For a town not known for its pizza, we sure have a lot of pizzerias. The pies show up on a number of restaurant and bar menus, too. And while we don't have a signature pizza style a la New York or Chicago, we have so much variety that you can just let your taste buds lead the way. Want classic? Go for a straightforward Margherita. Traditional? There's pepperoni and sausage everywhere. Gourmet? Choices abound—from crab and roasted duck to mac and cheese. (Yes, on a pizza.) Nowadays, the type of preparation is important, too, as we're seeing more coal-fired pizza places showing up, as well as those with fancy specialty ovens. So how do you decide where to go? To celebrate National Pizza Month in October, we sent out a troop of pizza-loving scouts to search for the best options in town, from A to Z. Warning: Grab your car keys as you look at the list.
We know you're going to want a hot-from-the-oven pizza soon after digesting our 34 picks.
710 S. Broadway
This Fells Point tavern has been a favorite brunch spot of ours for years. But tucked away in its lunch/dinner menu are delicious pizzas, about 10 inches, with cracker-thin crusts in nine varieties. We couldn't get enough of the mac-n-cheese pizza ($9.50) with bow-tie noodles in a creamy smoked-cheddar, Gouda, and mozzarella sauce; spicy jalapeños; smoky slabs of bacon; and a coating of chili powder. This pie is sure to cure any hangover. Also, the Buffalo chicken pizza ($9.50)—with tangy hot sauce, tender chicken, juicy cubed tomatoes, and blue cheese—was a perfect balance of flavors. A tip: Go on half-price pizza Thursdays.
413-415 W. Cold Spring Ln.
"Alonso's has pizza?" Yes—and it's delicious! For as long as the Roland Park staple has been open, it's been known for its big, juicy hamburgers. But right there on the menu, under the burgers, are the pizzas. The crispy, 12-inch pies are full of flavor with a tangy sauce and a four-cheese blend (mozzarella, Asiago, Bel Paese, and Parmesan) that serves as an excellent base for specialty pies like the "BBQ Chicken Pizza" ($14), with fresh tomato, roasted red onion, and roasted red peppers along with big chunks of chicken. And if you can't leave the burgers alone, try "Alonso's Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza" ($15) with ground beef, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and marinara.
Bagby Pizza Company
1006 Fleet St.
The more than 8,000 potential pie combinations available at Bagby are a customer's curse and blessing. Luckily, you can't go too far wrong adhering to the eatery's gourmet-pizza menu. We suggest the "Sweet and Spicy Pizza" (small, $10.99) for its dichotomous mingling of spicy tomato sauce, roasted red peppers, red onion, spinach, applewood bacon, Asiago and goat cheeses, and a generous glaze of balsamic vinegar. The real highlight at Babgy, though, is that each pizza's ultra-thin, crunchy-flaky crust is always basted with a healthy dose of olive oil.
BOP brick oven pizza
800 S. Broadway, 410-563-1600
Depending on the time of day, you can find everyone from hung-over revelers to families to business workers waiting in line for the brick-oven pies with a slight char on the bottom. Pair a thin, hearth-baked crust with the "Greek" ($12.95-21.95)—garlic sauce, onions, green peppers, green and black olives, tomato, and feta. The "Lucky 7" ($15.95-24.95) combines traditional cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, Romano, and fontina) with the nontraditional (feta, Gorgonzola, and cheddar). BOP also lets you create your own slice, and passes the ultimate pizza test—everything tastes awesome cold the next day.
Carmine's New York Pizzeria
Hunt Valley Town Centre, 112 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley
Carmine's is known for its pizza by the slice but do order one of their whole pies for a fresh-from-the oven pizza that scores high marks for a puffy brown crust that tastes like buttered toast. Toppings are numerous for the red- or white-sauced pies. We went with our pizza maker's recommendation of the popular chicken barbecue pie. The 16-inch pizza ($18.95) was weighty and aromatic with char-grilled chicken strips, piquant barbecue sauce, caramelized onions, and smoked mozzarella. There's a cute dining room and an attached gelato bar for a sweet treat afterward.
Chazz: A Bronx Original
1415 Aliceanna St.
You really can worship at the "pizza altar" here. That's what the staff calls the open area where the coal-fired oven is housed and where guests sit at a counter, watch the process, and enjoy the results. Of course, you can pay homage to the slightly charred, 13-inch pies at any of the tables in the restaurant, co-owned by actor Chazz Palminteri. The Margherita pizza ($9.95) is elegant in its simplicity. The crisp crust is bathed in sweet San Marzano tomato sauce, topped with puddles of fresh mozzarella and shreds of fresh basil, and—the pièce de résistance—drizzled with really good olive oil! Chazz is slowly rolling out its pizza menu. Eventually, there will be a dozen choices.
