Love Letters

By David Nelson
Photos by Brevin Blach

From anchovies to zucchini, innumerable options exist for adding pizzazz to pizza. Perfect pies come in many shapes and forms, but with such diverse palates to please, and everyone claiming their favorite is the best, it's tough to pick America's finest.

Instead, we offer this guide to the ABCs of San Diego pizza. From Arrividerci to Zia's Bistro, here are 26 of San Diego's alphabites. Try them all and you'll come ull circle...or at least your waist will.

Arrivederci

3789 4th Ave., Hillcrest
619.542.0293, arrivederciristorante.com

Cute, cozy and baby brother to Antonino Mastellone's original Arrivederci a block up the avenue, La Pizzeria Arrivederci woos with wildly good pies baked in a wood-fired oven. Impossible to argue with the Margherita, but house creations like the Messicana (beans, sausage, cilantro) ain't bad either.

Bronx Pizza

111 Washington St., Hillcrest
619.291.3341, bronxpizza.com

If it's attitude you want, buy it by the slice at this microscopic Hillcrest landmark, where New York-style guys peddle New York-style pizzas by the slice and by the pie, big enough to weigh you down even as it goes light on the wallet. It's cash only, and you're not going to find chicken, jalapeños or Canadian bacon among the toppings, but what you can count on are well-seasoned, flavorful pies that range from all the favorites to house faves like the Whitestone, topped simply with mozzarella, ricotta, garlic and Parmesan.

Ciro's Pizza

536 Market St., Gaslamp
619.696.0405, cirossd.com

Perfect for a lifesaving snack break while bar-hopping in the Gaslamp, this quintessential New Yawk-style pizza parlor gets the mood right with sports on multiple TVs, and zeroes in on Italian flavors with heavily laden pies cut in double-wide slices.

Davanti Enoteca

1655 India St., Little Italy
619.237.9606, davantisandiego.com

Home to one of the coolest courtyards in San Diego, this Chicago transplant offers a bold and extensive menu that includes a number of classy pies. The one to wear Louboutins for? The crust baked under a spiffy, discreetly pungent cargo of mushrooms, Taleggio cheese, braised leeks and truffle oil.

Extreme Pizza

834 Kline St., La Jolla
858.729.1910, extremepizzalj.com

The Peace in the Middle East Pizza - made with homemade hummus, tomatoes, olives, onions, feta, fresh basil pepperoncinis and mozzarella - is like the other specialty pies at La Jolla's Extreme Pizza in that it has an inventive name and combination of tasty toppings. Shredded pork marinated in spicy hoisin-style sauce, peanuts, green onions, carrots, cilantro and mozzarella top the Hanoi Fever pizza.

Filippi's

Locations around San Diego County
realcheesepizza.com

Filippi's, the 61 year-old "Pizza Grotto" in Little Italy, has fairly old offspring around town (the Pacific Beach location has been there for decades). Go for the hanging Chianti bottles and checked tablecloths and enjoy huge, all-American, full-flavored pies. Some longtime customers share a pizza before digging into a "half-and-half" platter of spaghetti and ravioli.

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Locations around San Diego County
godfathers.com

For "a pizza you can't refuse," check out Godfather's, a chain founded in the mafia heartland: Omaha, Nebraska. Generously cheesed, the original thick, rich crust made - and keeps - Godfather's a hands-down favorite. Good stuff like Italian sausage, pepperoni and other manly meats go on top.

Hoboken Pizza

1459 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach
858.270.7766, hobokenpizza.com

Get a slice of Jersey (minus the Snooki) at Hoboken Pizza, where the regular pies are crisply crusted, and the succulent Sicilian pies are nearly deep enough to dive into...well, deeper than Snooki, anyway.

Isola Pizza Bar

1526 India St., Little Italy
619-255-4230; isolapizzabar.com

Newcomer Isola bases its menu on recipes crafted by chef-owner Massimo Tenino's grandmother, and stars wood-fired pies piled with panache rather than pepperoni. Very pretty, the place tops pizzas with items like shellfish, fresh herbs and the fab smoked prosciutto called speck. A tiny, breeze-cooled garden with tables hides in back.

