20 Trendy Pizza Places
The most exceptional, progressive, next-gen, destination places, in no particular order
1. Napoleone Pizza House
619 National City
Boulevard, National City
Like Tom Waits (who worked here for five years), this family joint looks a little old, dirty, weathered, and perfect. Its classic Neapolitan pie with sausage, bell peppers, onion, and pepperoni will make you a better you. Never mind the grease puddle in the curled-up pep.
Best-seller: The Works
2. Buona Forchetta
3001 Beech Street,
It’s owned by the heir to an Italian-olive-oil throne, Matteo Cattaneo, who gets his family’s liquid gold shipped over in drums. That, plus consulting World Pizza Champ Marcello Avitabile and a wood-fired Stefano Ferrara oven, make for one of the city’s best Neapolitans.
Best-seller: The Sergio
3. Blue Ribbon Pizzeria
897 South Coast
Highway 101, Encinitas
This is what happens when a fine-dining chef dedicates his four-star talent to pie. They’re not the prettiest pies in town. These are uneven, crispy-crunchy, leopard-spotted, medium-crusted pies with lumpy, housemade ingredients (get the “Classic” with fennel sausage, criminis, fresh mozz). But they're delish!
Best-seller: My Father
4. The Besta-Wan Pizza House
148 Aberdeen Drive,
This side-street hangout looks like it was designed by a person who loves their dog and thrift stores. For nearly 50 years, the California-style pizza joint has been the refueling station for surfers with the Besta-Wan Special (beef, ground pepper, ’shrooms, onions, pep, sausage, optional anchovies). Kids get dough to play with.
Best-seller: Besta Wan Special
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria
5. Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano
4207 Park Boulevard,
Now in a battle with newbie Buona Forchetta for top Neapolitan honors, Bruno gets a blistery, perfect chew on its crust every time. The “Campania”—tomato sauce, mozz, fennel sausage, portobello, roasted onions—is one sinful dough Frisbee. While some skimp on sausage, Bruno gives you the entire pig.
6. Isola Pizza Bar
1526 India Street,
Probably the best place in Little Italy to get a brick-oven Neapolitan pizza, from Italian chef Massimo Tenino. Like it hot? Try the salamino picante with spicy salami, mozzarella, San Marzano toms, basil, and Parm.
From left: Isola Pizza Bar and Caffe Calabria
7. Cucina Urbana
505 Laurel Street,
Joe Magnanelli’s pizza-crack is called the “Foraged Mushroom Pizza.” The name is a little aggrandized, sure. The man’s not out handpicking trumpets from the bushes in Balboa Park. But with ’shrooms, Taleggio, braised leek, and truffle oil, it’s mouth-altering. Yes, even with the truffle oil.
8. The Privateer Coal Fire Pizza
1706 South Coast Highway,
Organic herbs and veggies grow on the roof of this surfer/skater hangout. It has only been open 10 months, but this startup by local action sports media pros Jamey Stone and Charlie Anderson, along with Hector Reyna, is really cranking out the Neapolitan pizzas, light on sauce and cheese with a very skinny crust. Points for creativity—they’ve got a clam chowder, bacon, potato, and provolone pizza, but don’t overlook the simple, near-perfect Margherita.
Best-seller: Fennel Sausage Pie
9. Del Mar Pizza
211 15th Street,
After sunset, Seagrove Park in Del Mar is stacked high with DMP boxes. Its thin-crust pizza is one of the crispier options in the NY-style category and the sausage (from the L.A. institution Maestro) with Grande mozz is just about perfect.
10. Sicilian Thing Pizza
4046 30th Street,
The owner spent a decade as a pizza maker at Bronx, but thin-crust isn’t the main attraction here. It’s the deep-dish Sicilian—a square beast with high-walled, crunchy crust (try the “Almost Lasagna” with ricotta and killer meatballs). It looks like cafeteria pizza, but doesn’t taste like public school gastro-sadness.
