The Essential Downtown Phoenix Pizzeria: Creative, Late-Night Pizza by the Slice

The Grand Avenue Pizza Company.
The Grand Avenue Pizza Company. Benjamin Leatherman
Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company

Metro Phoenix is blessed with several great Neapolitan-style pizzerias, restaurants boasting imported food products and massive wood-fired ovens hand-crafted in Italy.

We aren’t, however, blessed with a lot of spots like Grand Avenue Pizza Company, a scruffy, corner pizzeria in the Grand Avenue Arts/Oakland Historic District that evokes East Coast pizza-by-the-slice shops.

The pizzas at Grand Avenue Pizza Company are cooked in standard, workaday gas ovens, and you won't find any imported buffalo mozzarella on the menu. Still, chef-owner Carson Wheeler’s modest pizza parlor has become an important fixture on Grand Avenue.
click to enlarge Green chile pizza was a recent special at this essential downtown Phoenix pizzeria. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Green chile pizza was a recent special at this essential downtown Phoenix pizzeria.
Patricia Escarcega
The Grand Avenue Pizza Company is one of the only late-night spots in the neighborhood, firing pies until the wee hours of the morning on most days.

Its dining room, equipped with only a handful of stools, is tiny but compelling: Rock music blares a little too loud from the kitchen, the walls are covered in murals that could double as punk rock album art, and sitting next to the restaurant's big picture window feels like you're looking through a fisheye lens onto Grand Avenue, the marvelously grungy street that cuts across the west side at a 45-degree angle.

And the pizza's pretty damn good. The slices are foldable, New York-style slices with pleasingly chewy crusts and a lovely house-made red sauce that's neither too sweet or acidic. There are a number of notable specialty pies on the menu, including the saucy Rizzo, which is embedded with spicy sausage, mushrooms, roasted garlic, fresh basil, melty dollops of ricotta, and extra red sauce.

But Grand Avenue Pizza Company's real calling card is The Special, a creative, rotating pizza selection that changes, more or less, on a weekly basis, and which is always available by the slice.

Recently, The Special was a savory-spicy pork chile verde pizza topped with cilantro and a squiggle of citrus crema. Last year, there was the Moroccan-themed pie topped with juicy crumbles of lamb merguez sausage. Months later, I'm still daydreaming about that particular pie.

The Special may not always be your cup of tea — it's too quirky to be universally popular. But it's never a dull choice. You can say pretty much the same thing about Grand Avenue Pizza Company.

Grand Avenue Pizza Company. 1031 Grand Avenue; 602-253-6107.
Tuesday through Saturday 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.

The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter
32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow's Cafe
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
30: Orange Blossom from Huss Brewing Company
29: Rye bread from Yasha From Russia
28: Scotch Beef and Mashed Potatoes from Tarbell's
27: Griddled Corn Cakes and Ramona Farms Super Food Salad at Phoenix City Grille
26: Soup from Reathrey Sekong
25: Lamb tongue sandwich at Haji Baba
24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.