The hottest, buzziest new whatever is always fun. We’ll never say no to gourmet pizza toppings or 72-hour dough fermentation. But there are times when our Italian food cravings are more, shall we say, niche — Detroit-style pizza, say, or a pizzeria where you don’t have to decide between barbecue and pepperoni. Or a pizza joint with an entire wall of microbrews.
Here are a dozen fantastic Bay Area pizzerias for any and all occasions.
Rocco’s Ristorante Pizzeria, Walnut Creek: When you want La Dolce Vita with your pizza
The vintage Vespa hanging from the ceiling tells you everything you need to know about owner Rocco Biale’s love of great food and pop culture and his family’s Italian heritage.
The Vespa appeared in Federico Fellini’s classic 1960 film, “La Dolce Vita.” Owner Rocco Biale purchased the scooter at auction to add to the vivid decor of his bustling restaurant, which also showcases an array of movie posters, sports memorabilia and table-top printouts of Frank Sinatra song lyrics. For nearly 25 years, the restaurant in the Encina Grande shopping center has presented Biale’s vision of the “the sweet life” to pizza-lovers in central Contra Costa.
To Biale, the sweet life means family, community and hearty, classic Italian food, notably pizza. Adding to the delights: There’s always a soundtrack of pop standards playing in the background or, twice a week, music performed by popular Bay Area cover bands and singer-songwriters.
Biale is particularly proud that his restaurant truly is family run, with his adult children managing the bar and running the front of the house — and some of his staff have worked at Rocco’s since it opened. It all adds to a “family casual” vibe that embraces customers’ important life moments, from soccer team parties to retirement farewells.
“You can roll in here from the beach in shorts and flip-flops, but we also have wedding rehearsal dinners and other formal celebrations,” Biale said. “We like to maintain that we can be all things to all people.”
The slice: The meaty Dominator ($24.25 to $30.90), named for Biale’s son Dominic, is topped with pepperoni, salami, ham and linguica, while Dante’s Inferno ($24.25 to $30.90) — named for son Dante — offers a veggie alternative with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, feta and garlic-herb sauce. All of Rocco’s pies boast a crust so golden and chewy, it be savored on its own.
Details: Open daily at 2909 Ygnacio Valley Road, Walnut Creek; www.roccospizzeria.com.
Rise Woodfire Pizza, San Mateo: When you have a train to catch
Omid Zahedi operates the most transit-friendly pizza restaurant around. Truly. It’s located inside San Mateo’s downtown Caltrain station.
Imagine the possibilities. Meet-ups with friends who live at the other end of the Bay Area. Or trips home from a Giants day game on one of those trains that stops at Every Single Station. By the time you get to San Mateo, you’re famished. Hop off, eat, hop back on with the leftovers. In fact, Zahedi says, Caltrain conductors have been known to order ahead and jump off the train during a routine stop to pick up their pizza.
Most customers, however, are locals here for the blistered-crust pizzas baked in ovens imported from Naples and the slow-roasted rotisserie chicken and beef ribs. Zahedi, a finance guy turned pizza wizard, did hundreds of tests before settling on a dough recipe of non-GMO flour mixed with organic whole grains for the 12-inch, thin-crust pies. Bestsellers include the Calabrese & Honey ($20.50), a spicy salami, fire-roasted jalapeño and mozzarella number that gets a drizzle of honey infused with Calabrese chiles, and the simple, yet classic Napoli ($21.50), with crushed tomato, mozzarella di bufala, parmesan and basil.
Before ordering and between bites, take time to gaze around at the architectural beauty of this depot, with its 40-foot-high vaulted wood ceiling. An expensive renovation absolutely transformed the space.
The slice: Can’t decide between the pizza and the barbecue ribs? The popular Beef Back Rib & Arugula pizza ($22) tops a white sauce of ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan with shredded beef, caramelized onions and arugula. For a buck more, get a cup of the house-made chipotle barbecue sauce (or one of the eight other flavors) for crust-dipping.
Details: Serves from 11 a.m. daily until 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday-Monday at 2 North B St., San Mateo. There’s also a Burlingame location, 1451 Burlingame Ave. www.risewoodfire.com
Primo’s Pizzeria and Pub, Danville: When you want to do some serious people and/or sports watching
For Drew Nichols, the necessity of COVID-era outdoor dining turned out to be an opportunity. He turned his former front parking lot into an expansive outdoor space — an elaborate covered patio built of reclaimed wood from his parents’ old barn — which gives customers more of what’s made Primo’s a Danville mainstay for more than 40 years.
