What is it about pizza that makes us love it so much? Is it the savory cheeses, the pliable crust or the aromatic sauce? Perhaps it’s the customizable nature of the treat. Each pizza is different; across the country — the world, even — foodies get to compliment their pies with the toppings they most love. You can call it an Italian creation, an American staple or even a Brazilian standby, but one thing’s for sure: we all crave pizza. But where should you expect to taste the best slice?
#6: Rome, Italy
While other cities try to entice you with the whole pie, Rome’s claim to fame is offering pizza al taglio, or “by the cut.” This variety has a thin crust and is normally baked on rectangular trays in a wood-burning oven. Tasty toppers include prosciutto, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant and potato, but when in doubt, you can also order a traditional margherita with just tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. Vendors will allow you to determine just how big a slice you want (you’ll be charged based on its weight), after which they’ll cut your slice, fold it and wrap it in paper to go.
#5: Chicago, USA
The foundation of any Chicagoan’s pizza is a thick, crunchy layer of crust that’s been stretched up the sides of a deep-dish steel pan. That dough is then layered, starting with mozzarella cheese, followed by any preferred toppings (such as pepperoni, mushrooms or sausage) before it’s coated in a layer of chunky tomato sauce. The first Chicago-style pie was served at Pizzeria Uno in 1943, and present-day diners can still frequent this Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue fountainhead to eat one of the city’s most identifiable dishes. Bonus: you don’t need to be in Chi-town to taste the magic; Pizzeria Uno is now a popular chain restaurant (known as Uno Chicago Grill) throughout the country.
Where to Taste: An employee at the original Pizzeria Uno, Rudy Malnati is the disputed creator of the traditional deep-dish pizza recipe. And according to many, his son Lou serves up one of the best incarnations of Chicago’s “casseroles” in the entire city. You can eat at his establishment, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, in the River North area.
#4: Osaka and Hiroshima, Japan
Sometimes called the “Japanese pancake” and at other times called the “Japanese omelette,” okonomiyaki’s flat shape and assorted ingredients have also earned it the nickname, “Japanese pizza.” Even the phrase okonomiyaki loosely translates to “cooked as you want it,” which sounds a little like what makes pizza so special in the first place. But what exactly is okonomiyaki? At its base is batter (made from flour, eggs, water, cabbage and cooking stock) paired with your desired combination of cheese, vegetables, fish and meat. In the city of Osaka, where the most popular version of the dish originated, all the ingredients are cooked together (by grilling on both sides) before the pizza is topped with a sweet brown sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and aonori (seaweed flakes). If you’re dining in Hiroshima, the cook will fix your okonomiyaki batter first before layering on the other fixings.
Where to Taste: Several Japanese eateries earn a shout-out for their “Japanese pizza.” Osaka’s Mangetsu restaurant serves an okonomiyaki original sauce that “tingles and tantalizes your taste buds to the point you can’t stop eating the food that’s covered in it,” according to a satiated Virtual Tourist. And foodies across the web recommend Hassho, a Japanese chain scattered through Hiroshima Prefecture, for the best sampling of that city’s style of the dish.
Many Paulistanos in this self-proclaimed “Pizza Capital of the World” have a ritual of eating pizza every Sunday. And it’s not hard to find a place to indulge, as Reuters reports that there are more than 6,000 parlors in this city. São Paulo’s obsession with pizza dates back to the early 20th century, when Italian immigrants moved to the Braz district and their culinary tastes began to infiltrate Brazilian culture. Now, city residents even celebrate “Pizza Day” on July 10. People in São Paulo barely use tomato sauce, but they practically smother their pies in mozzarella cheese; popular pizza varieties include Portuguesa (also sprinkled with ham, onion, hard-boiled eggs and black olives) and Casteloes (which adds spicy Calabrese sausage). Whatever you do, be sure to abstain from adding ketchup to your slice — though this is a popular topping in the rest of Brazil, no self-respecting Paulistano would dare besmirch their pizza with the condiment.
Where to Taste: Casual and hard-core foodies agree that the best place to try a little São Paulo pizza is Braz, one of the city’s most popular parlor chains. Pizza is served rodízio style, where you pay a fixed price for all-you-can-eat and servers mill the premises offering various types of pie.
One of the more recognizable pies of the United States, New York-style pizza is characterized by a puffy outer crust that gets thinner and crispier toward the middle. Tricks of the trade include hand-tossed dough and cooking the pizza on a stone rather than in a pan. And as any New Yorker will tell you, there’s another key element to the Big Apple’s slices — the city’s delectable tap water. Who is to say whether the water’s importance is myth or actual method (The editors of the foodie blog Serious Eats even conducted a considerably comprehensive but ultimately unsatisfactory study)? Eddie & Sam’s pizzeria in Tampa, Fla. seems to think so: The owners proudly boast to importing New York tap water for the making of their dough.
Where to Taste: The hands-down favorite for New York parlors is Lombardi’s Pizzeria, located in NoHo. Considered the first pizza parlor in the United States, Lombardi’s also gets a shout-out from travelers for using fresh ingredients. Just come ready to chow down — this pizzeria doesn’t sell by the slice.
#1: Naples, Italy
There’s a reason the city of Naples earns the first slot on our list. It’s because the Neapolitan pizza is the most enduring recipe the world over, and recipes originated in other cities are often just variations on Napoli’s theme. And considering there’s even an organization devoted to the upholding the authenticity of the dish — the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana — it’s evident that this city takes dough-making and cheese-melting seriously. The wheat flour dough of a true pizza napoletana is kneaded into a pancake shape that shouldn’t exceed 11 inches across, before it’s smothered in fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and San Marzano tomatoes. It’s then cooked in a wood-fired dome oven at approximately 900 degrees Fahrenheit for no more than a minute and a half.
Where to Taste: Serious foodies disagree on where you’ll find Naples’ best pizzas, but there are a few favorites: Located on the city’s Via Sersale, Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the more popular spots — as evidenced by the long lines (and its cameo appearance in the movie Eat, Pray, Love). There’s also Pizzeria Brandi, oftentimes credited as the place that first served pizza margherita.