When I was a kid, pizza was pizza. Whether at Mr. Gatti's after soccer or delivered by Domino's, as long as it was hot, gooey and covered in pepperoni, I was pretty happy.
Now that I'm older and allegedly more sophisticated my pizza tastes have changed. I don't want some 10-topping monstrosity where the flavors are so muddled that there could be almost anything on it. Pizza, like so many other dishes, should be about balanced flavors where no one ingredient dominates the others. Or be topped with chili-cheese Fritos. That works, too.
Pizza, like so many other dishes, should be about balanced flavors where no one ingredient dominates the others.
The good news is that Houston has seen something of a pizza boom over the past couple years. Traditional favorites like Star and Pink's have been outshined by a variety of talented newcomers. Even the quality of a basic utility slice has improved. That's good news for everyone.
As with my barbecue and burger lists, it's entirely possible that other people have different taste in pizza than I do.
Disagree with the picks? Fire away in the comments.
Generally, these lists aren't ranked, but, when it comes to pizza, Pizaro's makes the best in Houston. Obviously, the high quality product starts with the restaurant's wood-burning oven that owner Bill Hutchinson imported from Italy.
Capable of cooking pizzas at 900 degrees, the result is a quick cook time that melts the cheese and chars the crust in just the right way. Then there are the ingredients — authentic 00 flour, fresh mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes combine to give each pizza a firm base. Where pizza sauce tends to be too sweet, Pizaro's actually tastes like tomatoes. Greens, as in the arugula used to top one of the specialty pizzas, are always fresh and vibrant tasting.
There's no decor to speak of, but the lack of atmosphere gets balanced by BYOB with no corkage fee and friendly service from the Hutchinson family. Here's hoping the Montrose location opens soon.
Marco Wiles pizza restaurant already made CultureMap's list of Houston's 10 best restaurants, so it's inclusion here shouldn't be a surprise. As with Pizaro's, Dolce Vita features Italian-style pies prepared in a wood-burning oven with a focus on high quality ingredients, just the right char on the crust, and fresh cheese.
The menu is more extensive than Pizaro's; there are intriguing options like the clam-topped vongole and the zucca that includes butternut squash. There's also a host of pasta and vegetable dishes for non-pizza eaters.
Of course, all of Wiles' restaurants have an extensive, reasonably priced, Italian wine list.
There's something very Houston about a guy with a Masters in social work deciding that his true calling is making pizza. Anthony Calleo isn't a trained chef, but he has a good palate and a knack for off-beat flavor combinations. The menu rotates from week to week, but some of the highlights include the Outdoorsmen (venison sausage and cherries in port wine syrup), the Grizzly Hawaiian (chicken, bacon, pineapple), and the signature 420 (chili cheese Fritos, etc).
At $8 for a quarter of a pizza or $27 for a whole 16-inch pie, they're not as cheap as a typical delivery spot, but no other pizza shop in town serves anything similar. The price also includes the convenience of Pi's late night hours. No one can put a price on the atmosphere from its regular spot at the divey Catbirds.
Last year, I had lunch at the highly celebrated Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix with two friends who live in The Woodlands. While they enjoyed their meal at one of the places considered to serve America's best pizza, they thought that their town's local favorite, Crust Pizza Co, holds its own.
While I don't share quite that lofty an opinion, Crust is almost worth the drive for Inner Loopers who want classic, American style pizza that's better than say, Pink's, or some of the other high-end delivery options.
The chicken/tomato/basil-topped original offers a satisfying combination of flavors without being overwhelming. The sturdy, freshly made crust maintains its texture without getting soggy or overly droopy. The garlic knots make an excellent starter, and the subs are a good alternative for those who don't want pizza.
Unlike another Houston food writer, I am well acquainted with having pizza delivered. While nothing can beat pizzas hot and fresh from the oven, sometimes convenience, laziness and goood old fashioned agoraphobia make staying in the better choice.
Pizza L'Vino is certainly the best option for those who live close enough to take advantage of it. The menu offers three crusts in white or whole wheat. There's even a gluten free crust available.
Stick to the New York-style hand tossed for the best result. It holds up to the weight of the topping and has a nice chew without overwhelming the other ingredients.