Located in the heart of downtown, Primo’s has long been a community hub – for kids’ birthdays, youth sports team parties and gatherings of friends. People come for the hearty pizza, as well as the 35 beers on tap and signature cocktails.
Nichols, who bought Primo’s from the original owner 12 years ago, has filled the space with communal tables and multiple flat screens airing Warriors playoffs, 49ers games and coverage of local high school teams vying for state championships. It also offers excellent people-watching opportunities, with views of the comings and goings on Hartz Avenue. It’s a popular new spot for alfresco brunch too with a menu that includes avocado toast and huevos rancheros.
The slice: Pizza has always been the main draw, with specialities that range from Thai chicken to California veggie. Primo’s is most famous for The Godfather pizza ($12.55 to $34.95), which marries the purity of a simple Margherita with a few extras — mushrooms, sausage and garlic. Primo’s also bakes golden calzones ($17.10), stuffed with your choice of ingredients, and tosses a spicy Cajun chicken pasta.
Details: Open daily, with weekend brunch starting at 9 a.m., 298 Hartz Ave., Danville; primosdanville.com.
Slice of Homage, San Jose: When you want to know what the Detroit pizza craze is all about
When it comes to pizza, the artisanal California style, the foldable New York and the deep-dish Chicago have ruled the local restaurant scene for ages. But the Detroit style of pizza is making inroads (pun intended), with good reason.
It’s saucy, it’s substantial — and it comes with an irresistible caramelized cheese crust called the frico.
As Motor City legend has it, the concept was created when pizza makers riffed on square Sicilian-style pies by baking theirs in rectangular forged-steel pans borrowed from local automotive plants. Pizza sauce is poured on top, sometimes in racing-stripe fashion.
In downtown San Jose, pizzaiolo-trained Steven Barrantes pays tribute to all styles while feeding the entertainment scene at San Pedro Social, but his Detroit sets the South Bay standard. He’s refined the recipe over the past few years, using artisanal flour, Stanislaus County tomatoes and the Rosa Grande brand of “cupping” pepperoni.
The slice: On the popular Detroit vs. Everybody pie, dollops of whipped ricotta temper the spiciness of the pepperoni, salami, sausage and bacon. Want to gild the lily? Add hot honey. The full size ($45) is cut into six meal-size squares; the mini costs $35.
Details: Days/hours fluctuate, so check the website for the most current information. 163 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; www.sohpizza.com
Nick’s Pizza, Oakland: When you want to shout out your community
Nick’s bills itself as serving “Oakland-style” pizza – thin blistered sourdough crust, scattered with local produce and house-prepared meats – but it also serves up tons of North Oakland pride.
The corner joint stages regular community meals, handing out free slices and drinks to the neighborhood that chef and founder Nick Yapor-Cox grew up in. It builds a pumpkin patch every Halloween to benefit the local school. And this summer, Nick’s will take one of the biggest community leaps of all by becoming a worker-owned co-op. “I’m swelling with pride,” Yapor-Cox announced, “knowing the business I built will move forward with workers controlling the means of production.”
The community spirit is wonderful — and so is the pizza, which shows off Yapor-Cox’s skills acquired at Arizmendi Bakery and Alex Guarnaschelli’s Butter, where he worked as pastry chef. The pizzas come topped with fresh mozzarella (or ricotta or cotija or Grana Padano) and seasonal ingredients such as melted leeks, peppery arugula, walnuts and pears. There are also killer Italian-style sandos like the P.M.T.A. (prosciutto, mozz, tomato, basil and white anchovy). And baked goods are top-notch, from lox bagels and artichoke loaves to decadently buttery shortcake with strawberries and whipped cream.
The slice: You can’t go wrong with the standards — uncured pepperoni or spinach-mushroom and roasted garlic (sold by the slice or whole pie, $18.50-$28). But you’d be remiss if you didn’t try the specials, such as shaved California asparagus with hot coppa and Meyer lemon or the B.G.T. with bacon, gorgonzola and heirloom tomatoes and a chewy crust perfect for dipping in creamy house ranch.
Details: Open Wednesday-Sunday at 6400 Shattuck Ave., Oakland; oaklandstylepizza.com.
State of Mind, Los Altos, Redwood City, Palo Alto: When you want an award-winning slice
How about a couple of slices from an internationally recognized pizzaiola and pizzaiolo?
The Peninsula’s pizza power couple of Cristina Aceves-Smith and Lars Smith are continuing their run of successes, with her taking fifth in the pizza-baked-on-a-paddle category at the recent World Pizza Championship in Italy and him presenting a program at the World Pizza Masters in Seoul.