Best-seller: The Square
11. Alexander’s on 30th
3391 30th Street,
The elegant ambiance and twinkle-light décor set the tone for some majorly fine dining, and it should be said that Alex Walter—whose mother co-owns the venerable Old Venice—makes more than pizza. But oh, that pizza. The sauce is made with three different tomatoes, and the pizza itself is constructed and baked in such a masterful way that nothing moves or falls loose. Every bite is perfect. P.S. Save room for tiramisu.
Best-seller: Theodore’s Fix
12. Project Pie
3888 Fourth Avenue,
If you’re like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally…, this is the place for you. Pass along the counter, assembly-line style, and customize your 11-inch pie down to the quarter: sauce, no sauce, extra sauce; more than 25 different cheeses and toppings—you can even tell them how you want it sliced. Two minutes in the giant oven later, you’ve got a really good pizza. We like this combo: grilled chicken, caramelized onions, dried cranberries, Gorgonzola, mushrooms, and barbecue sauce. Don’t hate.
Best-seller: #2: Pepperoni, Italian sausage, crumbled meatballs, mozzarella, signature red sauce, garlic
From left: Project Pie and Monello
750 West Fir Street,
The good pies have only gotten better since December, when the owners of Bencotto spun off this casual joint. Chef Fabrizio lets his dough ferment for four days to reach nuanced, beery flavor in the crust. Get the Bencotto, with mozz, ricotta, and an insane pink pancetta sauce.
Best-seller: The Bencotto
14. Crust Pizzeria
3263 Camino de los Coches,
This popular place uses San Marzano tomatoes and pours a mean Montepulciano. (It also keeps local beers like Lost Abbey, Iron Fist, and Stone on tap.) Master pizza chef Charlie Meola is refreshingly generous with the trifecta of cheese, sauce, and dough, although he asks that you not request any substitutions on his signature pies. He is a master, after all.
Best-seller: The Kelly
410 10th Avenue,
This spartan, industrial warehouse is the de facto spot for New Haven-style pizza. Think of it like a pizza-crêpe, with super-thin crust and a petite layer of cheese to match. Its signature is the white sauce potato-bacon pizza, but the red sauce will blow your mind.
Best-seller: Mashed Potato Bacon
16. Encinitas Pizza Company
764 South Coast
Highway 101, Encinitas
This dark joint opened about a year and a half ago in the old Giovanni’s space on 101. Get comfortable at the counter and watch the chefs grill onions for the meat-heavy Philly, or enjoy the fresh air outside while you thrash a slice of The Works. The pizzas are light on crust, sauce, and cheese, and so heavy on toppings, folding is seldom even an option.
Best-seller: The Works
17. Blind Lady Ale House
3416 Adams Avenue,
You might consider this more of a brewhouse until you taste the spicy salami pizza. BLAH is gas-oven Neapolitan. Clea Hantman—a certified pizzaiola from VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana)—uses 00 flour, yeast, and salt for her dough, then tops it with P. Balisteri salami, Danish Fontina, and fresh oregano, and dusts it with Pecorino Romano. The ramekin of Thai chili oil is unnecessary, but included.
18. Brooklyn Boyz
2183 Vista Way, Oceanside
(also in Vista and Carlsbad)
Yeah, the dive is grungy. Yeah, the pizza’s greasy. And no, no one except John Singleton should be allowed to spell it “Boyz.” But the ultra-thin-crust, NY-style pepperoni slice is one helluva peez.
Best-seller: Pepperoni, sausage, meatball
19. Caffé Calabria
3933 30th Street,
The owners here just give a damn about quality. Already one of the best coffeehouses in San Diego, they shifted focus to Neapolitan pizzas a few years back and the results from their wood-fired oven have been excellent. It’s the only SD spot certified by the Associazone Verace Pizza Neapolitana (there are only 70 certified in the U.S.). Now Calabria’s building a brewery in the basement.
20. Urban Pi
2673 Via De La Valle,
Urban Pi, an offshoot of organic-food/salad joint Urban Plates, is all about farmy ingredients. And its “Three Meat” topping orgy—organic tomato sauce, handmade meatballs, rosemary ham, fennel sausage, red onion, fresh mozz, bell peppers, parsley, and organic Parm—is somehow not a total flavor mess.
Best-seller: Three Meat