You know, if you go to an island paradise like Hawaii and turn it into some sort of quest to find THE BEST PIZZA, I think you might need to relax a bit and enjoy life. But still, if you're there and have a hankerin' for pizza, why not reach for something good? So here, the Slice gets its mainlander butt out to Hawaii (virtually, of course) for the latest installment of the United States of Pizza.
Pizza in Hawaii: The Map
View Hawaii [United States of Pizza] in a larger map
I turned first to the Slice archives to see what we had on the 50th state. One single entry. Oh, boy. On the Kula Lodge. And it's from a while ago. They're still serving pizza, though, so this dispatch on the Kula Lodge from friend of Slice Mark Horowitz might give you some idea of what you're in for:
Kula Lodge (Maui)
"The restaurant is located in the village of Kula, famous for its fresh greens, included in salads in just about every restaurant on the island. It overlooks a hillside and just about every table has a view. There is a lounge area with a giant stone fireplace. On the menu, we found Asian-influenced items, including spring rolls and local fish. We also found those same fish offered grilled on sandwiches and, to our surprise, choose-your-own-topping pizzas, prepared in stone ovens located just outside the restaurant's seating area. These ovens use a native wood, imparting a mesquitelike flavor. The toppings ran the gamut from meat to fruit to veggies.... After placing our orders, we could watch our pizzas being made in the ovens outside. The pizzas were medium-thick crusted, "personal" sized (12-inch).... The wood-fired oven flavor was wonderful, and the sauce was only slightly sweet. Toppings were fresh and generous." 15200 Haleakala Highway
Kula HI 96790; 808-878-1535; kulalodge.com
OK. So then I turned to the Slice–Serious Eats community. Surely the Hawaiians among us could give us the straight dope on where to eat. It's a series of smallish islands — how could pizza worth eating there go undiscovered long? Here's what the community came back with ...
What SE'rs/Slice'rs Are Saying About Pizza in Hawaii
"On Kauai, go to Brick Oven Pizza (with garlic butter on the crust!). It's one of the best pizzas on ALL the islands. And the decor (original location of the two is best) is cool. [2-2555 Kaumualii Highway, Kalaheo HI 96741; 808-332-8561]
"On Maui, Kula Lodge has an incredible view and good food (haven't tried pizza yet) all around.
"On Oahu, you can try Antonio's New York Pizzeria. The owner imports all his ingredients from New York. [4210 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu HI 96816; 808-737-3333; antoniosnypizza.com]
"Make sure to try the grilled pesto pizza featured a couple days ago here [from North Shore Farms at the KCC Farmers' Market]. I've tried it once...not bad. But KCC Farmers' Market is a really cool place to visit, pizza or no pizza.
"Last, Pizza Bob's in Haleiwa is really popular, but I don't find it really good. Crust is soggy and toppings are meh.
"Honestly, in Hawaii, you aren't gonna find many unique/original/awesome pizzas. Mostly we have chains like Round Table, California Pizza Kitchen, and the ubiquitous Pizza Hut/Papa John's/Domino's/LC. Oh, and Whole Foods makes a decent whole wheat thin crust." —cellophane
"On Oahu, in Waikiki, there's a bar/pizza joint in a basement-ish corner of a building sort of between the Ilikai and Hilton Hawaiian Village. It's more of a locals place, with torn vinyl seat booths, cheap beer and decent thin crust." —MarvinDog [I'm guessing it might be called Harbor Pub & Pizza? Marvin? —AK]
"Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza (Kauai). It's just a few minutes away from the Kilauea Lighthouse and Nature Reserve. Best Hawaiian pizza of my life. Super fresh and delicious!" [2484 Keneke Street, Kilauea HI 96754; 808-828-2020] —Alison J. Herzog
"Best pizza I've had in Hawaii (both in Honolulu): JJ Dolan's and Bar 35. Yes, Bar 35 is really a bar but the pizza is excellent, and they have a book-worthy menu full of bottled beer selections to pair with it." [1147 Bethel Street, Honolulu HI 96813; 808-537-4992] —fishyswede
Recommendations from Some Locals
While I was polling the SE community, I turned to a couple pizza- and food-obsessed folks I know in Hawaii.
Honolulu Pizza, from Reid of 'Ono Kine Grindz
When I started blogging about pizza seven years ago, there was only a handful of food blogs out there. OK — maybe around 200 or so. A drop in the bucket compared to today. Reid published one of them — and still does: 'Ono Kine Grindz. It is, to my knowledge, the oldest Hawaii food blog that I know of. Who better to give us some recs? I'll let him take it away!