Chef Paolino Café
726 Frederick Rd., Catonsville
The sign on the front door says cleats are not allowed, and it's easy to understand why. This cavernous restaurant, with murals of bucolic Italian scenes, is just the place to celebrate a winning game. Sicilian-style pizza ($13.95-18.95, 16 inch-square) is available here, but the 14- and 18-inch New York-style pies ($9.95-17.95) are exemplary, with crusts that have substantial crunch and fluffy interiors, sauces that fill the mouth with garlicky flavor and just the right amount of cheese. Toppings include richly flavored sausage nuggets that turn even a single slice into a meal.
Ciao! Pizza Bistro Italiano
2620 Quarry Lake Dr., Pikesville
For a casual restaurant with a broad menu including pasta, seafood, and salads, Ciao! has a surprisingly deft take on pizza. Its 10-inch pies have a thin crust that's crispy around the edges but pleasantly doughy in the middle. The Margherita ($9.99), with sauce, mozzarella, basil, and a drizzle of olive oil, is fresh and expertly cooked. The Caprese ($11.99), with Parmesan crust, fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, and shaved Parmesan, offers a perfect salty bite, while the Mediterranean ($11.99)—a white pizza with lamb sausage, artichoke hearts, fire-roasted peppers, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese—is easily hearty enough for two.
Three locations, including 5725 Richards Valley Rd., Ellicott City
The spotlight at this pizzeria is on the crust, which is paper thin, crisp, and deeply charred along the edges. A sparing swirl of sauce and a dappling of translucent mozzarella circles seem intended to highlight that crust not hide it. The 16-inch pies ($13.95) are offered with a choice of three house-made tomato sauces, ranging from slightly sweet to gently spicy and an expected roster of toppings. The restaurant has a stylish dining area plus outdoor seating (though it overlooks a busy road).
3700 Gough St.
A humble storefront in Highlandtown, DiPasquale's exudes authenticity. There's a full-blown Italian grocery and deli in the front, but at lunchtime, the dining area in the back is the place to hang. The eight brick-oven, 10-inch pies ($10.95-11.95) are thin-crusted and topped with mostly traditional, fresh Italian ingredients. The "Roma," for example, is a full-flavored beauty loaded with homemade sausage and mozzarella, tri-color roasted peppers, and a not-too-sweet tomato sauce. For a Middle Eastern take, the "Lorenzo of Arabia" beckons with a pleasing combo of eggplant, feta, Kalamata olives, roasted peppers, and rapini. Bonus: Pick up some chocolate-dipped cannoli for later.
542 E. Belvedere Ave.
The exotic Middle Eastern flavor combinations at this Belvedere Square mainstay are what keep us coming back for more. Sure, you can get regular cheese and pepperoni, but why would you when you can try the "Giza" ($9.95-17.95): a disk of mozzarella and feta cheeses topped with marinated lamb flank, black olives, roasted red-bell peppers, dill, parsley, and cilantro, and served with a spicy cumin sauce on the side for dipping or drizzling. Each pie is wood-fired and can be made with regular or whole-wheat crusts, which are similar in taste and texture to pita bread, to complete the Mediterranean experience.
Giovanni's Tutti Gusti
3100 Fait Ave.
Canton residents have a pizza-lover's gem in Tutti Gusti. Thin crust is the specialty, and you can build your own or pick from their menu of signature pies. We love the "Campagnola" ($12.85-15.35), which practically overflows with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and roasted eggplant—all smothered in generous plops of fresh mozzarella. The crust is light and airy, providing just enough of a platform for all the fresh toppings. We also appreciate Tutti Gusti's large and comfortable dining area, just the ticket if you've got a large party that needs to get its pizza on.
818 N. Calvert St.
Given the staggering array of gourmet toppings at this hip and wildly popular BYOB hole in the wall—everything from artichoke pesto and pistachios to roasted duck—the best way to experience Iggies is to bring lots of friends so that you can share several of the brick-oven, artisanal, thin-crust pies, available in small ($6.95-9.95) and large ($12.95-16.95) sizes. The delicate, toothsome crust is judiciously topped with primo ingredients like house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, and fresh vegetables. Eat in, carry out, or opt for Take n' Bake, a ready-made pie you finish in the oven at home.
