Little Star ranks high on our list.
Anyone who still says that San Francisco isn’t a good pizza town has clearly not been paying attention. The arrival of Pizzeria Delfina and Pizzeria Picco in 2005, and the subsequent onslaught of new, wood-fired pizzerias in the last three years — including the emigration of Neapolitan standard-bearer Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana from the East Coast to the West — have led to a seismic shift in pizza pickiness across the Bay Area. While it is true that we are still short on quick and easy slice places that don’t suck, there are actually a few of those, as well as a small army of Neapolitan devotees, and several astonishingly good truck/cart operations pressing into neighborhoods where good pizza used to be harder to find than parking.
As we compiled this list of the best, most reliable, and most delicious pizza destinations in the Bay Area, we realized just how few of these places existed five years ago. A list made in the middle of the last decade could not have been nearly this long, and by our count, 34 of these 50 restaurants (52 really, because we’ve made sister restaurants Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service, and Beretta and Delarosa share spots) have opened since 2008.
With the rise in standards for good pizza in San Francisco has come a subsequent blossoming elsewhere, with brand new wood-oven operations popping up in Oakland, Healdsburg, and Napa. You also have pizzaiolos learning to do the best with what they’ve got, like Pizza Hacker Jeff Krupman, who coaxes 1000-degree heat out of a hacked Weber Grill, and Keith Freilich of Berkeley’s Emilia’s Pizzeria who uses a gas-powered monster of a Wolf commercial oven that he knows gets way above 800 degrees, which is as high as his infrared thermometer goes.
But what unites all of the entries on our list, regardless of the temperature of their oven, is the quality of their product, and their Bay Area-style dedication to using excellent, seasonal produce and well sourced meat and cheese. No matter what, and as with the burger compendium we did last year — not to mention the national pizza roundup that Grub Street published last week — there will likely be detractors, and we’ve undoubtedly left off a place that someone out there holds near and dear. We hope you’ll at least hear us out. Like most of you, we are passionate about pizza, and we try to choose our carb feasts wisely — especially after working on this little project.
The slideshow is in alphabetical order, but in the interest of brevity, below is our personal top ten.
The Top Ten Best of the Best Pizza Spots
Links take you to specific slides in the slideshow.
1. Una Pizza Napoletana
2. Pizzeria Delfina
3. Little Star
4. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
5. The Forge (Oakland)
6. Pizzetta 211
7. Boot & Shoe Service (Oakland)
8. Del Popolo
10. Zero Zero
Related: Pizza Perfection: 101 Awesome American Pies (and Slices)
The 35 Best Tacos in the Bay Area
The 50 Best Burgers in San Francisco
2355 Chestnut Street, SF
The list kicks off with Shelley Lindgren and Victoria Libin’s nine-year-old Marina restaurant A16, named for the highway that connects Naples to Puglia, and devoted to the cuisine and wine of Campania. Wood-oven pizza has always been central to the menu here, and chef Christopher Thompson has been staying true to the Neapolitan ethos, with traditional pies like the Marinara, the Bianca, and the Margherita. He also does a great pie with bitter treviso, garlic, and prosciutto cot; and our favorite is the off-menu Widowmaker (pictured), available by request, featuring chili flakes, garlic, grana padano, mozzarella, pancetta, fennel sausage, Calabrian chiles, and fresh arugula.
509 Valencia Street at 16th, SF
And second at the top of the alphabet is perhaps the most quintessential New York-style slice you can find around the Bay. Arinell is sometimes an unsung hero of the local pizza scene, but that floppy thin crust and molten cheese and sauce mixture has hit the spot for many a drunk (and sober) Missionite at all hours of the day and night, and deserves recognition for getting right what many, many local pizza spots have gotten wrong for decades.
3265 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland / 4301 San Pablo Avenue, Emeryville
1268 Valencia Street and 1331 9th Avenue, SF
It’s California-style, for sure. With its worker-owned cooperative schtick and independently run operations at each location, the organic, sourdough-crust pizza produced with daily changing vegetarian toppings are not of the same quality across locations, with the Lakeshore outpost in Oakland probably taking the prize. You should call ahead to find out what they’re serving, and to place an order. The pizzas go on sale at 11 a.m. on Sundays and Mondays, and 11:30 a.m. on other days, and they do tend to sell out.
1250 Bridgeway, Sausalito
The pizza at this two-year-old waterfront spot is the primary draw, with a solid margherita and nontraditional stuff like crab pizza with avocado crème fraiche, crescenza, and Meyer lemon; the occasionally featured squid pie (pictured); or the Greek-inspired artichoke heart pie with feta, olive tapenade, and dried oregano. And the sweeping bay view, of course, makes everything taste a little better.
