America's Best Cities for Pizza
Neapolitan-style pizza is a nationwide passion, yet one U.S. city’s pizza stokes the deepest devotion, according to Travel + Leisure readers.
There are some things that exist only in New York, but the city’s traditional foldable, thin-crust pizza is no longer one of them.
“These days, you can find decent, or even excellent, New York–style pizza in almost any medium-sized to large city in America,” says Brooklyn-based writer Jeff Turrentine. “But finding even passable Chicago-style pizza outside of Chicago—that still poses a challenge.”
That only-in-Chicago factor helps explain why the Windy City once again won the No. 1 spot for best pizza city, according to Travel + Leisure readers. This year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey—in which readers rank 35 cities for such enticements as luxury stores, live music, and good-looking locals—revealed voters’ reverence for Chicago’s deep-dish magic.
That said, the top-ranking cities also reflect an increasing passion for authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza—as well as a flair for quirky, local renditions, such as brisket pizza in San Antonio, TX, lobster pizza in Boston, or even Fritos-as-toppings in Houston. (The survey focuses on large metro areas, so voters didn’t have the option to rate some smaller cities with outsize pizza reputations, such as New Haven, CT, and Trenton, NJ.)
Even in Chicago, it’s not hard to find Neapolitan-style pizzerias that show off their Verace Pizza Napoletana certification—proof that they use the appropriate gear, ingredients, and techniques to create pizza like that you’d find in Naples. Take Lincoln Park’s Pizzeria da Nella, for instance, where the owner comes from a long line of Italian pizzaioli.
Traditional Chicago-style, on the other hand, may not have such strict standards, which may be why it doesn’t translate elsewhere. “When I’m traveling, I’ll see a restaurant that says ‘Chicago-style pizza,’ and because it’s me, I have to try it,” says Jonathan Porter, founder of Chicago Pizza Tours, where you can sample five Windy City pizzas in roughly three hours.
Such pretenders, he says, are often serving deep-dish’s cousin, the double-crusted “stuffed pizza”—or they’ve just gone overboard.
“It’s usually a real letdown,” he says. “Pizza is best kept simple. When you add tons of ingredients and cheese, you tend to ruin it.”
No. 1 Chicago
Is the classic deep dish the reason that Chicago topped the pizza category again this year? Perhaps, but the city deserves props for embracing a diversity of styles. At the local chain Pizano’s, you can get an authentic deep dish as well as a “tavern-style” thin crust, cut into strips or squares. The Neapolitan-style, brick-oven pies at Lincoln Park’s Pizzeria da Nella are a favorite of Heather Sperling, a Chicago-based editor at tastingtable.com. She also vouches for Coalfire in West Town (“my go-to for a meaty pie”) and Burt’s Place in the suburb of Morton Grove. “It’s legendary for its buttery, caramelized crust.”
No. 2 Providence, RI
The Rhode Island capital held onto its silver medal position from last year, perhaps because, like Chicago, it offers an only-in-Providence pie: grilled pizza, where the dough is cooked on one side, then flipped before the toppings are added. A great place to try it is downtown’s Bacaro, whose chef is from Al Forno, home of the original grilled pizza. To go a layer deeper into the city’s pizza culture, sample the pizza strips—topped with just sauce—found at LaSalle Bakery.
No. 3 New York City
While you can’t walk a few blocks in NYC without passing a pizzeria, many are tourist-trap knockoffs. Let the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza tour lead the way: you can dodge the lines at legendary Grimaldi’s near the Brooklyn Bridge, and try a Sicilian-style in Bensonhurst, then stick around post-tour for pies at Roberta’s. Back across the bridge, Adrienne’s Pizza Bar in Lower Manhattan gets raves for its square thin crust. Luckily, plenty of NYC pizzerias stay open late, which blends nicely with the city’s high rankings for cocktail lounges, live music, and wild weekends.
No. 4 Philadelphia
Pizza may not have been part of the founding fathers’ diet, but it is the voters’ favorite food in present-day Philly, which ranked in the top 5 for its great museums and cultural attractions. History meets pie at Pizza Brain, the “pizza museum” in Fishtown that serves thin-crust pies and houses more than 500 pizza-related artifacts. Meanwhile, at purist favorite Nomad Pizza, they slice your pie at the table, to prevent sogginess, and show a movie every Sunday night.
No. 5 Boston
While Santarpio’s and Regina are classic Beantown pizzerias, you can get trendy pies with a twist at the Back Bay’s Salty Pig—topped with a rotating selection of “salty pig parts”—or at Scampo, in the Liberty Hotel, where you can order a decadent lobster pizza. Boston also offers proof that there is some correlation between a city’s great pizzas and its degree of team fanaticism: Boston won the second-place spots for both sports bars and sports-crazed fans.
No. 6 Minneapolis/St. Paul
Readers may have just discovered the Twin Cities’ array of classic and quirky pizzas: the metropolis climbed nine slots since last year. Punch Pizza, with several locations, has serious VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) street cred, while Pizza Luce interprets the dish more loosely, offering a “western pizza” with scrambled eggs, bacon, and peppers for brunch. The hottest newcomer is artisan-style Pizzeria Lola, opened by a Korean-American chef and featuring a short-ribs-powered Korean BBQ pizza.
No. 7 San Diego
All that gorgeous weather makes people hungry: San Diego zoomed into the top 10 this year for its burgers, ice cream, and ethnic cuisine. Pizza purists often point to Hillcrest’s Bronx Pizza as delightfully foldable, East Coast–style pizza. The hottest newcomer, however, is Buona Forchetta in South Park, where the wood-fired oven looks like a blinged-out space pod, and where you can order white pizzas with crème fraîche and caramelized onions, or even a pizza fritte that is lightly fried before being baked.