Isabella's Brick Oven Pizza and Panini
221 S. High St.
This corner deli in Little Italy may not seem like much at first, but Isabella's Italian offerings are about as authentic as it gets. While they have a dozen brick-oven pizza varieties, the Margherita ($13.99) is the real winner. This 15-inch pie has a thin, chewy crust heavily seasoned with oregano. The sauce is thinly applied, letting the toppings really sing. A thick layer of the house-made mozzarella is spread evenly on top of thinly sliced, juicy tomatoes. And the basil—immediately aromatic—tastes like it was freshly picked from the garden. But what gives Isabella's bonus points is that it offers three-quarters-baked pizza for carryout, so it can just be popped in your personal oven and enjoyed right at home.
814 Kenilworth Dr., Towson
This family-friendly neighborhood institution inside The Shops at Kenilworth mall is beloved for its New York-style, thin-crust pizza, which has just enough crunch to go with its minimal sauce and ample mozzarella. The pizzeria is also one of the few casual places in town that offers traditional, round, Chicago-style deep-dish pies (not Sicilian, which is more common in these parts). A plain Chicago-style ($12.95) comes in at a doughy two-plus inches. A specialty pie, like the ingredient-packed "Momma's" (small, $15.95) with mushrooms, onions, black olives, pepperoni, and sausage, is over three inches, and a large slice is a delicious, filling meal.
1635 Fleet St.
Long a neighborhood favorite, Italian Graffiti has a reputation for being better than your usual delivery joint. One of their claims to fame is the interesting, and sometimes downright wacky topping combinations, which are offered on their in-house, off-menu pizzas. On any given day, you might find an eggplant-parmigiana pizza, a taco pizza, or even a cheese-steak pizza. For a healthier option, there's a Mediterranean vegetable pizza, a bounty of well-seasoned greenery and tangy feta cheese, supported by a sturdy, somewhat crackery thin crust, cooked to an even, light brown. Italian Graffiti also has a thicker Sicilian crust as well.
Two locations, including 133 W. North Ave.
The square-shaped pizzas at Joe Edwardsen's flagship Station North restaurant (a second location just opened in the Power Plant Live complex) would be nothing more than a good gimmick if they weren't so darn tasty, with fresh and plentiful toppings piled on top of a delicate thin-crust foundation, slightly charred from the coal-burning oven. Try the flag pizza ($15-23), a tri-colored medley of red sauce with mozzarella, provolone, Romano, Parmigiano, and Asiago; garlic sauce with mozzarella, cheddar, and ricotta; and pesto sauce with fresh mozzarella, which has earned kudos in Food Network Magazine.
2108 Eastern Ave.
The expectations for bar pizza are inherently low—get drunk enough and almost anything tastes good. But Johnny Rad's in Upper Fells Point raises the bar significantly with its Neapolitan-style, thin-crust pies, which come in 11- and 15-inch sizes. The "Primo" ($9-14), with generous slabs of fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, olive oil, and sea salt, is one of several options with a salty edge—a perfect accompaniment to ice-cold brews. The "Trainwreck" ($10-15), with mushrooms, baby spinach, black olives, olive oil, mozzarella, and sea salt, is a heartier pie, able to sate a big appetite. You won't go home hungry.
900 Cathedral St.
You can count on Kyro for Middle Eastern-inspired dishes and pizzas, but the eatery's menu also reflects less traditional influences. There's a pizza that features General Tso's chicken (disguised here as "General Kyro's") and a "Ballpark Pizza" with hot dogs, ketchup, and mustard. But Kyro comes through where it counts—the crust is simply amazing. It's almost a flatbread: soft and pillowy on top, compressing to a gentle chew with savory flavor and a very light browning. The excellent "Giza" ($12.75) consists simply of lamb, roasted peppers, and mozzarella, with cumin sauce served on the side—a wise move, since the crust renders any sauce all but superfluous.
Several locations, including 8480 Baltimore National Pk., Ellicott City
Ledo has been a Maryland favorite since the first one opened in Adelphi in 1955. The menu includes salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes, but the rectangular pizzas ($5.49-13.24 plus extra for toppings) are what set the pizzeria apart. The crusts are thin and flaky, almost like pastry, and the sauce is more sweet than savory. Atop this delicate palette sits a thick layer of mozzarella, toasty brown in color and dappled in oil. Instead of being cut into wedges, the slabs are divided into small squares.
