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San Diego: Stuffed Pies from Berkeley Pizza
This pizza report comes from Erin Jackson, who has also been covering the San Diego burger scene over at AHT. Want to recommend a San Diego pizza destination to her? Leave a note in the comments below! —The Mgmt.
San Diego-area phone orders only, no retail location; 619-937-0808; berkeleypizzaonline
Pizza Style: Stuffed
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Delicious, topping-laden pizza that's even better the next day
Price: Pizzas range from $12 to $18 (plus $1.50 a topping); signature pizzas, $16.50–$24.50
One of the best spots for pizza in San Diego is a bit of a secret. You won't see any advertisements for Berkeley Pizza; most fans discover it through word of mouth. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the shop doesn't have a retail storefront, so the exact location of the kitchen (which is fully licensed by the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health), isn't published. The only way you can partake is by delivery or by picking up a pie at the Little Italy Farmers' Market.
Berkeley Pizza, now a year old, is the brainchild of Danny Palacios, who was inspired by purveyors of stuffed pizza like Zachary's, which he discovered while he was a student at UC Berkeley, and Giordano's, one of the originators of stuffed pizza. While Palacios's genuine, self-effacing attitude is refreshing, he could easily afford to be proud: This is some of the best pizza in the city, hands down.
Berkeley Pizza specializes in stuffed pizzas: a subset of deep dish pies that get their thickness from generously portioned toppings, not from a thicker-than-average crust. A second, paper-thin layer of crust covers the toppings before the tomato sauce is added, which steams the veggies below (which Palacios calls the "chicken pot pie effect"). Pizzas are baked in a gas oven in tin over steel pans that rest on pizza stones, which gives the crust a golden brown crisp bottom.
I ordered two small pies: Berkeley's signature spinach and mushroom pizza and a classic pepperoni.
The pepperoni pizza had at least twice the amount of pepperoni I'm accustomed to. A double layer of thin slices of pepperoni covered every inch of the bottom crust, creating a blanket of salty, seasoned goodness that permeated the entire pizza and guaranteed a burst of pepperoni in every bite. A thick layer of melted mozzarella cheese brought a delicious creamy texture to the pizza, creating a tasty contrast with the crisp crust. The rich and chunky tomato sauce was the crowning achievement. The hearty sauce was made with Roma tomatoes and fresh, local herbs which are stewed to draw out the natural sweetness (no sugar is added).
The robust flavor from the pepperoni was perfectly satisfying for me, but if you love to layer on the meat, this is the ideal pizza to go whole hog with and create the ultimate meat lover's pie. Because toppings are so generously portioned, you get excellent value for your investment (all toppings are $1.50 each).
The signature pie (made with a special blend of four organic cheeses, spinach, spices, and mushrooms) was a good counterpoint to the pepperoni pie. The spinach and mushrooms played a mostly textural role—their delicate flavors were slightly overpowered by the sauce and cheese. Given the choice between the signature pie and the pepperoni, I have to give the edge to the latter. A pizza style this robust requires toppings that can pack a big enough punch to be tasted over the mounds of cheese and sauce: sausage, salami, or pepperoni are the way to go.
As delicious as both of these pies were hot and fresh out of the box, they were at least three times better the following day. Several hours of chill time in the fridge allowed the flavors from the different elements to merge and mingle. From now on, I'm going to order an extra pie for leftovers.
Pound-for-pound, Berkeley Pizza is an excellent value. Because the pies are so deep and so piled with toppings, even a six-slice small can be stretched over several meals.
The owner is looking for a dine-in retail location downtown, which is sure to transform Berkeley Pizza from a hidden gem into a celebrated local favorite. Get yours while it's still within best-kept-secret territory.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a freelance food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best cheap and tasty eats in San Diego. She always saves room for dessert.