October is National Pizza Month, so what better time to make the argument that Phoenix is the best pizza town in America? There’s the diversity of pizza-making traditions — every major pizza-making philosophy, from Chicago deep-dish to wood-fired Neapolitan style, is well-represented in the Valley. There is the concentration of talented pizzaioli in the Arizona desert, an unlikely yet fortunate development that has helped Phoenix become a culinary destination for diehard pizza aficionados. And there is the simple fact that it’s become harder and harder to keep track of the ever-expanding roster of great pizzerias around town.
Phoenix may not have enviable summer weather, winning sports teams, or even a national reputation for cutting-edge cuisine — but we do have very good pizza.
623 East Adams Street
4743 East 20th Street
Pizzeria Bianco has become the measuring stick by which every other wood-fired pizza joint in town is to be measured from now until the very concept of Phoenix becomes obsolete. “I think so-and-so’s pizza is even better than Bianco’s” is a controversial yet commonplace piece of rhetoric you will sometimes hear people throw around town, in a somewhat desperate effort to drive home a point about how good the pizza they had last night really was. Even if it’s not your favorite pizzeria in town, it’s hard to argue against the sheer influence that the restaurant has had on the local and national pizza scene. It’s also difficult to argue that a pie like the Marinara is anything but delicious — it achieves a gorgeous richness and depth, especially considering that it’s a cheese-free pie. The Wiseguy, with its classic sausage-and-onion combo, has a smoky, savory allure. And the Rosa, with its ingenious combo of red onion, Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary, and Arizona-grown pistachios, might be the most singular pie in the state.
1616 North Central Avenue
If you want to feel as if you just stumbled across a small Italian café in downtown Phoenix, spend some time at Forno 301, a dimly lit shoebox of a restaurant situated across the street from Phoenix Art Museum. On any given night, you’ll find Italian-born pizzaiolo and owner Luca Gagliano working the wood-fired oven at the back of the room, where slabs of gorgeous dough swell and brown over the crackling heat. There are about a dozen pizzas on the menu, and I have yet to stumble across a bad one. Try the brilliant Testosterone, a “ballsy” pizza (if you will) that features puddles of soft mozzarella, a lovely tomato sauce, prosciutto — and a couple of eggs. The best part is using your pizza crust —the crust here is gently charred and pleasingly chewy — to sop up the cheesy, molten yolk that drips onto your pizza pan. If egg on your pizza seems like too much, try the Forno rendition of the classic 4 Stagioni (“four seasons”) pizza, which is surely one of the best in town.
603 North Fifth Avenue
Cibo is a modern Phoenix classic, a popular Italian café that has been supplying downtown Phoenix with an irresistible menu of red and white wood-fired pizzas for more than a decade now. Chef Guido Saccone has left his mark on the local pizza scene, helping popularize over the years the gently charred, ultra-fresh crust that has come to characterize the modern age of wood-fired pizza in Phoenix and elsewhere. There may be no purer expression of simple, well-balanced flavors than the house marinara pie, which gives you the full thrust of the restaurant’s homemade tomato sauce, the flavor punched up further with fresh garlic, capers, and anchovies. The Funghi, a lovely melding of mozzarella, tomatoes, and mushrooms, is also highly memorable.
Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana
705 North First Street, #120
8977 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
366 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert
The pizza here is certified Vera Pizza Napoletana, which means it adheres to the time-tested methods of traditional Neapolitan pizza-making. The dough has only four ingredients: imported organic wheat flour, natural yeast, Mediterranean sea salt, and water. It’s allowed to rise for at least 24 hours, hand-kneaded, and then given a swift 90-second cook in temperatures upward of 900 degrees Fahrenheit in the restaurant’s enormous, Napoli-built, wood-burning oven. The careful prep produces blistery, thin-crust pies that are beautiful in their simplicity and long tradition. Try the Diavola, a lovely pizza full of robust tomato flavor and savory, crispy texture from the salame piccante, a spicy Italian pepperoni that’s nicely crisp at the edges.
