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The United States of Pizza: Minnesota
Minnesota is a pizza melting pot. The Minnesota spin on classic Midwest-style pizza is usually thin crust, cut tavern-style into square pieces, usually leaning heavily on cheese. There's often some grease to pat off. But starting in the 1990s, numerous other pizza styles started to show up—we're seeing more and more California-style pies and a rapidly growing Neapolitan pizza scene across the state. Here's our guide to where to eat pizza in the North Star State. Add your suggestions in the comments!
Where to Eat Pizza in Minneapolis
Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza
Black Sheep's anthracite coal oven, the first in Minnesota, delivers a crust that is crisp but chewy, thin but not crackery, and just firm enough to hold a slice with one hand. Using high quality fresh ingredients, Black Sheep became a phenomenon by the end of 2009 and had to expand their hours then open a new location. Order the tomato and oregano pizza, adding garlic, smoked mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes. 600 Washington Avenue N; Minneapolis, MN 55401; 612-342-2625 blacksheeppizza.com
Pizza Lucé brought California-style pizza to Minnesota in the early 90s with their flagship location in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis. They became known quickly as the punk late-night spot to pick up slices after bar close downtown with lines going around the block—even in the middle of winter. Their success brought them to expand to six locations across the state. The Baked Potato pizza is one of their more popular pies made with baby red mashed potatoes, broccoli, cheddar and hickory-smoked bacon. 19 North 4th Street; Minneapolis, MN 55401; 612-333-7359 pizzaluce.com (multiple locations)
Galactic Pizza is run by a bunch of superheroes who deliver your pizza in full spandex outfits and capes driving fully electric cars. Although they've been doing this for years, people still blink when one of their bizarre vehicles whirs by with a superhero in the driver's seat. Their pizza could be described as extraplanetary: very well balanced and high quality ingredients. My favorite is the Second Harvest Heartland with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, organic Roma tomatoes, garlic, and fresh organic basil—for each purchased a buck is donated to the Minnesota hunger relief operation with the same name. There's also a "CSA Pizza," which varies depending on what ingredients come in fresh from Harmony Valley's C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Galactic also has good selection for vegetarians and vegans. 2917 S Lyndale Avenue; Minneapolis, MN 55408; 612-824-9100 galacticpizza.com
Pizza Nea is regarded as one of Minnesota's best Neapolitan-style pizzerias. Owner and pizzaiolo Mike Sherwood, a former bagel maker, is obsessive about his dough—which locals know can be purchased fresh for your own homemade pizzas if you ask. It's better to dine in, however, as their pizzas are consistently top-notch and the service is exceptionally friendly. Check the special first; there's something new every couple of months such as a quattro formaggi with premium local cheeses. Their Caprino e Treccione with goat cheese, smoked mozzarella, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes is one of my favorite pizzas of all time. 306 E Hennepin Avenue; Minneapolis, MN 55414; 612-331-9298 pizzanea.com
Around Lake Nokomis, Fat Lorenzo's is the neighborhood's pizza joint. The tablecloths are disposable sheets of white paper and there's crayons at every table; don't hold back on your creativity. The homemade bread stick is a good appetizer to share—it's the size of a large cobra. Like the bread stick, their pizza's crusts are big, puffy, and chewy, and served with large portions. Don't leave without trying the gelato. Owner Scott Siegel is a very interesting guy. 5600 Cedar Avenue S; Minneapolis, MN 55417; 612-822-2040 fatlorenzos.com
Newcomer Pizzeria Lola is helmed by Ann Kim, who was recently certified by the International School of Pizza, the only school in the United States affiliated with the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Italy. I ate there a few times with James Norton and Becca Dilley of Heavy Table. Here's their report:
By general consensus, the favorite dish was a pizza called the Hawaii Pie-O. Hawaiian style pizzas tend to suffer from sloppy pineapple and big sheets of low grade ham—this version went much lighter on the toppings, meaning that crisp little bites of pineapple shone alongside a meaty Berkshire bacon, both of which felt both supported by and integrated into the high quality mozz atop the pie. Salty, sweet, chewy, cheesy, meaty—this is a pizza that has it all, but in moderation and balance.
