Pizza discussions are not a safe space. They’re fraught with strong feelings and trip wires. No one cares if you put pineapple on your hamburger. Go nuts, you weirdo. But pineapple on pizza? That’s torn whole families asunder — and as everyone knows, asunder is the worst way a family can be torn.
So I approach this topic with some trepidation. I thought it might be helpful to start with my personal biases so you can discount my rankings (or not):
- Pizza should be thin. The ratio of crust to cheese and other toppings should be roughly 1:1 and the toppings should be evenly distributed. I want bite consistency like a good BLT, not hit-or-miss like a plate of nachos at Uncle Julio’s.
- Pizza should be well-done. Crusts should be browned, not pale. Bonus points for blistering. The underside should have some crispness and char but still retain interior chew. Cheese should have some browning beyond the ghost-blob stage. Sausage and other fatty meats should either be pre-cooked or cooked long enough so you don’t excuse yourself to go to the restroom to google “trichinosis.”
- Slices should be eaten by hand. That doesn’t mean absolutely no flop, but you should be able to maneuver the slice to your mouth. Classic Neapolitan pies often fail miserably here. Yes, I know it’s authentic. It’s the way they did it in Naples in 1857 and some say why mess with perfection. I never understood that logic. It’s the same reasoning Hasidic Jews use when it comes to men’s fashion: it was perfected in the shtetls of 18th-century Poland and, what, you think you could do better, Mr. Edith Crazy-in-the-Head?
Which means my favorite pizza styles are:
1. Chicago tavern-style — actually the prevalent style throughout much of the midwest, including my hometown of Minneapolis; thin, crisp crust, blanketed in cheese and cut into squares
(You may wonder why Chicago Tavern-Style doesn’t show up until #7 my list. It’s mostly a matter of numbers. We only have one local pizzeria doing that style, which hopefully will change with major articles like this one in the New York Times. Meanwhile, we’re awash in Detroit-style pizza places.)
My favorite tavern-style: Vito & Nick’s, 8433 South Pulaski Rd, Chicago IL, Rick’s Rating 9.4
1/2 sausage, 1/2 sausage and black olives (note thin crust, good browning on the cheese, and consistent coverage)
2. New Haven-style — thin, crisp-yet-slightly-chewy crust, good char from coal-fired ovens
My favorite New Haven-style: Sally’s Apizza, 237 Wooster St, New Haven CT, Rick’s Rating 9.3
1/2 sausage, 1/2 onion (note thin crust, strong char/browning, uniform coverage)
3. New York-style — thin and crisp but less char and less chewy than New Haven-style
4. New Jersey tomato pies — similar to NY-style with sauce added on top of cheese rather than underneath — locally, think Vace
5. Roman Pinsa-Style — rustic, airy crust made with a combination of rice, soy, and 00 wheat flours
6. Neapolitan-style — crust thin/floppy in the center becoming puffy and airy around the edges, minimal toppings
7. Bar pizza — ultra-thin crust from New England
8. Grandma-style — cooked in a large square pan doused in olive oil,
9. Detroit-style — thick, focaccia-like bricks with the design-style of a ’75 Ford LTD; caramelized cheese edges are saving grace
10. Chicago deep dish — a casserole-adjacent recipe you might find on the back of a box of Bisquick
349. Pizza Bagels — a shanda for the bagels that ranks ahead only of rainbow and asiago varieties
Now on to the pizza rankings!
#1 – Frankly…Pizza!, 10417 Armory Ave, Kensington MD, Rick’s Rating 8.8
Longtime favorite Frankly…Pizza! keeps the top spot. What I love about Frankly’s is that it’s so specific. Owner Frank Linn tinkered with his dough recipe for years before opening his brick-and-mortar spot with his wife Kathryn in 2014. His sauce recipe has been in the family for generations. He and his father built the oak-fired pizza oven. You get the idea. And then of course there’s the name, which no focus group in the world would ever have approved but somehow works.
The pizza itself — not surprisingly — doesn’t fall neatly into any pre-determined style. The crust has some of the billowiness of a Neapolitan pie but has more structural integrity and crisp (see photo above). The menu is divided between Red and White pies. I tend to go Red — I like the acidity, even though some think the sauce here is a bit sweet — but the White Hot Mess with pickled jalapeños, caramelized onions, house-made bacon, and Gruyere/Romano/mozzarella cheeses is a signature (in fact, it’s been featured on WETA’s “Signature Dish”).
Finally, while atmosphere technically doesn’t count in these rankings, I love Frankly’s neighborhood vibe and, in good weather, comfy front patio. They now take reservations for both inside and out on Resy.
#2 Martha Dear, 3110 Mt. Pleasant St NW, Washington DC (Mt. Pleasant), Rick’s Rating 8.7
My favorite pizza in DC proper right now is at Martha Dear in Mt. Pleasant. It features a blistered sourdough crust that delivers with hits of smoke, salt, and tang. The undercarriage is crisp but still tender to the bite. The husband-and-wife team of Demetri Mechelis and Tara Smith opened Martha Dear just before the pandemic hit, so it’s been carry-out only for much of its existence. But these days it’s a great underground hangout and, like Frankly’s, now takes reservations on Resy.
(Pro tip: if you’re looking for carry-out, go online when the portal opens at 1 pm, particularly on weekends, or you may find that the dough for that evening has sold out.)
#3 La Casina DC, 327 7th St SE, Washington DC (Capitol Hill), Rick’s Rating 8.3
The third husband-and-wife team in the top three, Angela and Fabrizio Constantini launched this Capitol Hill spot in late 2021 to bring Roman pinsa-style pies to DC. Pinsa pizza uses three flours — rice, soy, and 00 wheat — and a long fermentation to create a delicate, airy crust that feels fresh and artisanal (also partly because of the oblong shape). This is the lunch-size carbonara pizza (egg, guanciale, and pecorino Romano), which left me feeling pleasantly sated like a just had a tunafish sandwich and not a whole pie.
