From traditional thin-crust Neapolitan to square pies and trendy toppings, pizza perfection is so plentiful in San Diego, the region rivals some of the pizza towns in American. Yes, including New York.
The derision was so thick, you could slice it with a pizza cutter.
When TripAdvisor in 2013 named San Diego the No. 1 pizza city in America — and New York No. 4 — the Bronx cheers could be heard all the way from, well, The Bronx.
At the time, the Union-Tribune’s Matthew T. Hall captured New York’s collective outrage, including the predictable jeers about pineapple pizza and fish tacos, that was boiling over in tweets and headlines. A few choice bites:
- “What a pizza $#+! Preposterous poll ranks NY 4th,” railed The New York Post, which tacked on the cutting line, “What a bunch of meatheads!”
- “What?! Pie in the Face: NYC outranked by San Diego, Las Vegas and Boston in Pizza Survey,” protested amNewYork.
- “New York City finishes behind Vegas Boston and San Diego in a national pizza survey. In other news people are stupid,” declared one tweet.
- “Best pizza in the U.S. goes to San Diego? Blasphemy,” maintained another.
- And Slate tweeted, “Tripadvisor Loses Its Mind, Proclaims San Diego and Las Vegas to be Top Pizza Cities in America ... #certifiable.”
At the risk of being certifiably sliced by critics and pizza snobs on both coasts, this Bronx native is going to reopen that (Pandora’s) pizza box by declaring that San Diego rivals any of America’s best pizza cities. Yes, even New York.
From traditional thin-crust Neapolitan to square pies and top-of-the-line toppings, pizza perfection can be found throughout the county, whether from a mom and pop, red-sauce Italian eatery or a trendy, upscale restaurant. And the region’s recent influx of chefs and restaurateurs from Italy — who import with them massive wood-fired pizza ovens, primo Italian 00 flour, prosciutto, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and more — has only enriched the quality.
Like Los Angeles, which is arguably the true best pizza city in the U.S., San Diego isn’t a town with hard-fast culinary traditions and carved-in-stone rules on what pizza is supposed to look like, taste like or even if it should be eaten with a fork and a knife or simply folded in your hands. That allows for the kind of freedom and creativity that might elude pizzaiolos in New York and Chicago, not to mention Naples. And like L.A., San Diego has an embarrassment of optimal fresh ingredients that can be used as toppings.
So, to mark National Pizza Day Sunday, we’re tossing out our list of the Top 10 pizzas in San Diego, along with those that deserve honorable mention. An asterisk denotes inclusion on the U-T’s Top 10 San Diego Italian Restaurants list. (Note: Two brand new places, Del Lusso Napoletana Pizzeria in Carlsbad and Cardellino in Mission Hills, opened too recently for consideration, but expectations are high.)
Let the slicing begin.
What: A trio of young friends from Milan — Giacomo Pizzigoni, Andrea Burrone, and Luca Salvi — catapulted San Diego’s pizza scene to new heights in 2016 with their Milanese-style pies. Joining their stylishly casual spot in Pacific Beach and stand at the Little Italy Food Hall this spring will be a third location at The Sky Deck at Del Mar Highlands Town Center. The buddies are clearly going for full pizza domination, collaborating with famed Michelin-starred Italian chef Silvio Salmoiraghi on a next-level gourmet pizza menu. The name Ambrogio15 is an homage to both the patron saint of Milan, Ambrogio, and the width of their pizzas, 15 inches. But we think Ambrogio is Numero Uno.
Why this pie: Ambrogio’s specially created dough, made from organic Italian Petra flour and allowed to rise for 48 hours, results in an impossibly thin and crispy crust. Add exceptional components — the burrata and prosciutto crudo pizza, for example, is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella fior di latte, luscious burrata from Puglia, and 20-month-old prosciutto di Parma — and you have the recipe for pizza perfection.
Where: 926 Turquoise St., Pacific Beach, (858) 291-8650; and 550 West Date St., Little Italy, (619) 450-6839. ambrogio15.com
2. Il Dandy*
What: This contemporary Calabrian hotspot in Bankers Hill was one of the best new restaurants of 2019. Brothers Pietro and Dario Gallo (Civico 1845) have partnered with father and son Michelin-starred chefs — and fellow Calabrians — Antonio and Luca Abbruzzino to push San Diego’s culinary boundaries with modern, yet approachable, preparations and unlikely flavor combinations. That out-of-the-box thinking has us happily rethinking everything we thought we knew about Italian food, pizza included.
Why this pie: Il Dandy’s airy, ethereal pizza crust is wafer light, thanks to a recipe that reverses traditional pizza dough proportions of 70 percent water, 30 percent flour (versus 70/30 the other way around), uses a 100-year-old starter from Italy, and allows its dough to rise for 72 hours before it’s slid into a 1,000-degree oven. We’ve loved every version we’ve tried, especially the Calabria with yellow cherry tomatoes, fior di latte, caciocavallo, n’duja and orange zest, the Buongustaia with pumpkin, guanciale, fresh truffle slices, hazelnuts and pecorino, and the vegan smoked eggplant, tomato, pistachio and mint pizza.
