Crowning the King of New Haven Pizza

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If you haven’t heard, New Haven is sort of known for their pizza. And no, I’m not going to call it “a-pizza,” or pronounce it “ah-beets.” I don’t know anybody that does. So anytime some “travel blog” explains how “we” do it, I just shake my head and laugh.

But we do know our pizza. We especially know our ultra-thin, brick-fired pizza. None of that Chicago-style pizza cake for us, thanks.

(For the record, I love all kinds of pizza. Chicago-style, New York-style, deep dish. It’s all good.)

Chicago Style Pizza
Pizza, apparently?

And we are absolutely spoiled when it comes to pizza pie. As I remember every time I’m on the West Coast (I don’t know what’s wrong with you folks that you can’t make a proper pizza or bagel).

But who is the best of the best? Read on, Dear Reader, for the answer may surprise you.

5. The New Kid On The Block — Da Legna, 858 State Street

My friends absolutely love this place. And for people who aren’t sold on the whole “let’s burn the shit out of the bottom of this pie” thing, Da Legna remains a creative, interesting option. Whether it’s classics like Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, Buffalo mozzarella, basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil) or Vongole Casino (onion, green peppers, Farmland bacon, fresh shucked clams, fresh mozzarella) or some creative new recipes like the Pecora (goat cheese, fresh ricotta, pistachio nut, truffle honey, caramelized red onion), Da Legna has a little bit of something for everyone.

Da Legna
Just your normal Tuesday crowd.

Not every recipe works — the Barbecue di Maiale (BBQ pulled pork, mashed potato, roasted corn off the cob, cheddar cheese) is a bit of a miss for me — but overall, their pies are creative and delicious.

However, the place is constantly packed and, like many New Haven pizza places, the service can be all over the place.

4. Artisinal Pizza in the Back Alley – Kitchen Zinc, 966 Chapel Street

Tucked away behind the much more bougie Zinc lies Kitchen Zinc, their pizza-based offering. This perennially underrated pizza place overs a similar fare to Da Legna, but I find the recipes to be a bit better and the pie to be of a slightly better quality.

Plus, since it’s a bit hidden, I often find I can sit down in under 45 minutes, which is always nice.

Kitchen Zinc alley
Pizza AND art?! Sign me up!

The recipes are all over the place, but they’re invariably quite good. Personal favorites of mine are the Fig & Speck (roasted fig sauce, sliced speck, goat cheese, caramelized onions, balsamic reduction and arugula) and the Sausage (Housemade Berkshire pork sausage, hot cherry peppers, broccoli rabe, mozzarella).

Plus, every year they have a Make-Your-Own Pizza contest and this year’s is a real winner — the Adonis (lamb sausage, grilled onions, tzatziki cucumber yogurt sauce, lemon zest).

Lobster Mac and Cheese Pie
This article is starting to make me hungry…

Their late-night happy hour (9-11 on Saturdays) and summer patio aren’t hurting either.

3. The Classic – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana – 157 Wooster Street

What can I say about Pepe’s that hasn’t already been said by every food blogger, TV food show, newspaper, or magazine across the country?

Pepe's Pizza Sign
You have to admit there’s just something iconic about it.

They’ve won awards as the Best Pizza in America from all over the place. Even when they don’t win, they are consistently in the Top 5, period. They invented the whole idea of putting clams on pizza and it’s actually pretty delicious.

Even the fresh tomato pie — which sounds super dumb — is actually pretty great.

However, I have a personal rule about standing in lines. Essentially, unless it ends in a roller coaster, I’m against it. Perhaps there’s some charm to it but eh… I mean, the pizza is good, but is it that good?

Pepe's Clam Pie
Maybe… ?

Some day, millions of years from now, aliens will find our remnants and look at the Great Pizza Debates of humanity and be like “wtf how could they possibly care this much”?

Then they’ll somehow recreate Pepe’s white clam pie and be like “Oh, damn.”

2. The Nightclub – Bar, 254 Crown Street

Sacrilege, you say? To utter the name “Bar” among the greats? You’re kidding, right?

The place which turns into a nightclub on the weekend full of twenty-somethings gyrating the night away has the second best pizza in New Haven?

Yes. Yes, it does.

All the pies are pretty good. But let’s get down to brass tacks: It’s all about that mashed potato and bacon pie. All other pies pale in comparison.

Bar Mashed Potato and Bacon Pie
Oh god it’s so glorious.

I have met many non-believers. “Mashed potato on pizza?! Josh, you’ve surely gone mad now! That’s it, I’m calling the cops, you’re out of control!”

But there are no non-believers after they actually eat the pie.

I do not know what sort of sorcery is involved in the creation of this pie. I don’t even care. If virgins are being sacrificed, so be it. Their fault for not doing it, I guess?

Plus, their salads are actually pretty bangin’, too, and serve as a great complement to their pizzas.

