Carmel Pizza Co.
2826 Jones Street, San Francisco, CA 94133(Map); carmelpizzaco.com
Pizza type: Neapolitan-inspired
Oven type: Wood-fired
The Skinny: Very solid Neapolitan-inspired pies in a tourism-focused neighborhood known for lousy food.
Price:Margherita, $11; Diavola, $15
Back in December, when we published our Tourist's Guide to Pizza in San Francisco—how to see the sights and eat your pizza too—we admitted to a glaring hole in our coverage. We offered no recommendations for Fisherman's Wharf, an entire neighborhood that exists almost solely to cater to tourists.
The oversight made some sense, in that tourist ghettoes traditionally serve lousy food in the first place, and pizza seems to suffer in particular, with restaurants knowing that poorly made pie still tastes better than poorly made just-about-anything-else. Also, it's hard to convince a local correspondent to visit a place known for impossible parking and nothing else to recommend it besides an oversupply of cheap t-shirts.* But I did go to Fisherman's Wharf, and now find myself surprised to report back with pizzas that are not only good-for-tourist-food, but actually just plain good.
*Fisherman's Wharf is San Francisco's historical fishing district, and offers the chance to peer down at sea lions, hop the ferry to Alcatraz, or eat cioppino. Though, I had to rely on Google to figure out exactly why people go there, which makes clear how removed the neighborhood is from the actual fabric of San Francisco life.
Carmel Pizza Company moved into Fisherman's Wharf in June of 2012. The pizzas are made in a big red trailer with a Mugnaini wood-fired oven inside. Outdoor seating is available alongside the truck, in a space with arched trellises and a birdbath—a pizzagarten of sorts. A sign alongside the restaurant indicates that the space is heated, which is likely a godsend for confused tourists who come to town expecting "California" weather and instead get bathed by Karl the Fog.
Though Neapolitan-inspired, the pizzas at Carmel Pizza Company steer clear of the soupy center sometimes associated with the style. In fact, the ultra-thin undercarriage shows no droop when the pies first come out of the oven. The end-crust arrives crisp and persistently chewy, with a bite or two that maybe lean a mite too tough. Speckles of char impart an enjoyable smoky tang to the crust.
Their Margherita ($11) achieves that elemental appeal, with its milky fior di latte and a mildly sweet sauce of raw tomatoes. A healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt intensifies the flavors.
On the other end of the spectrum, their version of a Diavola ($15) has a lingering, spicy bite. The edges of the thinly-sliced, hot salami turn upwards and brown in the oven. I found myself searching for slices that had as much of these crisp little bits of meat as possible. Calabrian pepperoncini dot the pie, with the pungent oil these peppers have been preserved in used almost as a dressing for the arugula that gets tossed on top. You sit with a tingling tongue for a few seconds as you savor each bite.
Let me add that the surprise of finding good food in Fisherman's Wharf does not appear to end with Carmel Pizza Company. Look next door and you'll find the well-received fish and chips from Codmother, and then the Argentine-themed Tanguito truck, which earned raves for its burger right here on Serious Eats. The tourists may get stuck buying an overpriced San Francisco sweatshirt to ward off the chilly fog, but at least they'll find something decent to eat.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on at @pizzakover.