8900 East Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale
Have you tried the Gem pizza at LAMP Pizzeria in north Scottsdale? It’s the kind of pie that is both visually interesting and very delicious. It’s beautifully mosaicked with spoonfuls of ultra-fresh ricotta; salty, crisped-up rounds of pepperoni; and a scattering of LAMP’s homemade, herb-scented sausage. It’s breath-takingly good, with a chewy crust that begs to be eaten. The expansive menu is filled with other artfully composed, cheekily named pies (see: “Jese’s Girl” and “Stacey’s Mom”), but no matter how silly they sound, it only takes one bite to realize that chef-owner Matt Pilato is dead serious about making top-notch, wood-fired pizza.
La Piazza PHX
1 North First Street
La Piazza PHX (and La Piazza al Forno, its sister restaurant in downtown Glendale) is a longtime staple of the Valley’s Neapolitan pizza scene. The Glendale location of La Piazza was something of a trailblazer in bringing wood-fired, artisanal pizza to the Valley, and the Phoenix location has brought top-notch pizza to the downtown lunch crowd. The restaurant is a certified Verace Pizza Napoletana restaurant, which means you can depend on a reliably crispy-chewy crust, and the full-bodied flavor of San Marzano tomatoes. A highlight is the Dolce Diavolo, a spicy-sweet marriage of sopressata, Calabrian chiles, fresh basil, and a touch of Arizona honey. It’s really one of the more distinctive and unique pies in downtown.
3115 East Lincoln Drive
Ordering a pizza called “The Chook” doesn’t seem particularly promising, but it actually turns out to be pretty great. The ultra-savory pizza features organic crushed tomatoes, chicken, smashed potatoes, a generous amount of shaved Parmesan, and fresh rosemary — and it happens to be both unique and delicious. This Arcadia pizzeria is run by a small group of Ausssie expats who are clearly smitten with the creative possibilities of wood-fired pizza. Most pizzas feature organic, locally sourced ingredients, mixed and matched in curious and delicious configurations. If The Chook isn’t your bag, try the flavor-rich pie called the Sweet & Spicy Snag, which marries the flavors of fennel sausage and organic chiles beautifully.
6922 East Main Street, Scottsdale
It’s hard not to fall for the Aji pizza at Craft 64, a downtown Scottsdale destination for local craft beer and great Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza. The Aji, one of the signature pies at this beer-centric pizzeria, is named after the spicy South American green chili sauce. It features an ingenious medley of savory and spicy notes, topped with juicy rounds of fennel sausage that play well against cooling mounds of ricotta. Another boldly flavored pie is the Spain, topped with Spanish chorizo, cured olives, roasted red pepper, and a blast of harissa sauce. The pizza made at Craft 64 is not often an exercise in subtlety, but it’s frequently very good.
1916 East Camelback Road
The Parlor has become a dependable destination for creatively fashioned pizza pies that manage to bring some surprising twists to the pizza game. There is the house pizza, for instance, topped with bacon, kale, and giardiniera. The addition of the lightly vinegary, pickled veggies seems weird in theory, but it works surprisingly well. Then, there are pies like the Puttanesca, a spicy pizza featuring a generous portion of well-cooked shrimp and calamari that are baked right into the zesty tomato sauce base. The Parlor may not be for pizza purists, but it’s a great place to renew your devotion to the possibilities contained within an 8-inch circle of cheesy, baked dough.
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My Slice of the Pie
3724 East Indian School Road
Still a newish kid on the block in metro Phoenix, My Slice of the Pie is a small Arcadia pizzeria with a laid-back vibe and a menu full of surprising and delicious turns. There’s the Al Pastor, a Mexican-Italian mashup that emulates the distinctive flavors of the marinated, spit-roasted pork. It’s a smart and irresistible melding of bright, bold flavors that features grilled pineapple, hunks of luscious pork, scatterings of sliced red onion, salty-savory cotija and asadero cheeses, and — what else — cilantro. You more than likely will end up eating it all in one sitting.
21 West Main Street, Mesa
This pizza pop-up in Mesa is only open a few days a week. And that's a shame, because Myke Olsen is baking some serious pies. One of the more progressive and visually arresting pizzas now on the menu features bacon, rosemary, potatoes, and garlic cream. This is a white pie to convert the red-sauce fanatic. Another pie definitely worth eating is the Marinara pie, which doesn't have any cheese on it. The pie features Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, Blue Sky Organic Farms basil (torn), pepper, and sliced garlic soaked in olive oil so it won’t burn. The pizza hits you with the same spirit as a simple summer pasta made with sauce simmered from fresh tomatoes.