Three cities, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, are consistently considered among the best pizza cities in the U.S., top ranked by the likes of The Daily Meal, Travel + Leisure and Tasting Table.
CNBC Make It spoke to a pizza expert in each city to find the best pizza in America's top pizza locales.
Chicago is the best pizza city in America, according to TripAdvisor. Pizza history goes as far back as the early 1900s with immigrants coming in from Europe. It wasn't until 1943 when deep-dish pizza was invented, and Chicago has been known for it since.
Visitors can take pizza tours, including those with pizza expert Steve Dolinsky, host of ABC 7 Chicago's "The Hungry Hound," a 13-time James Beard Award-winning food reporter and author of "Pizza City USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago is America'a Greatest Pizza Town." Dolinsky tells CNBC Make It there are around 9,000 pizza places in Chicago, but these three top the list.
Pat's Pizza and Ristorante
"Pat's has been around since 1950. It is an institution," says Dolinsky, and unlike some Chicago joints, the pizza here is loved for its thin crust. "You can tell immediately how thin it is. Almost caramelized on the edge, the pizza is nicely browned.
"You can actually hear when you bite into the crust," says Dolinsky, describing its perfect crunchiness.
"It's not a slice joint, it's a classic Chicago-style tavern, so it's square cut (a.k.a., 'party cut')," he says.
And since it's located in the Lake View neighborhood of the city, there are not long lines. "Only locals really know about Pat's," says Dolinsky.
A build-it-yourself whole pizza starts at $13.25.
Pizzeria Bebu doesn't look like much from the outside. The year-old restaurant is tucked into a long, narrow room at the base of a micro-apartment building with floor-to-ceiling windows in Lincoln Park. But owner Zach Smith is trying to change your idea of what a pizza joint should be, according to Dolinsky. There are wines by the bottle (from $30 to $200) and the pizza is "artisan."
"An artisan pie is typically made by a chef with more experience than just slinging average pies that were run through a sheeter," says Dolinsky. "These doughs are composed of a blend of flours and ... have a higher moisture content, which allows for steaming inside the dough and the creation of more air pockets, which result in better chew and texture....The toppings are always sourced meticulously or made in-house. Bebu makes all of their sausage and meatballs for their pizzas in-house," he says.
Despite the fancy pizza-making, Dolinsky says the service is casual and "chill."
Whole pies start at $18. The Pepperoni pizza with parmesan, mozzarella, garlic, calabrian chile and basil is $19.
Dante's has a "grungy" attitude, says Dolinsky, with rock and roll music playing (often metal). All of the pies are "Dante's Inferno"-themed, like the Virgil pie (black olive, green olive, salami and fresh mozarella), named after Dante's guide through through hell, and a 9 Levels of Hell pie, with chilies, meats, peppers and more. You can get 20-inch specialty pies, but the real attraction are the gigantic, "Fred Flinstone-sized slices," says Dolinsky. "We are not a slice culture, but we have some places making excellent slices."
Despite the in-your-face feel of the place, Dante's doesn't neglect the details. The crust of the pizza is brushed with garlic butter and sprinkled with parmesan, reggiano and oregano, "so you get a bonus breadstick-like flavor in your final few bites," says Dolinsky. "No one else in Chicago does this."
Slices start at $3.50.
"Sit at a table during lunch on any given day, and I'll bet 80 percent of the tables are ordering a deep-dish pie," says Dolinsky of Labriola.
"Generous, chunky icebergs of fresh tomato lightly seasoned with fresh herbs grace the pizza; juicy, jagged-edged pieces of sausage (seasoned with a bit of Calabrian chile from Calabria, Italy) nestle within melted mozzarella," says Dolinsky describing the pie. "And the best surprise of all, the dough is firm to the touch and crispy all the way around. A perfect ratio!"
The chefs here have cracked the code here, according to Dolinsky: "They offer deep-dish pizza that both tourists and picky locals like me actually crave."
Depending on time of day, there can be lines. A 12-inch deep-dish pie is between $21.25 and $30.25. The signature Danny's Special, with tomato, mozzarella, sausage, mushroom, green pepper and onions, is $28.25.
New York City is world-famous for it's pizza — many say the secret is in the water. New Yorker Nino Coniglio, owner and pizza maker at Williamsburg Pizza and The Woodstock, has been awarded World Champion Pizza Maker 10 times at The International Pizza Expo, among many other distinctions.
These are his top pizza picks in New York City.