Where: 2550 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill. (619) 310-5669. ildandyrestaurant.com
What: Tae Dickey’s downtown San Diego hub for all things delicious is rooted in devotion to his 200-year-old-plus Italian biga, or mother dough starter. Wood-fired veggies, pizza, bread, focaccia, homemade pastas and and exceptional charcuterie make Biga a must-stop on any serious food lover’s journey. What Dickey lacks in Italian heritage, he makes up with Italian culinary soul.
Why this pie: Dickey’s biga results in a yeasty dough that wouldn’t need one topping to be among the best around. Luckily, though, his perfectly charred pizzas are elegantly crowned with ingredients direct from Italy or a dozen local farms. Our top pick is the funghi, with wood roasted hen of the woods and oyster mushrooms, a Meza farm egg, Italian Parmigiano and pecorino, creamy handmade fior di latte mozzarella, thyme and crunchy maldon salt.
Where: 950 Sixth Ave., downtown San Diego. (619) 794-0444. bigasandiego.com
4. Siamo Napoli*
What: Everything at this charming, neighborhood eatery tastes like a love letter from Naples, down to the wall-sized photograph of an abashedly sexy Sophia Loren in the dining room. Helmed by restaurateur Flavio Piromallo, Siamo Napoli serves the most authentic Neapolitan fare anywhere in San Diego, from the vibrant marinara sauce to seafood that tastes just-pulled from the sea to the dreamy ricotta-filled squash blossoms to crispy street beignet-like zeppole. And of course, there is pizza, Naples’ most important export.
Why this pie: Siamo Napoli’s pies emerge from the custom, azure-tiled pizza oven piping hot and these rustic rounds are legit. Among the pie selection, none is overloaded with ingredients, true to Neapolitan pizzaiolos’ less-is-more approach. Case in point: the sensationally simple burrata and carciofi (artichoke) with cherry tomato, basil, and ... nothing else. Purity of flavor doesn’t need adornment.
Where: 3959 30th St., North Park. (619) 310-6981.siamonapolisd.com
What: Rome natives Christopher Antinucci and Giulia Colmignoli opened their first tribute to Roman pizza al taglio, or by the slice, in 2012. Today, there are three places to grab ‘napizza — una + pizza, in Eternal City slang. Because the slices are individually served from large, rectangular sheet pans, Napizza fans can try more than one of the pizzeria’s 12 varieties. The low-yeast dough, made from flour sourced from an artisan, family-run mill in Italy, is allowed to rise for 72 hours. The result is a light and crispy crust that’s dappled with air pockets. And deliciousness.
Why this pie: Another Italian-run pizza place that’s dedicated to premium ingredients from the old country and their new adopted home, Napizza tastes like a slice of Rome. I alternate between simplicity with the margherita (marinara, mozzarella and basil) and the decadent Truffle Porcini (with imported mushrooms and truffle paste). And sometimes I just opt for dessert, in the form of focaccia spread with Nutella.
Where: 615 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, (760) 452-2340; 1702 India St., Little Italy, (619) 696-0802; and 4301 La Jolla Village Drive, at Westfield UTC, (858) 230-7533. na-pizza.com
6. Tribute Pizza
What: Our favorite pizza concept in all of San Diego pays homage to the great pizzas of the world — from New York to Naples, Nairobi to Texas, Costco’s food court to one of San Diego’s best (see No. 8). Matt Lyons’ former pop-up put down roots in North Park in 2016 and, as the line out of the door indicates, the pizza aficionado’s mission to recreate celebrated pies is a triumph. Happy hour specials are among the best in town and Tribute is also the only local place we know that offers soft serve topped with arbequina olive oil and sea salt. Genius.
Why this pie: Clearly a fan of Brooklyn pies, Lyons’ menu represents pizza from three of the borough’s neighborhoods. So how can you not opt for the “Brooklyn’s Best,” a tribute to Best Pizza in trend central, Williamsburg. The mozzarella, ricotta and wood-roasted caramelized onions on top are terrific, but it’s the sesame seed crust that soars. A tasty second is the Biancoverde, in honor of Phoenix’s famed Pizzeria Bianco and Lyons’ muse Chris Bianco. Straightforward and sensational, it features mozzarella, ricotta, fresh garlic, red chili flakes, pecorino and a small heap of arugula.
Where: 3077 North Park Way, North Park. (619) 450-4505. tributepizza.com
7. Isola Pizza Bar*
What: If you can tear yourself away from chef-owner Massimo Tenino’s woodfired appetizers and classic pasta dishes (including San Diego’s finest cacio e pepe), Isola’s pizzas are a chewy, blistered treat. The La Jolla location’s pies are made in a custom, sexy, candy apple red, mosaic-tiled pizza oven brought over from Naples. A native of Piedmont, Tenino was inspired to cook by his nonna, Isola, and today he gets cross-regional influences from Rome, Naples, Liguria, Puglia and beyond. Pair his pizza, or anything for that matter, with wines from his brother’s winery, Pietro Rinaldi. (Note: Isola’s Little Italy location is all pizza and apps all the time; pasta only pops up as an occasional special.)