1199 Valencia Street at 23rd / 2175 Chestnut Street, SF
Beretta appeared on the scene in early 2008, a few years prior the city’s recent pizza boom, and owners Adriano Paganini, Ruggero Gadaldi, and Deborah Blum used the winning combination of great cocktails and Italian plates to gain instant popularity. They spun off the Marina location, Delarosa, in 2009, where we’d argue the pizzas are a little consistently better, but the menus are very similar. You won’t go wrong here with the hot salami and coppa pie (pictured), or the spicy marinara pie with peperoncini and olives. The pizzas are gas-fired, sometimes with mixed results in terms of the crispiness of the crust, but you won’t hear many complaints from loyal fans. Also, it’s a good spot for brunch, and needless to say brunch pizza always needs an egg on it.
Photo: Alanna Hale/?Alanna Hale
Boot & Shoe Service
3308 Grand Avenue / 5008 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
Charlie Hallowell’s pair of inviting, consistently delicious pizzeria and cocktail emporia keep drawing crowds from across the city for crisp-chewy, well smoked, wood-fired pizzas, and great seasonal salads. Signature combos, like rapini and housemade sausage (pictured); wild nettles and ricotta salata; and the red pie with olives stay on the menu across the seasons, while other toppings rotate on and off and vary a bit between locations. Things are always kept pretty simple and Californian, in the tradition of Chez Panisse, where Hallowell earned his kitchen cred over eight years before first opening Pizzaiolo
, and the only main difference between the restaurants is the space, Pizzaiolo being a bit more spacious, and Boot & Shoe more cozy and urban, with slightly better cocktails.
330 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg
This new Italian spot on Healdsburg’s main drag is already a Bauer favorite, and he says the pliable, well charred, wood-oven pizzas, from Scopa chef Ari Rosen, are “among the best in the Bay Area.” We’d concur, though that field is pretty wide these days. The toppings are tastefully minimal here, and the choices are kept to a minimum too, with just four pies on the regular menu, with a serviceable margherita (pictured), and a great sausage pie with smoked mozzarella, kale, and caramelized onions.
641 Vallejo Street, SF
Champion pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani will not be satisfied until he has every base covered, pizza-wise, in the city of San Francisco. At his nearby Tony’s Pizza Napoletana he offers nine pizza styles from seven types of ovens, and the only one he hadn’t covered yet was Chicago-style deep dish, which is the specialty of the house at Capo’s, opened in late 2012. The pizzas are marvelous and rich, and there’s a reason the super-thick crust tastes so good — there’s lard in it. True to form, he doesn’t stop here with just one style of deep dish. There are four: regular deep-dish, cast-iron pan, stuffed, and the Quattro Forni, which is cooked in three different ovens before getting a fourth go in a fryer, resulting in a super-decadent, almost doughnut-like pie that’s a meal in itself, despite being billed separately as an appetizer. We especially recommend the Frank Nitti (pictured), with mozzarella, provolone, spinach, ricotta, and roman; and the Sam Giancana with house honey Calabrese sausage and Chicago Italian sausage.
Carmel Pizza Company
2826 Jones Street at Jefferson, SF
This truck with a semi-permanent home near Fisherman’s Wharf is offering tourists wood-fired pizza that’s worthy of a local’s-only sort of spot. Amanda Orloff and A.J. Sanchez landed here via Carmel in April 2012 with their Valoriani oven, and ever since they’ve been doing the city proud, and putting an impressive foot forward for tourists who might never otherwise find their way to the more buzz-worthy pizzerias in town.
This truck may not have the glitz of Del Popolo, or a wood-fired oven, but pizzaiolo Casey Crynes has been providing the Financial District with very solid Neapolitan-style pies over the last year and a half. Prior to that, he was operating, guerrilla-style on the streets of the Mission with a hacked Weber grill. He upgraded to a gas-fired, brick-lined oven like the one Pizzeria Delfina uses, and unlike a lot of similar operations, you can order by the slice. They’re all well crisped and charred, with excellent sauce and generous toppings, but you won’t get quite the 90-second perfection of a high-temp, wood oven. Check the schedule
to find them.
