, Mass.Emma's 40 Hampshire St.; 617/864-8534; large cheese pizza $11. Who cares if certain city folk regard a schlep to East Boston's Santarpio Pizza as the ultimate experience in pies?Emma's, with its sponge-painted yellow walls, has a fan club all its own (including Yo-Yo Ma and Alan Dershowitz). They adore that wisp of a crust; the sprightly, garlicky sauce; the parade of flavors—Vermont goat cheese,roasted sweet potatoes, dried cranberries, anyone?

Washington, D.C.Pizzeria Paradiso 2029 P St. NW; 202/223-1245; large cheese pie $12.95. From the co-owners of Obelisk, the capitol's most obsessively authentic Italian restaurant, come impeccably elegant pies, served in a snug, crowded town house in DuPont Circle. The crust is more Twiggy than Gina Lollobrigida, finished off with potato and pesto, or fresh tomato and mussels, or four cheeses (pecorino, fontina, gorgonzola, and mozzarella).

Las Vegas Postrio at The Venetian, 3377 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/796-1110; individual cheese pizza $9. Where would American pizza history be without Wolfgang Puck's designer concoctions, born at the original Spago in L.A.?On the terrace of Postrio—Puck's latest Vegas outpost—it's hard to decide which is more fun: the piazza (a simulated St. Mark's Square, with minstrels and gondoliers) or the pizza (thin crusts with toppings as beguiling as Cirque du Soleil).

Los Angeles Angeli Caffé 7274 Melrose Ave.; 323/936-9086; large cheese pizza $$11.75. Aspiring pie maestros (and their parents), take note: at the sleek Angeli Caffé on Melrose, children get their own dough to roll out—then waiters whisk it off to the oven. Says owner and pizza scholar Evan Kleiman, "Some kids start at two years old; by seven, they're pros."

A NEW SPIN: THE ECCENTRICS

Gray, Maine Pizza Paddle Restaurant Rte. 100, Gray Plaza; 207/657-3161; 10-inch lobster pizza $10.00. Question: What happens when you cross a lobster roll with a pizza?Answer: The lobster pie at Pizza Paddle, in the lake town of Gray. The dough is infused with a crustacean stock and a secret seasoning; the white-cheddar cap—no tomatoes, please—holds the meaty chunks of lobster in place.Note: Pizza Paddle no longer serves the lobster pie.

Idaho Springs, Colo.Beau Jo's Pizza Restaurant 1517 Miner St.; 303/567-4376; large cheese pizza $9.79. And who, exactly, is Beau Jo?A box turtle that supposedly rescued the recipe for the heroically scaled "mountain" pies served at this Colorado mainstay, the original and best of seven outlets. Order a Double Eagle (Cajun sausage, jalapeño, and cheddar), and save the hand-rolled edge of the pie for dessert: it's meant to be slathered with the local honey placed on each table.

PIZZA'S COUSINS

Find these at ethnic restaurants and bakeries around the country.

lamajun(Middle Eastern) Thin rounds of dough smothered with cumin-and-garlic-spiced ground lamb.

coca(Catalan) A rectangle of toasted bread topped with everything from spinach to almonds.

uthappam(Southern Indian) Fermented lentil-flour pancakes served with lentil stew and coconut chutney.

pissaladière(Provençal) Thin crust with a layer of anchovies, onions, and olives.

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