3845 Fourth Street, Hillcrest
The younger sibling of the larger Arrivederci Ristorante a few doors down specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza. Sidewalk seating gives diners a front-row view of Hillcrest happenings. Servers are likely to speak Italian, and the low wine-by-the-glass prices are reminiscent of Italy. A generous basket of fresh, warm, soft bread is placed on every table, as if to encourage the inevitable carb coma. The pizzas are small enough for one, but I recommend getting two and sharing flavors. Some choice combinations are the Golosa (fresh crushed tomato sauce, mozzarella, zucchini, spinach, ricotta, roasted bell peppers) and the Capricciosa (same sauce and mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, olives).
373 Third Avenue, Chula Vista
373 Third Street, Chula Vista
Why La Bella Pizza Garden? Not because of the great beer selection. Not because it’s old (although it is Chula Vista’s oldest pizza joint, started in 1955). And not because they cook in fancy wood-fired pizza ovens with stone hearths. They don’t. They turn out pizzas in conveyor-belt ovens just like Domino’s.
But we keep coming back. Why? I think it’s because they’re cooking with the same recipe Papa Raso, the founder, brought with him from Italy.
My favorite is, well, “Papa’s Favorite,” mushroom, pepperoni, and sausage. So much flavor. Tons of ’shrooms. And can you beat $6.75 for an 8-inch?
Gordy Davis first put me onto this place. He has helped supply tomatoes to restaurants for maybe 30 years. “Best pizza? Follow the tomatoes. Papa Raso knew his tomatoes,” he says. “He knew how to bring out their flavor. He was good people.”
Papa Raso died recently, but his sons and grandkids are carrying on. And, man, Friday night, Papa’s place is hopping. The old section’s mostly adults chowing away. The new café behind is filled with electronic games and pool tables and has all the families. This must be the most crowded pizza joint in town. You just kinda want to be here.
— Ed Bedford
2937 Carlsbad Boulevard, Carlsbad
It’s a New York–pizza experience in North County reminiscent of Bronx in Hillcrest — pizza by the thin, crispy slice; whole pies; spicy garlic knots; basic green salads; and decent beer (Stone IPA on tap!). Knockout has a casual, beachy vibe right in the heart of Carlsbad Village. Boxing photos on the walls account for the name.
The basic but somewhat spicy red-sauced, cheesy, garlicky pies made with homemade ingredients can be eaten at one of eight tables or taken to go. Nice people-watching spot next to the sidewalk.
Crust: Well crisped on the edges with a pleasantly salty flavor.
Sauces: peppery red sauce made fresh on the premises.
Toppings: standard veggies and meats could be more extensive, but the ingredients are fresh and tasty.
— Emma Goldman
7252 Broadway, Lemon Grove
Here’s the incredible thing. Just like La Bella down in Chula Vista, Lido’s, in Lemon Grove, opened in 1955.
“My dad bought it 33 years ago — 1978,” says Marco Simi, the chef-owner. “He came from Tuscany. He liked the New York style. Thin crust. More like the home country. We still do it that way.”
Lido’s is definitely old-school. The walls have fluted white columns with Italian scenes between.
My favorite pizza is the Works, with onions, pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, bell peppers, and, yes, anchovies. So-o rich. And at $11.85 for the 12-inch, not a bad deal.
This is thin crust. Nice and crunchy on the bottom. But Yvette the waitress says they also do the thick crust. “My mom likes the extra-thick crust. That’s $1.75 more. But it’s worth it for the crunchiness.”
I got one once, for Carla. The all-meat one. She loved it. Except that thick crust wasn’t crunchy. It was doughy. The thin crust’s the way to go.
“The only difference with pizzas here and pizzas in the old country is there’s more of everything here,” says Marco. “But more doesn’t always mean better.”
“I hear you,” I say.
— Ed Bedford
410 Tenth Avenue, East Village
A baseball’s throw from Petco Park, Bar Basic is a great place for pizza fans to share huge thin-crust pies with friends. Using a brick oven, Basic creates New Haven, Connecticut-style pizza with your choice of red- or white-sauced pies (the white is Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil). You can add all the toppings you want (at a cost), from classic meats and peppers to more exotic mashed potato and fresh little neck clams. Hip and casual, the restaurant allows pizza to be served wherever you sit, on low chairs in the lounge area or at the bar. During happy hour, you can sample signature pies for free!
1137 25th Street, Golden Hill
2121 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park
It was a dough-throwing, pizza-peeling segment with Food Network’s Guy Fieri in 2008 that opened many a pie lover’s eyes, hearts, and stomachs to Luigi Agostini’s Golden Hill pizzeria. But folks who knew this Italian-born doughboy back when he was putting out pies off the grid in Poway know he’s been doing right by his homeland’s pride and joy for some time now. His trick — keep things simple. He’s been around the block and knows the key to any pizza, whether it’s a classic Margherita (fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella) or a more contemporary Frenchie (honey ham, pears, bleu cheese, and caramelized onions) is the crust. His is thin, but by no means communion-wafer-like. There’s crispness from solid oven-firing, but also the slightest bit of inner chew around the edge, which adds substantiality and makes Luigi’s all-Italian recipe extra appealing to American palates. Enough so that both locations continue to thrive without the assistance of TV shout-outs.
— Brandon Hernández
5050 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach
Great pizza, “no crap on tap,” and unparalleled people-watching, all in one spacious spot on the sandier end of Newport Avenue in O.B. On a recent trip, while waiting for my slices to be heated up and made extra crispy in the oven, a guy named Mitchell took minutes to make sure my Old Rasputin Imperial Stout was perfectly poured. The pizzas have humorous, cheeky names, such as the Ron Jeremy (aka meat-lover’s) and Patchouli Pie (vegan). From Chuck Norris and M.C. Hammer (cheese, pepperoni), to the David Hasselhoff (garlic, basil, ricotta, tomato) and the Happy Hippie (all veggies), each slice is delectably chewy, all of the toppings thoroughly cooked and delicious.
5250 Murphy Canyon Road, Kearny Mesa
It doesn’t get any better than a big slice of real New York–style pie, and Long Island Mike serves up just that. The crust is soft and chewy but holds up beneath creative toppings such as eggplant parmigiana and buffalo chicken (white strips of chicken, generous drizzles of ranch dressing, and buffalo sauce). I usually get a slice of the Sicilian pepperoni (a square deep-dish pizza slathered with oregano-flavored tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni) and a slice of BBQ chicken (thin crust, mozzarella, chicken, drizzles of sweet and savory barbecue sauce, and bits of bacon hidden in the cheese). The combo of two slices of any kind, with any toppings, and a drink costs a palatable six bucks.