The Cheese Board Collective
1512 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
This Gourmet Ghetto staple, opened in North Berkeley since before the days of Chez Panisse, began as a worker-owned cheese shop back in 1971. 15 years later they started making pizza on Tuesdays, and then opened the next door pizzeria in 1990. They continue to make one type of vegetarian pizza a day, dictated by seasonal produce, and they’ve held firm to their cooperative roots and to a single rule: every pizza has to have at least two cheeses on it. The crust is thin, sourdough, light, olive-oil laden, and crisp, much like Arizmendi, which it spawned. And it’s more of a flatbread style pie, never with any sauce. Be forewarned, there is typically a line, and they’re open very specific hours - 11:30 to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, with lunch hours noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. (They’re closed Sunday and Monday.)
Chez Panisse Café
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
As far as wood-oven pizza in the Bay Area goes, the upstairs café at Chez Panisse was an early pioneer, offering nicely charred “pizzettas” from the beginning, in the early 1980s. Less a showcase of French-influenced cuisine through a California lens like the downstairs restaurant, the café has always been more purely indicative of Alice Waters’s simpler-the-better, let-the-ingredients-shine ethos. Pizzettas remain a central part of the hyper-seasonal, daily-changing menu, with toppings like nettles (pictured), wild mushrooms, house-made sausage, and local cheeses. And Chez Panisse Café was most certainly the primary influence behind some of the country’s favorite seasonally sensitive pizzerias and wood-oven-centric restaurants, including Zuni Café
/Boot & Shoe Service
, and Franny’s
Westfield Centre, 845 Market Street, 4th Floor, SF
When Lark Creek Restaurant Group announced they were opening a Neapolitan pizzeria in the Westfield mall, next door to Lark Creek Steak, we were skeptical. However, with the adept use of a Stefano Ferrara wood oven (the fourth of its kind in San Francisco along with Una Pizza Napoletana, Del Popolo, and Mozzeria), this place has proven itself worthy. It doesn’t quite stand up to Una Pizza Napoletana and Tony’s in pure consistency and crust perfection — though, to its credit, there’s plenty more here that’s good besides the pizza. Go for the spicy, meaty Carne pie (pictured), with housemade sausage, sopressata, and calabrese salumi; or the simple, generally well crisped Margherita Extra, with buffalo mozzarella.
Jonathan Darsky cut his teeth as the opening pizzaiolo at Flour + Water, but he left just two years in to work on his own business. His plans morphed from a brick-and-mortar operation in the Mission to a souped-up, customized, one-of-a-kind wood-fired pizza truck constructed out of a transatlantic shipping container, and featuring a Stefano Ferrara oven (see photos here
). Like Anthony Mangieri, Darsky is a purist, and makes excellent, flavorful dough, but he does allow for a bit more variety in the toppings, with generally four options on the menu: a pretty perfect Margherita; a white pie with mozzarella, grana padano, ricotta, and garlic; a “pepperoni” pie featuring Olli salami; and one seasonal vegetable pie like caramelized fennel and roasted sunchokes. Despite being a mobile operation, these are some of the absolute best pizzas in the Bay Area, and a steal at $11 to $14.
4293 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland
What can we say about chef-owner Jon Smulewitz’s spot-on neighborhood Italian spot that hasn’t already been said? Despite rave reviews, a spot on the Chron Top 100, and a loyal fan base, this eight-year-old Piedmont Avenue restaurant may still not be on some San Franciscans’ radars, and that is a shame. Smulewitz has served top-notch thin-crust pizzas from the start, cooked in a gas oven, with mainstays being the molten-cheesy Dopo pie with chili flakes (pictured), and a good Margherita with buffalo mozzarella. And, as an added bonus, there’s generally a daily changing calzone on the menu too, which is always excellent.
2995 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
Emilia’s pizzas are undoubtedly the best in Berkeley, and a number of critics have included the place high on Bay Area-wide lists as well. We like the place a lot, with some excellent, elegantly topped, well crisped pies that Slice has said
, rightly, are “a dead ringer for any of New York’s legendary coal-oven pizzerias.” That’s largely due to the intense heat generated inside the gas-fired Wolf commercial oven that came with the lease, which owner Keith Freilich says goes much higher than 800 degrees, which is the top of the range of his infrared thermometer. Freilich, a former IT guy, got training in the pizza arts at Flour + Water and Pizzaiolo before opening this place in 2009. The place keeps odd hours, though, and there are only eight seats inside, meaning that you generally want to call ahead and reserve a slot for pickup. We highly recommend one of the house specialties, a combo of Calabrian chiles and sweet, excellent, house-made Italian sausage (pictured).
