Well, we’ve made it to the end of our pizza journey across America. The northeastern United States is where pizza entered the American food zeitgeist via waves of Italian migration from predominately Naples and Sicily. This is where it all started (on this continent). Mini-cultures popped up in New York and the surrounding areas around the turn of the last century. Over the next 100-odd years, pizza moved across the country and morphed into wonderous new forms. Today, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry with so many variables it’s nearly impossible to track them all (but we try, out of a sense of duty).
It’s hard to pick the best pizza when there’s so much to choose from — nowhere is that more evident than the northeast. While these picks might not be your personal favorites, they are the unassailable spots. These are the must-visits that you’ll have to hit up at least once in your life. Visiting these pizza joints and parlors will broaden your pizza knowledge and deepen your adoration. They are the best pizza experiences in America’s northeast.
WASHINGTON, DC: 2 Amy’s
Washington, DC, has a pretty broad pizza culture. The jumbo DC slices of Adams Morgan are the stuff of drunken legend. But we’re not going with a jumbo slice this time around.
2 Amy’s was one of the first pizzerias outside of Italy to earn the Italian DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) certification. That’s given to places or foods that meet the strict cultural and quality requirements to be actual Italian specialties. In this case, it was for their Margherita DOC pie and deep love of executing some of the best Italian dishes in the DC area. The pizza has a creamy and earthy mozzarella di bufala (cheese made with wild water buffalo milk) along with the exact durum wheat you’d find at the finest pizzerias across Napoli. The type 00 flour is expertly cold fermented overnight and then proofed over wood coals from the wood-fired oven. This gives the dough that wonderful chew along with an exact level of firey char. The San Marzano tomato base is slightly sweet with an umami edge that adds bite. The basil is the brightest and freshest there is. If there’s perfection in pizza, this might be close.
So, by all means, get wasted and nosh a jumbo slice on the streets late at night. Then spend an evening at 2 Amy’s enjoying some of the best Neapolitan pizzas outside of Naples.
MAINE: Otto Pizza, Portland
Otto Pizza in Portland kills the pizza game. Their deep menu, friendly atmosphere, and pizza parlor vibes make this place shine. Otto feels like a place you could post up in for a long spell. The pies are a nice balance between classic American styles and innovative recipes that’ll inspire you to seek a wider pizza world.
Otto’s mashed potato, bacon, and scallion pie is a revelation. We know what you’re thinking, “Mashed potatoes on pizza sounds bananas!” You’re so wrong, dear reader. Mashed potato on pizza is divine — in fact, more pizzas need more potato action. That’s just a fact. Yet another pizza that’ll change your opinion on the form is their Veg pie with butternut squash, fresh ricotta, and cranberry. The mixture of creamy fresh cheese and tart berries with the earthy and sweet nature of the squash is a masterstroke of pizza making.
If all that beautiful pizza isn’t your jam, don’t worry. They’ll still sling you an old-school pepperoni or sausage pie. Though, we’d be remiss not to mention their cheese pizza that’s topped with cheese tortellini. It’s shockingly addictive and, perhaps oddly, still manages to be light.
MASSACHUSETTS: Santarpio’s Pizza, Boston
There’s a lot of good pizza of every variety in Massachusetts and, especially Boston. While it’d be easy to pick a post-modern spot in the center of the city that serves trendy pies in an Instagrammable setting, we’re going simple and delicious.
Santarpio’s Pizza is a down-and-dirty pizza joint that cares about putting out the best classic American pies imaginable. The pizza at Santarpio’s isn’t reinventing any wheels or challenging any so-called norms. This is the pizza you likely grew up with done the same way it’s been done for decades. Hand-tossed in-house dough, slightly sweet red sauce, tons of cheese, with all the pepperoni, sausage, bell peppers, and olives.
Think of pizza at Santarpio’s like the grandfather of what Domino’s was going for — way back in the day when it started. Santarpio’s pizzas feel like a sublime version of pizza that fast food imitates but never really nails. It’s easy to eat, yet 100 percent delicious. It goes perfectly with a cheap can of beer and a backyard party. You can’t beat that.
VERMONT: American Flatbread, Waitsfield
American Flatbread has a wholly unique philosophy when it comes to pizza. They’re looking at pizza as something that transcends Italian migration of innovation in the 19th century. They look at the combination of bread, rocks, and flame as a cornerstone of the human experience, dating back dozens and dozens of millennia. Untethered from the idea that pizza has to be “this” or “that” they’re able to create unique pies that push beyond any preconceived notion of what pizza is and can be.
We know. This is all heady stuff for simple ol’ pizza. The unique stone hearths that bake American Flatbread’s pies are just as important as the beautiful ingredients involved. This team started by thinking about making and baking bread. So the crusts here are something truly special with a distinct funk, chew, and crispness that you simply won’t find elsewhere.
