Ask the average person who makes the best pizza, or read articles, blogs, and best-of lists by pizza "experts," or wade into online comments, and you'll find that there is a light side and a dark side -- two flavors, if you will -- of Pizza Opinion: The positive, passionate, all-consuming love for one's own favorite cheesy, greasy, roof-of-mouth-burning slice; and the dark, fiery vitriol reserved for those who dare challenge the superiority of thin-crust over deep-dish, sweet sauce over savory, or any number of other fiercely divisive pizzalogical issues. Considering the passion pizza inspires, responsibly declaring America's best pizza can be challenging. But The Daily Meal doesn't shy away from the challenge. With this, our third annual pizza ranking, we have again sought the nation's best pies and slices, considering more places than ever in our quest for the best.
Pizza is arguably our most varied and beloved culinary genre, one whose followers are some of the most opinionated, and yet it remains one of the most accessible foods there is. Even the country's most expensive, remote, and esteemed pizza temple is within reach of the average person's budget. Every red-blooded American, rich and poor, grew up with his or her preferred regional style of this national fascination, knowing it as the best. Today, there's better pizza and more knowledge about it and interest in it everywhere. That accessibility and loyalty makes for some tremendously spirited debate.
Some 700 pizza spots were considered by 78 panelists. Who were these fine folks? In addition to The Daily Meal's in-house pizza experts and city editors, this was a geographically diverse panel of American chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and pizza authorities. Count among them SF Weekly food editor Anna Roth, the Los Angeles Times' S. Irene Virbila, Esquire and Bloomberg News columnist John Mariani, Clean Plate Charlie's Nicole Danna, Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours, John Berardi of LA Pizza, Jonathan Porter of Chicago Pizza Tours, Jason Feirman of the blog I Dream of Pizza, Felicia Braude of Pizza Lover Chicago, Taste of New Haven's Colin Caplan, food writer Joe DiStefano of Chopsticks & Marrow, and Virginia B. Wood of the Austin Chronicle. The full list will be available here momentarily -- it even includes the band The Pizza Underground.
Some 30 states registered -- three more than in 2013 -- including, for the first time, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. For the second year, New York scored the most pizzas (35), up five from last year. And there was a clear winner in the battle of the boroughs: Brooklyn. Its 13 pizzas beat out Manhattan (11), Queens (4), Staten Island (3), and the Bronx (1). California followed with nine pizzas, seven in San Francisco and Berkeley. There were noticeable additions from places like Texas (5), Georgia (four), and Washington, D.C. (three), who all registered more spots than they did last year. And in a move that will continue to enrage deep-dish lovers, even fewer spots from Illinois made the list than ever.
#5 Sally’s Apizza, New Haven Conn. (Tomato Pie: Tomato Sauce, No Cheese)
Sally's Apizza is a New Haven classic, operating from the same location where they opened in the late 1930s in New Haven's Wooster Square. Their pizza is traditionally thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and "mozz." The pies look pretty similar to what you'll find down the street at Frank Pepe, which any New Haven pizza believer will note is because the man who opened Sally's is the nephew of the owner of Pepe. The folks at Sally's will be the first to tell you that Pepe makes a better clam pie, but their tomato pie (tomato sauce, no cheese), well, they have the original beat there.
Photo Credit: passion-4-pizza.comClick Here to See All of the 101 Best Pizzas in America
#4 Roberta’s, Brooklyn N.Y. (Margherita)
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city's rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you'd still be selling it short. Roberta's is in Bushwick, six stops out of Manhattan on the L, and it’s one of the city's best restaurants (it even serves one of the city’s hardest-to-score tasting menus). In Bushwick! Pizza may not be the only thing at Roberta’s, but its Neapolitan pies are at the high end of the debate about the city's best (and according to an interview with the blog Slice, inspired another great pizzeria on this list, Paulie Gee’s). Yes, some of them have names like "Family Jewels," "Barely Legal," and after disgraced New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Wiener, "Carlos Danger," but you can afford not to take yourself seriously in an environment where Brooklyn hipsters and everyone else tolerate each other when your pizza is this good. As much as the Amatriciana and the Bee Sting (when Roberta’s goes mobile) may tempt, the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is Roberta’s pizza Lothario.
Photo Credit: Ryan G Rice
#1 Frank Pepe, New Haven, Conn. (White Clam: Clams, Grated Parmesan, Olive Oil, Garlic, Oregano)
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to embark on a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria. Frank Pepe opened in Wooster Square in New Haven, Conn., in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza. After immigrating to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16 from Italy, Pepe took odd jobs before opening his restaurant (now called "The Spot," adjacent to the larger operation). Since then, Pepe has opened an additional seven locations.
What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: Clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmesan atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
Click Here to See All of the 101 Best Pizzas in AmericaPhoto Credit: Frank Pepe