Welcome to Pizza Wars 2016. We started this back in 2000 when Austin didn’t have enough locally owned pizza joints for us to select a Top 5 let alone a Top 10.
But my how things have changed. I no longer have to begin these pieces by lamenting my lack of access to Pepe’s and Sally’s in New Haven, CT. I still miss these wonderfully charred coal-fired Neapolitan delights of my youth but while pizza-wise Austin will never be New Haven or Brooklyn, it’s doing pretty damned good as of this writing.
We’re doing PW a bit differently this year. Not every single pizza joint in the city will be mentioned. Just our favorites across a wide range of styles. We’ll start with our Top 10 overall in Part 1.
In Part 2 we’ll focus on the best pizzas in different areas of Austin. Finally we’ll make our picks for the best new pizza places in the city.
Also since East coast pizza joint menus tend to have less non-pizza offerings we’ll pretty much concentrate on that (unless of course we feel compelled to mention a non-pizza item).
Finally there’s the issue of “why these?”
Well it’s subjective but I have a good palate and here’s what I look for: the incrostazione (crust) has to be damn near perfect. It can be softer (like Pieous) or crispier (Salvation) but the texture has to be there, the bubbles have to be just right along with that classic char. And it has to have shelf life: poorly made crust stales up after a few minutes.
The sauce has to have genuine flavor and shouldn’t be tricked up with an abundance of herbs. The ingredients, especially the mozzarella must be fresh. Overall a great pizza has a first bite rush that is immediately identifiable and compelling. That’s what I look for.
The Top 10
This amazing little restaurant on Highway 290 W has the elusive VPN certification which allows it to make the claim that it makes authentic Neapolitan pizza.
Frankly, the certification matters far less to me than the incredible crust and sweet flavors that Josh Kaner coaxes from his wood-fired oven. The Bacon and Mozzarella Cheese pie is my favorite: the crust is perfect and a tad bubbly with amazing shelf life and a little char (and technically a violation of the VPN mandate because of the bacon: but again, who cares??) However as Josh explained, the VPN basically extends to the cheese and Margherita only. The rest is the chef’s discretion.
As an added bonus, they also have the best moist pastrami sandwich in the city. And their namesakes pies (Blueberry and more) are stunning. I adore this place. And finally something within 5 miles of our house north of Dripping.
Michael and Noah are the owner operators of three stores in Austin with the original on Rosewood. This is vintage East Coast pizza with lots of interesting Austin adaptations. I love the acidic simplicity of The Marge and its Cherry Tomatoes along with the rich flavors of the Nicola (amazing meatballs) and the beautiful SMORS featuring Italian sausage and roasted red peppers.
Their pies run BIG so come hungry. But the first-bite taste rush will knock your proverbial socks off. These guys are passionate about what they do and they appeal to every demographic. (Try getting near Rosewood during SXSW).
Also stores on Airport and W. Anderson.
The choice on 1 or 2 could have gone either way: it was that close!
3. Via 313
This is Detroit-style pizza which sort of resembles deep dish in appearance but not in taste and texture. It’s a much lighter Sicilian pizza made in a rectangular tray. This lighter approach really made the crispness of the side casings work.
They began as a trailer downtown and then expanded to 290 W at William Cannon and most recently to 31st and Mopac. They’ve also soared all the way to #3 in this posting.
I was fortunate enough to go to U of Michigan in Ann Arbor for grad school and we used to get down to Detroit often where we first discovered this style.
My favorite is The Omnivore. Hell of a pie which you’ll probably need a to go box for. I also recommend The Detroiter with the smoked pepperoni under the cheese.
And yes, they cut it in squares. (That’s legal btw).
The 313 is the area code for Detroit in case you were wondering!
Dan Saccone brought his sweet New Jersey-style sauce and crispy crust first to a little spot on 183 N in the late 1990’s. I’ll never forget my first bite of his Sausage and Onion pie. OMG. He was one of the first genuine East Coast joints to open and he now has a bigger store on RR 620. Another favorite is the Uncle Tom’s with Italian Sausage, onions, green peppers and critically, fresh basil. Also love The Joanne’s White Pizza.
Gotta mention his enormous subs (we call them grinders in CT). Try the Ham, Salami and Cheese and have a taste blast.
Dan Saccone is a regular participant in the International Pizza Competition in Las Vegas and recently took home Best In the Southwest. Not hard to see why!