American Flatbread focuses in on very local and seasonal ingredients from the abundant farms in the area. That means the pies are something special every single time. Eating a pizza at American Flatbread is an experience unlike any other, with pies you may only have once in your lifetime.
CONNECTICUT: Sally’s Apizza, New Haven
New Haven has an intense pizza culture. There’s a lot of debate over Frank Pepe’s or Sally’s Apizza for the best of the best. Our two cents, they’re both great. But we have to give the edge to Sally’s here. Why? Well, as much as we love a great pizza, we also love that little soupçon of individuality when it comes to pizza.
Sally’s is a classic pizza joint complete with a buzzing neon sign, comfy pleather booths, and a keen reputation for being the greatest among the locals and tourists alike. The pizza here is unlike any other pizza around. The huge misshapen pies with lots of red sauce are fired at an intense heat in a coal-fired oven. That heat gives the crust a sort of split personality of chewy at the center and crispy char at the edges with charred bubbles of dough popping up through the toppings. It’s crazy good.
While the tomato-based pies are an essential part of the Sally’s experience, it’s their White Potato pie that makes a visit here a must. Thin slices of potato ring around the crust with fresh mozz, thin white onion slices, and sprinkles of rosemary. That’s finished with a healthy dose of grated parmesan. It’s a little bit like a light and fresh scalloped potato in pizza form.
NEW JERSEY: Al Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza, Elizabeth
As important as the ingredients are to a great pizza, the oven is just as important if not more so. An oven that’s been seasoned by generations of pizzaiolos doing what pizzaiolos do means you’ll have completely unique pizza baking experience. Santillo’s has one such oven and the pies getting fired inside its hot walls are stellar.
Santillo’s in an unassuming pizza joint that looks like a place Tony Soprano drove past every day on his way to “work.” It’s pure Jersey hole-in-the-wall with all the charm of a classic pizza joint that doesn’t have time for frills. The pies coming out of Santillo’s are classic Italian-American masterpieces that hit you in the depths of your pizza-loving heart.
Generally, you can get either a “round” pie that’s not quite New York style thin but not Costco thick or an old-school “Sicilian” pie with a thickness that makes it feel like a proto-Detroit-style pizza (which it essentially is). They’re both great so it’s really dealer’s choice. From there, a long list of classic toppings from anchovies and clams to spicy pepperoni and thick cut sausage to big ol’ mushrooms and eggplant dominate the menu. Whatever you choose, it’ll be fired in a 100-year-old oven, so keep your expectations high.
DELAWARE: The Wood Fired Pizza Shop, Newark
Unless you’re Joe Biden, you’ve probably never thought, “Hey, let’s go to Delaware for pizza.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of great places to snag a killer slice across the state. Our pick is a small shop in Newark that knows how to make a great pie in a chill setting, The Wood Fired Pizza Shop.
The first thing you notice about The Wood Fired Pizza Shop is the open pizza kitchen sitting in the corner of the dining room. Pizzaiolos are hard at work tossing dough and topping pies before they go into the raging wood-fired oven. This gives a real sense of being in on the pizza-making action. Everything is well thought out here. The crusts have that perfect balance of chew and char. The ingredients are fresh and as local as they can get, meaning sometimes ingredients and toppings will vary. And, very importantly, the beer list is masterfully curated to pair wonderfully with the pies.
The specialty pizzas shine brightest here. The veggie special, The Artie, has chopped fresh spinach, artichoke, hard parmesan, roasted garlic olive oil, and plenty of shredded mozz. It’s earthy, cheesy, and delightful. Though, don’t pass up on their meaty options. They Mama Mia has thick slices of their in-house made beef and pork sausage meatballs with tons of red sauce and melty mozz — it’s a winner.
MARYLAND: Matthew’s Pizza, Baltimore
Maryland is probably more known for Old Bay and soft shell crabs than pizza. And, you know what, that’s okay. Old Bay and crabs are fantastic and make Maryland well-worth the visit. However, there’s a pizza place that definitely deserves a quick stop for a unique and delicious pie.
Matthew’s Pizza has been around for long enough to feel classic and well lived in. The hole-in-the-wall aura is melded with a really chill pizza parlor feel — there’s plenty of coziness and Italian-American kitsch. Greasy parm shakers aside, the pizza here rocks.
There are two pies you’ll have to try when you roll into Matthew’s. First, you need to indulge in a Crab Pie. Seriously. The mix of real backfin crab meat with hand-grated mozz and imported Reggianito cheese from Argentina is then topped with caramelized onions and, of course, Old Bay. It’s a bit like a spicy crab melt via pizza form and it’s delicious. After you’ve downed that, order an Anna’s Stuffed Pie. This is a sort of a deep dish pizza by way of Baltimore — loaded with provolone and cured meats and topped with more mozzarella. It’s a bomb of a pizza that hits just the right balance of delectable and satisfying.