PQR stands for "Pizza Quadrata Romana," and it serves the best Roman-style (square) pizza in N.Y.C. from a true master, Angelo Lezzi, according to Coniglio.
"Angelo is truly the godfather of Roman-style pizza in Rome herself. No one really knows of him in America, but he holds the gold standard in Italy and teaches everyone else how to do Roman-style properly," says Coniglio. "He's known for this high-hydration style of pizza-making with long fermentation that makes for super airy and crispy crust."
PQR opened in March 2018, and it's a "teeny, tiny shop" on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "Roman-style pizza is by no means a modern concept, but it feels like it here. It's not really a place that you could just stumble upon, you'd have to be looking for it. It's a pricey slice, but absolutely worth it."
A marina slice with tomato sauce, garlic and oregano starts at $4; "Rucola, pomodoro and porchetta" with mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes and porchetta is $9 a slice.
Prince Street Pizza
Sicilian pizza is a thick-crust pizza, often rectangular, that originated in Sicily; Prince Street Pizza has the best Sicilian pizza in the city, according to Coniglio.
Located in the NoLita neighborhood of Manhattan, it has one of the most recognizable slices around, the "Spicy Spring Pie." It's all over foodie social media, for example. "You know, that one covered in small, thick-cut pepperoni? Honestly, no one knows how it got to be so famous, but it's just that good that they didn't need any help," says Coniglio.
The shop took over the space where the oldest Ray's Pizza — another iconic New York City pizza brand — once lived, and new owner Frank Morano "wanted to carry on the original legacy," Coniglio says. Murano tested dough for months until he achieved that perfect "upside down" square, which he remembered from eating at Ray's Pizza as a kid, explains Coniglio.
"Everyone loves the pepperoni, but my favorite is that upside down slice, the 'Prince Perfection' with mozzarella on the bottom and this secret, tangy sauce on top," he says.
The original slice with marinara and mozzarella is $2.95; the Spicy Spring Pie is $3.50.
Keste is one of the best spots to get wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, says Coniglio. "There are a couple of locations, but the Fulton [Street location in Manhattan] has a pizza school; I teach "Pizza Americana" classes there."
"N.Y.C. is home to 'New York pizza' for sure, but within the last couple of decades it has become home to all pizzas," says Coniglio. "Keste is where you go to be transported back to Naples. It's an experience here, you don't come to Keste to chow down on a slice and move on. You sit, have a good glass of wine and enjoy yourself."
There are about 50 different pizzas offered here, like ricotta with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, "grana," basil and extra virgin olive oil ($17), and Kale with black cabbage and smoked mozzarella ($16).
"Caporuscio uses this crazy flour called Caputo that is a modern interpretation of the type of milling process from the 19th century," says Coniglio. "The resulting cooked dough is very digestible, still soft but it's not soaking wet like some Neapolitan pies can be. It makes for a much more enjoyable experience."
Alain Ducasse, a celebrity and renowned chef, told Bloomberg his favorite pizza was Keste.
Whole pies are between $10 and $20. A signature pizza with lightly fried pizza dough topped with cream of pork onions, "parmigiano reggiano" and finished in a wood-fired oven is $16.
Una Pizza Napoletana
True Neapolitan pizza is rooted in history and must be made in a very specific way — with San Marzano tomatoes from Mount Vesuvius, Italy, as well as mozzarella, and the dough is made of wheat flour, natural Neapolitan yeast or brewer's yeast, salt and water. It's baked in a stone oven with oak-wood fire, for a lighter, airier and crispier crust.
Una is a Neapolitan-style pizzeria from chef Anthony Mangieri that reopened on Manhattan's Lower East Side in May 2018, and it's a top pick.
"Una originally started 25 years ago in the East Village, but Mangieri decided he was over the New York City life and moved himself (and the restaurant) to San Francisco," says Coniglio. "At the time, there were a lot of wood-burning ovens in N.Y.C. but not the legitimate Neapolitan style that we see more of today. Who knew that a tattooed kid from Jersey would be the one to do it best? Mangieri is a pizza savant, and a true artist. He just has a gift."
The oven and space where Mangieri works is set up like an art gallery, encased in glass, and customers can come to the restaurant and watch him. "It's like watching a famous artist at work. He only cooks a couple pizzas at a time, giving lots of care and attention to each pie. His pizzas aren't flashy, he only has a few on the menu at a time, and each are $25," says Coniglio.
Diners can order non-pizza entrees, like a beef tenderloin crudo or marinated white asparagus with cured egg yolk and bottarga. Reservations are recommended.
