When I was Growing up in a place lovingly referred to as the Pizza Belt, we had a neighborhood spot that my family visited weekly (sometimes daily), our gourmet neighborhood spot that came in handy when we wanted a little more meal for our buck, and our once-a-year neighborhood spot that was reserved for special nights. I'm happy to report that you can get away with that kind of pizza procurement in Houston these days too. The city is booming with everything, from solid Wednesday night pizzerias to late-night weekend hangs, from Friday night family dinner destinations to the kind of pies you tell everyone about. Here are some of our favorites:
The dough of Roman pizza is slow-fermented at controlled temperatures so it achieves an airy, bubbly interior while maintaining a crispy exterior after it's baked. At BOH, the Bravery Chef Hall Italian street-food concept from Ben McPherson, the pizza is exactly that. Opt for either the pepperoni, where the little discs catch the perfect amount of grease, or the Funghi, a funky mushroom and truffle pie with creamy ricotta.
The spacious New York-style haunt up in Garden Oaks produces a decent facsimile of the thin-crust pizza back East. Two of the wider, cheesier slices should fill you up, but at some point you're going to want to order a big ol' stromboli (Italian sausage, pepperoni, crumbled beef, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, peppers, onions, mozzarella).
Chef Arash Kharat ferments his dough for 72 hours, then, with cheese, sauce, and toppings, he puts together some wild hybrid of New York, California, and Neapolitan, and finally he fires his creations in a wood oven. The result is something wholly Houstonian, such as the River Oaks (garlic, olive oil, ricotta and mozzarella, arugula, and, for additional bucks, prosciutto) and the Montrose (sausage, pesto, mushrooms, cilantro, and jalapeños). These are pizzas that set a tone for a city's style.
I’m still searching for deep dish that requires a fork and knife simply because of its absurd heft, but, full stop, this is good pizza. You can load up with meats and veggies, and your slice won't break down; in fact, the cheese just gets super stretched. Maybe the best pizza as a meal in town. Bonus: Get the porky fries, which are doused in thick, Cheez Whiz-like cheddar and slices of bacon. They’re hard to put down.
Jonesing for a pizza night with a little oomph? May I suggest the chicken, prosciutto, tomato, sage, and Saba pizza from this Heights favorite? (May I also suggest adding a yard egg, which means a burst of velvety yellow yolk onto your ham?) You should also spring for the simple but lovely tomato, basil, and mozzarella pie, whose sauce has just the right amount of sweetness. Order takeout or wait in the back garden for a seat—either way, you can't go wrong.
A Houston institution for late-night (and early-morning) pizza while enjoying Downtown entertainment, Frank's serves up big slices with bubbly, tangy cheese. Favorite specialties include the Italiano Texano, combining sausage and onions with goat cheese and jalapeños for a creamy, spicy, and smoky mix; and the chicken ranchero, which comes with a side of ranch dressing ... great for dipping that crust.
At this cool little café that opened last summer on Midtown's Austin Street, Venezuelan-born pastry chef and co-owner Vanessa Fernandez—who stands behind a sign that reads Pizza Queen—is living up to her nickname with her superb pies. Her oven-blistered, 13-inch, 48-to-72-hour-fermented sourdough crusts are super-thin, springy, and sturdy enough to hold plenty of toppings. She sources coaster-sized pepperoni, which threatens to cover the entire surface area of her pies, especially on the standout Pepperoni Madness, whose salty, spicy snap is balanced by a smooth, sweet undertone of honey for a delicious pepperoni pie that might be my favorite in the city. You can even add pepperoni to your pie (and you should), like the Cappellone "Big Hat" with mushrooms and onions.
It isn't difficult to eat a personal-size, nine-inch cheese pizza at this cute Heights-area spot. Consider this perfect midweek pizza with the kids—while the cheese is a bit too heavy and while the crisp can be charred a little too much, the pies go down easy, there are little condiments meant to gussy up your meal in every possible way, and lots of games are available to pass the time. Pizza should be fun, and it is here.
The Neapolitan pies at Pizaro's are solid, but without a doubt, the order to make here is from the Detroit-style menu. Rectangular and workmanlike Detroit-style pie emphasizes a crispy crust and an ultra-rich topping of brick cheese, and Pizaro's nails it. The Motown (little pepperoni cups, plus more pepperoni under the cheese) is a classic, but don't forget the Vesuvius with ghost pepper sausage and spicy soppressata.
Previously Pizza L'Vino, this small joint in a shopping center near Buffalo Bayou really knows New York style (only available as slices at lunchtime). It’s the right balance of cheese and tomato sauce over a super-thin crust that manages to be just crunchy enough but still easy to fold. Bonus: grease in the pocket. Pizza Birra Vino specializes in deep dish with wild toppings (try chicken scampi for a savory, creamy treat). Of course, you have to pair your pie with beer or wine (that's the name of the place). Plenty of Saint Arnold and Eureka Heights brews are available here, and the wine selection is tidy, but, to their credit, there are multiple varieties of cabernet.
There’s an old bumper sticker on the wall telling us where to listen to the New York Mets on the radio. In pizzerias across the East, owners unironically slap bumper stickers on registers, walls, and counters. I am very anti-Mets, but I’m very pro that bumper sticker. Also, the New York slices here are tall, thin, and mild in cheese flavor and not overpowering in tomato flavor. For an East Coast expat who once lived in Queens, it's near perfect.
The wood oven at Rosie's plays a starring role at this cozy, Mediterranean-focused Montrose restaurant, making for some of the best pizzas in Houston. Their golden crusts are decorated with plenty of char and air bubbles. The standout is the sumptuous fennel sausage version with bright-green pesto, creamy mozzarella, and smoked ricotta. An undeniably rustic and funky pie with speck (prosciutto) and chile oil, plus sweet Castelvetrano olives, it is a perfect nosh with a glass of Bordeaux from Rosie's expansive wine list.
At this godfather of Houston (and Texas) craft breweries, I like ordering one of my favorite pizzas in the city: the super-cheesy Flanders—mozzarella, Parmesan (sense a trend?), cheddar, and queso fresco. It’s best enjoyed out in that superb beer garden with a couple of beers, such as the easy-drinking Pub Crawl or the more hefty and biting Art Car.
The Chicago-style deep dish at Star is a solid copycat of what you'll find in the Windy City, especially as you'll need a spatula to lift it from its casserole-style pan. Whatever style you get, the pizzas here are colorful with bulging crusts. The Joe's (spinach and garlic) is a classic pie, good in any form, while a deep dish Ben's (ground beef, Italian sausage, pepperoni, ham) is sure to send you to another planet.
Boasting mammoth 16-inch and thin slices of cheese and pepperoni, Vinny's takes a big shot at capturing New York hearts, and the greasy victory from one bite means it does its job. You can also get specialty pies like the El Primo (Angus beef, pepperonata [a mishmash of peppers, onions, and tomatoes], chile flakes, and ricotta), and they pretty much hold up on the crust. Fun appetizers like meatballs with sweet chile sauce—called spaceballz—round out the carefree EaDo experience.