The Best Pizza in San Diego
Troy Johnson picks his five finalists for the upcoming Best Restaurants issue
Buona Forchetta's “Sergio” pizza. | Photo: Justin McChesney-Wachs
Pizza is the frisbee of glee. It unites the entire family, no matter how delicate or aversive the taste buds. My daughter won’t even look at a Brussels sprout. But she’ll stick her head out the window of our car like a dog and find pizza. Americans order about 3 billion pizzas every year, plus another billion frozen pies. Pizza joints account for over 15 percent of all U.S. restaurants. Ninety percent of us eat pizza at least once a month, and the average American will eat 23 pounds of pizza every year.
A couple of years ago, I ate at over 50 pizza joints in San Diego in search of the best. My belly grew a shade tent for my feet, but my mouth was never happier. Here are my finalists this year for the best pizza in San Diego. As always, I’m just a man with an eating job and a list. I’m not right. Or wrong, for that matter. Which is nice.
You can have all the training and tools in the world, but you’ve got to know how to wield them. Pizza is a simple food. And simple things require minute details and timing and hyper-specific tools to stand out. Buona Forchetta has it all. Owners Matteo Cattaneo and wife Alexa Kollmeier hired a world pizza champion (a real thing) to train them in making authentic, Neopolitan pies. Their oven (named “Sofia”) is world-class, requiring a truck and a crane. And Cattaneo’s family owns one of Italy’s foremost olive oil companies, and they send their expat son barrels of each harvest’s best.
3001 Beech Street, South Park
Chef Wade Hageman came from four-star fine dining, so he knows about the acid-fat balance, the elevated sauce, where to find the best of the best gourmet ingredients. That translates onto his pies at Blue Ribbon, which have become Encinitas icons. Their “Signature” pie has lemon EVOO, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, Parm-Reg, lemon zest, red onion, and basil. Their cheat-day “Staff’s Favorite” is also mine, with tomato sauce, fennel sausage, heavy cream, Parm-Reg, and basil. The butterscotch pudding with sea-salt caramel and housemade whipped cream doesn’t hurt, either.
897 S. Coast Highway, Encinitas
This is another house that’s nailing the Neopolitan-style pizza, which has received official certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Italy. Certifying a pizza may seem slightly excessive, but their obsession is your ohgodyes. It’s wood-fired like the others, which results in a quick-cooking pie with crust bubbles and leopard spots. They show an appreciation for our local, Mexican-ophile palates with the “El Jefe,” with mozzarella and Oaxacan cheese, Spanish chorizo, poblano peppers, and chipotle cream. And meat lovers will find mozzarella, pepperoni, soppressata, prosciutto di Parma, and sausage on the “Porktacular.”
4207 Park Blvd, University Heights
San Diego’s reigning kings of Chicago-style pies. Chicago-style are deep-dish beasts that land on your table like an earthquake or a Charles Barkley. Lefty’s is run by Chicago-expat husband-and-wife duo Brendan and Lauren Hodson. Seems they learned a thing or two in their time in that city with the death-wind and pizzas that eat more like bread lasagnas. Their deep dishes will cause anxiety disorders in vegetarians (there is a vegetarian thin-crust on the menu, however). Like the “Meaty Pie,” with sausage, pepperoni, meatball, and Italian beef. Or the “Monster of the Midway,” with sausage, pepperoni, hot giardiniera, and elephant garlic.
4030 Goldfinch Street, Mission Hills; 3448 30th Street, North Park
There’s something about a 20-inch pizza that you can eat in one sitting. And that’s because owner Jon Mangini’s weirdly shaped (like a toddler tried to draw an oval, but failed on account of being a toddler) New Haven-style pies are so thin. Hard to say what’s so special. People apparently love the white-sauce, mashed potato, and bacon pie. I’m not a huge fan. It’s their red sauce that slays me. Something about the sweet-acidic-herbal combo they’ve discovered. One of the best in town.
410 Tenth Ave., East Village
In anticipation of the Best Restaurants issue, landing in June, take a look at last year’s winners here.