If the various suggested combinations don't hold any appeal, all of the ingredients are good enough that any mix of one's favorites will work. All that and the ability to order beer or wine and a better-than-it-has-to-be cannoli give Pizza L'Vino a winning formula.
Earlier this month, Coppa chef Brandi Key described the result of making pizza dough as, "it’s only flour and water, but that flour and water is crazy." She's not wrong.
The pizza that come from both Coppa's massive ovens are pretty crazy. Crazy good, that is. The signature ham and eggs pizza that combines spicy, cured pork shoulder with quail eggs demonstrates the way Coppa uses simple ingredients to create complex layers of flavor.
Newly opened Coppa Osteria features both a dedicated dough room where diners can watch cooks create pizza dough and a walk-up pizza window for to-go orders.
At Provisions, chefs Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner use a wood-burning oven to create cheffy, ingredient driven pizzas that have become one of the restaurant's most appealing items. Sea urchin may no longer be available as a topping, but the duck confit with pickled currants, potato and mustard has an addictive kick that makes leaving any almost impossible.
The burst tomato with burrata has become the signature item. It arrives as the table as a bare crust with a bowl of rich, creamy burrata cheese and tomato sauce. Diners use a spoon to spread the topping on the crust. The crust stays crispy. The toppings stay cool. When brought together, there's crunch and gooey and ripe tomato flavor. It's fantastic.
Although it's a relatively new restaurant, Pizzeria Solario's wood-fired, Italian style pizzas are already just below Dolce Vita and Pizaro's in overall quality. However, unlike other Italian-style pizza joints, Solario allows diners to create their own pizzas from a wide range of toppings.
Want a white pizza with fresh basil, caramelized onions, capers and chorizo? Go right ahead. They even have chicken available. Pro tip: Save a little room at the end for dessert. The chocolate chip cookies are excellent.
This Italian chain with a South American flair makes good pizzas with a crust that has just the right texture and creative topping combinations. The red sauce tastes a little too sweet, so stick to the thin crust, sauceless, white pizzas.
Looking for one to try? The prosciutto crudo, tomato and basil topped Lubiana has a tart/salty balance that's pretty hard to resist.
More than the food, Piola has a tremendous atmosphere, both in the dining room and on the patio. The lights give the room a whimsical air — it just feels fun to be there. The cocktails taste good, but could use a little more booze. Stick to beer or wine.
New Yorkers who miss oversized, greasy, foldable pizza slices need look no further than this strip center that resides on West Gray in the no man's land between River Oaks and Montrose. Since pizza is generally sold by the slice and each topping costs money, adding more than two or three makes the cost sort of unreasonable. That's just as well, because keeping it simple results in the best combinations.
Not in the mood for pizza? There's gigantic orders of pasta and Italian-American classics like chicken parmesan. Adding to Romano's New York style is the staff's attitude that borders on indifference to the presence of any non-regular.
Go and enjoy, but don't expect the staff working the counter to pretend they're excited to serve.
There may be no greater discrepancy between the consensus popular opinion and pizza snob/foodie types than Star Pizza. Despite being consistently voted to the top of reader polls across the city, there isn't a single local food writer who rates Star highly.
The pizzas, especially the deep dish, come out soggy, and the toppings completely overwhelm the crust. And yet, as a native Houstonian who's been eating Star's pizzas for more than 20 years, there are sometimes when I simply crave a deep-dish Joe's (sauteed spinach and garlic), and nothing else will do. Combine it with one of the oversized salads and consistently excellent garlic bread for a retro-tastic, crowd-pleasing experience.
This six-month-old restaurant has a decent location just outside the Loop on the Katy Freeway, but it seems to be completely off the radar. It doesn't have a website, and the restaurant's Facebook page hasn't been updated since last year. Acting on a Twitter tip, I went there this week and found a place with a lot of potential.
The restaurant utilizes a wood-burning, Italian oven to make crispy, thin-crust pizzas with simple, high quality toppings. There's also some meat and seafood entrees that look good, and salads that that use fresh vegetables in a tangy vinaigrette.
The pizzas aren't quite at the level of the other Italian spots on this list, but it merits bigger crowds and more attention than it has received so far.