Many of us who loved pizza as kids were raised with a very limited vocabulary: Small, medium or large? Regular, thin crust or deep dish? Cheese, pepperoni or veggie? (No, never veggie.) You can blame Big Pizza’s supply chain for our relative lack of options, but in the delivery age, those basic selectors were pretty much all we had, such that the arrival of stuffed-crust pizza remains an event worthy of folklore.
As adults, we’ve moved beyond gimmickry and, in some cases, beyond delivery altogether. That’s because Washington has become a veritable pizza atlas, with choices spanning cities, countries and regions of both hemispheres. In fact, within our very small slice of the country, there are two kinds of pizza that are distinctly ours, to say nothing of the fine versions we import and even improve upon, from Naples to New Haven.
Know a type of pizza — think crust, not toppings — found locally that we’ve overlooked? E-mail us at email@example.com.
The local favorite
With a flaky, puff pastry-like crust and a thin, sweet tomato sauce, Ledo Pizza exists in love-it-or-hate-it territory. But for locals, a square Ledo’s pie conjures happy memories of childhood. The smoky provolone, thick pepperoni and chewy crust take me back to family meals at the Original (and still best) Ledo Restaurant, which opened in Adelphi in 1955 and spawned legions of Ledo Pizza franchises before moving to College Park in 2009. It’s loved by generations of University of Maryland students — including my parents, who passed along the Ledo’s gene. I still savor Ledo Pizza’s overindulgent Ledo’s Deluxe, a supreme pie topped with sausage, pepperoni, bacon and hamburger. I couldn’t eat it every day, but once in a while, it’s a nostalgic treat.
— Fritz Hahn
Ledo Pizza franchises are located throughout the area. www.ledopizza.com. The Original Ledo Restaurant, 4509 Knox Rd., College Park. 301-422-8122. www.ledorestaurant.com. Plain pizza $5.99-$16. Not available for delivery.
When discussing pizza, the terms “deep dish” and “Chicago style” are often used interchangeably, but this is as wrong as using “barbecue” in place of “grill.” Given sufficient yeast and the right flour, any pizza can fill a deep-dish pan, but few can claim to represent the Second City’s signature food. True Chicago pizza is more akin to a casserole, with a buttery crust serving as a retaining wall for a volatile sea of molten mozzarella. An easy test: Remove the first slice from the pan. If subterranean cheese flows from each side to fill the void, you’ve got a Chicago-style deep dish pizza, and if you’re eating it locally, it should come from Alberto’s Pizza. The Dupont Circle pizzeria packs so much cheese into each of its dense-crusted deep-dish pies, you’ll worry about the integrity of the pizza box in which it’s delivered. A large pizza from the shop weighs more than seven pounds, and it’s a challenge to eat more than a single slice at a time. The sauce could be chunkier, so it’s best to order one of the pizzas with toppings — incorporated beneath the top layer of tomato, of course — to absorb some of the excess moisture.
— Alex Baldinger
Alberto’s Pizza, 2010 P St. NW. 202-986-2121. www.albertospizzadownunder.com. Deep dish pizzas start at $24.95. Available for delivery through GrubHub.
To be deemed the maker of a true Neapolitan pizza, one must pass muster with no less an authority than the formidable-sounding Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. It is an understatement to say the Associazione is exacting. There are rules for the crust — no added fats allowed; built upon a yeast that’s “insipid” in taste — and it must be cooked in a wood-burning oven, no substitutions. The tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala must be separately certified, and God help you if your basil is not fresh. So it’s perfectly reasonable to consider the Margherita DOC pizza at Pupatella a minor miracle, a chewy piece of the Old World in Arlington. Pupatella’s thin crust is remarkably soft and dotted with a smattering of char that adds smoke to the pools of runny mozzarella. The tomatoes are tart. And the basil, well, it turns out that, dipped in a floral olive oil, it’s just as crucial as the Associazione believes. One of only three pizza-makers in the area (along with 2 Amys in upper Northwest and Il Canale in Georgetown) currently serving to-code pies, Pupatella has an advantage over the others: Toiling in front of the red, domed oven on busy nights is owner Enzo Algarme, below, Neapolitan not by certification, but by birth.
— Lavanya Ramanathan
Pupatella, 5104 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 571-312-7230. www.pupatella.com.
$13 for an 11-inch pie. Not available for delivery.