#4 – Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana, 12207 Darnestown Rd, Darnestown MD, Rick’s Rating 8.1
If I were rating pizzas for the best outer-halves, Inferno would vie for a top slot. The smoky periphery of an Inferno pie is that good. Unfortunately, the pizza here reflects the design flaws of the Neapolitan style: major interior flop and cheese blobs that don’t have time to brown due to the ultra-fast cooking time. My strategy at Inferno and other Neapolitan shops is to (1) order the pizza well-done, and (2) go to Neapolitan shops like Inferno and 2 Amys that have other excellent dishes to compensate. Start me off with a seasonal salad at Inferno or the deviled eggs with green sauce at 2 Amys and my attitude becomes what’s a little center flop among friends.
#5 – Frank Pepe’s of Bethesda, 7101 Democracy Blvd (Montgomery Mall), Bethesda MD, Rick’s Rating 7.9
The original Frank Pepe’s opened in New Haven in 1925 and is still one of the top pizzerias in the country (I lean slightly towards Sally’s, a stone’s throw from Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, but we’re splitting hairs). Frank Pepe’s now has over a dozen outposts on the east coast, including Montgomery Mall and Alexandria. While the dough recipe is identical to the original, the century-old coal ovens can’t be duplicated. Still, even new coal-fired ovens make a big difference and are a step up from the deck ovens at Pete’s Apizza in upper NW.
#6 – Andy’s Pizza, Various DC locations, Rick’s Rating 7.8
Andy’s is the Tatte of pizzerias: if you don’t have one in the neighborhood yet, just wait a month or two. It’s easy to see why Andy’s does so well, with high-quality ingredients, long-fermented dough, and an accessible style that feels to many like what pizza should be. The displaced New Yorker I was with even folded his slice in half and asked why the rest of the country didn’t follow their lead. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that calzones had already been invented and we like pizza better.
#7 – L’Ardente, 200 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC, Rick’s Rating 7.7
There’s so much to like about L’Ardente that sometimes the pizza gets lost in the shuffle. And at dinner, I might skip the pizza altogether and focus on splashier options like the 40-layer lasagna and the duck ravioli. But at lunch, the pizza — like this Funghi Pizza with morel mornay, wild mushrooms, and Parmigiano — is perfect with one of L’Ardente’s excellent salads.
#8 – Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza, 1201 S. Joyce Street, Arlington VA, Rick’s Rating 7.4
Last year, Chef Johnny Spero helped launch the only DC outpost for Chicago tavern-style pizza. So I head to Crystal City when I need my fix of thin & crispy, square-cut, cheese-to-the-edge, sausage-laden bliss that goes down easy piece after piece (although protocol demands careful apportionment of the most precious of slices — the four tiny triangles in the corners). But while Nighthawk scratches the itch, we could use a lot more tavern-style pizza in DC. There’s a place in the West Village of NYC called Emmett’s that specializes in tavern-style pies and is killing it. The DC area is way over-saturated with Detroit-style and under-served by tavern-style. If some smart businessperson can’t figure this out we’ve got no shot against ChatGPT.
#9 – Boogy & Peel, 1 Dupont Cir NW, Washington DC, Rick’s Rating 7.3
The pizza crust at Boogy & Peel is very good, but it’s not the big draw. It’s the toppings. This photo is the pizza called “Harambe Loved Big Macs,” and if you take a bit and close your eyes, it’s pretty much a dead-ringer. And that’s a good thing because Rick agrees with Harambe. Or maybe you want to try the homage to Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza, or a Caesar salad pizza, or a pizza that eats like a Reuben sandwich. The pies aren’t just whimsical; they’re well-balanced and delicious. But I do find it somehow helps if I think of these as “flatbreads” rather than “pizzas.” Anything can go on a flatbread. When I was in law school, there was a nearby “English pizza” place called Ruggles. It served big, bready pies topped with cheddar cheese instead of mozzarella. It was terrible pizza. But as a flatbread, it wasn’t half bad.
#10 – Colony Grill, 2800 Clarendon Blvd, Arlington VA, Rick’s Rating 6.9
Bar pizza is the thinner New England cousin of Chicago tavern-style. Both were developed as bar snacks for factory workers stopping off to have a beer on their way home. So they were designed to be eaten easily in one hand with a beer in the other. Unlike tavern-style, bar pizza is cut into triangles rather than squares. Colony Grill originated in Connecticut in 1935 and now has eight locations, including out-of-state shops in New York, Florida, and Virginia (and coming soon to Cabin John).
Colony Grill’s crust has some crisp and very little weight, so while the center droops slightly, it doesn’t flop. The most notable thing about Colony pizza is how the crust and toppings almost fuse together into a unified whole. Which makes sense if you have a slice in one hand and a beer in the other. The last thing you want is toppings sliding around. One way to add flavor without compromising structural integrity is brushing the pizza with housemade “hot oil,” which tastes like mildly spicy jalapeños.
Before you pillory me in the comments, let me say that a bunch of other places could have made the list, including Timber Pizza, 2 Amys, Pupatella, Sonny’s, Menomale, Wiseguy, and Stellina. But many of those were runner-ups to others in the same category — eg, 2 Amy’s and Pupatella to Inferno for Neapolitan; Wiseguy to Andy’s for NY-style — and I wanted to give a range of possibilities so you could follow your particular vibe. Ok, now you can pillory me.