Try the ice cream with olive oil and fleur de sel on your way out. 5557 Xerxes Avenue S; Minneapolis, MN 55410 612.424.8338 pizzerialola.com
A staple of Minneapolis since 1961, this place is pure Midwest-style. They've franchised across the state but the original on West River Road stays the most true to the type. 2025 West River Road N; Minneapolis, MN 55411; 612-529-7745 broadwaypizza.com (and 16 other locations)
Where to Eat Pizza in Saint Paul
Punch Neapolitan Pizza
Punch is Minnesota's V.P.N. pizzeria—and some say it's one of the best outside of Italy. Owners John Soranno and John Puckett take their key staff regularly to Naples to study (and eat) pizza. The quality at all seven Punch locations is incredibly consistent and if you asked anyone in Minneapolis-Saint Paul "what pizzeria has the most fans?" the answer is almost always "Punch." Punch also spontaneously offers free pizzas during huge snow storms and offer special deals depending on the outcome of major sporting events. Bizarre Foods host and Minnesotan Andrew Zimmern repeatedly describes Punch as the best pizza he's ever had. Pizza pros order at Punch like this: "Margherita, D.O.C., uncut." 704 Cleveland Avenue S; Saint Paul MN 55116; 651-696-1066 punchpizza.com (and six more locations)
Pizzeria at the Creamery
Connected to the popular Grand Ole Creamery, breadmaker turned pizzamaker Robert Lampe makes pies with an airy, chewy crust with and a solid, crispy edge. Pizzas here are nicely charred on the bottom and the sauce is notably sweet. Slices here can be held with one hand and are well balanced. Yes, you should get ice cream next door for dessert. 750 Grand Avenue; Saint Paul, MN 55105; 651-291-8931
The owner of Carbone's on Randolph Avenue is related to the people behind the franchise of Carbone's Pizzerias, but this shop is independent. The pizzas are a similar style: very thin crust, tavern cut, cheesy, greasy yet strangely satisfying. Purists (especially those who grew up on that side of city) will tell you the Saint Paul location is the best.
1698 Randolph Ave; Saint Paul, MN 55105; 651-698-0721 carbonesonrandolph.com
Carbone's Pizzeria, 37 locations: carbonespizzeria.com
Red's Savoy Inn
Red's Savoy Inn feels at first like a grungy dive bar not worth writing about in any publication. It's garbage pizza at its finest: greasy, sloppy, unbalanced, and afterward it feels like there's a brick in your stomach. But scores of Minnesotans swear this is the best pizza in the world. Their primary location in Saint Paul has served pizza since the early 1960s and isn't going away any time soon. Slice's Daniel Zemans visited Red's in 2009, and after trying a pie topped with sausage and sauerkraut, he reported that "Red's Savoy Pizza serves up pies that will make pizza purists cringe and the rest of us very happy."421 E 7th Street, Saint Paul, MN 55155; 651-227-1437
Cosetta Italian Market
Cosetta's is a hundred-year-old business that's part Italian market, part catering business, and part cafeteria-style Italian restaurant. The pizzas are usually sold as large slices (6 slices from a 16" pie) and generally require a knife and fork to start with. It's thick and filling so if it's your first time, find out if one slice fills you before you buy two. Take a tiramisu home with you for later. 211 7th Street W; Saint Paul, MN 55102-2520; 651-222-3476
Where to Eat Pizza in Suburban Minneapolis-Saint Paul
Randy's Premier Pizza
