Pizzaiolo's Wild Nettle and Pecorino Pie
Owner Charlie Hallowell is of pure San Francisco pizza pedigree. Trained under Alice Waters, the keeper of Berkley's wood-fired flame at Chez Panisse, Hallowell turns out pies with chewy, pliant interiors and puffy, blistered cornicione (the Italian term for the end crust) at his Oakland pizzeria. While with a base like that, you can't go wrong with any pie on offer, it's the seasonally available Wild Nettle and Pecorino pie that is our choice. The window for this pie is limited, but the combination of grassy nettles with the salty Pecorino melded into the creamy, buttery, and almost nutty underlying mozzarella (some of the best around) has us thinking about this pizza all year long.
Delfina's Magic Pie
Officially listed as Panna with Sausage, we prefer the nickname "Magic Pie", which sums up what is going on here. Even before the magic happens, their pizzas are pretty stellar; they're best described as equal parts Neapolitan (small, personal-size pizzas with exceptionally puffy rims) and New York-style (that all-important and hard-to-achieve crisp-chewy crust). This particular pie gets splashed out of the oven with a bit of cream—when it intermingles with the tomato and forms a thin layer of bright orange liquid at the center of the pie. Along with the fennely, lightly spicy sausage, the cream adds a richness to the sauce.
Ribbons of Parmigiano, and a few leaves of basil round it all out.
Liguria Bakery's Pizza Focaccia
Pizza focaccia at Liguira Bakery is a beautiful thing because it captures San Francisco's northern Italian roots and the city's present love-affair with pizza in one soft, airy, sauce-topped slab—and those two things couldn't come together any better than they do here. First opened in 1911, for 100 years Liguira has been making focaccia and only focaccia in San Francisco's traditionally Italian North Beach neighborhood. Their oven is fired to 1500°F and then shut off and allowed to cool over the day to the baking temperature of about 800°F. From their oiled pans comes focaccia, redolent with olive oil and seasoned with salt. With an ethereally light body and crisp crumb, the "pizza" variety gets topped with a bright and sweet sauce and scattered with green onions that lend a sweet-tangy crunch.
Liguria Bakery: 1700 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94133 (map); 415-4421-3786
Una Pizza Napoletana's Filetti
The East Coast's loss is the West Coast's gain. Anthony Mangieri was considered one of the nation's finest Neapolitan pizzamakers when he left New York in 2009, and Una Pizza Napoletana, which he opened in San Francisco in 2010, shows that he's still a worthy contender for that title. His pies are masterful: the crust puffed and beautifully elastic with crisp, charred edges, a slight smoky tinge, delicately milky mozzarella. In the Filetti, crust and cheese are dotted with cherry tomatoes that pop with sweetness—particularly this time of year, when just about nothing could be better than a summer tomato. Except one on pizza this good.
Pizzeria Picco's Margherita
Thanks to Bruce Hill, pizzaphiles have been able to indulge in their gastronomic obsession since 2005 at this wood-oven pizzeria north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Larkspur. When all the pies are killer, it means that there is a really solid base to work from. That's why the Margherita is our pick at Pizzeria Picco. What makes it so great? The sauce, made from Napoli tomatoes and sea salt, was fresh, fragrant, and simple. The creamy mozzarella is pulled fresh daily (the curds come from from Ferrante's Dairy across the Bay). The cheese is evenly distributed across the pie, and along with the few basil leaves, seems to float above the fire-hued sauce. This is a pie that will disappear in less time than it took to cook.
Tony's Pizza Napoletana's Margherita with Sausage
Born in the Bay-area and trained in Naples, 10 time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani is the pizzaiolo/owner of Tony's Pizza Napoletana. With seven different oven types to make an endless variety of pizza styles, from Neapolitan to New York to Trenton tomato pies, it s a veritable university or museum of pizza. One pizza not to be missed is the Margherita (of which they make only 73 a day) with sausage, made with San Felice flour proofed in Neapolitan wood boxes, bright, pleasantly salty San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte, fresh basil, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil. The porky, spiced meat (reported to be from a Chicago-based purveyor) is at once a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, but finishes with a sagey, almost floral note. The pie, though Neapolitan in style, is more crisp than the typically "wetter" Naples-style pizza.
Flour + Water's Bone Marrow Pizza
San Francisco's known for its bread, and the crust at Flour + Water is great. Flavorful and slightly tangy, with perfect charring and an ever-so-slightly crisp and pliant chew. It's their special pies, based off the abundant California produce selection that really shine. Our bone marrow and rapini pizza with fresh horseradish seemed an odd combination to say the least, but it worked; chin-dripping fattiness with sweet sweet, nutty, lightly charred brassica and a Parmesan-esque sprinkle of Microplaned fresh horseradish root to add a spicy kick—this pie assaults all of your senses at the same time. It's a winning combination and proof that there's always more room for innovation in the pizzasphere.
Emilia's Sausage and Onion
For all those San Fanciscans or transplants in need of a legit East Coast pie, there is Emilia's. Despite using a Wolf gas-fired oven, they produce a pie that's a dead ringer for any of New York's legendary coal-oven pizzas. While the plain pie is fantastic, it's the sausage and onions that haunts our dreams. The sausage is made in-house and applied in large, loose crumbles, and slivers of red noon are cooked just enough to bring out their sweetness.