Thursday, April 25, 2013

pizza quest

For the past couple months, my friend Jeremy and I have been on a search to find the best pizza joints in the Phoenix area. While I don’t consider myself a pizza expert (though one day I hope to be), I feel like I’ve acquired just enough pizza knowledge, experience, and taste to sound like a snob while talking about it. So please excuse the tone of this post in advance. Here are my favorites, in order:

1. Pizzeria Bianco: Touted by many critics to be the best pizza in the county, it may be the best pizza I’ve ever had. (It’s been a couple years since I’ve been to Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut, so it’s hard to say for certain. Side note: If someone put a gun to my head and made me start a pizza place in Phoenix it would most like be New Haven style). My first and only trip to Bianco was on a date last December. I hear two or three hour waits at this place are typical. We went on a Friday night and within 30 minutes, they had us sitting at the bar. (It was rainy that night, perhaps that kept people indoors.) We split a Biancoverde (mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta, topped with arugula). I can’t wait to go back.

2. Il Bosco: Jeremy discovered this gem, not far from his condo, last January. It’s a small joint, maybe 40 seats inside and out, with a small menu. This place is super simple with zero pretense. I had the Carmella; I could have eaten the caramelized onions on this thing without a pizza, they were so good. Whenever my pizza-loving friends mention their favorite restaurants, I always insist they go here. They also serve Boylan’s bottled sodas—a huge plus in my book.

3. 'Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana: Because it's the "first and only APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani) and VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) certified Restaurant in Arizona," 'Pomo tries very hard to give their customers an authentic Italian dining experience. And by "very hard," I mean "too hard." Tone it down a bit, 'Pomo. I mean, I appreciated our server’s gratitude as he took our order and brought us our meal, but hearing him exclaim "Grazie!" every five seconds got old quick. Really great pizza, though.

4. Federal Pizza: Jeremy didn’t like this place as much as I did. While I was let down by our server’s ginger ale suggestion (Canada Dry from a fountain?), I loved my pizza. I had the Gemini, which was an interesting combination of potato, fennel, radicchio, gorgonzola, and rosemary. I want to say that Federal serves Neapolitan-inspired pizza (more emphasis on inspired than Neapolitan), but with a pizza oven that burns both gas and wood, Federal might be trying to do their own thing (truly authentic Neapolitan pizzas are cooked in an oak-fired pizza oven). The ambience definitely caters to the hipster crowd.

5. Cibo: I was a bit let down by Cibo, as I had heard so many great things prior to trying this place a month or two ago. Not only did our pizza take way too long to get to our table, it just wasn’t that great. Maybe I got the wrong thing, or maybe they were having an off night. I’m willing to try it again because so many people seem to love this place. The restaurant itself is a converted 1913 bungalow in downtown Phoenix, which I dig. As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I appreciate that they have a few bottled sodas on their menu, even if it is just Henry Weinhard’s (a tasty but commonplace root beer and cream soda).

6. Humble Pie: Jeremy, Brian and I dined here last night. I had the roasted mushroom pizza, which was topped with mushrooms (duh), mozzarella, pancetta, and green onions. I would have loved to taste more of the mozzarella; it was a bit overpowered by the mushrooms (this wasn’t totally a bad thing). The pancetta was a bit chunkier than I like, but at the end of the day it was pancetta, and I love pancetta. The crust had a good flavor but was a bit too soft and bready; I prefer pizza bones that are crisp, chewy, and light. Like Federal, this is a less-authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. But that’s not a bad thing because authentic doesn’t always guarantee tasty (although it really helps, espectially when it comes to pizza). While they serve great pizza, I don’t know if I’d go back since I can score a superior pie across the street at ‘Pomo.

7. La Grande Orange: People go crazy over LGO’s roasted corn pizza. It seems to be their signature pie. (Which is why I didn’t order it.) Despite the hype, I was skeptical of LGO because they don’t have a wood-fire oven. Not that that’s necessary for a great pizza, but it does go a long way. I went with the Fallen Angel (sausage, fennel, roasted peppers, cheese, and red sauce) and Jeremy tried the Gladiator (sausage, pepperoni, cheese, red sauce). My pie was great. We swapped slices at the end of the meal. Jeremy’s was pretty disappointing. How do you ruin a pepperoni and sausage pizza? By overloading it with pepperoni, I guess. That said, I will return to try the roasted corn pizza.

Jeremy has compiled a list of about a dozen other spots to try over the coming weeks. Any other pizzerias we need to try? What's your favorite pizza place?

You can read Jeremy's Yelp reviews here.


  1. Spinato's a great for what they're trying to do, but it's not an artisan pie. They're dominant in the non-artisan space, though.

    Great post. Here are the other places I found on Yelp; it was a pretty high-level search, so some may need further investigation (not all of them are specifically pizza restaurants) and I may add to it after looking into the Scottsdale area:
    Pizza A Metro
    Pino's Pizza Al Centro
    Miami Cafe (this one is actually a sort of pizza/latin fusion)
    The Parlor
    Amano Pizza Bistro
    Gelato Spot

  2. Expanded my search and found a few more:
    Cave & Ives
    Ciao Grazie
    Amaro Pizzerio & Vino Lounge
    Florencia Pizza Bistro

  3. I still need to go back to Bianco again, the snotty service ruined my pizza.

    Humble Pie was medium when I went. But I was on a date that I felt was going medium well, so that probably swayed my mediocre opinion as well.

    I Lalaloved LGO today. The lemon basil avocado pizza was incredible. The crust is just how I like it. And I think it's sourdough, though I forgot to look at the menu again to verify. Do you know if it is? I went with Kate, perfect company and perfect day, so that probably swayed my opinion too.

    (I'm sensing a theme; how much I'm enjoying myself and the company I'm with, correlating to my enjoyment and rating of the food)

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