Randy Hueffmeier might be Minnesota's craziest pizzamaker. An internationally-awarded spinning champion, he creates a solid Midwest-style pizza as well as derivatives of Chicago deep dish, Italian-like wood-fired pizzas and numerous other types. I can't think of a style of pizza Randy doesn't do. Randy and his pizzeria, Premier Pizza, may be best known for their 30-inch, 36-inch and even 48-inch pizzas which routinely become subjects of eating competitions. The Italian Pizza Fries (a deep-dish pizza crust with just cheese and a seasoning blend, cut like breadsticks) are a secret weapon on the menu: they're addictive. If you are in Saint Paul and you like to bike, Premier Pizza is right off the Gateway trail and worth the trek. 6030 50th Street N; Oakdale, MN 55128; 651-777-4848 premierpizza.com
Roma Restaurant Bar and Market
Roma is in an unassuming strip mall in Willernie (a tiny city completely surrounded by the city of Mahtomedi). They serve Neapolitan-inspired wood-fired pizza. There's less focus on the sauce and much more on the other ingredients. Roma is also a premium meat market so they've removed a step in sourcing many of their toppings. The Margherita here uses juicy, fresh tomatoes and flavorful cheeses. Roma also has the best selection of local beers on tap in the area. 460 Stillwater Road; Willernie, MN 55090; 651-653-4733 roman-market.com
Since 1960, Fireside Pizza has been serving pizza in Richfield. Even though their delivery area is wide, it's worth the trip to go inside. Fake plants and even a huge fake tree fill the space with kitschy architecture and extensive wood paneling. There's live jazz a couple days a week. Fireside uses a zesty cheese and seasoning blend on their triangle-cut crispy thin crust pizzas. They claim to be the best thin crust in town they're probably right. 6736 Penn Avenue S; Richfield, MN 55423-2005; 612-869-9938 dinewithfiresidepizza.com
Donatelli's Homemade Italian Food
Donatelli's was recently featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The menu is extensive, but notable food critic Adam Platt sums it up in one sentence: "What would I go back for? The pizza—a thin crust piled high with cheeses and meats." There's a pie here called the "Heart Stopper" with pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, ground beef, and a huge pile of cheese. I like starting with the seasoned fries—they're overly seasoned, but I like them. Come very hungry. 2692 East County Road E; White Bear Lake, MN 55110; 651.777.9199; donatellis.com
Where to Eat Pizza in Greater Minnesota
Influenced by Italians in Chicago, Sam Perrella brought a recipe back in 1954 to start Sammy's Pizza in Hibbing—one of the first pizzerias in the area. Bob Dylan, who grew up in Hibbing, was about 13 years old when Sammy's opened. Thin floury crust, tavern cut and a bit greasy. It's what many locals would call "Minnesota-style." 106 E Howard Street; Hibbing, MN 55746; 218-263-7574 mysammys.com (multiple locations)
Bemidji's Dave's Pizza has a long history in northern Minnesota. From their website:
The Legend of Dave's Pizza began in 1958 when a staunch Italian gentleman named Dave Masucci gave Bemidji its very first taste of authentic Italian pizza pie. Dave's pride in his own unique, heirloom family recipes set the stage for the long-standing tradition of making the pizzeria's cuisine fresh on the premises each day.
422 15th St NW; Bemidji, MN 56601; 218-751-3225 davespizza.biz
Keith's Old River Pizza
Also in Bemidji, Keith's Pizza has been a staple since the early 80s. Writes Patrick Steele:
It's not gourmet, just good thin crust Minnesota style 'za. Cracker thin crust covered in grease-laden cheese. While the box may not be fancy, no expense is spared on the fresh ingredients used at Keith's. Try their broasted chicken or Chicago-style pizza.