1. The Best of the Best – Modern Apizza, 874 State Street

I remember exactly where I was when I finally realized I’d made my own decision about my favorite pizza in New Haven. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago.

I was over my mate’s house after an exhausting St. Patrick’s Day party, with the kind of hunger that can only be fueled by drinking more beers than I’ll admit on a public website. We considered delivery, but then a hero came forth.

“I’m sober, I can just drive to Modern.”

I don’t know how he did it. But he did it. And when he returned with those glorious pies — the unbelievably good but simple cheese, the almost-too-much Italian Bomb (bacon, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, pepper, garlic), and the classic pepperoni, I think I almost cried. And for once after a long day of drinking, they were tears of joy.

Modern Pie
What? No, I’m not crying, I’m just… it’s so dusty in here.

There are more creative recipes out there at Da Legna and Kitchen Zinc. There were pizzerias who did it first at Pepe’s and Sally’s. There are cheaper pizzas where they’ll just come straight to your house and deliver.

But once that pie hits your mouth, you know that there is only one Modern Apizza. And I don’t care how they spell it — it is the very best New Haven pizza has to offer.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. I definitely don’t agree with these. First of all, you aren’t even rating apples to apples. To properly judge the crust, cheese/herbs, and sauce of a pizza restaurant you need to compare regular old plain mozz pizzas. Bar plain pizza is not good. The sauce has no flavor. Modern plain pizza is way too salty for most people’s taste. You don’t even mention Sally’s. They have the best sauce. But Pepe’s is by far the best overall. They use extremely high quality fresh mozz, fresh crushed imported tomatoes, and their crust is buttery and just the right combo of chewy and crunchy. Abate’s is pretty good as well. Probably better than that newcomer you mentioned. There’s no line for Pepe’s or Sally’s if you call ahead and take it with you. Good luck eating at Modern, too. Unless you get there right when they open, you’re going to be waiting for a long time.

  2. I appreciate what you’re doing on this website, Josh, but this list is just shameful. I don’t know how you sleep at night or live with yourself in general if you don’t know for a fact that Sally’s is the best pizza on the planet. Taste alone Sally’s win hands down. I will admit, however, if service is a factor then I will place Bar’s mashed potato bacon ahead of Sally’s fresh tomato basil or plain cheese, but that’s as far as I, or any sane person, would go. In closing, this list is an embarrassment and I hope your entire family is ashamed of you for having put together such a mockery!

    • Look Brendan, you don’t know sh*t. Pepe’s is overall the BEST, you can’t get a more consistent place of constant deliciousness, no matter what kind you order. Bars mashed potatoe, #2, but only if it has bacon on it, but I’ll skip the other choices. Then of course, it’s Sally’s, and although I boycott bc they let “friends of the family” walk right infront of you after waiting in line an hour, you can’t deny, it’s amazing. Modern, I put you here, know your place, and the reason is bc I infact have had a bad pizza here, it’s rare, but it has happened, more than once but not more than 3 times. Next, and last, I’m going to go out on a limb here, but sometimes situational pizza has to take presidence. Crown pizza sits inbetween the bars, and provides delectable and extremely urgent, stumble out of the bar fantasticness.

      • I don’t think there’s any need to say people don’t know shit. It’s just opinion. I know mine is probably wrong, but it’s mine, so I wrote it cause I enjoy having opinions and sharing them and hearing myself talk. But ideally would like things to be respectful.

  3. I love all of these, and normally I say that BAR is my tops, but secretly, deep down where I don’t want anyone to see, I think Marco Polo is my favorite pizza in town….don’t tell my family!

  4. Sorry, man. If you refuse to accept “ah-beets’ then you are and always will be a parvenu to the New Haven apizza scene. Not that you can’t enjoy the pies, but you will never, ever attain the nirvana that comes with burning the roof of your mouth on our coal-fired ambrosia.

    • Hahaha strongly disagree! My mouth might not be Italian, but it can certainly appreciate the finer qualities of a pizza pie. I also know a few Elm City natives (non-Italian) who don’t say it either, surely they count!

  5. Not a bad list- especially with the inclusion of DeLegna…. Josh, you don’t pronounce Pizza as “Ah-beetz”, because you’re fairly new to New Haven… Old timers, or those who have simply been around a while definitely use the term and understand it conveys more than than the generic “pizza” or “Apizza.” The “Pizza Show” produced for the the Vice Media production’s show “Munchies,” recently visited New Haven and consulted some local “experts.” The competition was not between pizzerias, as much as it was about our ranking nationally, among the country’s best pizzerias. New Haven style pizza rep was put to the test by a Brooklynite, a Pizza maker and host of the show who said he grew up being told that NY pizza was tops. I wrote a piece for New Haven Independent and the video is embedded. Check it out here and draw your own conclusions. Good review Josh. You have to expect a little ribbing in this Pizza-chauvinistic town:
    http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/apizza_munchies/

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