No. 8 Savannah, GA
Pizza may tend toward the messy, but readers love this Georgia city first and foremost for its civilized aesthetics, ranking it No. 1 for quaint buildings, charming accents, and general peace and quiet. When locals crave pizza, favorite sources include Vinnie Van Go-Go, which does Neapolitan-style, and Screamin Mimi’s, which dubs itself as Jersey-style. Even if their pizza sensibilities hail from elsewhere, that doesn’t seem to affect Savannahians’ intense local pride.
No. 9 Nashville
Music City is home to the friendliest people in America, according to the survey, as well as an increasingly foodie-friendly scene that lifted its pizza ranking from last year’s No. 17. Just off Music Row you’ll find DeSano Pizza Bakery, which has Verace Pizza Napoletana status, while also tipping its hat to hearty southern appetites: the Lasagna Pizza features meatball, ricotta, and buffalo mozzarella. Five Points Pizza in East Nashville, meanwhile, takes its New York allegiance seriously, alongside a menu of local microbrews.
No. 10 Kansas City, MO
Pizza may seem like an afterthought in the No. 1 city for barbecue, yet the locals clearly need something to periodically cleanse their palates. The traditional favorite is Minsky’s, while the newest contender is Pizzabella, in the Crossroads Arts District. It has won over locals with chorizo-with-pesto or egg-and-pancetta pizzas, as well as drinks and floats from food truck Little Freshie Sodas. Readers love the accessibility of Kansas City, which won the survey for affordability.
No. 11 San Francisco
These stylish, erudite foodies are a tough crowd, so it may take an 11-time World Pizza Champion—such as Tony Gemignani at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach—to get their attention. Another great local option: SoMa’s Zero Zero, where you can get locally themed pizzas such as the Geary, with Manila clams, garlic, and bacon. Pizza is also a welcome affordable option in the culinary landscape; voters ranked San Francisco as one of the most expensive cities in the nation.
No. 12 Portland, ME
In this eco-friendly locavore town, even pizzaphiles want to know exactly what’s in their pie. One Portland favorite, Leonardo’s, makes it public that they use King Arthur flour—the purists’ favorite—even if some of the options are nontraditional, such as the Bacon Cheeseburger Paradise, topped with ground beef, gorgonzola, bacon, and ketchup. The city also ranked No. 3 for one of pizza’s best accompaniments: microbrews.
No. 13 San Antonio, TX
The Alamo city gets high marks for being family-friendly and affordable. This year, the city better known for its Tex-Mex made its debut on the pizza list thanks to some authentic pies: Dough Pizzeria Napoletana is VPN-certified and even has its own homemade mozzarella and burrata bar. But if just being in Texas makes you hungry for some serious beef, check out Big Lou’s Pizza, where brisket is a topping and Texas-size means a whopping 42 inches.
No. 14 Portland, OR
The food-cart champion puts some of its best pizzerias on wheels, such as the portable wood-fired Pyro Pizza, whose original location is in the city’s Cartopia at SE 12th and Hawthorne. For an old-style brick-and-mortar alternative, try Oven & Shaker, helmed by a James Beard–nominated chef and maker of Oregon Anchovy pizzas. Here, you can also order creative cocktails by one of the city’s A-list mixologists: try the Stumptown Daiquiri for an after-five take on the city’s coffee, which ranked at No. 2 in the survey.
No. 15 Austin, TX
The confluence of techy professionals and college students makes for a mobile community—and indeed Austinites ranked near the top for being brainy, offbeat, and enjoying great wireless coverage. The pizza scene is cutting edge too, with gourmet options such as House Pizzeria’s Blue Pizza, topped with Stilton and a port reduction. Home Slice on South Congress is beloved for its New York–style wedges, whole pies, or garlic knots, all available through a to-go window.
No. 16 Houston
In many ways Houston walks the line between uptown and down-home: the city ranked well in the survey for both classical music and burgers. When it comes to pizza, you can get it thin crust at Coppa with the restaurant’s signature cured pork, or line up at the food truck Pi Pizza, which caters to perhaps more adventurous palates: slices can be adorned with chili-cheese Fritos, barbecue sauce, or mac ’n’ cheese.
No. 17 Memphis, TN
No. 18 Los Angeles
This is L.A., so naturally the pizza scene has its own A-list. One prominent member: Mario Batali, who still has star power with Pizzeria Mozza, where you can get a squash-blossom pizza. It has a worthy rival in downtown’s new Bestia, which tops pizza with chile-dressed brussels-sprout leaves. Locals do well sticking with that thin crust: Angelenos ranked in the top 10 for being both fit and good-looking.
No. 19 Baltimore
Pizza was voters’ favorite food in Baltimore. Two of the city’s best pizzerias rely on coal-fired ovens: Chazz: A Bronx Original, opened by A Bronx Tale’s Chazz Palminteri, and Joe Squared, where the four-sided Stinky Breath Pizza (heavy on the garlic) was created by sports-crazed locals as a good-luck charm for the Ravens in the 2013 Super Bowl. Clearly, it worked.
No. 20 Orlando, FL
Orlando is famously family-friendly, but even in the theme parks, there’s much more to eat than concession-stand fare. At Epcot, Via Napoli sticks to Verace Pizza Napoletana standards, touting its imported flour as well as water akin to that found in Italy’s Campania region. If you’re dining outside the turnstiles, try Prato in Winter Park, where you can try the Widowmaker, a pizza topped with caciocavallo cheese, romesco sauce, Calabrian sausage, and farm egg.