Pizza may seem simple on the surface. It’s basically some bread, some sauce, some cheese, and some toppings. But reducing it to those base elements is akin to calling barbeque just “slightly burned meat.” Ultimately, the assumption of simplicity is an uninformed one. There’s a lot of nuance to these pies, and while a bad pizza is still pretty good, a good one is literally worth crossing the country for.
We picked the absolute best pizza in every state last summer, but this year we wanted to drill down a little further. What are the “essential” pies? The ones you really must try in order to brag, “Yeah, I’ve tasted the best pizza in the country,” only to have your ranking (and ours) get upended by some hole-in-the-wall in Miami or Omaha, because pizza — like food, like everything — is always changing, evolving, and growing. That’s the fun of it, it’s a constantly shifting conversation. What’s essential right now might not be essential tomorrow.
To reflect pizza’s endless variety, we addressed by-the-slice, casual, and upscale experiences, as well as regional twists on the artform. Every one of these picks has been lauded by numerous culinary stars, and many of them are historically significant. Consider this a bit of a masterclass in the past, present, and future of pizza.
Forcella — New York City, New York
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Forcella does some completely legit traditional Neapolitan pizzas, and that’s worth acknowledging. But the reason we consider this spot essential is that it’s owned by Giulio Adriani — the Italian pizzaiolo who introduced New Yorkers to fried pizza in 2011.
Adriani has a remarkable four pizza world championships under his belt, and he knows authentic Naples-style pizza from the inside out, so it’s no surprise that he would bring pizza fritte stateside. The delicacy comes in a few iterations, but the classic is the Montanara — which takes a thin, hand-shaped crust and flash fries it before topping it with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. After, it’s finished in the wood-burning oven.
The fried and fired combo makes for a completely unique dining experience. When the dough is fried, it gets a little crispy and a little airy. Plus, it coats the crust in a fine layer of grease that feels rich and decadent. Firing in the oven adds smokiness and those dark leopard spots that everyone craves so much. There’s a depth of flavor here and a level of nuance that should quickly move this relatively new style to the top of your “must taste” list.
Pizzeria Bianco — Phoenix, Arizona
On a list of essential pizza places, it might seem like a shock to see an entry from Phoenix. But when you consider the number of accolades Pizzeria Bianco has received from luminaries in the food world, it makes a lot more sense.