There may be no food on earth that's more beloved than pizza. Because honestly, what's not to like? Bread, sauce, cheese, an unlimited assortment of toppings... it's really the perfect food. And while it might be easy to think that you can't get good pizza outside of certain parts of the United States and Italy, in reality there's a whole world (literally) of great pizza out there. We've rounded up the ten best cities on earth to find great pizza, and a lot of them are places you might not expect.
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Pizza, as we all know, has its roots in Italy -- ancient Rome, to be exact. It most likely got its start as focaccia (called panis focacius by the ancients), and modern pizza originated in Naples. Tomatoes were considered poisonous by many until the late 1700s, but by the early 1800s Naples' poor were adding tomato-based sauce to their flat bread, and once tourists to the area caught on to this new invention, they spread the gospel all throughout the world.
Just the fact alone that the tiny city of New Haven is home to America’s best pizza, the white clam pie at the legendary Frank Pepe, is enough to earn it a spot on our list, but Pepe’s just the tip of the iceberg. In New Haven, pizza isn’t pizza, it’s apizza, and it’s thin-crusted, oblong, coal-fired, deeply charred, the crust is chewier thanks to a longer fermentation, and it doesn’t automatically come topped with “mootz.” Head to Pepe’s, Sally’s, or Modern Apizza (each of which have been around since the ‘20s or ‘30s), sample the goods, wash it all down with a Foxon Park soda, and get ready for a life-changing pizza experience.
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In Boston, pizza is a way of life. There’s no such thing as a Boston-style pie, but that’s because they’ve managed to take just about every other regional style, from bar pie to “sauce on top” pies to traditional Neapolitan to square Sicilian, and perfect it. The legendary Santarpio’s puts their sauce on top of the cheese and toppings on the bottom and claims that this is the best way to do it (it would be hard to argue after trying a slice); Regina Pizza serves one of the country’s perfect plain slices; the crust on Picco’s pies is crunchy, chewy, yeasty, and slightly sour (in a good way) and the toppings are all local, organic, and homemade; and at Galleria Umberto the square slices are cheesy and greasy in all the right ways, yet paradoxically light as air.
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Believe it or not, the pizza scene in Rome has only recently taken off, but what a scene it’s become. The Italian capital has found a formula that works — super-high-quality ingredients, creative toppings, and a fine dining-style experience — and they’re milking it for all it’s worth, with incredibly impressive (and lucrative) results. There are still plenty of old-style pizzerias and bakeries serving traditional oblong pizza alla pala, but newcomers like Sforno (serving a paradigm-shifting cacio e pepe pizza); La Gatta Mangiona (supplementing pizzas topped with potato, salmon, mozzarella, and parsley with more than 200 wines and 70 craft beers); Pizzarium (where Rome’s most famous pizzaiolo, Gabriele Bonci, has been creating genius pies topped with items like rabbit, raisins, and fennel greens since 2003); and La Fucina (breaking the mold by pre-slicing their pizzas so diners can sample multiple varieties, like the one topped with flowers, shrimp, mozzarella, and lardo) have turned pizza in Rome from a post-war peasant food to seriously high-class fare.
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Of course, the birthplace of pizza as we know it would rank high on our list. And while it could easily be resting on its laurels and serving mass-produced dreck to flocks of tourists (some places there certainly do), the overall quality level of pizza to be found in Naples is astonishingly high. The most famous pizzerias in Naples have been owned by the same families for generations, and the level of excellence has been meticulously consistent. While places all around the world may claim to serve Neapolitan pizza, there really is nothing like eating one in its birthplace. Here, pizza must be cooked at a super-high temperature in a domed, wood-fired brick oven, taking a minute and a half to cook tops, and the end result is complex, smoky, soft and light, slightly puffy, and sparsely topped, with a slightly soupy center that requires a knife and fork (or if you want it to-go, it can be folded up and eaten off of heavy-duty paper). There’s complex chemistry at play here, and at places like Da Michele, Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, and Di Matteo, you’ll get a front-row seat.
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New York City: the best pizza town in the world. It was here that pizza found its first foothold in the New World, and also here that the most popular form of pizza — the slice — was invented. Never mind the dollar slice joints or the (still generally very good) corner pizzerias; the truly great slices can be found at the old-school spots like Patsy’s, Totonno’s, Grimaldi’s, and Lombardi’s, where New York-style pizza was invented and still thrives. But pizza in New York doesn’t stop there: you can find flawless Neapolitan-style pies at places like Motorino, Kesté, and Lucali; St. Louis-style pizza at Speedy Romeo, a mind-blowing square slice at L&B Spumoni Gardens, a slice bigger than your head at Koronet, deep-fried pie at Don Antonio by Starita, and fearlessly creative toppings at hotspots like Roberta’s and Paulie Gee’s. If you want to try perfect interpretations of just about any style of pizza known to man, New York is the place to go, and that’s why it’s the best city for pizza in the world.
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The first person to combine the Golden Trio of ingredients -- tomato, mozzarella, and basil -- remains a bit of a mystery, but it was first popularized by a man named Raffaele Esposito, a baker at a Neapolitan restaurant called Pizzeria de Pietro. Legend has it that when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited the restaurant in 1889, Esposito created a pizza in her honor topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil, meant to evoke the colors of the Italian flag (red, white, and green). She loved it, and the name he bestowed on it -- pizza Margherita -- stuck.
Pizza didn't really catch on as an international food until the early 1900s, when Italian immigrants began landing at ports far and wide. They began selling their native food, and once the natives tried it... well, just imagine what your response would be if you were to try pizza for the very first time today. Like all other foods, the locals put their own touches on it, and today there are different styles of pizza all over the world.
In order to assemble our ranking of the world's best cities for pizza, we took a look at major cities throughout the world, especially ones that attracted lots of Italian immigrants, and sized up their pizza scene. We looked at the amount of highly-regarded pizzerias there, whether they're home to any award-winning pizzaioli, and if they've really been able to make pizza their own, either by creating a variation that's worthy of acclaim in its own right, appropriating the traditional Neapolitan style, or both. Most important was a high concentration of truly great pizzerias; Chris Bianco may be turning out some world-class pies at Pizzeria Bianco, but that's not enough to singlehandedly put Phoenix in the running. We didn't include Chicago because -- as Jon Stewart put it best -- it's not a pizza, it's a casserole, and the city's non-deep dish pizzerias aren't anything to write home about.
It goes without saying that today we live in a golden age of pizza. Not only are there regional and national variations all across the world, chefs are putting their own spin on it and creating insanely delicious flavor combinations seemingly every day. The traditional Neapolitan style has also reclaimed its foothold, with chefs from all corners of the globe focusing on sourcing the highest-quality ingredients possible in order to make a pizza that even Queen Margherita herself would be proud of (There's even a committee, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which has set strict rules for what can be called a truly authentic Neapolitan pizza).
We searched far and wide, from South America to the South of France, from the U.S. to Australia, so read on to learn which ten cities are home to the world's best pizza.
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-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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