A 24-Hour Search for the Best Pizza in America

Bon Appétit magazine, in conjunction with the Food Network, went across the country looking for the best pizza, hamburgers, ribs, fried chicken, and tacos. Three finalists in each category are written up in the September issue of the magazine (the blurbs are rather generic-sounding), and the winner is going to be announced on a Food Network special hosted by Alton Brown August 18.

What isn't clear to me after reading about their search is the methodology they used. What criteria did they use in each category? How did they go about finding and then eating at the best places in each category? Did at least one or more persons eat at all three finalists in a given week?

Methodology is important when it comes to determining ultimate pizza, hamburger, rib, fried chicken, and taco superiority. The "best" is a big, big, claim that shouldn't—and can't —be taken lightly. I'll try to find out their methodology and report back.

In the meantime, the only category I have eaten in all three finalists is pizza. The three they chose, Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, and Di Fara in Brooklyn, are certainly worthy contenders, although it is difficult to compare Mozza and Bianco, where the pizza (whole pies only) is made in wood-burning ovens utilizing the best, mostly house-made ingredients and sophisticated toppings, and Di Fara, where Dom DeMarco uses a conventional gas pizza oven and sells slices made with high-quality store-bought cheese and sausage.

It's also worth noting that all three finalists are owner-occupied pizzerias. Great pizza demands the attention and near-constant presence of a skilled, pizza-obsessed human being. Chris Bianco is that person at Pizzeria Bianco, Nancy Silverton fulfills that role at Pizzeria Mozza, and of course DeMarco hasn't taken a day off at Di Fara (for anything other than health or Department of Health reasons) since it opened in 1964.

Who rounded out the Bon Appétit top five? I'll try to find that out as well, but my top five would include the three mentioned above and two of the following three: Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan, Apizza Scholls in Portland, Oregon, and the original Totonno's in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

Others worthy of consideration include Serious Pie in Seattle; Pepe's and Sally's in New Haven, Connecticut; Franny's in Brooklyn; Nick's in Queens, New York; Picco in Larkspur, California; and Pizzaiolo in Oakland, California. Al Forno and its grilled pizza, in Providence, Rhode Island, would also be in this group, but since it is a restaurant and not really a pizzeria, I decided not to include it here. I have heard that Luzzo's in Manhattan has also entered this realm of pizza greatness, but I have not eaten there since it first opened, and at that point its pizza was good, not great.

Given the fact that I have no idea of the Bon Appétit methodology, predicting the winner is difficult if not impossible. I will say that if somebody forced me to pick the best, I would probably go with Pizzeria Bianco. But the only way I could definitively choose the best would be to take the ultimate pizza road trip. I've figured out that if I had a couple of slices at Di Fara when it opens around 11:30 a.m., I could probably make a 2 p.m. flight from JFK to LAX. I could eat at Mozza at 6 p.m. and perhaps get to Bianco's place before it closes that night. Actually, there's probably no way to make it to Phoenix before Bianco's closes at 11 p.m. Here's another possibility: Take a 10 a.m. flight from New York to Los Angeles, eat at Mozza for lunch, hop a 4 p.m. plane to Phoenix, eat at Bianco for dinner, catch a red-eye back to New York, sleep for a couple of hours, and then head to Di Fara to be there when it opens. Utilizing this route, I could eat at all three finalists in a 24-hour period.

Who wants to come with me? A private jet might be nice. Anybody have one?

Pizzeria Bianco
Address: 623 East Adams Street, Phoenix AZ 85004
Phone: 602-258-8300

Pizzeria Mozza
Address: 641 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90036
Phone: 323-297-0101

Di Fara Pizza
Address: 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn NY 11230
Phone: 718-258-1367