700 Valencia Street at 18th Street, SF
Farina’s pizza off-shoot is high on style, and with its (mostly) Italian-born staff, feels authentically Italian and modern. Though we would have to say their Margherita doesn’t hold up to several finer examples in town (Una Pizza Napoletana and Del Popolo, for starters), it is a decent rendition, and the crust does taste good. Though at $18 to $22, the variously topped pies are a little pricey not to be perfect. We would, however, highly recommend the lightly fried Montanara (pictured), the only one of its kind being served in S.F. right now. It’s a longtime Naples specialty that took New York by storm last year
, and it’s kind of like a zeppola, or a small circle of fried dough, topped with fior di latte, roman, and sweet tomato sauce.
Fist of Flour
Various East Bay locations
Pizza guy James Whitehead launched this mobile wood-fired operation, with an oven mounted on a trailer, in Oakland in 2010, and has been doing solid work ever since. We’ve encountered him at a couple of events, and have been impressed with his well charred, crisp and chewy pies. He uses a sourdough crust recipe adapted from the Cheese Board, and offers a variety of meaty, seasonal, and vegetarian options, including the Blueberry Hill, with fresh blueberries, mozzarella, chevre, prosciutto, shallots, wilted arugula, and a blueberry-balsamic reduction; and the Protesto (pictured), with Yukon Gold potatoes, arugula pesto, sun-dried tomato, provolone, and mozzarella.
Flour + Water
2401 Harrison Street at 20th, SF
This uber-popular Mission restaurant needs no introduction, and continues to make some of the best pasta dishes and pizzas in the city. They’re thin-crust, wood-fired in under two minutes, and creatively topped in a Californian vein. Check out their daily changing selections and look out for favorites like the Osso (pictured), with bone marrow, fontina, broccoli rabe, and grated horseradish; and the funghi, with Hen of the Woods and yellow foot mushrooms, nettles, and fontal cheese.
66 Franklin Street, Jack London Square, Oakland
The newest pizzeria on this list is already one of our favorites, with a stellar crust that comes by way of dough consultant Jeff Krupman, a.k.a. The Pizza Hacker
. Krupman adapted his recipe from Tartine Bakery’s country white bread, but he uses Naples-approved zero zero flour and adds a touch of alderwood smoked salt. The result, which comes out also lightly smoked from the monster, forge-like Valoriani oven, is uniquely delicious, yeasty, and well crisped, with the help of Jeff Hayden, a pizza-making vet from Boot & Shoe Service and Dopo. We highly recommend the basic Margherita; as well as the wonderfully spicy house-made pepperoni pie
with tomato cream and Calabrian chilis; and the guanciale pie with chicories, Castelvetrano olives, and leeks (pictured).
6948 Sebastopol Avenue, Sebastopol
Tucked away on the downtown plaza in Sebastopol is this Italian and Thai restaurant combo. Before you say, “That sounds like a bad parody of 90s fusion restaurants,” we should clarify that it is really two restaurants, with two separate menus and two dining rooms that happen to be attached. The pizzas on the Italian side are solid, thin-crust affairs that are wood-fired and perfectly crisped with cracker-like edges. And we’d recommend their plain Margherita (named Neo); the Leo with house-made Duroc sausage and gypsy peppers; and seasonally changing specials like the fig and goat cheese pie pictured.
2200 Oxford Street, Berkeley
Chef Sean Baker’s omnivore- and vegan-friendly Berkeley restaurant maintains a concise menu, and pizza is always front and center. He makes seasonally appropriate pizzas with toppings like nettles, and Torpedo onions, and there is always a vegan pizza on the menu, lately with spicy tomato sauce, olive-caper salsa, chili oil, and cashew puree (pictured). Like Boot & Shoe and Beretta, cocktails are a specialty here too, which is always a welcome accompaniment to pizza. And, this is the only vegan pizza we saw fit to include on this list, because, well, it’s really pretty good.
2842 Diamond Street, SF
This Glen Park favorite won raves from Michael Bauer after it opened, and led owner Sharon Ardiana to open a second restaurant, Ragazza, on the up-and-coming thoroughfare of Divisadero in 2010. The specialty of the house at this gas-fired, family-friendly joint is, hands down, the Amatriciana, topped with pancetta, chilies, pecorino, and an egg, and we’d say it’s good enough to travel to Glen Park for.
2240 Polk Street between Green and Vallejo, SF; and 1586 Hopkins Street, Berkeley
Will and Karen Gioia’s charming Berkeley pizzeria spawned an S.F. location in 2012, and Russian Hill denizens have welcomed it with open arms. In the category of New Wave American pizza, Gioia is fairly high on our list, both for a flavorful and chewy (if not always perfectly cooked) crust, and for great topping combinations, like radicchio, mozzarella, pancetta, and gorgonzola; the prosciutto and arugula pie with red onion (pictured); and the sausage pie with pecorino and pickled jalapenos.
