San Francisco may be better known as the birthplace of California cuisine, where pristine and fresh ingredients shine with every bite. Decades in, this approach is even being used at the area’s hot pizza spots, where house-made pork sausage may share space with dark green pieces of charred broccoli rabe. The City by the Bay may not have the biggest pizza scene, but it does sport talent and variety. There’s everything from traditional Neapolitan slices made by world pizza champion Tony Gemignani to pies with a creative Cal-New York-Naples bent as made by Craig and Annie Stoll’s team at Pizzeria Delfina. (You can easily get your crispy thin Margherita pie to go for a memorable and sunny picnic at popular Dolores Park nearby.) I’m a San Francisco native, partial to lightly curled pepperoni slices over a thick corn meal-dusted crust, especially on a foggy day, but can’t say no to other pizza offerings. This list covers many options including pies created in coal- or wood-fired ovens with thin crust as the end result. Go ahead and bliss out on a varied and cheese-laden bounty that is as fun as it is interesting.
TONY’S PIZZA NAPOLETANA
San Francisco is home to world pizza champion Tony Gemignani, the first non-Neapolitan to take home the prize for the “pizza cup” in Naples, Italy. Gemignani’s pizza production includes the show stopping deep-dish “quattro forni” pie cooked in four different ovens and it’s completely worth the wait. Gemignani is committed to learning the intricacies that make up the various regional styles of pizza he serves. He covers so much ground at his spot, from Detroit style to St. Louis style to New York—and sources specific ingredients for each pizza. Pizza nerds have been known to gawk politely at the restaurant’s seven different ovens.
Mission District and Pacific Heights
Craig and Annie Stoll continue to get praise for helping set up the pizza scene here. In 2005, they started serving gas-fired Neapolitan pies with a Cal-Ital bent. There is a tasty pizza with broccoli rabe, olives, and hot peppers for the dedicated farm-to-tablers, and the restaurant’s best-sellers include more traditional fare: Napoletana (tomato with Mozzarella cheese), Four Formaggi and Prosciutto. Insider tip: use the chalkboard cam to check wait times—a needed tech innovation if ever there was one. Or beat the crowds and call in your pie to go from the Mission location. Stop at neighboring Bi-Rite Market for some adult beverages then walk your still-hot pie to Dolores Park, for a memorable picnic with views of the city and its inhabitants.
UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA
East Coast transplant Anthony Mangieri employs extra TLC at Una Pizza Napoletana, where he makes each naturally leavened pie and the restaurant’s closing time is whenever the dough runs out. The humble spot has a small menu of five pizzas, measuring twelve inches each. On Saturday, though, that number goes to six, when the Apollonia pie is offered. It’s an homage to Mangieri’s young daughter and transcends the genre with fresh eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, salami, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, fresh garlic, sea salt, and black pepper. Mangieri is a New Jersey native and gained fame making great pizza in NYC before traveling to Italy and eventually settling in S.F. He uses a wood-fired brick oven to get a crust that is blistered and kissed ever so delicately by smoke. In early December, dig into the Mangieri trademark Christmas pie featuring escarole, pine nuts, raisins, capers, and olives. Insider tip: the wait can be long here because there are no reservations, but couples may get seated faster than bigger groups.
New York transplants feel at home with the thin, crispy crust at the Mission District outpost of Arinell Pizza. This is a tiny slice shop with three stools, and the slices are sauced with a lightly sweet tomato sauce and run large. Each slice arrives on a sheet of white wax paper, and groups congregate outside Arinell’s to eat and people watch. Arinell also offers the added bonus of staying open late, and there are vintage-looking trucker caps for sale.
Del Popolo is a twenty-foot-long food truck made from a steel transatlantic shipping container reportedly weighing over 30,000 lbs. It sports a gorgeous two-and-a-half-ton Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven, manned by Jon Darsky, who learned pizza perfection at the highly regarded flour + water restaurant. His glass-enclosed exhibition kitchen may look high end, but the mobile pizzeria succeeds at its mission of bringing pies to the people (Del Popolo means “of the people”), as demonstrated by the ever-present lines found wherever it shows up.
North Beach is San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood, and home to Golden Boy, a casual spot serving square, thick pieces of Sicilian pizza that’s similar to focaccia. This is the place to try clam pizza once and for all, especially if you can get the clam and garlic version that has ample meat and zesty garlic with a heavenly aromatic garnish of freshly chopped parsley.
For those who want evidence that a gas-oven stove is the way to go, get cozy at chef Sharon Ardiana’s Gialina in Glen Park. Add a farm egg to any pie, or try the Amatriciana, a winning combo of tomato, pancetta, chilies, an egg, and Pecorino. Other pies that may surprise for their flavor and creativity are the Moroccan lamb with spring onion, or the Yukon Gold potato with bacon, red onions, thyme & Gorgonzola.