Known as the center of the farm-to-table food scene, San Francisco has some excellent Italian restaurants, but few people would peg it as the city that's reinventing pizza. In the last few years, however, pizzerias all around town—and a few of the best San Francisco restaurants—have been putting new spins on the classic pie, with thin-crust adherents agonizing over anorexic, blistered bases at Flour + Water, Piccino, Il Casaro and Tony's Pizza Napoletana, and deep-dish mavens settling in at places like Little Star. For those who fall into neither camp, there’s always old school focaccia at the legendary Liguria Bakery in North Beach. Here are our eight favorite spots for the best pizza in San Francisco.
Standout pizza in San Francisco
The casual pizza arm of chef-owner Craig Stoll’s popular Delfina restaurant, Pizzeria Delfina serves some of the best thin-crust pies in town. Primo ingredients such as fior di latte mozzarella, prosciutto di parma, and house-made fennel sausage elevate traditional pizzas to the level of haute cuisine. Perennial favorites include Clam Pie, topped with cherrystone clams and hot peppers, and Carbonara, which gives the classic pasta dish a new spin with guanciale (pork cheek salumi), farm egg, pecorino, and scallions.
Though Flour + Water's menu has recently been expanded with two to three meat, poultry and fish options, pasta and pizza are still the stars of the show. The kitchen staff slaves over every ingredient, cultivating and coddling textures and flavors until they meet the restaurant's exacting standards. Pizzas from the Italian wood-fired 900-degree oven take exactly two minutes to cook, and arrive exquisitely thin with perfectly charred and blistered crusts, topped with delicacies like fior di latte, squash blossoms, house-made pork sausage, and calabrian chili. Book as far in advance as you can—the place is ridiculously popular. Or get there at 5:30pm and try for one of the walk-in spots.
A recent entry on the Neapolitan pizza scene with a location smack in the center of bustling Little Italy, Il Casaro is rapidly developing a loyal and devoted following. The brief menu focuses on pizzas from the coal-fired oven that are made before your eyes by the pizzaiolo, and emerge in minutes achingly thin, light and bubbling to chewy perfection. The prosciutto pizza, made with San Daniele prosciutto, arugula, tomatoes, mozzarella, and raspa dura (a shaved Italian cheese) is a marvel of flavor. Sharing star billing is the mozzarella bar, featuring appetizer plates of buffalo, fior di latte and burrata cheese, and antipasti such as panuozzo—a kind of pizza-dough sandwich stuffed with cheese, sausage and broccoli rabe.
Owners Margherita Stewart Sagan and Sheryl Rogat started Piccino in a tiny space in Dogpatch, with a pizza dough recipe passed down through generations from Sagan’s mother. Since then, they’ve moved into a giant yellow barn next door and sparked a Dogpatch renaissance of butchers, bakers, and messenger-bag makers. Thin-crust pizzas are still the focus of the menu, topped with farm-to-table ingredients ranging from housemade sausage and roasted mushrooms to pancetta and pea tendrils. They’ve augmented the pizzas with main course options such as pork and beef polpette, and milk-braised pork with chickpeas, Hungarian peppers, and salsa verde.
Tony Gemingnani’s paean to Napoli comes complete with 10 different kinds of pizza baked in seven different ovens, ranging in temperature from 550 to 1,000 degrees. Gemingnani has an impeccable pedigree: He’s the first American to win the World Champion Pizza Maker title in Naples, and the sometimes epic wait for a table in this busy corner of North Beach attests to his star power. Heavenly Tomato Pie made with hand-crushed tomato sauce cooked in a 1,000-degree coal-fired oven, and the award-winning Margherita, with handmade San Felice-ﬂour dough and San Marzano tomatoes (limited to 73 per day)—are just the tip of menu. Among the other dizzying choices are Detroit and Sicilian styles, stromboli and calzone.
Gialina is tucked inconspicuously into a tiny corner of the cozy neighborhood of Glen Park, but that doesn’t deter the big crowds, who come from across town for fantastic, fresh and authentic thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizzas. Owner-chef Sharon Ardiana’s crust and sauce recipes are legacies from her grandmother, who came from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Chewy on the inside, crispy on the edges, and just blackened enough, the pizzas are crowned with a wide range of seasonal toppings—everything from wild nettles, pancetta, red onions and chilies, to arugula, chard, figs and preserved lemon. Seating is very limited, so get there early or prepare to wait.
This small bakery on the corner of Washington Square Park in North Beach was founded on this spot by three brothers from Genoa in 1911 and is still run by members of the family. Liguria does nothing but turn out about ten kinds of focaccia bread—onion, raisin, olive, mushroom—every day from its old-fashioned brick ovens. Customers line up around the block for it, and when the shop runs out, they close. Your still-warm bread comes wrapped in butcher paper and tied up with string. Cash only.
Little Star has successfully won over its share of thin-crusters with its fresh take on Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, starting with a crunchy cornmeal crust that stands up to robust toppings such as tangy, chunky tomato sauce, salty feta, piquant green olives, red peppers, artichoke hearts and whole-milk mozzarella. The Mediterranean chicken pizza, made with house-baked chicken seasoned with peperoncini juice and garlic, will make you a believer.