Pizza is a dish best served, well, however you darn well want it. Round, square or oblong; hot or cold; with any number of toppings; pizza is pretty much always delicious – even when it's bad. But not all pizza is created equal, and a few U.S. cities elevate America's favorite food to another level.
While New York and Chicago have been fighting over who makes the best pizza for years, there are a few other cities whose iconic pizza styles deserve to be in the conversation. Here are 10 of the best pizza styles in the United States:
New York Neapolitan
In the early 1900s, immigrants from Naples brought pizza with them to New York, but it wasn't long before Neapolitan pizza evolved into a sturdier, crispier adaptation that's arguably better than the original. Like its Italian ancestor, this coal-oven baked pizza calls for San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Most restaurants serving this style of pizza will require you to order an entire pie.
Lombardi's gets credit for creating the first American pizza in 1905, and you can still get served an original American Pie at the pizzeria that started at it all, but there are plenty of amazing pizza joints where you can probably get a tastier version.
New York slice
It’s hard to walk a block in New York without hitting a pizza joint that sells oversized slices topped with anything from pepperoni to chicken parm. Between August of 2009 and November of 2011, a local named Colin Atrophy Hagendorf ate at every slice joint in the city, which numbered 435 by his count. And that’s just in Manhattan. When you add in the other four boroughs? Fuggedaboutit.
The ideal slice should be chewy and thin enough to bend, but crispy enough to hold up to the weight of the toppings. You should be able to eat this slice on the go, but whatever you do, don’t use a fork and knife.
There are more than a few great slice joints in the city, but you can’t go wrong at Joe’s Pizza, a West Village institution (with a new Williamsburg outpost) that dishes out thin slices to hungry diners every day until 4:30 a.m.
Chicago deep dish
Chicago’s nickname, The Second City, has nothing to do with its standing behind New York in the best pizza contest. But in the long-running debate about which makes the superior pizza, many critics have questioned whether Chicago deep dish is even pizza at all, or if it’s just a glorified casserole. Regardless, it’s delicious.
The crust of this pie is wrapped around a deep, well-oiled pan then loaded with copious amounts of cheese, meat and all other manner of toppings, then finished off with chunky tomato sauce and tossed in an oven. The Chicago deep dish is said to originate at the still-running Pizzeria Uno, but Lou Malnati’s might serve the best around.
A slight variation on the Chicago deep dish is the stuffed pizza. If you’re the kind of person who isn’t satisfied eating the food coma-inducing deep dish, then the stuffed pizza is for you. This even taller, deeper, more densely topped pie is covered in an additional layer of crust.
Chicago thin crust
When most people think about Chicago-style pizza, they think of something that weighs at least 8 pounds and will make you want to go on a diet immediately. But when locals want to scarf down a slice or four, it’s all about Chicago thin crust. Also known as tavern cut or bar pie, this cardboard thin and cracker-crispy style is pretty much the opposite of its more famous relative in every way.
Toppings go between the smooth sauce and layer of blistered mozzarella cheese, and the whole thing is sliced into a bunch of small squares – up to two or three dozen. Some of the best is found at South Side institution Vito & Nick’s, which has been serving up this Chicago favorite for nearly a century.
Until recently, the pan-baked square pies out of the Motor City remained a hidden gem to all but the biggest pizza fanatics. Detroit pizza is similar to other rectangular pies, like Sicilian and Grandma, but the beauty is in the differences.
A flavorful blend of cheeses covers the ultra crispy, buttery crust before the zesty sauce is poured on top of the whole thing. While the crust is on the thick side from top to bottom, the cornicione (the section where the crust meets the rest of the pie; the handle of the crust, so to speak) is barely thicker than a piece of string.
And there is no wasted real estate – cheese stretches all the way to every corner of every slice, eventually forming a caramelized cheese crust of its own. Buddy’s Pizza invented this style of pizza, and it still probably makes the best in town.
New Haven Apizza
Forget Yale. The most brilliant thing that ever came out of this Ivy League college town is the pizza. OK, fine. That might be an exaggeration, but New Haven pizza is so good it has its even has its own name: Apizza.
These coal-oven baked pies are thinner, crispier and chewier than their New York counterparts. The coal creates a charred, near-burnt crust, and the sauce goes almost all the way to the edge of that crust. Speaking of sauce, the original New Haven pie had sauce and only sauce, and you can still order a cheeseless Original Tomato at any Apizza restaurant in town.
The other style for which New Haven is best known is the white clam pie, which is a sauceless pizza topped with clams, olive oil, grated cheese and garlic. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is credited for inventing New Haven style in 1925, but locals still fight over whether “Pepe’s,” or 1930s pizzerias Modern Apizza or Sally’s Apizza makes the best in town.
Leave it to Cali to make pizza weird. The origins of so-called California pizza can be traced back to the 1980s at Wolfgang Puck's Los Angeles restaurant Spago, where pizza chef Ed LaDou revolutionized pizza as we know it by putting previously unimaginable ingredients on pizzas.
Goat cheese on pizza? That can be traced back to LaDou. Pizza with duck breast and hoisin sauce? LaDou. BBQ chicken pizza? Give LaDou credit for that, too. In fact, he's the chef that created the first menu at now international chain California Pizza Kitchen.
American Neapolitan (Phoenix)
In 2004, NY Times writer Ed Levine alluded that America's best pizza was being made in Phoenix at a restaurant called Pizzeria Bianco, an idea that bordered on sacrilege coming from the revered New York paper.
Twelve years later, there aren’t many pizzerias, if any, that have surpassed Pizzeria Bianco. Owner Chris Bianco is often credited for starting the country's pizza renaissance by bringing Italy’s first pizza style stateside and adding more inventive ingredients.
The New Neapolitan (or American pizza) has a light, chewy crust and fresh, creative, high-quality cheeses and toppings. While the style has since spread all across the U.S., we’re giving credit where credit is due.
Colorado Mountain Pie
The defining characteristic of the Colorado Mountain Pie is the giant, twisting cornicione towering over the pizza below. This hulking hunk of slightly sweet, airy bread has a consistency not unlike a soft pretzel, and is best saved for last and covered in the honey that sits on each table at Beau Jo’s, the restaurant that created this style of pizza in 1973.
The original Beau Jo’s opened in in Idaho Springs, a mining town between Denver and the ski resorts off I-70, serving as a place to warm up with a pie and a pint after a day of skiing. The restaurant has since expanded to six more locations across the state.
Philadelphia Tomato Pie
Philly’s take on the the Sicilian pizza is a unique beast. This cheeseless, rectangular pizza reportedly dates back to 1910 at Iannelli’s Bakery. A decade after Iannelli's started serving locals huge square slices, Italian bakeries all over the city were dishing out these bready pies.
Philadelphia Tomato Pies are typically cooked on a thin baking sheet – often in a brick oven – and topped with a thick layer of “gravy” (which is what many East Coast Italians call any red sauce). These days, the number of Italian bakeries has diminished, but there are still quite a few in the Philadelphia area, including Iannelli's, serving this regional specialty.