They say pizza’s like sex—that even bad pizza is still, well, pizza. “And pizza’s never bad” the thinking goes, right? Maybe. It makes me suspicious that whoever first said that actually hadn’t had very much sex, very good sex, or, for that matter, good pizza. In the quest for America’s best, I’ve had pretty average—and at times downright bad—slices that’ve made me wish I’d swiped left on them. But I've also held out for pies cooked to perfection by pizzaiolos across the nation, at places I’ve had long, torrid affairs with.
But, you never know, right? That place you doubted might serve a slice of heaven. That three-hour wait could match the hype. So, over the years, I’ve collected every pizza tome, read every list, talked to and polled local and national experts, made detours on vacation and business trips, and spent weekends and nights after work, researching pizza, tasting pizza, and compiling lists of America’s best pizza for my friends, myself, and various publications. Truth is, there’s so much good pizza these days, finding the best is more difficult than ever. That’s why we’re here to assist you in your journey.
Some pizza questing principles bear explaining first, though. Keeping in mind the most obvious, “a line is a good sign,” call these the 10 commandments of seeking out great pizza. Okay, 15. (Let’s pretend Pizza Moses didn’t drop that third tablet.) The following core principles held true while researching America's best pies:
1. Believe in tradition but also in defying tradition for a transformative pizza.
2. A plain cheese pizza always establishes a baseline.
3. The way sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom pies are made all say a lot.
4. Signature pies, crazy toppings, bizarre topping combinations, and various styles at a pizzeria should always be sampled, but guarantee nothing.
5. Fancy pizza isn’t necessarily great pizza.
6. Pizzerias don’t always know their best pies.
7. You can’t completely judge a pie by delivery, but you can judge how well a pizza is delivered.
8. No slice is too big and no price is too big, but the bigger and more expensive the pizza beyond conventional standards, the less likely it is to be good.
9. There’s nothing okay about a $1 slice.
10. When it comes to slice joints, always be skeptical of a reheat but not dogmatic about refusing one.
11. The more toppings there are, the less likely it is, on average, to be a great pie.
12. Deep-dish is technically a casserole, but yes, it’s still pizza, and it can be great, but that’s not the only pizza style in Chicago.
13. There are great pizza styles beyond those in New York, New Haven, and Chicago worth trying across this great country.
14. The Neapolitan wave may have gone too far, too long.
15. New Yorkers may be too cocky about pizza.
Rules and regulations served on the ivory paper plates of pizz-academia have their time and place. But ultimately they are here to serve you: to support your nationwide journey following the the siren song of ronicups curling, the sound of sauce bubbling, and melted cheese crisping. After all, great pizza is about exploring sauce coastlines, testing the limits of untested cheese pulls, catching a glance of that perfect leopard spotting, or finding that ultimate pizzeria where there is no cornicione left behind.
Here are the best pizzas from each of the 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.) we’d want to hit if we were landing in each one.