Emeryville Public Market, 5959 Shellmound Street; and 1627 16th Street, Sacramento
Launched in Sacramento and recently expanded to Emeryville, this sleek Italian eatery is already a hit at the recently revamped Emeryville Public Market. Co-owners Andrea Lepore and pizzaiolo Fabrizio Cercatore have tried to bring a piece of modern Italy to the Bay Area with the place, and Cercatore is a talented man with the dough — he literally can toss and spin it in all kinds of theatrical ways, just like you see in the movies, and like you so rarely see anymore in actual pizzerias. And despite the true Italian street cred, they’re not maniacs about authenticity here, and there’s some whimsy in the toppings department. We recommend the Neri pie, with broccoli rabbi, salumi, mozzarella, and shaved pecorino; the Jovanotti, with prosciutto, pepperoni, mushrooms, tomato, mozzarella, and robiola; and the dessert calzone filled with Nutella.
846 Divisadero and 400 Valencia at 15th, SF
This is, we dare say, our favorite deep dish pizza in the Bay Area, and the only local one that made it into Grub Street’s national pizza compendium
. Maybe we’re just suckers for that cornmeal crust, which is well oiled, crumbly, and has an amazing texture that sets it apart from its competitors. The topping combos are pretty great too, with the Classic and the off-menu Brass Monkey
being consistent favorites. And, seriously, the thin crust pizzas here are pretty great also, largely because of that cornmeal, and a generous hand with the toppings. There is little more satisfying than a meal at either location, though they are now under separate ownerships. And we look forward to the Oakland spinoff, The Star
, arriving later this year.
Photo: Alanna Hale/?Alanna Hale
420 Castro Street, SF
Our favorite slice spot in town, after Arinell, is this humble Castro mainstay, which frequently gets taken for granted by the often drunk nighttime denizens of the neighborhood. It’s New York-style with a lot of liberties taken with the toppings, our favorites being the fresh tomato and mushroom, or any of the combinations with bacon — especially the potato, bacon, and cheddar concoction pictured here.
Photo: Alanna Hale/?Alanna Hale
3228 16th Street between Dolores and Guerrero, SF
While being a solid and welcome Neapolitan pizzeria addition to the neighborhood, Mozzeria also bears the distinction of being one of the only deaf-owned and operated restaurants in the country. Opened in 2011 by deaf couple Russell and Melody Stein, the place serves a very solid Margherita; a Chinese-influenced roast duck pie with Hoisin and scallions; as well as daily changing specials like a spicy sausage and jalapeno pie, and an oven-smoked bacon pie with onion, Brussels sprouts, and béchamel. And if you absolutely can’t get enough cheese, you might want to try their signature Mozzeria Bar, which is basically a gargantuan mozzarella stick topped with their sweet house marinara.
6211 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland
The still newish Nick’s Pizza, with the tagline “Made in Oakland,” is turning out some very delicious, sourdough-crust pies and slices. Owner Nick Yapor-Cox grew up just a few blocks away from the place, in North Oakland, and he worked for years as a pastry chef in New York, at places like Eleven Madison Park, before returning home to realize his pizzeria dream. The dough is clearly inspired by Arizmendi’s, where Yapor-Cox also worked. Toppings like natural pepperoni (pictured) and Niman Ranch sausage are all great, and the humble establishment has already earned some critical attention.
1425 First Street, Napa
The best pizza you’ll find in the city of Napa is here, at Tyler Rodde and Curtis Di Fede’s popular downtown spot. People line up before 5 p.m. to snag the few walk-in seats at the bar, and the wine list is, naturally, on par with the food. The wood-fired pizzas are top-notch, with toppings that change frequently, though a favorite is just a simple Margherita with anchovies added on; or the funghi pie (pictured) with yellow foot mushrooms, cream, thyme, and taleggio.
The Orbit Room
1900 Market Street at Laguna, SF
You really wouldn’t expect pizzas this great to come out of a little electric convection oven set up alongside a cocktail bar, but let us tell you now, they’re pretty great. They use organic ingredients, the crust is lightly crisped, and they do some seasonal pies, like the squash- and kale-covered Orbit pie (pictured), as well as a decent Margherita, and one sausage-fennel combo that’s named for a yellow labrador who frequents the bar, Petra.