Co-owner Peter Pastan already has his temple of Neapolitan pizza, the much-admired 2 Amys, where the kitchen follows all of the hard-and-fast rules established for the Italian pies. At Etto, Pastan and team take a more relaxed — you might say more artisanal — approach to Neapolitan pizza. They mill their own grains in-house, grinding hard red winter wheat and spelt into a coarser flour that wouldn’t pass muster in Naples. They also stretch the dough into 13-inch rounds, two inches more than the maximum set by the Neapolitan authorities, and add toppings, including cotechino sausage or roasted cauliflower, above, before firing the pizzas in a hickory- and oak-burning stone oven. “It’s always good to do new things,” Pastan says. “Otherwise your brain stops working.” It’s also good to see American chefs creating a personalized pizza, influenced by tradition but not bound by it.
— Tim Carman
Etto, 1541 14th St. NW. 202-232-0920. www.ettodc.com. $13-$17. Not available for delivery.
New Haven apizza
Unlike certified Neapolitan pizza, New Haven apizza (pronounced “a-beets,” a dialectic echo of the Italian Americans who developed these pies in the early 20th century) does not have hard, inflexible rules to define it. Yet New Haven piemakers do follow generally accepted practices: Their crusts are crispy and chewy, the backsides often sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs. Their default cheese for a plain tomato pie is typically pecorino Romano; if you want mozzarella, you ask for “mootz,” and it will likely be the aged whole-milk kind, not the fresh buffalo-milk kind. The large, irregular rounds are also cooked hard, resulting in that blistered char so characteristic of apizza. As for coal-fired ovens? “I feel it’s overblown,” says Thomas Marr, chef and co-owner of Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza. “If you’re in New Haven, there are more places that don’t use coal than do.” Many use deck ovens, like the ones at Pete’s, Marr argues. The main difference between Pete’s apizza and the pies back in Yalie town is that the District rounds aren’t cooked as long. The locals apparently haven’t developed a taste for char.
— Tim Carman
Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, locations in Clarendon, Columbia Heights, Friendship Heights and Silver Spring. www.petesapizza.com. Slices $2.75-$3.50; whole tomato pizzas start at $10.50. Delivery varies by location.
America’s pizza offerings tend to be of Northern Hemispheric origin, except for the subequatorial slices that are Argentina’s gift to global pizza culture. The country’s cuisine draws influences from Latin and Italian food, which have produced a uniquely Argentine style. What sets Argentine pizza apart is its spongy crust: Fugazza, as it’s called, is nearly an inch thick and, as the name implies, is more like focaccia than traditional pizza crust. You can find Argentine pizza at Del Campo and at Rural Society, chef Jose Garces’s steakhouse in the Loews Madison Hotel. Start with the Tradicional, served in a personal-size pan and topped with a quilted layer of mozzarella and soft, sweet caramelized onions — and not a drop of red sauce.
— Maura Judkis
Rural Society, 1177 15th St. NW. 202-587-2629. www.ruralsocietyrestaurant.com. $11-$16. Not available for delivery.
St. Louis style
The deep-dish pizzas served at District of Pi refuse to adhere to a geographic label. They get lumped in with St. Louis-style because that’s where the small chain of restaurants started. And the Penn Quarter storefront has a few authentic Gateway City accents — most notably, the tasty Pi Common beer brewed specifically for the pizzerias by Schlafly, a St. Louis microbrewery. (And the St. Louis area code is 314; do the math.) The pizza, meanwhile, takes cues not only from St. Louis but also from San Francisco and, most notably, Chicago. It’s deep dish, but with a cornmeal crust, so it’s sturdy and crisp. You don’t need a knife and fork for this pizza — you can grab a piece like pizza proper, as the crust holds up the hearty dish. You’ll also notice that the pizza is round with slices, as opposed to slabs and squares. Pi also eschews the ubiquitous-in-the-Lou Provel cheese blend, using mozzarella on all of its pies (with some cheddar on the Delmar) — underneath the toppings and the chunky tomato sauce atop the pizza. Confused yet? This won’t help: Chicago’s own Barack Obama, who tasted Pi’s deep dish on the campaign trail in St. Louis in 2008, declared it the best pizza he’d ever had.
— John Taylor
District of Pi, 910 F St. NW. 202-393-5484. www.pi-pizza.com. Deep dish pizzas start at $11.95. Not available for delivery.