PENNSYLVANIA: Pizzeria Beddia, Philadelphia
Pizza Beddia walks a fine line between trendy branding and amazing pizza. This is a pizzeria that knows that the pizza comes first and the shirts and Instagrams come second. Beddia has created a mini pizza empire out of a tiny Philly spot and now it’s poised to go worldwide.
None of this would be possible if the pizza wasn’t phenomenal. The pizza is so good that as of March 31st, Beddia has been closed so it can open up shop in a bigger location to deal with the lines of people waiting for a pie. Look at it this way, if people are willing to wait out in the snow to get a pizza, then you know it’s goddamn delicious.
As with all good pizza, it all starts with the dough. The fermentation, hand-stretching, and flame firing make for a perfect balance of chew and crispiness with a hint of yeasty funk. From there, the toppings stay simple, fresh, local, and seasonal with a generous nod to classics like spicy pepperoni or sausage. But, in all honesty, the simpler the pies the better. Their pie with red sauce, anchovies, garlic, and a dusting of cheese is a miracle of flavors and textures. It’s just great pizza at the end of the day.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Pig Tale Restaurant, Nashua
New Hampshire, like it’s New England neighbors, relishes in the local bounty and farm-to-table is taken very seriously. This makes for great local restaurants and great local pizza that leans towards the ingenious. Farm-to-table restaurant Pig Tale is doing some of the best pizza in New England with a laser focus on keeping things fresh while making sure it’s always satisfying.
Pig Tale serves a great local menu in a “friend’s living” room setting. Their burgers, fried chicken and waffles, and mac ‘n cheese are fabulous. Then there’s a full bar of killer cocktails, well thought out bottles of wine, and a dope beer list of local heavy-hitters. But, we’re not here to talk about that. This is about the pizza, baby.
The pies are wood-fired masterpieces that’ll have you rethinking what you can put on a pizza. If you only have room to try one, get the Rooster. Their beautiful crust is topped with six (!) local eggs, heaps of bacon, crunchy shoestring fries, bright green onion, and plenty of melty cheese. It’s basically brunch is pizza form. If you can’t dig it, then grab their signature Pig Tale pizza. It’s topped with succulent pork shoulder, bacon, fontina, local country sausage, piquant pickled onions, and dashes of house-made BBQ sauce. It’s a hefty delight of flavors and textures.
RHODE ISLAND: The Village Hearth Bakery, Jamestown
Like some of the best pizza places from Palermo to Los Angeles, The Village Hearth Bakery’s pizza started out with bakers mastering the subtle art of dough and baking first — then came the pizza. The bakers behind Village Hearth mastered that art and became so popular they had to turn their house into bakery and restaurant to deal with the popularity. Their garage became the baking floor and workshop. Their living room is now a seating area.
The pizzas are Village Hearth focus on two tenets: Great bread base and the freshest and most local ingredients they can get their hands on. This makes for not only great pizza but for unique pies that you may only get once in your life. The cozy atmosphere of the bakery is hinged around a hand-built and beautiful wood-fired oven that’s been producing an amazing amount of baked goods for nearly 20 years now. This is an oven that feels like an altar to the greatness of bread and pizza.
Here’s the rub, you can’t just show up here and order a pizza any ol’ time. They have pizza nights on Saturdays and Sundays for three hours each day (from 4:30 to 7:30). That’s a narrow window to score one of these masterpieces. Generally, each night has a special and a Margherita. That’s it. The Margherita has mildly spicy tomato sauce, fresh mozz, and a smattering of local hard cheddar with fresh basil. You’ll have to follow their social media to know what the special will be. Or, just show up and be surprised. It’ll always be a local and seasonal pizza that’ll delight your taste buds. You’re like Parker Lewis, you can’t lose.
NEW YORK: Di Fara, Brooklyn
This was a struggle. Totonno’s, Roberta’s, and Lucali all deserve a special nod here. They’re each spectacular in their own right. But, as special as the pizza in those joints are, they don’t have the “Dom” factor.
Domenico De Marco has been slinging the best pies in Brooklyn since 1965 at Di Fara. That’s 53 years of making pies — or ten thousand hours about 50 times over. There’s a subtle nature to Dom’s pies that transcends. You feel the history, precision, and skill in each crust. The toppings are just the right balance of not too much but enough to be satisfying. This is the sort of pizza that you take your first bite of and your eyes slowly close as your head gets a little light.
Look, Dom has been making pizza for half-a-century and, right now, you can go to Brooklyn and eat a pie made by the Italian-American master. That’s, sadly, not going to last forever — so this experience is fleeting. He cooks up 150 pies a day. When they’re out, that’s it until tomorrow. Take the opportunity and get your ass to Brooklyn to eat a slice of pie made by a living legend. Then maybe eat one or two more. Then make sure to carry out a Di Fara Chaos pie to eat when you get home.