America's Best Cities for Pizza 2011
Is it the crust, the toppings, or just the attitude? Travel + Leisure readers vote on America’s best cities for pizza.
Thick or thin? It’s a polarizing topic for many Americans.
It ranks right up there with the
debate over which city has the coolest live
music scene or the best-looking
locals. People can get downright riled up over
which city has the best pizza—and whether that pizza should be thin like New
York’s or thick like Chicago’s.
“Chicago-style pizza beats New York pizza any day,” says
John Vakidis, a Dallas-area sales consultant who grew up eating Chicago-style
in his father’s pizzeria. “The crust has more flavor, and people would drive 50
miles to eat it. Most New York–style pizza tastes like cardboard, and I wouldn’t
drive five minutes for it.”
Them’s fighting words to millions of New Yorkers and other
folks who prefer their pizza East Coast–style. “Both styles have their merits,”
concedes Seattle photographer Alex Hayden, who used to live in Manhattan. “But New
York’s is obviously better.”
No surprise, New York and Chicago tangled for the Best Pizza
award in this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, in which Travel + Leisure readers voted on the best qualities of 35 metropolitan areas across the U.S.
No doubt, everyone has an opinion on pizza. Americans spent
$36 billion on it in 2009, according to the trade magazine PMQ Pizza,
and the big pizza chains account for only about 40 percent of the business.
That means there are still plenty of small chains and mom-and-pop pizzerias out
there, offering local flavor and inspiring fierce loyalties.
Of course, some people swear by different styles, like the
pizza squares found in Detroit, or the unique Neapolitan that originated in New
Haven. (To be fair, in a strict contest over pizza, New Haven would likely have
been a contender, but the Connecticut city wasn’t an option in our AFC survey.)
And one American region that has a pizza named after
it—Hawaii—ranked at No. 33 out of 35 in the pizza survey, implying that the
pineapple-and-Canadian-bacon pizza has lost its island magic. Faring even
worse, however, were Santa Fe and Memphis—the latter, perhaps, channeling all
its energies into that legendary barbecue.
But when we looked at the top 20 pizza cities, we didn’t
find towns that merely picked sides in the New York–or–Chicago debate. Rather,
we saw towns with a reputation for neighborhood
restaurants, or a lot of college kids, or just a history that includes lots
of Italian immigrants, who brought pizza to the U.S. back in the 19th century.
We also saw some cities on the cutting edge of the culinary
scene. “Pizza is really changing, thanks to an artisan movement,” says Peter
Reinhart, a cooking instructor who launched pizzaphile site PizzaQuest and wrote American
Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza. “The focus has really shifted to the
crust, creative toppings, and local ingredients.” Providence (No. 3), for
instance, is the birthplace of grilled pizza. And then there’s dark-horse
Phoenix (No. 11), where artisan-style, thin-crusted Pizza Bianco regularly has
lines out the door. “People go there and say, ‘Wow, I never knew pizza could be
that good,’” Reinhart says. “It’s a new paradigm.”
But plenty of pizza lovers still go old school: those basic,
foldable slices of New York style, or the rich, deep-dish Chicago pizzas.
Reinhart refuses to take sides too much. “Some people say that deep-dish is
more of a casserole than pizza,” says Reinhart. “But who cares? It’s still really