Joe's Pizza

3775 Murphy Canyon Rd., Kearny Mesa
858.268.0093, joespizzasd.com

Whether your favorite hang out is Wal-Mart, Frye's Electronics or University of Phoenix, if you like being halfway between Kearny Mesa and Tierra Santa, you're gonna love Joe's Pizza. Stop in for chewy, tender crusts loaded with all the traditional goods. The fragrant garlic bread is a winner.

Knockout Pizzeria

6755 Mira Mesa Blvd., Mira Mesa
858.678.8545, knockoutpizzamiramesa.com

New York-style applies to the thin-crust pizza (and the subway map-lined tabletops) at Knockout Pizzeria, a friendly joint in Mira Mesa. Savory house creations include the 18-inch Eggplant Parmigiana Pizza. Try the garlic knots.

Luigi's at the Beach

3210 Mission Blvd., Mission Beach
858.488.2818, luigisatthebeach.com

Take Luigi's "Pizza Eating Challenge" and win a 30-inch pizza free (plus two t-shirts) every time you and a bud manage to consume the whole pie in under an hour. Don't finish on time and you gotta pay for the whole thing. Some pretty funky rules apply, but this is Mission Beach, after all.

Mamma Mia Pizza

1932 Balboa Ave., Pacific Beach
858.272.2702, mammamiaitalianrestaurant.com

Chef Cinzia serves one of the more exciting menus in Pacific Beach, including small bites of her light, yeasty pizza dough that are fried and draped with prosciutto. Her pizzas are light, elegant and Italian, and star vegetables more than meats. The Paesana pairs two worlds by topping a pie with pesto, mozzarella, roasted red peppers and sausage.

Napizza

1702 India St., Little Italy
619.696.0802, na-pizza.com

New in Little Italy, this specialist in "Pizza al Taglio" kneads an all-natural dough that takes up to 72 hours to raise and is baked for 30 minutes, time-spans that produce unusual flavor and result in an especially light crust. Lined with windows that flood it with breezes and sunshine, the dining room features a buffet of toppings. Sso build your own, or order a specialty like the Old Fashion Amatriciana with crisp bacon and Pecorino Romano.

Osteria Origano

3650 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest
619.295.9590, osteriaorigano.com

It's a kick to sit at the pizza bar at this chic Hillcrest eatery and watch the dough engineer stretch elastic balls into rounded discs, decorate them and whisk them in and out of the flames in a hive-shaped oven. Pizzas sometimes arrive in front of patrons still bubbling, so watch out - but enjoy rare pies like one with creamy buffalo mozzarella, top-quality prosciutto, oregano and a drizzle of olive oil added after the pizza exits the oven.

Pizza Port

Carlsbad, Ocean Beach , Solana Beach (original location) and San Clemente
pizzaport.com

Pizza Port is the pizzeria with a built-in brewery that wins gold medals at the World Beer Cup, among other respected competitions. (Ocean Beach took the 2012 gold in the Coffee Beer category for its Bacon and Eggs Breakfast Coffee Imperial Porter. Carlsbad won the Imperial India Pale Ale with its Poor Man's IPA.) As for pizza, the "signature wholegrain beer crust" is the alternative to the tender traditional crust that is the base for house faves like the Pizza Solana with shrimp, clams and veggies.

Q Restaurant and Sports Bar

2725 Vista Way, Oceanside
760.757.7070, theqrestaurantandsportsbar.com

This Oceanside sports bar isn't North County's premiere destination for pizza, but there is pizza on the menu, and the place does indeed start with a "Q." Does that count as a pizza place? Of course not, but if you don't read this entire dining feature, you'll never even notice the difference. There's also the pizza-like grilled flatbread with duck prosciutto, Gioia burrata (mozzarella surrounding cream-laced curds), fig jam and basil at Quality Social in the Gaslamp (qualitysocial.com), but that felt like even more of a stretch.

