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Pupatella, Arlington VA: From Humble Food Cart to Storefront Sensation
Pupatella Neapolitan Pizzeria & Friggitoria
5104 Wilson Boulevard (at N. George Mason Drive), Arlington VA 22205; map; 571-312-7230;
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Oven Type: Wood-fired
Price: 12-inch pizzas, $9 to $12
Notes: Closed Sunday and Monday
Pupatella, Enzo Algarme and Anastasiya Laufenberg's wildly popular new restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, sets a new standard for affordable eating in the DC area. Just six miles west of the White House, this Neapolitan-style pizzeria turns out ethereal pies at earthbound prices.
In his trademark fedora and dark glasses, Algarme works the Italian-made Forno Napoletano oven like a master. Trained at Pizzeria dal Presidente in his native Naples, he presides over a smallish place (with maybe 30 seats), but cranks out an impressive 300 pies on a busy day. The restaurant's name comes from the Neapolitan word for doll; it was Algarme's grandmother's nickname.
Started as a food cart in the nearby Ballston business district, Pupatella sits in a nondescript strip mall but rises defiantly above its surroundings. The Euro-cool but friendly atmosphere attracts a wide range of clientele and seems to please them all.
As for the pizza itself, Pupatella's Margherita satisfies mightily in it's simplicity—a brilliant balance of tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, basil, and salt. This is a pie with a 120-plus year history, and Algarme solemnly respects the tradition.
The Prosciutto Arugula, now a staple in finer American pizzerias but rarely seen in this country until a few years ago, is a delightful contrast of hot and cool, cured and fresh, sharp and creamy.
Pupatella's Sausage pie combines delicious house-made grilled Italian links with sweet sauteed onions and smoky provola cheese for a pizza that's filling without being heavy.
The theme that connects every pie here is a superb crust that's at once light and substantial, with a chew and texture that are truly memorable. The crust is airy, chewy, and perfectly charred.
Pupatella is not just a pizzeria; it's also a friggitoria or "fry shop". They offer a crunchy and delicate fried calzone as well as the baseball-sized fried-and-filled rice balls known as arancini. Also on the menu are panini made with house-baked bread, generous salads, and a wide-ranging selection of gelato.
Pupatella serves its delicious pies in a welcoming and efficient bus-your-own-table atmosphere, and sweetens the deal with special offers, like $10 off any bottle of wine when you buy two pizzas. It has become a magnet for the business-lunch crowd as well as neighborhood families. The popularity of Pupatella proves that even in a modest venue, serving an exquisite product at a reasonable price will bring success and even adoration.