In addition to scarfing too many pizzas, for the some of the writing I had done on the subject, I was tapped for an episode on The Food That Built America on The History Channel entitled “Pizza Wars” that initially aired early in 2021. (I was followed by Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi on one the snippets; she was very polished and gorgeous, and I was somewhat the opposite.)
It hasn’t helped that he pizza game here has taken some hits in recent years. What was the easily the best pizzeria for quite a while, Dolce Vita, shuttered. Though its sister restaurant alludes to Dolce Vita pizzas on its menu, these are really flatbreads, not made with pizza dough as is familiar nor cooked in a pizza oven. Go to Poscol, but don’t order the pizzas. Other closures helped to lighten an already weak field. That includes Fresco on the Southwest Freeway had very enjoyable take on the Roman pizza al taglio, and those were just a secondary effort. Then there is Kenneally’s, which actually used to have excellent pizzas. These were the original pizzas in Chicago when my father was growing up in Chicago, thin-crust and cut in squares that were devised by immigrants from the Naples area or their offspring. Those pizzas in recent years have been pretty much terrible, even quite burnt a few weeks ago. The recipes appear to be the same, but no one there has known how to make or bake a pizza for quite a while. A few other pizza stars of years past also don’t seem nearly as proficient as they once did.
But there is plenty of which to choose here, at least stylistically. In Houston you can find interpretations of New York-style, hearty Chicago deep-dish, Detroit-style, its cugino Sicilian-style – I think these are still to be found – Neapolitan-style, more broadly Italian-style masquerading under the moniker “Neapolitan,” Roman al taglio style (thick and soft sold in squares), Roman tonda (cracker-thin crust), etc. I like them all, when made fairly well, at least. Most evident with the barely topped margheritas, the crust is a noticeable problem at a great many pizzerias here. Maybe it’s the humidity.
This list of pizzerias is much shorter than it should be for the fourth-largest city in the country. But, to note, when looking for top-notch pizza in the Italian vein, some of the very best are actually at restaurants that serve these most as a shareable starter: Amalfi, Da Marco, and Rosie Cannonball head the list. Each serves a rendition of the Neapolitan-style. The small pizzas at the newish Trattoria Sofia are well-done, too.
Listed in order of preference.
Tiny Champions – Something more than just a pizzeria – with fresh pastas, nicely crafted cocktails, and house-made ice cream from the highly regarded folks at Nancy’s Hustle – it’s also clearly the best pizzeria in Houston. The pizzas look a lot like those in Italy, but with a flavor that has a touch of a New York accent, buoyed by a delicious bready-tasting crust for a uniquely Houston style, possibly. That crust is the difference-maker here. A smattering of excellent ingredient on top and skill with the oven ensures that these pizzas taste amazing even when picked up and eaten at home and through all the slices, as these were during the depths of the pandemic. High praise, indeed. EaDo
Roberta’s – The original in Brooklyn gain considerable fame for more than just the pizzas, but those were deemed “marvelous things” in an early New York Times review. The topping combinations are unusual, but very nicely chosen, with meat none of which is pepperoni only showing up in two of the creations. The dough is the key, though. Made, it seems, with equal parts the finely milled 00 flour used for pizzas in Naples and the all-purpose flour helping to provide a flavorful and fairly light but sturdy enough foundation. Though the new Post Market is wonderfully diverse in dining options and patrons, the small, simple operation has none of the funkiness or charm of the original. No matter, get down there to pick up an excellent pie. Downtown
BOH Pasta and Pizza – Hearty rectangles of Roman-style pizza al taglio are done quite well here, with airy, clean-tasting crusts and an appealing combinations. Sold by the slice when sitting at one of the seats just inside the entrance at Bravery Chef Hall, these hold up quite nicely to the necessary re-heating. Downtown
Vinny’s – This fairly small antiseptic storefront on evening-bustling St. Emanuel Street in EaDo from the folks at Agricole Hospitality (Coltivare, Eight Row Flint) that have two other concepts adjacent, Indianola and Miss Carousel, dishes up some really nice pies in very broadly New York vein, available with some fun combinations atop a lighter, tastier crust than most. Served in 16” sizes and by the slice. EaDo
Grimaldi’s – This nationwide chain that began life in Brooklyn won acclaim there – it was named one of the two best restaurants in that borough some twenty years ago in Zagat – and in locations here does a very commendable job with New York City-style pies featuring dough made daily in-house and pies baked in prominently displayed blistering hot coal-fired brick ovens. Their pizzas are among the best in the area. Even the tough-to-do-even-decently margherita is worth ordering here. CityCentre, Sugar Land, Katy, Friendswood, The Woodlands
Buffalo Bayou Brewery – The pizzas at this attractive brewery are worth a visit here alone. A lot of attention is paid to the crust here – “ we cold ferment our pizza dough for 72 hours” – and it shows, with a lighter, more flavorful base than the vast of majority of places around. Fun and quality ingredients cooked properly complete the attractive picture here. Also, uniquely, you can dust your crust with Cheetos, dried ranch dressing or garlic-Parmesan. You likely don’t want to do that. First Ward
Rudyard’s – With pizzaiolo Anthony Calleo formerly of the popular Pi Pizza heading the kitchen in recent years, the pies at this long-standing Montrose neighborhood bar and showcase club can be quite tasty, both in the “Houston” style – that might be somewhere between New York and Naples with a sturdy, tasty crust with an appropriate number of toppings – and the necessarily very hearty and greasy rectangular Detroit style. Worth a pick up to eat at home, too. Montrose
Usually Enjoyable Enough
Pizzeraia Solario – Neapolitan-inspired pizzas are done fairly well here, individually sized and with usually clean flavors from decent ingredients. This small, cheekily-designed place, where it can be is easy to order wine, has been fine choice for nearly a decade now, just around the corner from Costco. Greenway Plaza
Luna Pizzeria – Inconsistent, these places are sometimes very good, sometimes middling, at best, but always a very good deal for a weekday lunch, and with an unfailingly friendly staff, indicative of the restaurant group, that helps make for an enjoyable visit. The pies coming out of the gas ovens are little different with a thicker, soft crust that is usually enjoyably savory and quite supportive of the noticeably fine quality toppings. Upper Kirby, Heights, Briargrove
Pizaro’s – Generally fairly good, if nothing special. It rose to attention about fifteen years ago with its traditional Neapolitan pizzas, but the offerings have expanded and the near polar opposite Detroit-style pies are the tastiest here these days. Montrose, West Houston
Piola – Italians seem to like the pizzas here, at least Italians not from the Naples area and maybe Rome, too. This is a smart-looking chain that began in Treviso just outside of Venice, quite far from the pizza heartland, which has franchised locations in south Florida and a couple here. Thin and appropriately dressed in Italian style, there are numerous individually sized pizzas from which to choose plus even cauliflower and chia flour crusts to accommodate the traditionally pizza-adverse. A lengthy menu beyond pizzas, too. Midtown, Briargrove
The Gypsy Poet – In a lightly trafficked section of Midtown, individual thin-crust Italianate pies dished in a sociable DIY-esque setting featuring a prominent open kitchen with a staff chattering in Spanish have won fans since opening a few years ago. The pizzas are alright and can make for an enjoyable visit – I’ve been several times – but are generally more attractive than flavorful, judiciously topped on a fairly bland crust. There are more than a few beers and wines to help with a meal, though not a lot of interest for the latter beyond a few selections sourced from the local French Country Wines. Midtown
An individual pizza at Luna Pizzeria