1425 Paul Bunyan Drive NW; Bemidji, MN 56601; 218-751-7941
110 Paul Bunyan Dr SE; Bemidji, MN 56601; 218-751-7940 keithspizza.com
Lucé expanded outside of Minneapolis in 2001 and with their Duluth location they also became a music venue. Their weekend brunch is great as their pizza, and it's arguably the best pizza in the Duluth-Superior area. Weekend nights can get packed; check the music calendar before you go. 11 E Superior Street; Duluth, MN 55802; 218-727-7400 pizzaluce.com
Pagliai's is Mankato's oldest pizzeria. It's garbage pizza in a great way; it is difficult to find a limit of how many ingredients you can have on a pizza. They consider a "classic" pizza, listed at the top of their menu, to have beef, pepperoni, salami, mushrooms and black olives. Matt Towns exclaims: "Some of the greatest pizza known to man, Pagliai's Pizza! The "B" Special is the best!!" The "B" Special has sausage, salami, Canadian bacon and onions. 524 S Front St; Mankato, MN 56001; 507-345-6080 pagliaismankato.com
Jake's Stadium Pizza
Jake's isn't far from the Minnesota Vikings' summer training camp and is frequented by members of the team. Tanner Kent of the Mankato Free Press praised Jake's, name-dropping numerous players:
[Jake's owner Wally Boyer] remembers how Fran Tarkenton liked to be left alone; and how Bob Lurtsema would walk in, stroll behind the counter and pour his own beer. He still remembers Jim Marshall's favorite pizza—pepperoni and salami, with no grease—and how Carl Eller once took off with a half-baked sausage pizza in order to make it in time for coach Bud Grant's nightly bed check. Brian Carstensen, [son of the former owner of Jake's], said it was Vikings offensive lineman Ed White who actually came up with Jake's House Special. From the way Brian tells it, he was cooking one night when "this shadow passes over me." It was White, and having once been a pizza cook himself, he told Brian that he had permission from Sarge to cook his own pizza. The resulting mixture of meat and toppings has been a fixture on the menu ever since.
An essential stop for football fans. 330 Stadium Road; Mankato MN, 56001; 507-345-5420 jakesstadiumpizza
Frank Galli, founder of Diamond City Bread in Elk River traveled to Naples to study pizza, came back and to become a pizzaiolo. Pompeii opened in December 2010, the first Neapolitan-style restaurant in this part of the state. The prices are very low, notably the Pompeii Traditional for $5.95, with mozzarella, Parmesan, sea salt, tomato sauce, and fresh basil. Some Sunday afternoons there are free wine tastings. Nearby resident Chad Hadler writes:
I love Pompeii's Blue Moon, a white sauce pizza. It has their fresh mozzarella, crème fraiche, prosciutto, chicken, gorgonzola, and a few other mouth-watering ingredients. My wife and I live in the area and have declared Pompeii Pizzeria our new destination for our pizza cravings.
315 Jackson Avenue NW; Elk River, MN 55330; 763.633.1222 pompeiipizzeria.net
Jimmy's is widespread across Minnesota and makes extra-cheesy Midwest-style pies that are similar in style to Carbone's and Sammy's above. To many, it is a benchmark for independent pizzerias found all over Minnesota. As columnist Alexis McKennis explains:
Jimmy's Pizza in my hometown of North Branch is my meter for Minnesotan pizza. Not just nostalgic, absolutely delicious. And what pizza place do you know with a 12+ mile delivery radius?
Sarah Carsello suggested Pizza Palate to us:
The Pizza Palace is a pizza mecca for travelers and locals off of Highway 38 along the National Scenic Byway. The restaurant sits nestled inside a former grocery store converted to mini mall on Main Street, decorated scantily with mounted walleyes and deer. The menu boasts sub sandwich options and a variety of thin crust pizzas with choose your own toppings, a house special featuring sauerkraut, and the "Huskie Supreme Pizza," a homage to the Bigfork High School Huskies mascot.
206 Main St; Bigfork, MN 56628; 218-743-3633
Plus, Your Favorites!
Consider our guide an introduction to Minnesota pizza. Please add your favorite pizzerias in the comments below!
About the Author: Aaron Landry is a producer of the online magazine Heavy Table, which covers food and beverage in the Upper Midwest. After eating pizza in Minnesota for 30 years, Aaron now resides in Hawai'i working on a renewable energy startup and finding the best slice in the Pacific. Aaron can be found at aaronlandry.com and on Twitter: @s4xton.
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