260 Valencia Street near 14th, SF
In the spectrum of American pizza, Pauline’s occupies a specific, San Franciscan space. The crust follows no specific tradition, and is thicker and breadier than the more canonized styles, however it’s nonetheless delicious, and has remained a Mission favorite since 1987. It’s got a unique, yeasty flavor and crisped exterior that cracks open and steams like a great dinner roll, and keeps the slices firm all the way to the center. And the toppings generally come from one of two of the restaurant’s own organic farms, with specials that change nightly. We recommend the house signature pesto pizza, in which the hot crust comes fully baked out of the oven and is then brushed with bright basil pesto and sprinkled with parmesan and pine nuts (pictured). As well as the Louisiana Andouille pizza, with andouille sausage, red bells, scallions, and fontina.
3318 Fillmore Street; 4042 24th Street; 511 Hayes Street; 822 Irving Street; and elsewhere
Easily the most popular Bay Area purveyor of deep-dish, with seven local outposts and counting, Patxi’s makes a solid example of the form, if not our absolute favorite. They offer both stuffed pies and a crunchier, cornmeal-crusted pan pizza, along with gluten-free and thin-crust options. In a tribute to his perfect game in 2012, there’s a pepperoni and sausage combo named for Matt Cain. But we like to order the Picante, usually offered as a thin-crust combo with spicy salami and hot copper, but as a stuffed pizza instead, topped with jalapenos (pictured).
1001 Minnesota Street at 22nd, SF
Piccino is quickly becoming the anchor of the increasingly lively Dogpatch neighborhood, and its pleasant dining room and excellent service are certainly a big part of that. Pizza here is cracker-thin and crispy, and sized for a modest meal for one person or a shareable snack. They do a great and simple Bianca with three cheeses, parsley, garlic, and chili oil; a serviceable Margherita; and our favorites have been the seasonally variable white and red pies, like the recently featured broccoli and almond pizza (pictured); or a red pie with mozzarella, braised lamb, laminate kale, and red jalapenos.
3600 Mount Diablo Boulevard, Lafayette; 800 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley
The mini pizzeria chain from Bacchus Management Group has brought excellent, wood-fired pizza to the otherwise good-pizza-starved locales of Mill Valley and Lafayette. They’re extra-crispy, Roman-style pizzas, and the toppings are often locally sourced, like Taverrite’s hot Calabrese sausage made in nearby Alamo. Also, there are seasonally changing combinations at each location, like the shaved artichoke pizza with mint gremolata pictured here, from the Lafayette branch. As Diablo’s Ethan Fletcher writes, “With the sea of high chairs and strollers it may look like a Chuck E. Cheese at first glance, but Pizza Antica serves up sophisticated Roman-style thin crust that doesn’t condescend to the parents in the crowd.”
The Pizza Hacker
As we mentioned regarding The Forge
in Oakland, where Pizza Hacker Jeff Krupman recently did some crust consultation, the man knows a thing or two about creating a uniquely delicious crust. He adapted his recipe from Tartine Bakery’s country white bread, and adds smoked salt to the mix, making something Neapolitan in spirit but wholly idiosyncratic. Being a tiny operation, he also makes sure to only use fine, organic ingredients. Find him and his FrankenWeber (his hacked Weber grill turned pizza oven that reaches 1000 degrees) outside Vinyl (Divis and Oak) every Thursday evening, or via Twitter
301 Healdsdburg Avenue, Healdsburg
Another brand new entry on the pizza scene, on the town square in Healdsburg, is this new wood-oven pizza spot at the Hotel Healdsburg. Former A16 chef Liza Shaw consulted on the menu, and now former Petite Syrah chef Ben Davies is at the helm. The pizzas are excellent, ultra-flavorful, well crisped, and unconventionally topped, with favorites being a meatball and ricotta pizza with tomato and bacon; and a chorizo and cauliflower pizza (pictured) with peperoncini and crème fraiche, which was one of our favorite bites in this lengthy pizza tour.
3611 18th Street & 2406 California Street at Fillmore, SF
As with sister restaurant Delfina next door, and with Tartine Bakery on the corner, it’s hard to recall a time when the block of 18th Street between Guerrero and Dolores was not home to Pizzeria Delfina. But it’s only been eight years, since 2005, that Craig and Annie Stoll opened their Neapolitan-ish pizzeria in the Mission, and then expanded a couple years later to Pacific Heights (look for them soon in Burlingame). People flock here for a warm experience, well crafted and flavorful small plates, and consistently delicious pizzas, in particular the simple Napoletana, a red pie with anchovies, capers, hot peppers, olives, and oregano; the cherrystone clam pie with hot peppers, tomato, oregano, and pecorino; and the broccoli rabe with caciocavallo cheese, mozzarella, olives, and hot peppers. And just a tip: They do an off-menu meatball calzone
at the California Street location that’s become kind of an open secret.
