Any way you slice it, pizza is deeply personal. While the ingredients are humble — flour, olive oil, cheese and tomato sauce — the combination leads to endless outcomes. Trying to name the best pizza is futile when there are so many variations.
Take the Minnesota pizza. Consumed in dim dives and at family tables, the square-cut, barely there crust evokes warm memories and passionate defense from admirers. Try to serve it to a Chicago deep-dish diehard, however, and the conversation can get heated.
It was because of pizza's contentious polarity that we set out to pick a fight, or seven, by pitting two very different pizza lovers against each other. One, an Iron Range kid whose devotion to the square-cut, thin-crust Midwestern pie was fostered inside dark pizzerias that some might call "bars." The other, a proud New Jersey transplant who spent her formative years meandering the boardwalk, scrounging up loose change to buy a slice so big that the paper plate dissolved from the drippings before she could finish.
To make it a fair fight, boundaries had to be set: pick a style of pizza made in the Twin Cities with exemplary skill and craftsmanship and declare a favorite. Thus began an epic quest filled with saucy back-and-forth dissections, enough miles spent crisscrossing the metro to almost get to Jersey, and a glovebox stuffed with napkins and antacids.
With that we welcome you to our pizza showdown: seven styles, two favorites and you as final judge and jury.
A wafer-thin crust, tangy sauce, middle-America appropriate levels of cheese; always square cut.
Joy's pick: Red's Savoy
There's a piece of my heart still tucked into the bar of the original Red's Savoy, closed for several years now. But its pizza legacy lives on. As a kid raised almost exclusively on the teeny triangle cuts of a proper Midwestern-style pizza, Red's Savoy on Snelling Avenue is the closest I've come to the memories of home. Tangy and zesty sauce pulls together an unleavened crust with mozzarella cheese so fresh it squeaks like a Wisconsin cheese curd. The company leans so hard into being a " 'Sota-style" pizza that it even comes with a pulltab coupon.
143 N. Snelling Av., St. Paul, savoypizza.com
Sharyn's pick: Mama's Pizza
When the 60-year-old pizzeria announced it wouldn't reopen its COVID-shuttered dining room, fans bemoaned the near-loss of a beloved pizza institution. Luckily, takeout business remains strong, and the ovens at the time capsule of a pizzeria are still cranking out top-of-its-game pies. The thin crust, with its air and layers, has almost a laminated dough quality to it; the sauce is peppy with a hint of heat; and the sausage is made fresh in-house. The middle is swimming in cheese, as only a Minnesota pie's gooey center should. Not a fan of our homegrown style? This one changed my mind.
961 Rice St., St. Paul, mamaspizzaparlor.com
A large, floppy, foldable, chewy slice with a distinct crust for holding.
Joy's Pick: ElMar's New York Pizza
Its dedication to re-creating the beloved New York pie is so deep that ElMar installed an entire water filtration system to build the most authentic crust outside the five boroughs. The result is a foldable slice that's reheated when ordered so the whole-milk, Wisconsin-made cheese edges crisp, and the crust has a distinct summer-days-by-the-city-pool flavor. The sauce sings with a juicy tomato base. While my colleague has a weird obsession with passing judgment on pepperoni shape, I stand by the wonderfully balanced salty, rich and snappy disks of Italian wonder.
15725 37th Av. N., Plymouth, elmarsnypizza.com
Sharyn's pick: Joey Nova's Pizzeria
The plate can't even hold this slice, which spans 11 inches from handle to tip. But it's not just size that makes this true New York pizza. The hand-tossed crust is paper-thin in the middle yet still bubbly. The sauce is house-made and heavy on oregano. The cheese, from a Pennsylvania farmer, imparts a dairy intensity that is unmatched locally. The ingredients swirl together into Jersey Shore boardwalk memories that beckon ex-East Coasters to stock up on pies that taste like home — minus Jersey's aggressive tap water.
5655 Manitou Road, Tonka Bay, joeynovas.com
Italian-style wood-fired pizza
Smaller with a char around the edges and a softer middle; emphasis on simple ingredients.
Joy's Pick: Tono Pizzeria + Cheesesteaks
Tono trades in the mastery of the cheese-topped culinary arts with a wide selection of cheesesteaks and pizzas. And they use it to their advantage: a judicious amount of high-quality cheese never overpowers the beautifully stretched dough that bubbles inside the wood oven, getting a pleasant toasting in the process. Speaking of the crust, it has just enough structure to provide a solid base for the punchy sauce, but not so thin that it withers under the threat of toppings. This crust stands up and stays true — even after being delivered. The whole mix is just saucy (and salty) enough to beg for just one more bite.