A few years ago, if you wanted pizza in Hawaii, you basically had the national chains to deal with—Domino's, Pizza Hut, Papa John's. If you wanted an artisanal pizza, there were only a handful of options. Recently, the pizza scene has been growing steadily, and now there are quite a few places to find good-quality pizza in Honolulu. Here are a few of my picks:
Using imported Type "00" Caputo flour and the freshest local ingredients, former pastry chef and pizzaiolo Alejandro Briceno handcrafts an amazing pizza. Made in a blistering hot kiawe-wood-fired oven, the Neapolitan-style pizzas served at V Lounge are a personal favorite. Whether it's a traditional pizza Margherita or the immensely popular Prima, you are bound to be seduced by the flavor and texture of the crust; crisp, but slightly chewy with just the right amount of char and smokiness. 1344 Kona Street, Honolulu HI 96814; 808-953-0007; vloungehawaii.com
Another spot, JJ Dolan's, serves up New York style pizzas in a pub-like setting. With a dizzying array of toppings, from Portuguese sausage to anchovies, and even Spam, you can either choose to build your own pie or choose one from the classics, "signatures" or daily specials menu. With a perfectly thin crust, and an excellent sauce to cheese to topping ratio, the pizzas served here are some of the best. Best of all, you can even get a cheese or pepperoni slice to go. 1147 Bethel Street, Honolulu HI 96813; 808-537-4992
Antonio's New York Pizzeria
Want a thin crusted, hand-tossed pizza? Like New York style pies and lots of options? Then Antonio's New York Pizzeria is for you. The pizza here is as good as it gets; thin crust that is crisp around the edges with a nice bite towards the middle, light coating of savory sauce and a lots of warm gooey cheese. Favorites are the white sauced "Antonio's Special" which features garlic, mushrooms, pepperoni, black olives, Italian sausage and parmesan or the "Twin Towers which is topped with spinach and garlic. 4210 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu HI 96816; 808-737-3333; antoniosnypizza.com
Hawaii Picks from PizzaTherapy.com's Albert Grande
Pizza Therapy is the first pizza-obsessed site I ever saw on the web. It predates Slice by a good 4 or 5 years, having launched in 1999. As it turns out, its proprietor, Albert Grande (who we interviewed here), lives in Hawaii. Lucky dog! No survey of Hawaii pizza would be complete without his input. I'll let Albert take it from here ...
Inferno's Woodfire Pizza (Oahu - Honolulu)
Honolulu's newest artisan pizza. Kyle, the pizzaiolo here, is a self-taught chef who is fulfilling his pizza dream. Inferno's is a portable wood fired pizza oven parked in a furniture store parking lot. The pizza is good, thin-crust, Neapolitan style. The flavor is excellent and I think will only get better with time. The price is incredibly cheap. Basic pizza is $8. The real deal. 306 Kalihi Street, Honolulu HI 96819
Aiea Bowl (Oahu - Aiea)
Sourdough artisan pizza in a bowling alley? Hard to believe, but the pizza here is excellent. This is hand-tossed pizza with a touch of crunch. While there are no unusual toppings, you will find something that will staisfy your pizza taste. The portions are generous. Another plus is the local Hawaiian food served in the restaurant. The price is a little on the high side. 99-115 Aiea Heights Drive, Aiea HI
JJ Dolan's (Oahu - Honolulu)
Great New York–style pizza in a pub setting. The pizzas are all hand-tossed and cooked perfectly. The crust has great flavor with hints of boldness. Features a wide variety of toppings with generous portions. A great pizza experience. Reasonable price. 1147 Bethel Street, Honolulu HI 96813; 808-537-4992
V Lounge (Oahu - Honolulu)
Kiawe-wood-fired pizza cooked to perfection. Great selection of toppings. Lots of dedication to the art of making good pizza. Many different flavors with Hawaii farm-fresh ingredients. Note: The pizza here is pricey. 1344 Kona Street, Honolulu HI 96814; 808-953-0007; vloungehawaii.com
More, More, More ...
In creeping around the web, looking for "best pizza in Hawaii" and what not, almost all the material I found, whether it was Yelp, Chowhound, or just random blog posts came back mostly to the ground covered above. But there are a couple places I want to mention here ...
Bar 35 (Oahu - Honolulu)
OK, OK. Fishyswede mentioned it already, but it also appeared in this great roundup of Hawaii pizza spots in Honolulu magazine. Look at that picture! I'd hit that! Here's what food Honolulu food critic John Heckathorn had to say:
Thank heavens, it's great pizza, created by Tuscany-born chef Francesco Valentini. Valentini's crusts are Roman--oblong, served on rectangular wooden paddles. But his pizzas are also Californian, in the sense that Alice Waters of Berkeley's Chez Panisse first started topping pizzas with almost anything she felt like...
Outrigger Pizza Company (Maui, roving locations)
Outrigger Pizza Company is a mobile-pizza oven outfit that started operating around Maui last month. It's run by fourth-generation farmer Eric Mitchell along with his wife, Kerri, and a couple of canoe-paddling friends, Kevin Sarich and Brandis Sarich. Like many cart vendors these days, Outrigger appears in various locations. Mitchell tells me they have four established locations now and that the need for new ovens is eminent.
One of the most popular pies, Mitchell says, is the "Lilikoi Pork": Kalua pork, red onion, sweet peppers, mozzarella, all on a garlic aioli crust and topped with a lilikoi (passion fruit) syrup.
Flatbread Company (Maui - Paia)
Last, I wanted to point out that New England–based Flatbread Company has a Hawaiian outpost on Maui. None other than Jorge Garcia (aka "Hurley" from Lost) named it as "the best pizza in Hawaii" on his blog, Dispatches from the Island. You know, if you trust pizza advice from TV show stars. Given Garcia's fun and knowledgeable writing about food on his blog, I actually kinda do.
But if you want more intel on Flatbread Company's pizzas, you can check out this dispatch from friend of Slice Dustin, who was blown away by the location in Portland, Maine.
What Are We Missing? Got Any Other Recommendations?
As always, these United States of Pizza guides are a work in progress. A perpetual beta edition. We know that we can't be 100 percent complete, and that's why we need your help. If we've missed something, chime in in the comments below. We'll be updating these guides as new intel rolls in!
And ... aloha, pizza lovers!