Photo: Alanna Hale/?Alanna Hale
316 Magnolia Avenue, Larkspur
Chef Bruce Hill of next-door Picco
was ahead of the curve in local pizza sophistication when he opened this tiny Neapolitan-style pizzeria in 2005. It’s since been outshined a bit by places like Una Pizza Napoletana and Boot & Shoe Service, and Hill has gone on to open Zero Zero with very similar pizzas, and an expanded menu of other excellent dishes. But nonetheless this cozy spot in tony Larkspur remains a winner. The crust is well seasoned and beautifully blistered, if often floppy at the center. And the topping combinations are true to their NorCal roots, with a leek pie called Son of Yeti that’s topped with Point Reyes mozzarella, fresh garlic, pecorino, fontina, and Hen of the Woods mushrooms; and the Marin pie with young organic potatoes, mozzarella, parmesan, and rosemary oil. For our money, we’d drive here for the calzone-like Ripieno (pictured), a folded over and stuffed pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, tomato, oregano, and garlic.
211 23rd Avenue at California Street, SF
It’s tiny, it’s cash only, it’s way the hell out in the avenues, but damn is this place good. We’re big fans of the small (barely twelve-inch), well cooked, thin-crust pizzas at Pizzetta, with their fresh, carefully sourced toppings. The natural pepperoni pie with basil pesto (pictured) is an easy favorite, as was a recent special with lamb sausage, mint, shallots, and crème fraiche. But you won’t go wrong with their white pie, with rosemary, fire sardo cheese, and pine nuts, or the excellent Margherita. We recommend calling ahead to see what the line’s like, or trying your luck at an early hour on a weeknight, or on Sunday afternoon.
311 Divisadero near Page, SF
Sharon Ardiana opened her second pizzeria in 2010, after the acclaimed Gialina, and gave it the name called out by Italians, affectionately, to women and girls. The place is cozy and often packed, with the across-the-street bar The Page serving as an unofficial lounge in which to wait for a table. The pizzas are great, gas-fired specimens, especially the wild nettle and pancetta pie with aged provolone; and the house special Amatriciana (pictured), which is good but perhaps not quite as perfectly cooked as the same pizza at Gialina. Also, service here is sometimes a bit lackadaisical, but for those who live closer to the center of the city, on a good day it’s a fine simulation of Gialina.
6755 Washington Street, Yountville
Chef Richard Reddington’s recent addition to Yountville’s main drag is a cool, well designed, modern restaurant with wood-fired pizza and pasta as its focus. The combinations are interesting but not over-the-top, with things like sausage, mushroom, broccoli rabe, Calabrian chilis, and smoked mozzarella; and a goat cheese pie with smoked bacon, potato, leeks, and scallions. We were most impressed with a recent seasonal special, topped with Brussels sprout leaves, pancetta, red onion, Asiago, and pungent Taleggio (pictured). And the crusts here are competently blistered and appropriately chewy, with crisp exteriors and good flavor.
53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa; 151 Petaluma Boulevard South, Petaluma
This North Bay mini pizza empire from John Franchetti or Kevin Cronin continues to wow us, primarily for the care and attention paid to the house-made mozzarella and burrata that Franchetti has perfected over two decades. The Petaluma location has a full mozzarella bar, à la Mozza in Los Angeles, with different preparations of burrata and stretched-to-order “Mozzarella di Bufala Californiana,” while the Santa Rosa location is more wine-focused with a slightly different menu. If you need an oasis of excellent, wood-fired, flavorful pizzas off Highway 101, this is where to turn off. We especially like the mushroom, taleggio and lemon oil pie at the Santa Rosa location; and the sausage, and the salad-topped piadine at both locations.
Rotten City Pizza
6613 Hollis Street, Emeryville
Earl Warren, who was D.A. of Alameda County in the 1920s before becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once called Emeryville — a longtime Mafia hub and haven for speakeasies — the “rottenest city on the Pacific coast.” Hence the name chosen for this unassuming pizzeria in what is now a primarily corporate, sterile, and retail-filled little burg. The pizza here is New York-style, cooked to a nice thin crispiness in a standard, electric Baker’s Pride pizza oven, but with some Californian flair in the toppings. There house-made porchetta with dollops of bright salsa verde; the Acciughe pizza with anchovies, chili flakes, and bagna cauda sauce; and the excellent salumi pie (pictured), featuring a daily changing hand-crafted salumi, with tomato and cheese.