Five metro locations; St. Paul, Maplewood, Chanhassen, Woodbury and Coon Rapids, tonomn.com
Sharyn's pick: Punch
It's been more than a quarter-century since Punch first launched a wood-fire pizza oven revolution in the Twin Cities by adhering strictly to Neapolitan norms. The local chain has since been awarded membership into the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (that's basically Italian for perfection). While there are many toppings to choose from, the bufala margherita is untouchable. Order it NEO style, with extra tomato and olive oil that emulsify with the melted cheese to make one mess of divine flavors, then sop up that goodness with the blistery charred crust. Not everyone is a fan of the "wet" middle, but I'm firmly on Team Punch.
Multiple metro locations, including St. Paul, Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, Wayzata, Woodbury, Maple Grove, Vadnais Heights, Eagan, Roseville and Apple Valley; punchpizza.com
Detroit, Chicago, Sicily-by-way-of-New York — the unifying factors are lacy edges and crispy bottoms on a pizza you can sink your teeth into.
Joy's Pick: Wrecktangle
When Jeff Rogers segued from bartender to pizza chef, there was a seismic shift in the Twin Cities conversation about what makes a great pizza. Now, the Wrecktangle team is going strong with three locations and charming national media outlets with its unique take on Detroit-style pizza. The thick and pillowy crust bubbles up into a heavenly bed for the fun range of toppings offered. Plus, it possesses the most covetous burnt-cheese edges around: crispy, charred and crumbling into gooey strands of dairy wonderment.
Locations in Lyn/Lake, Market at Malcolm Yards and North Loop Galley; wrecktanglepizza.com
Sharyn's Pick: Mario's
Sicilian-style pizza can veer dangerously into "loaf of bread" territory, but not this one. The St. Paul newcomer ensures a crisp edge and airy interior that stands up to the brightest-of-bright crushed tomato sauce, at least in the four-cheese version I tried and loved. Grated Parmesan gives this sophisticated pie some intriguing sharpness, and a glug of good olive oil brings it all together. Not pizza, but noteworthy in its own right: Get the cheese doughnuts appetizer and thank me later.
232 N. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, mariosstp.com
Don't you dare call it burned; the intentional char is part of what gives this metro newcomer its distinctive flavor.
Joy's Pick: Surly Pizza
When the brewery announced that a New Haven-style pizza place would take the place of its fine-dining restaurant, there were skeptics. But then this bad boy landed. The gorgeous flavor starts with the yeast. Using the sudsy location to its advantage, brewer's yeast is harvested post-fermentation to give the dough extra oomph. It's stretched thin enough to give it the right pull and chew, and a charred kiss adds an enhanced flavor backbone. The topping-to-crust ratio is just right — never overwhelming, but complementing its savory balance. Try the OG apizza with clams, garlic, cream and a spritz of lemon; or go purist with the Kevin, a plain cheese pizza. The only downside? The hours aren't as accessible as mall pizza (see Sharyn's pick), but you can order curbside to-go.
520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., surlybrewing.com/destination-brewery
Sharyn's pick: OG ZaZa
OG ZaZa is not the area's OG New Haven-style pizza — that'd probably be Fat Lorenzo's, if you consider their claims to the clam pie. Nor is it the most well-known, a concession I'll make to my colleague's selection. But it's only fair we have more options for this Northeast-born and Neapolitan-descended style of pizza. Fortunately, the new kid on the block is blowing away the competition, frequently selling out at its Rosedale food hall stand before the day is done. (A multiday fermentation process makes faster restocking impossible.) The 12-inch, six-slice pies are thin and crispy (but chewy — this is not a Minnesota cracker crust), with the brightest red sauce and a funky kick from lots of aged Parmesan, fired till a light sprinkling of mozzarella bubbles around the edges.
Potluck food hall, 1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, ogzazamn.com
Two immigrants who have made their mark on the Twin Cities restaurant world and take pizza-making very seriously.
Joy's pick: Ann Kim
I dare you to watch Ann Kim's episode of Netflix's "Chef's Table" without shedding a tear. Or watch her legendary James Beard Award acceptance speech when she declared, "[Alliterative expletive] Fear." Kim came to pizza-making after a left-turn career choice, pondering her best move forward as an immigrant, Korean American woman and determined entrepreneur. Kim didn't just perfect the art of sauce and dough, she revolutionized the way we eat it. Putting kimchi on the Lady Zaza was just the beginning. From Pizzeria Lola's humble pies — with curled pepperonis, to Young Joni's still-hard-to-snag dinner reservations and its back bar that feels like a basement, to Hello Pizza's whole other style, Kim has proved that she's not only one of the best pizza chefs in Minneapolis, she's one of the best nationwide.