3131 Eastern Ave.
Matthew's has been cranking out pizza pies in Highlandtown for more than half a century, occupying its current location on Eastern Avenue since 1943. The tiny restaurant is decorated with maps of Italy and dozens of kudos from local publications. On busy nights, the attentive staff whisks through the room, delivering pizzas with perfectly crisped crusts and toppings that range from classic pepperoni to a thick layer of backfin crabmeat and caramelized onions dusted with Old Bay (market price, currently $14.79), or "Fra Diavolo" ($9.25) with Thai chili and a choice of shrimp ($13.95) or chicken ($12.95). Matthew's is as classic as the painting of its founder, who eyes the place from a perch above the cash register.
822 Dulaney Valley Rd., Towson
If you're weary from shopping at Towson Town Center, we heartily recommend popping across Dulaney Valley Road to Pasta Mista. It offers a plethora of pies, both thin and thick crust, to satisfy any craving. If you're in a tomato place, go for the 16-inch "Mondragone" ($14.40). It's a thick-crust interpretation of the classic Margherita pie—tomato, mozzarella, basil, and, in this case, oregano. The tomatoes are fresh, the cheese is bubbly and nicely melted, and the fresh basil is mouthwateringly fragrant. Wash it all down with San Pellegrino lemon or orange sodas in their cheerful, no frills eat-in area.
Pasticcio Italian Kitchen & Bar
Two locations, including 2400 Boston St., Suite 120
Still known by regulars as Old Franco's—a nod to the previous tenant Franco Zeppi—this Can Company restaurant has established itself as quick, good, and family-friendly. The pizza is New York-style with a thin crunchy crust and the perfect amount of sauce. The "White Gourmet" ($9.99-15.99) doesn't disappoint—fresh tomatoes, broccoli, ricotta cheese, garlic, grated Parmigiano, and mozzarella cheese. Another favorite? The "Diavola" ($10.99-15.99)—a tongue-tingling combination of Italian sausage, broccoli, banana peppers, and mozzarella.
2622 Quarry Lake Dr., Pikesville
Pizza Blitz lives up to its name, offering a full battery of pies with classic toppings. And while Luigi Starace, the chef and co-owner, hails from Naples, the pies are pure New York—thin crust, a swipe of tomato sauce, and thick cheese. The pies come in three sizes, 10, 14, and 16 inches ($5.95-10.95, unadorned), with an additional cost ($1-1.50, depending on size) for add-ons such as black olives, pepperoni, pineapple, and onions, or deluxe toppings ($1.50-2.50) that include ricotta cheese, meatballs, and anchovies. Pizza Blitz, which shares a name and one business partner with a parlor in Frederick, has been open at Quarry Lake for less than a year, and while it doesn't yet deliver, it's a convenient carryout option if you're in the 'hood when a craving hits.
113 Back River Neck Rd.
When you've been around for 45 years, customers come not just for the pizza but also for the history. The Coruzzi family first started slinging pies in 1966. The pizza is hot and fresh with a nice sauce and perfectly crispy dough—unless you order the softer Sicilian crust. The pepperoni is Hormel, but the sausage and meat sauce are both homemade and delicious. Try "The Works" ($13.50-20.95)—a specialty that combines fresh veggies (black olives, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms) and yummy meats (sausage, meat sauce, and pepperoni).
Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse
Two locations, including 20 E. Cross St.
Late-night Federal Hill carousers swear by this boutique pizzeria tucked away on the top floor of this row-house bar—and who can blame them? With 22 creatively named pies, ranging from the "Atomic Dog Pizza" ($9.25) with hot sauce, hot cherry peppers, smoked Gouda, mozzarella, smoked bacon, pepperoni, and red onion to the "Stinking Rose Pizza" ($8.75) with tomato sauce, olive oil, garlic, basil, mozzarella, and Parmesan, plus build-your-own options available until 2 a.m. daily, this is the place to satisfy your post-pub pizza predilection.
The Red Zebra
Baltimore Farmers' Market (Sundays), underneath the Jones Falls Expressway at Holliday and Saratoga Sts.
Lauraville Farmers' Market (Tuesdays), 4500 Harford Rd.