3583 16th Street at Market, SF
Starbelly, from two of the partners who opened Beretta and Delarosa, Adriano Paganini and Deborah Blum, was a welcome addition to the good-food-starved Castro when it debuted in 2009. Pizzas remain a central feature of the Cal-Med menu, created by chef Adam Timney, and they are generally fine Neapolitan-esque specimens, simply topped and occasionally limp at the center. We come here, though, specifically for one: The signature bacon, jalapeno, and arugula pie topped with Green Goddess dressing (pictured).
1042 Kearny Street at Broadway, SF
The oldest pizzeria on this list, opened in 1935, is one that deserves mad respect for having the first wood-fired brick pizza oven on the West Coast. It opened originally as Lupo’s by the Cantolupo family, who immigrated from Naples, and the menu and pizzas were all based on family recipes. The place was beloved among jazz musicians and Beats in North Beach in the 1940s and 50s, and only became Tommaso’s when the family sold it to longtime chef Tommy Chin in 1971, who decided to rename it for himself, albeit with the Italian version of his name. Today it’s owned by another family, but the oven and the wall-sized mural of the Bay of Naples remain. It’s a place to go for a great, hearty meatball pizza (pictured), breadier and not as thin as its more modern (and arguably “authentic”) Neapolitan cousins, but nonetheless crispy on the exterior, cheesy, and those well spiced meatballs are totally delicious and grandma-like.
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton Street at Union, SF
What we like most about Tony Gemignani’s consistently crowded North Beach flasgship, besides his perfect Neapolitan Margherita, is the sheer depth of his menu. He makes nine different regional styles of pizza, including Sicilian, New York coal-fired, St. Louis-style cracker-crusted, Roman pizza by the meter (pictured), and an array of inventive California-Style pies topped with things like Scotch bonnet peppers and rhubarb-apple chutney; quail eggs, potatoes, and guanciale; and his delicious Honey Pie with North Beach honey, Calabrese peppers, Serrano peppers, scallions, mozzarella, pave cheese, and caramelized onions. Where Una Pizza Napoletana’s Anthony Mangieri is the ascetic monk in the church of pizza, Gemignani is its exuberant, Universalist high priest, welcoming in all faiths — and even making room for the vegan and gluten-intolerant at the table.
Una Pizza Napoletana
210 11th Street, SF
Master sushi chefs and Olympic divers have something in common with New Jersey-born pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri: They all practice their art, day in and day out, believing that only through repetition, discipline, and dedication to proper form will they achieve greatness. That discipline and Zen-like dedication are reflected in Mangieri’s monastic, barely decorated restaurant, where the only things on the menu are pizza and wine (and he doesn’t even drink, himself). And it’s reflected in the pizzas themselves — cooked quickly and perfectly according to the same standards he’s kept since he learned his trade as a teenager. He uses a personally perfected dough recipe, and when he runs out of dough each night, that’s it. And he uses a 900-degree Stefano Ferrara wood oven, the first one of its kind in San Francisco when he brought it here in 2010, but they quickly multiplied. Suffice it to say, everyone needs an education in perfect, Neapolitan simplicity when it comes to pizza, and Mangieri is the standard-bearer. He takes pizza as seriously as many chefs take their meat, or their risotto, and when you taste it you will understand why it should be taken seriously.
Zachary’s Chicago Pizza
5801 College Avenue, Oakland; 1853 Solano Avenue, Berkeley; 3110 Crow Canyon Place, San Ramon; 140 Crescent Drive, Pleasant Hill
While we might enjoy the cornmeal in Little Star’s crusts a little better than the more standard, wheat-flour-based stuffed pizzas at Zachary’s, there are plenty of people who would disagree with us. Zachary’s has been an East Bay favorite since opening in Rockridge in 1983, and now has four locations. Original owners Zach Zachowski and Barbara Gabel, both Wisconsin natives, ultimately sold the business under an employee stock ownership plan, and as of 2010 the company is entirely worker-owned. We will say the chunky tomatoes that top these hearty pies are always delicious and well seasoned, and our perennial favorites are feta- and olive-stuffed Mediterranean, and the signature spinach and mushroom.
826 Folsom Street, SF
Last in the alphabet but certainly not in our hearts is Bruce Hill’s popular, three-year-old SoMa spot, Zero Zero. Star attractions here, besides some excellent pasta, great cocktails, and some of our favorite Brussels sprouts in the all the land (with pancetta, lemon, and Asian pear), are the Neapolitan-ish pizzas, like the mushroom and leek-topped Fillmore; the Castro with spicy sopressata and house-made sausage; and Geary (pictured), with Manilla clams, tomato, garlic, bacon, Calabrian chiles, and pecorino. The crust is firm and blistered at the edges, floppy toward the center, and always well seasoned and delicious.