Bougie pizza — the kind that comes with artisan everything, down to the heritage flour in its dough — is readily available these days. But sometimes you just want pizza without pretense, a slice of comfort from no-frills mom-and-pop purveyors slinging the kinds of pies you ate growing up. Lucky for you, there are plenty of spots around town to satisfy that craving — some that go back decades. And what better time to indulge than today, which just happens to be National Pizza Day? Not that anyone needs an excuse. Keep reading for our list of ten local old-school pizza places.
Stumpy’s Pizza & Subs
1331 East Northern Avenue
The kind of place where everyone calls you "honey," Stumpy’s is a North Phoenix neighborhood hang that delivers both friendly service and a superior slice. Two types of tomatoes go into the housemade sauce along with basil, oregano, and olive oil, and the dough is made with molasses for a lighter, fluffier finish. With ten signature standouts on the menu, you're guaranteed to pick a winner, whether it's the Works, a salami, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, green pepper, black olive, crumbled sausage and mozzarella medley, or the Philly, topped with roast beef, green pepper, onion, mushroom, American, cheddar and Jack cheeses. And kids will love the $5 monster slice.
3018 North 16th Street, Suite 2
“I like to do things the old-fashioned way,” says Shawn Culp, owner and one-man show behind Pizza Shack, a grab-and-go operation off 16th Street. That includes answering your phone order from his rotary telephone, making his own sausage from scratch (and grinding his own pork), dicing up fresh vegetables (nothing pre-cut), and slinging thin-crust pie reminiscent of the kind he grew up eating in Southern California. The dough is a no-yeast secret Culp developed in his kitchen, and the resulting crust comes out of the double-gas Blodgett oven with air pockets and built-in bubbly layers. There’s also no plastic in the joint. Soda and Topo Chicos come in glass bottles, including an 8-ounce Coke for a buck.
5150 North 7th Street
The secret to Pizza Heaven Bistro’s pizza and longevity is the water. Owner Patricia Hasbun’s dough combines salt, sunflower seed oil, flour, yeast and purified water — no tap water here! — for a crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside crust out of the 550-degree stone oven. Ingredients also make a difference at this restaurant, which has been family-owned since 1982. Between sauce and toppers, Pizza Heaven goes through 10 pounds of fresh basil and 60 pounds of fresh garlic a week — and if that's not enticing enough, it's got the best selection of melty and meaty vegan pizzas in Phoenix.
1329 East Main Street, Mesa
Pizza Mart in Mesa is a total blast from the past. In fact, not much has changed since it opened in 1970. The A-frame building houses vinyl booths, old-school arcade games like Galaga and Donkey Kong, and throwback prices. A large cheese pizza is $7.25 ($8.95 if you add pepperoni), the salad bar is $5, and a soft-serve cone is 50 cents. Current owner Jess Slade started as a dishwasher in 1977, right out of high school, and runs the place with the same nod to nostalgia. You won’t find highfalutin toppers like artichokes and arugula here — heck, the mushrooms are canned — but you might just find gum stuck under the table.
2336 West Thomas Road
Size matters at Pizza A Metro. The 20-seat restaurant — located in a strip mall next to a convenience store near Interstate 17 — may be small, but the pizza is mighty. A small is more like a medium, a regular more like a large, and the Metro is just mega — the largest pizza in Arizona, coming in at 39 inches long. That’s three feet of slow-cooked sauce, housemade mozzarella, meatballs, and dough that cooks up crisp and chewy, the 600-degree olive wood-fired oven's effect showing in the crust’s burnt bubbles and puckered edges. When you come up for air, take in the eatery's colorful seaside mural, and finish with the cocoa-dusted tiramisu if you have room.
It’s tough not to get lost in nostalgia at Oregano’s, the local chain founded in 1993 by Mark Russell in memory of his parents. There’s the throwback decor (each location houses about 1,000 books, and the walls are studded with vintage signs and photos, including a portrait of Russell’s parents at every location), Sinatra singing over the speakers, and the smell of marinara sauce permeating the place. The restaurant is known for both its thin-crust and super-stuffed Chicago-style deep-dish pie with Wisconsin cheese, hand-tossed and baked in a hearthstone oven. Digging in is like diving into a fond memory.
1031 Grand Avenue
You can count on Grand Avenue Pizza Company, especially when you stumble out of, say, Bikini Lounge, and all you want is a slice of cheesy goodness. The late-night, no-frills fixture cranks out floppy, foldable, thin-crust creations from its gas ovens with just the right dough-sauce-topping ratio. Get a “Cheesus Slice,” or the signature “Diana Ross,” a pizza diva with pepperoni, fennel sausage, red onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, and extra mozzarella — or try one of the rotating slice selections to cure your after-hours cravings and, with any luck, your hangover.
401 West Van Buren Street, Suite B
Ziggy’s is a nod to nostalgia, from the dangling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines to the checkerboard floor to the VHS copies of ’80s movies and the Yoda overseeing it all. But don’t be fooled by the paper plates: This New York-style pizza is a slice above, with its crispy crust, bubbling cheese, and ample toppings. Perhaps even more telling, the kitchen staff seems to be having just as much fun as the hungry hordes who line up at lunch and late at night (Ziggy's is next to the Van Buren and Stardust pinball bar). Maybe it really is magic.
There’s something about the sauce at Spinato’s, the family-owned local chain of pizzerias. Slightly tangy with a nice sweetness, the secret recipe has kept pizza enthusiasts going back for over 40 years. Must-orders include the Get Meaty, with housemade Italian sausage, Italian beef, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and all the cheesy mozzarella; the Chicken Presto Pesto, with grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, red onions, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil pesto; and the Mamma's Signature, with fresh spinach, Roma tomatoes, ample garlic, and the family's secret seasoning, all square cut with toppers right to the edge.
1149 East Southern Avenue, Mesa
Organ Stop Pizza is the ultimate in dinner and a show. A Mesa mainstay since 1975, order at the counter. Pizzas come in 8-, 12-, and 14-inch and are cooked on a conveyor oven; there's also an old-school salad bar with fixings like peas and radishes, as well as spaghetti and meatballs, and pitchers of pop or beer. Settle into one of the many picnic table-style seats for a mighty show on the Mighty Wurlitzer, the largest pipe organ of its kind in the world, with nearly 6,000 pipes. While the pizza might be forgettable, the experience is anything but.