Those skills and creativity find their way onto the menu at their two State of Mind Public Houses and their State of Mind Slice House, where they create pizzas using California-made cheeses and California-grown tomatoes (organic Bianco DiNapoli). Try one of the award-winning combinations, like the Elotero, with chorizo, jalapeño, mozzarella, corn, ricotta and micro cilantro. Or maybe a customer favorite like the Heat & Sweet, which is Hobbs bacon, jalapeño slices and honey atop mozzarella. (Prices vary by size and location.)
The slice: Simplicity rules. A delicious daily special, the spinach, ricotta and red onion (slice, $5.75) — a drizzle of balsamic vinegar brought the ingredients together — made us forget all about pepperoni. Try it with one of the standout salads like the Pub Greens Salad with watermelon radish, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes or the Summatime, featuring peaches, corn and tomatoes. We liked both the Point Reyes blue cheese dressing and the Golden Balsamic.
Details: All three locations are open Wednesday-Monday. 101 Plaza North, Los Altos and 3710 Florence St., Redwood City; www.stateofmindpublichouse.com. Grab slices/takeout at 3850 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; www.stateofmindslicehouse.com.
Skipolini’s, Clayton, Concord and other East Bay locations: When you need a pizza so decadent it could induce labor
Skipolini’s isn’t just known as a small, family-owned chain of popular East Bay pizzerias. Its pizzas have developed a reputation for being extremely useful to pregnant women who have reached their due dates and are eager to meet their babies.
Sure, there’s no scientific basis for the idea that eating pizza will induce labor, but that hasn’t stopped a legend from growing up around Skipolini’s Prego Pizza. The legend began in the early 1980s when a heavily pregnant woman dined at the original Clayton location and jokingly begged for help, prompting the manager to concoct a pie loaded with vegetables, six types of meat (salami, pepperoni, ham, sausage, ground beef and linguica) and extra garlic, onions and oregano. The woman reported that labor followed hours later. Since the, Skipolini’s Prego Pizza has since been featured in news stories and gained a following on sites devoted to the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” crowd.
Of course, Skipolini’s has other pizzas to recommend it, as well as salads, sandwiches and a friendly, hometown vibe. The Ipsen family, originally headed by Skip and Bev Ipsen, opened their first restaurant in Clayton nearly 40 years ago in a former family home that had once been that town’s post office. Many of the family’s eight restaurants, now managed by son Kent Ipsen, retain that sense of community connection, with the Concord spot occupying a prominent location just off Todos Santos Plaza and featuring a bustling front patio that’s popular for families with kids and groups of teens.
The slice: If The Prego ($21.75 to $42.25) sounds a bit overwhelming, try the Palermo topped with roasted-garlic chicken, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. The delicious, meat-free Pesto Primavera ($20.75 to $40.75) features juicy tomatoes and crunchy zucchini arranged over the pesto in an explosion of fresh colors and flavors.
Details: Skipolini’s eight locations include Clayton, Concord, Walnut Creek, Antioch and Oakley; www.skipolinispizza.com.
La Pizzeria, Campbell, Cupertino: When your Silicon Valley soul yearns for a trip to Italy
Time slows down — in all the right ways — at La Pizzeria, where dining out feels like an Italian escape. You’re handed a menu and suddenly, whatever obligations await later that day feel a little less urgent.
“I like to say that when you step through the door it’s like stepping into another country,” says Daniele Pallocca, manager of the Campbell location.
Owned by Roman-born chef Antonella Muratori-Saccani, La Pizzeria serves its pizzas, brimming with tantalizing toppings, straight from the wood-fired oven. There’s a nice selection of pasta dishes, too, from Penne al Salmone ($27) to Gnocchi Gorgonzola ($24). And the luxurious Crema Catalana ($10) — think Italian creme brulee — is divine.
The slice: Try the Pizza alla Boscaiola ($24), which offers a mix of mozzarella and gorgonzola topped with wild mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and truffle oil, or the Pizza alla Francese ($23) with mozzarella, brie, parmesan, prosciutto and arugula.
Details: Open daily at 373 E. Campbell Ave. in Campbell and 10088 N. Wolfe Road, No. 120, in Cupertino; lapizzeria.us.
Vinnie’s Pizzeria, Martinez: When you want a legit Brooklyn slice, plus cannoli
You better have substance to back it up when you name your California pizza joint “Vinnie’s” and proclaim on the menu it’s “Brooklyn Style!” Fortunately, this compact joint does a good job channeling the vibe of New York’s many pie-slinging operations — and its owner, Vincent Sbarro, hails from New York pizza royalty. Yes, that Sbarro.