Red Oven Pizza

On the move
760.814.1688, redovensd.com

This pizzeria on wheels roams the county; it fans meet up with it after consulting Facebook and Twitter. Nice pies: the dough is exceptional. Made by hand in 20-pound batches, it matures for about three days, a process that results in exquisite flavors and a butter-textured crust that melts in the mouth. The sauces and toppings, and the restraint with which they're used, are true to the traditions of Naples.

Sammy's Woodfired Pizza

Locations around San Diego County
sammyspizza.com

Homegrown and popular in every part of the county, Sammy's is the one to beat for sheer variety, since it offers lengthy lists of traditional, California-style and gluten-free pies. Known for smiling servers and décor inspired by San Diego's easy lifestyle, Sammy's serves dishes built with boundless imagination, but also is probably the best place to score a classic pepperoni pizza. Leftovers make tasty breakfasts.

The TapTap Room

1269 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach
858.274.1010, sdtaproom.com

Select a beer flight of six flavors from more than 40 taps, then sip a different brew with each slice as you work through aromatic offerings like the Shrimp Pesto Adriatica Pie. Loaded with shrimp, pesto, roasted garlic, Feta and mozzarella cheeses and roasted pine nuts, it's a breathy beauty, and a great mate to fine beer.

URBN Coal Fired Pizza

3085 University Ave., North Park
619.255.7300, urbnnorthpark.com

Coal-fired broilers that reach well in excess of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit are what made old-line steakhouses in Pittsburgh (lots of coal there) and Brooklyn famous a century ago. Baking pizzas at ultra-high heat underpins the culinary strategy at this huge, industrial-style bar and eatery in North Park, which claims a New Haven, Connecticut, pedigree for "Craft" pizzas like a mashed potato-topped pie garnished with bacon and cheeses. No sauce, natch.

Via Italia Trattoria

569 S. Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas
760.479.9757, viaitaliapizzeria.com

Quality has always been the primo emphasis of Paola Pedrazanni's handsome, all-Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown Encinitas. The menu is entirely authentic, and pizzas are built Old Country style, with flavor and delicacy. Wood-fired triumphs include specialties like the Valtellinese, a simple pie highlighted by Bresaola, the delicious air-dried beef produced in a hidden corner of Northern Italy.

Woodstock's Pizza

6145 El Cajon Blvd., College Area
619.265.0999; woodstockssd.com

Since 1984, Woodstock's has fed hungry SDSU students (and families from all around the College area) a solid menu of appetizers, salads and desserts. Also helping to pack on the Freshman 10 are trademarked pizzas like The Firebird - spicy in all regards, plus a handful of jalapeños sprinkled on top for good measure. The All Meat Orgy may be a good one try while watching Aztecs football.

Pizza X

1791 E.,10th St., Bloomington
812.339.7737, pizzaxbloomington.com

Next time in you're in Bloomington, Indiana, please stop by any one of four Pizza X locations and ask them to open a store in San Diego, so this Alpha-Bites pizza gimmick thing can be complete if we ever try to write it again...which we probably won't. In 2011, a Pizza X delivery driver was shot and killed when he tried to prevent a man from breaking into a car. R.I.P., Adam Sarnecki.

Yard House

1023 Fourth Ave., Gaslamp
619.233.9273, yardhouse.com

Okay, so 23 out of 26 ain't bad. The letters "Q," "X" and "Y" proved to be problematic, but luckily there's Yard House. It isn't a pizza joint, but it does have half-a-dozen hearty-looking pies, including the Spicy That Chicken: firecracker sauce, mozerella, macadamia nuts, carrots, green onion and cilantro (goes great with beer in a three-foot glass).

Zia's Bistro

1845 India St., Little Italy
619.234.1344; ziasbistro.com

Joe Busalacchi likes pizza, but he doesn't serve it at his fancy restaurants. Instead, he takes pride in the fine pies served at this intimate Italian bistro in Little Italy. Dine indoor or along the sidewalk on simple, molto ("very," in Italian) Italiano pizzas like the Tre Gusti, which offers the three flavors of mushrooms, artichokes and prosciutto. The tomato-less In Bianco, is a "white" pie topped with olive oil, garlic, oregano, red onions and a tasty trio of cheeses.

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