Is Great Pizza in Houston Finally on the Rise?

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Let's face facts: Houston isn't known as a great pizza town. We don't attract heavy-hitters like Il Cane Rosso, in Dallas. Hell, we don't even have one outstanding, nationally recognized pizza place here -- no Pizzeria Bianco like Phoenix, no Pizzeria Mozza like Los Angeles.

Last year, Greg Morago at the Chronicle predicted a rise of great pizza in Houston. "A handful of new restaurants (joining a clique of existing pizza elites) are banking on baked dough topped with tomato sauce and cheese," he wrote.

"Some of Houston's most popular chefs are turning into hip pizzaiolis as the city experiences something of a pizza renaissance."

Unfortunately, this hasn't quite happened. Yet.

Three of the examples in Morago's article haven't quite panned out: Caffe Bello in Montrose was abruptly shuttered by owner Tony Vallone; Michael Kramer left The Tasting Room -- and the pizza oven that was supposed to turn out VPN-certified pizzas -- after only a short time; and Piola has managed to turn out some consistently disappointing pies for such a well-respected chain. Even one of my own personal favorites for which I had such high-crusted hopes -- ERA -- closed after a too-short run downtown.

That's not to say that Houston isn't on its way to creating great pizza; we're just taking our own path to get there. We grow in fits and starts in this city, often taking circuitous routes that seem to pop up out of nowhere.

It's fitting, then, that a couple of the best pizza places to come along in a very long time appeared out of the blue: Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana, which was opened only a few months ago in a quiet Memorial strip center; and Arturo Boada Cuisine, which took the place of Bistro Don Camillo in an equally quiet Memorial Villages strip center.

At Pizaro's, the Hutchinson family -- dad, Bill, is the pizzaiolo -- turns out strikingly authentic Neapolitan-style pizza with blissfully simple toppings. Pizza is pretty much all they do, and they do it incredibly well. "For my money, he and his family are making the best pizza pies in town," wrote Alison Cook in her review of the spot in this week's Houston Chronicle.

Over at Arturo Boada Cuisine -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- finding a great pizza wasn't even on my mind when I started tackling the place for reviewing purposes. I expected good pasta from Boada (who was previously at Arturo's Uptown Italiano) and I expected his signature dish -- camarones henesy en hamaca -- to be smashing.

But I wasn't expecting great pizza.

Instead, I was wowed on two separate visits by two totally different pizzas. One was a traditional margherita pizza with fine shreds of basil, creamy mozzarella and a toothsome crust. The other was a pizza that's far more representative of Boada's style of Italian-Hispanic fusion cooking: a carnitas pizza that sees that wonderful pizza dough topped with tangy shreds of pork, asadero cheese, a house-made fire-roasted salsa, chopped white onions and more of that fresh cilantro.

A squeeze of lime on top brings it all humming brightly together, and folding up a slice of the thin-crust pizza makes for the most interesting sensation of having a street taco and Italian pizza all in one.

It's the kind of pizza that screams Houston to me, and one that signals a rise -- however slow, however meandering -- is, indeed, happening. Even pizza places like Dolce Vita that were once set to tackle Houston's pizza problem single-handedly have reemerged as serious pizza purveyors after a few setbacks.

"Dolce Vita pizza is BACK," wrote food blogger Theo Shu recently on Twitter. "Crust is awesome."

Soon, Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook chimed in to agree: "Yeah, they stepped up their game at Dolce Vita. Good thing with Pizaro's going so strong."

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