Sharyn's pick: Daniel del Prado
The Argentine-Italian chef and co-owner of a vast portfolio of restaurants, del Prado devotes a few of them to Mediterranean-inspired, wood-fired bliss. You can get his blistered-edged pies at Josefina and Rosalia, as well as Sanjusan (which still carries some of his recipes despite his exit). Though the margherita is a surefire classic, the cleverest one pays homage to another big name: "The Isaac Becker" is coined after del Prado's mentor, the James Beard Award-winning Bar La Grassa chef whose spicy raw tuna pasta gets reinvented into pizza form. It was at BLG that del Prado cut his teeth as a local rising star. Del Prado's star has only continued to rise, with a dizzying number of projects in recent years and more in the works. Here's hoping that his infallible pizzas are always on the menu.
Crusts feature Minnesota-grown heritage wheat with hearty, whole-grain chew; toppings celebrate our agricultural roots.
Joy's pick: Red Wagon Pizza Co.
As a kid, Peter Campbell was already dreaming about pizza. When he had the chance to start out with a mobile wood-fired oven, it was the fruition of all that time spent planning the perfect slice. Now, inside the expanding restaurant in Minneapolis' Armatage neighborhood, all those years of pizza work have paid off in our favor. The crust begins with heritage wheat from Baker's Field — or a gluten-free crust made to his exacting specifications. The toppings are fun and pizzas are built to be shared: All can be built by the half, making it the ultimate destination to heal the rift between food adventure seekers and plain cheese purists.
5416 Penn Av. S., Mpls., redwagon-mpls.com
Sharyn's pick: Northern Fires
One of the Mill City Farmers Market's shining stars, pies from Northern Fires' portable wood-fire oven (as well as its permanent home in south Minneapolis) embody everything a farmers market pizza should. Ingredients are as local as can be: Red Table meats, stone-milled flour from Baker's Field, Wisconsin cheeses, farm-grown veggies, even jalapeños from the pizzeria's rooftop garden. Braving long lines to order a Kingfield (sausage and pepperoni) along with a serving of their equally local-minded frittata has become a summer Saturday tradition. East metro runner-up: St. Paul's Big River Pizza, which similarly utilizes its position adjacent to the St. Paul Farmers Market to celebrate Minnesota-made ingredients.
1839 E. 42nd St., Mpls., northernfirespizza.com
9 one-of-a-kind pies in the Twin Cities that deserve your attention
It'd be hard to pit these pizzerias up against another, when each of them has developed a singular kind of pie.
A to Z Pizza Farm
It's across the border in Stockholm, Wis., but this pizza farm's practically fresh-picked pies are the epitome of the genre, drawing Twin Citians on summer Tuesdays. atozproduceandbakery.com
This taste of Buenos Aires from Facundo Da Fraia changed the face of pizza with its unique shape, salty-sweet sauce and killer crust available at four Minneapolis locations. boludo.com
Come for this new Minneapolis distillery's gorgeous room, stay for the irresistible sourdough crust pizza. earlgiles.com
Football Pizza: A Minneapolis Middle Eastern restaurant that built a beloved reputation on pizzas shaped like, you guessed it, an oblong ball. footballpizza.com
Margie's Kitchen: The signature brick-oven pizzas at this Andover hot spot feature out-there topping combos, like the Better Than a Bagel pie, with cream sauce and smoked salmon. margies-kitchen.com
Mucci's Italian: The St. Paul restaurant serves up the fried pizza that put montanara on everybody's lips. muccisitalian.com
Pau Hana: Hawaiian-inspired toppings seriously up the pizza game at this Savage-based ode to the tropics. pauhanamn.com
Pizza Karma: One of his many culinary gifts to the Twin Cities, the great cookbook author Raghavan Iyer helped launch this burgeoning local chain (there are now three locations), with its tandoor-fired naan-style pizza crusts and Indian-spiced toppings. pizzakarma.com
Pizza Luce: Minneapolis' OG wacky topping pizza, Luce continues to deliver its distinctive, pies out of several locations throughout the metro. Plus, there's a wide array of vegan toppings and a favorite gluten-free crust. pizzaluce.com