1415 21st St. Sacramento, CA 95811 (map);
Pizza style: deep dish
The skinny: Gloriously rich deep dish pizza served by sassy waitresses
Notes: Call about 30 minutes ahead to order.
Zelda's, a Sacramento institution since 1978, has probably been inspiring arguments for about that long. Sacramentans can agree that the Kings are terrible and that Schwarzenegger in person is short and orange, but bring up Zelda's, and you're in for an argument. There are those misguided folks who say that the crust is too rich (I've heard the epithet "Bisquick" tossed around), that the wait is too long, that the place is a dive, that the servers are rude. I say those people are fools and that their souls are as dark as the pizzeria's Christmas-light-lit interior.
A bite of Zelda's deep dish crust (they serve no other kind) is a joyful journey from the pillowy top down to the browned bottom layer. The rim around the pizza's edge is crisp, more like a savory cookie than a flaky pie crust.
A visit to Zelda's is incomplete without a spinnocoli, the delicious sauceless specialty of the house. The lightly buttery crust is topped with a layer of mozzarella, then a layer of spinach and broccoli bits, and then a layer of browned and bubbled feta and cheddar cheese. The tang of cheese pairs nicely with the cruciferous bite of the occasional broccoli stem. It's a seriously rich pizza; I can't eat more than one slice.
The classic combo, topped with sausage, pepperoni, green pepper, and onion, is Zelda's meaty masterpiece. On top of a layer of stretchy mozzarella, there's a generous portion of chunky tomato sauce. The gently sweet and intensely tomato-y sauce plays perfectly off the mild Italian sausage. This pie is heavily and evenly topped; every bite contains cheese, sausage, salty pepperoni, crisp veggies, and best of all, the shattering crunch of the crust.
The sassiness of Zelda's servers is legendary, but it's all part of the charm. Most of the ladies are softies once you've visited a few times. And once you taste Zelda's pizza you'll be willing to weather any wait (tip: belly up to the bar for the cheapest beer in town) and any stray bit of sass to taste it again.