For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2012 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Earlier this year, we asked: "Is Great Pizza in Houston Finally on the Rise?" The answer, six months later, appears to be a resounding yes.
Not even a year ago, our Top 10 Pizza list (compiled to go along with our 2011 Best of Houston® issue) didn't even feature half the entries you see below. It's not that some of them didn't exist, mind you; it's that restaurants across the city have stepped up their pizza game -- whether they're a pizza place or not. In fact, much like this week's list of the Top 10 Restaurants in Montrose, 10 slots wasn't nearly enough to chronicle all the great pizza we've got going on right now. It's a great problem to have.
And if this welcome trend continues, 2013 may well be the Year of the Pizza in Houston. It's been a long time coming.
Honorable Mention: Luigi's
Luigi's is your classic mom-and-pop pizzeria, baking New York-style pizzas in a wood-burning oven for a reasonable price. The neighborhood eatery has a bocce ball court, is BYOB and offers plenty of patio space for you and your dog. The menu also includes tasty calzones, cheesesteak sandwiches and daily specials like tortellini in lamb sauce, but it's really all about the pizza here (even if -- like me -- you have to get your slice with a side of Luigi's irresistible jumbo buffalo wings). Be sure to save room for dessert, too; the gelato is as much of a draw as the pies.
10. Bombay Pizza Co.
What could be more Houston than an amalgamation of Italian, American and Indian concepts into one fantastic dish? At Bombay Pizza, located on the ground floor of the Commerce Towers downtown, owner Viral Patel has combined his Indian background with an affinity for making great pies, and the result is dazzling. The Saag Paneer is exactly what it sounds like: a pizza topped with spicy greens and paneer (Indian cheese) along with goat cheese and mozzarella on a delicately crispy crust. Think of a spinach pizza, but with a South Asian twist. And don't fret about missing breadsticks with your order. Bombay Pizza has something even better: a Kati Roll, fresh naan filled with cilantro-mint chutney and a choice of fillings.
Frank's features superb hand-tossed pizzas, each topped with a homemade sauce. Traditional toppings are a cut above those of the chains, but no pizzeria comes close to Frank's specialties such as pesto spinach or chicken fiesta. For those not pining for pies (there's always one sourpuss in the group), Frank's packs a punch with Philly cheese steaks, Reubens, burgers and buffalo wings -- and it's one of the few places to reliably deliver to downtown residents after hours.
Coppa has been drawing rave reviews for its thin-crust pizzas, including the clever ham and eggs pizza seen above. Each slice contains dusky slices of coppa -- its signature cured pork product -- and a perfectly poached quail egg that douses the pizza with its buttery yolk when punctured. The pizzas are a little pricey, so those on a budget will do well to visit during the daily happy hour that runs until 7 p.m. Pizzas like the the traditional margherita or the fingerling potato with melted leeks and truffle vinaigrette are only $5 at the bar.
You can get two entirely different kinds of slices at this rolling pizza place: drunk food of the highest order or impeccably crafted gourmet pizza. Or, if you're packing a big appetite, both. The former category includes slices topped with chili-cheese Fritos, barbecue sauce, mac 'n' cheese and spicy nacho cheese Doritos (and should you be more than just drunk, let me recommend the 420 Slice). The latter category includes chef/owner Anthony Calleo's creations such as The Panty Dropper, which features grilled radicchio and fennel, gorgonzola, apples and shallots in a honey-balsamic glaze.
I think I was as surprised as anyone to find myself loving the pizzas at this Austin import on Washington Avenue -- as surprised as I was to find that I liked the loungey bar as a whole. You'd never guess this was the airplane hangar-like Phil's in a previous life; J. Black's has transformed the long building into a warm and inviting space. And while I appreciate that you can build your own pizza from a long list of fun ingredients (boursin cheese or spicy sausage from Patek's Shiner Smokehouse, for example), it's easier to put your trust in the ready-built pizzas. Winner Winner is a favorite, its thin crust topped with chili marinated shredded chicken, avocado, caramelized onion and boursin, while the simple Shiner, Texas is a winner in its own right with that spicy Shiner sausage, poblano peppers and julienned apples. Try it out on Tuesdays, when all the pizzas are half-price.
Finding a great pizza wasn't even on my mind when I first visited Arturo Boada's Tanglewood-area restaurant. 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 was also wowed by two totally different pizzas: one a traditional margherita pizza with fine shreds of basil, creamy mozzarella and a chewy crust. The other was a pizza that's far more representative of Boada's style of Italian-Hispanic fusion cooking: carnitas with asadero cheese, a house-made fire-roasted salsa, chopped white onions and 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.
4. Dolce Vita
Marco Wiles's pizza joint is, to some, a blatant rip-off of Mario Batali's Otto in New York City -- but who cares? The fact of the matter is that it brought better pizza to Houston and showed the city that there's more to pizza than just the oversauced, overcheesed pies served at sleepovers and Little League games. These Italian-style pizzas feature thin crusts and high-end ingredients, like the noteworthy pear-and-taleggio pizza. Appetizers are wonderful too, from the roasted beets with horseradish to a buttery egg toast topped with shaved black truffle. Although Dolce Vita was temporarily closed by a fire earlier this year, the restaurant is back now and as good as it ever was.
This brightly-outfitted Midtown pizza place is always packed -- and its patio is especially inviting this time of year -- with good reason: The pizza has only steadily improved since it first opened, although the menu of several dozen pizzas is still (in my opinion) far too long. Piola, which is headquartered in Italy but which does a brisk business in Brazil, is also one of only two places in town where you can find catipury cheese (the other being Friends Pizzeria), that unbelievably creamy Brazilian cheese that comes out in fat dollops like mozzarella but spreads like a triple-crème Brie. That's what makes the Salvadore my favorite, with that catipury cheese melting into roasted chicken and spinach, but the Mantova -- beef carpaccio with Brie, diced tomatoes and arugula -- is a close runner up.
The whole idea behind Provisions, the casual side of two-in-one-restaurant The Pass & Provisions, was to offer simple food that chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan would want to eat themselves while relaxing: things like big bowls of pasta, meatball sandwiches and pizzas. But being the creative types, Siegel-Gardner and Gallivan couldn't just keep their pizza toppings confined to pepperoni and sausage. Instead, you'll find inventive ingredients such as uni with guanciale, potato with taleggio and burrata with burst tomatoes. And because the pizzas come out of a wood-fired oven that cooks them in around 90 seconds, you'll get a nicely charred pie every time.
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SHOW ME HOW
Pizaro's became an instant classic almost the moment that Bill Hutchinson opened its doors in a Memorial-area strip mall, because there's nothing else like it in town. The Napoletana-style pizza cooks in 90 seconds in a wood-fired 900-degree oven that's the centerpiece of the small, bare-bones dining room. What emerges from the belly of the fiery beast is a pizza with perfectly pillowy crust and wonderfully scorched bottom, topped with fresh mozzarella made on-site daily and San Marzano tomatoes. Bring your own wine when you come and prepare to sit a spell -- the rest of the city has discovered Pizaro's, too, but the wait is always worth it.