The colorful mobile truck serves up personal pies with inventive toppings from a roaring wood-fired oven. The short menu of pizzas ($8-10) is determined by what's seasonal and available from local vendors. You might find a breakfast pizza with quail eggs, bacon, and potatoes, or a pie that sprouts fresh micro-greens and cilantro with sliced cherry tomatoes, corn, and Havarti cheese. Another pizza has a smattering of sweet lamb sausage and goat cheese with mint pesto. (The Red Zebra also makes pizzas on Thursdays at the FRESHFARM Market near the White House in D.C.)
410 W. Cold Spring Ln.
Part of Eddie Dopkin's Roland Park family-restaurant empire, S'ghetti Eddie's is perfect for those over-scheduled evenings when no one wants to cook. Pile on your choice of toppings (ranging from broccoli rabe to salami) on 12- or 16-inch doughy crusts ($8.99 or 10.99 and up) and create your own edible masterpiece. Recently, we started with a basic white pizza (no tomato sauce with mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan) and added spinach, sautéed mushrooms, and grilled chicken for a pleasantly creamy and smooth pie. Next time, we think we'll add some banana peppers or anchovies for a little spicy/salty kick.
6723 Holabird Ave., Dundalk
The sprawling Dundalk restaurant, which has expanded several times over the years from its origins as a small tavern in the 1950s, is a reliable place for heaping platters of spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, and Caesar salads large enough to share. It's also the perfect spot for pizza and an ice-cold beer. The pies are offered with New York-style or thick Sicilian crusts. The Squires special ($10.25-17.35) is piled with pepperoni, meat sauce, sausage, mushrooms, and peppers—plus capicola ham. The ham, along with sliced almonds, is also a key to the salty-sweet Hawaiian pizza ($9.75-16.35).
26 E. Cross St.
Smack in the middle of the booze-fueled chaos of Cross Street in Federal Hill is unusually good pizza. The Stalking Horse menu offers compelling options ($9-13), including lobster, poached pears, and a signature sliced Kobe meatball. And these nine-inch pies are loaded up—the "Seattle Slew" ($11), for example, is saddled (sorry!) with an inch-thick layer of roasted vegetables and cheese. Luckily, the crust is substantial enough to handle the load, slightly yeasty, with good crunch and nicely browned patches throughout.
1203 W. Mount Royal Ave.
This New York-based pizza chain has a franchise located in the basement of the snazzy new Fitzgerald condo near the MICA and UB campuses. With its New Orleans décor and ingredients, Two Boots offers seemingly random topping combinations named after eccentric celebrities—everyone from Divine to Larry Tate. The crackly crust on these pies is heavily seasoned with Cajun spices and dense enough to hold all the crazy toppings. Two Boots has a variety of sauces from spicy Buffalo to thin white or tangy tomato. Our favorite pie was the Tony Clifton ($9.95) with sweet red peppers, crispy onions, and earthy wild mushrooms. In true New York style, Two Boots also offers pizza by the slice.
Uno Chicago Grill
Multiple locations, including 201 E. Pratt St.
Okay, it's a chain, but Uno's Inner Harbor presence shouldn't discourage a visit. The franchise pretty much brought Chicago-style deep dish to the masses. Uno remains au courant, offering options like a "Farmer's Market Pie" ($11.29) with eggplant, pesto, caramelized onions, feta cheese, and other yummy ingredients. There's even a nod to the thin-crust crowd with artisanal pies topped with glazed figs, broccoli, and goat cheese ($16.95). The deep dish, with its crispy, slightly oily crust, is just as we remember: decadent and delectable.
6304 York Rd., Towson
With glistening pies on display behind glass, formica booths, and a wide selection of Neapolitan pizzas, along with subs, sandwiches, salads, and pasta, Vito's could be any neighborhood takeout joint in America. But this eatery is a cut above, serving New York-style pizza with a satisfying crunch that few local outlets can muster, and just enough oregano sprinkled on top. There's nothing fancy here, but if you're looking for something hearty, try the "Gourmet" ($10.95-13.95) with pepperoni, mushrooms, and sausage.
1145 Hollins St.
Situated in the rough-around-the-edges Hollins Market neighborhood, Zella's serves as all-around watering hole and gathering place for locals who come for the decent roster of boutique brews and excellent pizzas ($7.50-17.75). The medium-thick homemade crust is first-class—crisp and lightly doused with good olive oil, and so tasty you could eat it plain and be happy. But why stop there? Add on any of the staggering array of "build your own" toppings (34 and counting) and choose from six sauces (from traditional tomato to unorthodox barbecue) until you've created your own perfect pie.