There’s an old joke about how sex is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s good. But that joke isn’t so funny in San Francisco. There’s a dearth of passable pizza in NorCal, one of the enduring mysteries of San Francisco: with the entrenched foodie culture here, and with pizza such an American staple, you’d think good pies would be found all over the Bay Area. Yet, no. And it’s not even close. From my previous lives in the Midwest (near Chicago) and the east coast (Miami), I assumed good pizza was a common everyday occurrence everywhere in the good ‘ol U.S. of A. Which is why I was so surprised to find it so lacking when I moved to the Bay Area, and why it took some actual research to sniff out the goods. Here’s the best I came up with.
From the first whiff, I thought I was actually in Chicago. Yes, Chicago-style pizza is thicker, with the cheese on bottom and sauce on top, but it’s really all about the sauce. And Zachary’s has great tomato sauce – thick and substantial with a lot of spicy character (‘zesty’ I believe is the word). And while the pizza has some heft to it, they don’t go overboard. Another reason to eat here: Zachary’s three pizzerias are all employee owned.
Modern and trendy, partly owing to the neighborhoods of its two restaurants, which also means there’s often a wait. But it’s also somewhat informal. Delfina goes the wood-fired route, a more classic old-world style of baking your pie. The crust is nice and crispy, and the toppings include fancy things like broccoli raab, caciocavallo and cherrystone clams. This is the kind of pizza you’d actually pair with wine, while discussing a recent New Yorker article.
Billing itself as a Chicago pizza, Paxti’s definitely hits the mark. The place is loud and bustling with the possibility of da Bears playing on one of the wide-screens. And the deep-dish pizza is a stuffer, with pounds of cheese and lots of thick and sweet sauce. Come here often enough and you’ll need to order your Bears jerseys in XL.
Another deep-dish pizza joint, but with a surprisingly light and crispy crust. In fact, the pizza itself is on the light side for a deep-dish, a little lighter on the cheese, but the sauce is very good. The place is low-lit and trendy, more chic restaurant than family-fun pizza parlor.
A Slice of New York
3443 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Chosen the best of Silicon Valley, this little hole-in-the-wall joint in a strip mall is the closest thing to good, authentic New York style pizza you’ll find in the Bay Area. Thin (of course) with a consistent layer of cheese and flavorful sauce, good for folding in half and shoving into your mouth. Such a simple formula, and yet so difficult for local pizza makers to get right.
5546 Geary Boulevard
This is good, solid New York-style pizza. But the charm of the place will have you coming back. It’s like stepping into an old Brooklyn pizzeria of your imagination, with checkered tablecloths, juke boxes in each booth, Deano’s ‘That’s Amore’ playing from the speakers and straw-basket Chianti bottles. Oh, and the employees have been there for years.
Flour + Water
2401 Harrison Street
Trendy and very popular. So much so, I had to wait so long I gave up and left. Supposed to be similar to Delfina’s, with wood-fired pizzas, though the low-lit dining experience is similar to Little Star.
206 E. Green St.
The Bay Area is a little outside the delivery zone for Papa Del’s. So your best chance to taste a pizza that far outshines anything within a hundred miles of here is to join the University of Illinois’ Bay Area alumni group, which had 30-plus Papa Del’s pies frozen and flown in for a recent event. Sad that a town of 200,000 has better pizza than an metro area of seven million.