pizza, n. A delicious, round piece of dough that comes in square boxes for some strange reason.
The fact that Taco Bell offers a menu option with “pizza” in the name is a testament to pizza’s incredible diversity.
In fact, that most pizza is even called by a word bearing some resemblance to its Italian heritage is a miracle. (‘za? Really? Do people actually pronounce that out loud?)
So, if we plan to embark on a great global pizzaventure together, we first need to agree on a bit of terminology.
Ready? Let’s prep that fork and knife.
Types of Pizza
The pizza we review is categorized into five basic types.
Thin, chewy, salty, fully-melted cheese covering the entire pie, sweet but tangy acidic sauce[1:2], cooked to perfection. Biased? Me? Never.
In California, they often call it “Californian”. That’s because many Californians believe their food has magical powers.
Neapolitan: Even thinner, often lacking structural integrity in the center, fluffy, bubbly, and less dense crust, full sauce coverage but cheese is concentrated in pure mozzarella globs. More water content and significantly less oil than New York-style. Often accompanied by fresh basil.
A slice of this caliber scoffs at even the insinuation of that plastic fork.
Sicilian: It’s square! By far the most economical pizza you can buy, given its efficient packing into a similarly-shaped box. Thicker, crunchier, oilier, squareier. Full cheese and sauce coverage. Ordering a Sicilian pie is like getting 15% bonus pizza.
The only form factor where it’s actually acceptable to use silverware.
Deep dish: They say everything’s bigger in America, and pizza is no exception. Invented in Chicago, often over two inches thick, high-edge, crispy crust, substantial quantities of melted cheese, typically very topping heavy owing to its structural stability. And, notably, sauce on the top covering the cheese. Deep dish pizza is the only form factor that actually qualifies as a “pie”.
American: For lack of a better word. This pizza, like our culture, has been exported to every corner of the globe; with ingredients and incarnations, like our culture, that have no discernible origin; and with taste, like our culture, that is generally quite lacking. Medium thickness, chewy and bready crust, full cheese coverage, and usually heavier cheese-to-sauce ratios with “exciting” cheese mixtures (like cheddar and provolone). The category with by far the most unbridled creativity.
Even Nigeria is graced with the food science marvel that many call Domino’s Pizza.
Pizza may be global, but our categorization system is not. In addition to listing the actual location of the restaurant in each post, all reviews are categorized into these six locations:
- East Coast (non-NYC)
- West Coast
- Europe (non-Italy)
- Rest of World
As our mission is to rate as many pies around the world as possible, the scientific method compels us to only rate cheese pies that conform to the following specification: white or whole wheat crust (depending on what the standard issue pie is), tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese or a cheese blend that pretends to be mostly mozzarella, and optionally basil, if it is provided by default. No meat, no extra garlic, no fun. Just plain cheese pizza.
All pizza is rated on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the best. The categories are as follows:
Chewy, ever so slightly crunchy, not too bready, enough moisture and oil content such that it’s not too dry. Sufficient thickness to hold its toppings, but not enough to rival focaccia. Crust is a structural component of pizza, not a focal point. Cooking needs to be even — no overtly charred edges or bottom, but no doughy crust.
Oil is your friend — embrace it. Good cheese coverage is important, as it’s one of the two award-winning characters in pizza (the other being sauce). Sufficient cheese with sufficient flavor is crucial, with no tasteless, greaseless white cheese blend. However too much cheese can easily kill a pie, and balance with the thickness of crust and amount of sauce is key. There should be a very slight chew upon first bite.
A perfect sauce is what separates the boys from the men, and gold medal sauce must have an impeccable balance between sweetness, saltiness, and acidity. When you taste that canonical “zest” in a slice, you know you’re on to something good. Like cheese, sauce balance is your ace in the hole — one shouldn’t be swimming in sauce, but a tomato drought is welcome by nobody. Also, no dry spots; sauce should be moist and flavorful. Remember that pizza you had with a thin, almost non-existent layer of dry sauce? Right, neither do I.
Less the consistency of the pizza itself, but more the consistency of the pizza production process. There is nothing worse than eating the best pizza of your life, only to return and sob into a burnt, disappointing pie. If a slice from your go-to pizza joint is only good for wiping away the tears of your memory of how it used to be, it’s time to find a new favorite. This is science. Reproducibility is key.
Price, Location, and General Notes
Price and wait time are not huge factors when rating pizza for its quality, but in some egregious cases, they may adversely affect the score. For example, waiting 4 hours in the cold after a two hour subway ride and almost missing your flight for just half of a $6 square slice might end up taking a point off. (Not that it happened to me, or anything.)
Non-pizza-specific circumstances shouldn’t necessarily affect the rating of a perfectly good pie, but we hope to not push the limits. An example scorecard:
Food tasting is inherently biased, and expectations are key. Even though in the interest of full disclosure, New York-style pies are probably my favorite class of pizza, the ratings attempt to capture how close a pizza comes to achieving excellence within its category. Deep dish pies don’t lose points for being too thick, and Neapolitan pizza isn’t at a disadvantage for lacking cheese.
The goal of food is to be delicious (and arguably to provide nourishment), and all ratings are subject to taste as their golden standard. So with that said, enough talk — let’s eat!