New York style
Whether there’s actually something in the water or it’s simply a matter of civic pride, New Yorkers are very particular about their dough. To hear them tell it, nobody can compete with Big Apple bagels, and pizza? Fuhgeddaboudit. So it’s no surprise that Wiseguy NY Pizza would take great pains to explain the labors required of making authentic New York pies in Washington by way of a 19-point manifesto on its Web site: a special filtering system resulting in “Newyorkinized” water; no more than three toppings per pizza; a slightly salty, crispy crust that’s foldable. In truth, no treatise is needed to verify Wiseguy’s New York bona fides, which come through with just a single slice of the margherita pie. Several tasters noted that the pizza’s flavor reached addictive levels as they ate toward the crusty end, revealing a salty tang familiar to anyone who has walked down Broadway with a folded slice in hand.
— Alex Baldinger
Wiseguy NY Pizza, 300 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-408-7800. www.wiseguynypizza.com. Slices $2.99-$3.99; pizzas start at $18.59. Not available for delivery.
If you didn’t know any better, you might think your sauce-topped pizza from Vace Italian Deli had been prepared by a disgruntled kitchen worker who couldn’t follow standard cheese-on-top protocol. But this very intentional mix-up is the method Liguria native Valerio Calcagno chose when he opened the Italian market and delicatessen with his wife, Blanca, in 1976. “It’s just the Vace way of doing it,” Diana Calcagno says of her late father’s method. “It’s not specific to any region of Italy, it’s just the way he wanted it.” The cheese serves as a bodyguard for the crust, keeping it extra crispy and resulting in an audible crunch when bitten. “A lot of people say it’s New York style, but it’s definitely not,” Diana says. “It’s just Vace.”
— Holley Simmons
Vace Italian Deli, 3315 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-363-1999; 4705 Miller Ave., Bethesda.
301-654-6367. www.vaceitaliandeli.com. Slices $2; pizzas $9-$10.50. Not available for delivery.
At Spike Mendelsohn’s We, the Pizza, you can have your slices topped with everything from Cajun chicken to bechamel and spinach. But if you like your pizza pure, simple and with a thicker, chewier crust, grab a slice of Spike’s Sicilian. What Americans call Sicilian pizza refers to a thick, square, pan-baked pizza that evolved through Italian immigrants in New York. Cooked in a cast-iron pan in a 500-degree oven, We, the Pizza’s Sicilian uses less water and more olive oil than the rest of the menu, giving the dough its sponginess with a hint of crunch on the bottom. To highlight the specialty crust, the toppings are purely traditional: tomato sauce, roasted tomatoes, basil and a healthy blanketing of mozzarella.
— Maura Judkis
We, the Pizza, 305 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-544-4008; 2100 Crystal Dr., Arlington.
703-415-7992. www.wethepizza.com. Slices $4; pizza $20. Not available for delivery.
Traditionally, jumbo slice is meant to be eaten between midnight and 3 a.m. before you call it a night, but a slice from Italian Kitchen on U is enjoyable at any hour. Don’t let the larger-than-average dimensions (smaller than the cartoonish slices typically served in Adams Morgan) lead you to think this is pizza for late-night carb cravings and nothing more. There’s a noticeable sweetness to the thin crust and an irresistible salty crunch when biting into a folded slice of the pepperoni. It’s a respectable way to cap the evening next time you’re headed home from U Street’s bars.
— Margaret Ely
Italian Kitchen on U, 1110 U St. NW. 202-387-4992. www.italianonu.com.
Slices $3.50-$4; pizzas from $7.99. Delivery available within 1 1 / 2 miles.
Astor Mediterranean’s pizza crust begins with a mix of flour, olive oil, yeast, egg whites, sugar, salt and whole fennel seeds. “The fennel gives the dough a special taste,” says owner Abdalla Hashish, remembering a type of cookie his mother used to bake for him that incorporated the same spice. Ingredients are blended and left to rise before the mix is pounded down three times, covered with toppings and baked in a shallow rectangular pan at 450 degrees. Astor uses the same dough for all of its pizzas, though it’s best suited for the Greek pie, which is topped with chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella, feta, gyro meat, kalamata olives, tomatoes, spinach, porcini peppers and garlic. “Most Mediterranean food uses the same ingredients,” says Hashish, who hails from Egypt. “We just try to put our own spin on them.”
— Holley Simmons
Astor Mediterranean, 1829 Columbia Rd. NW. 202-745-7495; 2300 N. Pershing Dr., Arlington. 703-465-2306. www.astorfoods.com. $11.95-$17. Not available for delivery.