Whole pies, like Margharita with "pomodoro san Marzano, mozzarella di bufala and basilico," are $25.
Coniglio's favorite New York slice is at Pizza Suprema.
"Pizza Suprema is consistent and very unassuming. Italian-family-owned and operated, it's been around for over 50 years and still has those old-school vibes with the orange trays and boxy booths. It's located across from Penn Station so it's great for people traveling to and from Manhattan via train, and they are set up to do super high volume so they excel at feeding the masses at peak times," says Coniglio.
"I think this is a spot for real New Yorkers, the staple slice."
The Slice Harvester, a man who tried a slice of pizza at every pizzeria in N.Y.C (373 slices), has also said Pizza Suprema was his favorite slice.
The restaurant uses 100 percent "Grande" cheese, which is a high-end, authentic Italian cheese, and shreds real wheels of "Pecorino Romano" cheese in the back.
A slice of Round Cheese pizza, topped with the housemade tomato sauce and Grande Mozzarella and Romano cheeses, is $3.50.
Steve Samson, owner of Sotto, has racked up many accolades for his pizza there. Sampson has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy, like Quattro Passi in Sorrento and three-starred Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull'Oglio. He's opening another pizza spot, Superfine Pizza, later this month.
These are his favorite Los Angeles pizza spots.
DeSano Pizza Bakery
When he's not working on FOX's "Hell's Kitchen" with Gordon Ramsey, DeSano chef Marino Monferrato "is serious about making traditional Neapolitan pies," says Samson.
DeSano in Los Angeles is Verace Pizzeria Napoletana certified (VPN is the Neapolitan designation given to pizzerias that follow the strict use of ingredients and process for Neapolitan pies.) DeSano is the city’s best example of a simple Neapolitan pizza in an unfussy environment, says Samson.
"Across Italy, not just in Napoli, pizzerias are casual, uncomplicated spaces where friends can get together for an inexpensive bite and a glass of beer or wine. DeSano is a large, wide open warehouse in a totally unexpected stretch west of Silver Lake. You’d never think to stop in if you didn’t know where you were going."
DeSano has one of the best crusts in town. "They’ve also got a great selection of wines, beer, cannoli and gelato. Its communal tables and soccer on the TVs make it a great place for families and parties," says Samson.
A whole, 11-inch pie starts at $10. The margherita pizza iwth San Marzano tomato, buffalo Mozzarella, basil and garlic is $12.75.
Opened April 2017 in Brentwood, Pizzana is owned by Sprinkles Cupcakes founder Candace Nelson and actor Chris O'Donnell.
"They make good neapolitan pizzas both with traditional and modern combinations," says Samson. "I always go for the traditional margherita and add anchovies wherever there is Neapolitan pizza, but they don't have anchovies here so I opt for adding olives." Samson says Messicana, which has chorizo, jalapeño, 'queso fresco' and a cilantro lime sauce, is also favorite.
Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold compared the pies to the best in the world. "Does it resemble in some ways the modernized Margherita made famous by Franco Pepe, whose pizzeria in Caiazzo, north of Naples, is considered by some people (including me) to be the best in the world? It does, although Pepe’s pizza achieves its effect through stripes of concentrated sauces on a layer of cheese, and gives an impression of lushness rather than herbal intensity."
Whole pies start at $18. The Messicana is $19.
"When you walk in, Prime feels like an old-school pizza joint you would find in New York," says Samson. "Although they focus on thin crust, New York-style pizzas, my favorite here is their Sicilian slice. This comes from one of their square pies. It’s a great combination of fluffy focaccia-esque dough and crisped crust/edges, with tangy tomato sauce, garlic and mozzarella.
Prime has two locations: Fairfax Avenue and Little Tokyo. "Both feel like hidden finds," says Samson.
According to the website, "Our goal is simple: to bring truly great NY-style pizza to our hometown of Los Angeles."
A cheese slice is $3 and a pie is $20. A square slice is $4 and a pie is $26.
"Vito's is a classic ode to the New York slice from an 18-inch pie," says Samson. "This slice reminds me of when I lived in New York and walked up to a pizza window to get a slice after a night of drinking: crispy crust, tangy sauce, most likely Grande cheese, little bit of oregano."
Vito's has two locations: La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica, opened in January 2017.
"Personally, to me, Vito's on La Cienega seems like it has been there forever but when I look back it's only been about 10 years. I see it as an L.A. staple for the N.Y.-style slice."
A cheese slice is $3.50. Whole pies start at $19.95. Pepperoni pie is $23.95.
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