5. Tony C’s
This is Austin’s only coal-fired oven (like the New Haven joints use) and it cranks out one hell of a pizza. It took the pizza makers a while to get used to the intense heat but when they mastered it: well, Tony C’s has never been out of our Top 5.
I love the Mamma Mia which is a meat extravaganza and the more subtle Donato with Sausage, Black Olives and coal fired peppers. The crusts on both of these pies are typical of what a coal-fired oven can deliver: bubbly, crispy crust with a beautiful char and the resultant killer backbite. Their Margherita is also a classic and should be sampled.
Because of Tony C’s proximity to the Hill Country Cinema at the Galleria we’ve often been guilty of getting a couple of slices and sneaking them into a movie. Way better than the crappy popcorn:)
Great back story here. Owner Steven Dilley was living in New York City doing the Wall Street thing and spending his free time combing the back streets of the Big Apple indulging in his favorite culinary pastime, eating pizza.
He decided to come back to Austin and with no formal restaurant experience opened Bufalina. To say the decor was austere would be an understatement. But he cooked what he liked: Neapolitan style pies with fresh mozzarella and home made sauce. The result was virtually instant success, so much so that Bufalina Due is now open on Burnet. He has since hired Alexandra Manley as head chef but Dilley won’t step away from the day-to-day because he loves it too much. You know what? It shows.
My favorite pie is The Taleggio with sausage, mozzarella and scallions. Another really interesting and flavorful pie is the Chorizo and Potato. Smashing!
Artisan flavors abound here. So do foodies.
7. Home Slice
The owners of Home Slice, Terry, Jenn and Joseph did their homework before they opened. They paid homage to New Haven, Brooklyn and other East coast emporia.
The result was that when they hit the ground running on S. Congress near downtown in 2005 they were an immediate hit. My office was only a block away then and I must have put on 20 pounds gorging on their delicious pies. To accommodate demand, they opened a companion take out store adjacent to the main one in 2010.
I love the Sausage, Ricotta cheese and Red Pepper pie. The crust is crisp and a bit chewy with the requisite char. They also offer up the best Clam Pizza (a true art form) outside of Pepe’s in New Haven. Well at least in Texas anyway.
I am a big Shawn Cirkiel fan, and his Backspace pizza joint adjacent to his Parkside restaurant on W 6th is one of the best.
The menu, like the restaurant is on the small side, but the choices are amazing. The Fennel Sausage, mozzarella and garlic has a crisp and very engaging texture with the secondary garlic flavor offering a lovely complement. Another favorite is the Pepperoni Americano with of course imported picante salami, mozzarella, tomato and basil. The melange of flavors on this pie is what characterizes Shawn’s endless creativity. Add a killer crew to the mix and you have one of Austin’s great pizzerias.
This choice will surprise those not in “the know.” But this little joint, which went in on ranch property off Fitzhugh Rd north of Dripping Springs, and is named after a bull (Stanley) from ranch, is one hell of a pleasant surprise.
I mean you would never expect to find pizza this good in the middle of nowhere yet here it is! And I’m not sure co-owner Chad Nemec expected it either. But things have a way of working out.
The Dexter (Showtime connection?) is a carnivorous romp through the taste chart. You begin with sweeter red sauce, New Jersey pepperoni, Italian sausage, caramelized onions (nice touch), mozzarella cheese, and Calabrian chiles. This one was a very pleasant first bite surprise for me. The crust was spot on as well.
Another killer is the Penelope. The star ingredient here is Speck (Italian smoked and cured pork). The arugula works damn well with this along with fresh tomatoes.
Just think, if hubris had prevailed we could have had a condo development in the place of Stanley’s. I am much more bullish on the current situation. And I’m even starting to like the BBQ pizza. Who knew?
Lest New Haven gets all the glory the folks from Hartford, CT know something about pizza as well.
Michael Dinsmore has been rocking Austin on W 34th with his Hartford-style pie since 2005 and last year opened a second location on Rainey St. (Talk about good timing).
When it comes to my favorites, the Bacon, asparagus and jalapeño pizza is the choice for me. What astonishingly visceral yet beautifully comfortable flavors this one provides. Another strong selection is the White Chicken pie with prosciutto and garlic. This is a very smooth and mellow flavor and the pie goes down very nicely.
Salvation is aptly named because it opened at a time when the pizza scene was a bit sparse in that area. The name still works because every time I have a bite of the Bacon my taste buds are well, saved.
Our Favorite Pizzas by areas of Austin. The Best New Pizza Joints in Town.