Why this pie: As much as we love Isola’s creamy burrata, cherry tomato and basil pie and the crispy speck and mushroom pizza, the understated margherita is the best vehicle delivery system for Isola’s splendid tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and terrifically tasty, artfully charred crust.
Where: 7734 Girard Ave., La Jolla. (858) 412-5566; 1526 India St., Little Italy. (619) 255-4230. isolapizzabar.com
8. Bronx Pizza
What: An old-style, thin-crust, by-the-slice joint with enough New York Yankee, Italian-American and mob memorabilia to qualify as a Bronx museum. In business since 1997, Bronx Pizza serves up 18 kinds of pizzas (whole pies are available) and plenty of irreverent attitude. Its website gives you a taste: “Some of the lifetime accomplishments of the Bronx Pizza crew (includes) a handful of college degrees, a few felony convictions, several years of attendance in twelve-step programs, dozens of tattoos, too many burns to count.” Even the logo packs a punchline — the cartoon triangle-shaped slice has a mushroom nose and wears boxing gloves.
Why this pie: Make no mistake, Bronx is serious about pizza. Favorites include all four of the Whitestone varieties, all mozzarella, parmesan, garlic and ricotta-based white pies — regular, with spinach, mushrooms or pepperoni — as well as the pesto pie and the artichoke, with dollops of red sauce. With extra topping choices, you can up the flavor ante of any pie with eggplant, black olives, basil, meatballs, even more ricotta, and 14 other add-ons. As Tribute’s Lyons has discovered, Bronx Pizza is something to cheer about.
Where: 111 Washington St., Hillcrest (619) 291-3341. bronxpizza.com
9. Herb & Wood/Herb & Sea
What: Humble pizza gets a gourmet makeover at Brian Malarkey’s popular Little Italy and Encinitas eateries. Woodfired pizzas are skillfully created using the same first-class ingredients that go in the other dishes, from duck confit to Spanish chorizo, Basque idiazábal cheese to prosciutto and Sicilian Castelvetrano olives. Herb & Eatery, Herb & Wood’s casual sister restaurant cafe, also offers pizza evenings from 4:30 to 8 p.m.
Why this pie: No matter how many times I’ve eaten at Herb & Wood, I would never consider skipping a pizza to share at dinner. It’s that good. So naturally, when I went for Sunday brunch, we had to share a pizza. The Salmon Lox pie is essentially a delightfully highfalutin New York bagel, if you imagine a bagel that had a cracklingly thin crust and was minus the hole. Schmeared with classy crème fraîche and topped with delicate, smoky salmon, everything spice, red onion, capers, sieved egg, and pops of trout roe, San Diego’s best brunch pizza is a glass of Champagne’s best accompaniment.
10. Buona Forchetta
What: The first South Park outpost of Matteo Cattaneo’s wildly popular and ever-expanding empire of pizza restaurants was cited by The New York Times in 2017 as having San Diego’s best pizza. Buona Forchetta’s legions of fans wouldn’t disagree. Cattaneo, from Bergamo in Northern Italy, looked to the Naples area to source the signature gold-hued pizza oven, called Sofia, for his South Park eatery. Today, Sofia turns out 30-plus kinds of round pizza, from classic Neapolitans to white pies. Currently, only the Petco Park location of Buona Forchetta features rectangular Roman pizza al taglio, but future restaurants will have it on the menu. The nonprofit Matteo, opening soon in South Park, will serve four kinds of breakfast pizza, and North Park’s upcoming Gelati & Peccati will also turn out pizza al taglio.
Why this pie: Heresy alert! I won’t wait in line for pizza, so it’s a good thing I consider Buona Forchetta’s best pizza to be the pizza sandwich at Petco Park, where there’s normally only the shortest of queues. Big enough to share, this two-fisted sandwich is a focaccia-like, crusty pizza al taglio, sliced and filled with luscious burrata, arugula and mortadella that’s so high-quality, the pistachios studding it taste just-cracked. Ask them to heat it up, order a glass of premium Italian wine, and you’ll never eat a hot dog at the ballpark again.
Where: 3001 Beech St., South Park and other locations. (619) 381-4844. buonaforchettasd.com
- A Brooklyn Pizzeria, Grantville and downtown San Diego. abrooklynpizzeria.com
- Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria, Encinitas. blueribbonpizzeria.com
- Cucina Sorella, Kensington. cucinasorella.com
- Cucina Urbana,* Bankers Hill. cucinaurbana.com
- Krisp, downtown San Diego. krispsd.com
- Landini’s, Little Italy and Liberty Station. landinispizzeria.com
- Mona Lisa,* Little Italy. monalisalittleitaly.com
- Pizzeria Bruno, University Heights. pizzeriabrunosd.com
- Pizzeria Luigi, Golden Hill, North Park and Imperial Beach. pizzerialuigi.com
- Provisional Kitchen, Gaslamp. pendry.com/san-diego/dining/provisional
- Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, multiple locations. sammyspizza.com
- Surf Rider, La Mesa and Ocean Beach. surfrider.pizza
- The Venetian Restaurant, Point Loma.
- Wheat & Water, Bird Rock. wheatandwater.com