The pizzas bear names like the Brownstone (sausage, pepperoni, ham, bacon) and the Bensonhurst (chicken, artichoke, red onion, pesto), both $27 for a medium. The kitchen bakes not just calzones but their bulked-up cousins, the stromboli, stuffed with cured meat or spinach and broccoli and what must be a pound of melted cheese. And look at that: There are even garlic knots.
But what makes Vinnie’s a complete experience are the pastries you can take home, chief among them the cannoli ($5.99). The crunchy rolls stuffed with creamy ricotta, chocolate nuggets and candied orange are definitely something a murderous “Godfather” capo would take from a crime scene. There’s also tiramisu and cheesecake, as well as lesser-known desserts like a Cassata Siciliana, an almond-scented sponge cake with ricotta and candied fruit that’s as green as the stripe on Italy’s flag.
The slice: If the Brownstone’s four-meat fusillade seems like too much, you might try the Coney Island with pepperoni, mushrooms and olives. It’s served blisteringly hot – and the cheese will slide off if handled wrong, so go ahead and fold it.
Details: Open Monday-Saturday at 6635 Alhambra Ave., Suite 213, Martinez; vinniesofmartinez.com
Tandoori Pizza, Fremont, Sunnyvale and other locations: When you can’t choose between Italian and Indian
This Desi pizzeria is known for its fusion pizzas, and with seven NorCal locations, including Fremont, Dublin, Union City, San Ramon and Sunnyvale, you’ll have plenty of choices for where to nosh.
The East-meets-West approach offers up bold Indian flavors on Italian-style flatbread pizzas with options such as the Chicken Tikka ($28.75 for a large) — creamy garlic sauce, chicken tikka, mozzarella, onions, tomatoes and cilantro — at your local Pizza Hut. Prefer to go classic Italian? They do Margheritas and an all-meat combo too.
Bonus: These restaurants tend to stay open late. Hit up the Dublin or San Ramon location — both are open until 2 a.m. — after an Oakland A’s game.
The slice: You won’t go wrong with the delicious Tandoori Chicken ($28.75 large), which combines tandoori chicken with mozzarella, bell peppers, red and green onions and fresh cilantro. Also tasty: the Chili Paneer ($28.75) with its spicy curry sauce and marinated paneer.
Details: Find hours and locations at tandooripizza.com.
High Five Pizza Co., San Jose: When you can’t decide between a sports bar and a pizzeria
This popular neighborhood spot in South San Jose has more than a dozen TV screens showing games from both sides of the Bay. And management understands the importance of being able to hear the commentators, so – unlike many bars/restaurants – they turn the sound up. Not surprisingly, it’s a big hangout for Sharks fans, who feel right at home watching games against a backdrop of framed hockey jerseys.
The family-run business, which opened in 1989, also serves some of the best pizza — from trusty pepperoni ($19.75) to more adventurous offerings — that you’ll find anywhere in the South Bay. Beyond the ‘za, High Five is also known for its sandwiches, including the Slam Dunk ($12.95) which layers tri-tip and mozzarella on a French roll and serves it au jus. Plus there’s a barbecue menu on Wednesday evenings.
The slice: Try the Taco Pizza ($28.75 for large) with its mix of chipotle bean sauce, mozzarella, cheddar, marinated beef, black olives, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream, or the Red Wing ($28.75) which combines spicy chicken with a blue cheese sauce and mozzarella.
Details: Open daily at 171 Branham Lane, San Jose; hi5catering.com.
Round Table Pizza Clubhouse, San Ramon: When you have to host the T-ball pizza party (so there better be mighty fine craft beer)
We’ve all been there: It’s the weekend, and jersey-clad, chattering children fresh off a ballgame stream into Round Table eager for pepperoni pies and sugary soda. But at the San Ramon RT, the adults accompanying those little sluggers head straight for the long wall of self-serve beer taps in the back and inspect it like Indiana Jones scanning Egyptian hieroglyphics, leaning in to parse the electronic displays flashing names like Fort Point, Bear Republic and Firestone Walker.
No, this is not your everyday Round Table – it’s a Round Table Clubhouse, a pizza-pub concept the chain introduced several years ago. You order at the counter, per usual, but the décor is a cross between hotel lobby and old-time Italian restaurant, complete with arrays of wine bottles and marinated olives. Kids can nosh on their post-game pizza and shoot hoops or play claw-games in the Clubhouse Arcade, while grownups watch the Giants game on flat screens and peruse that wall of nearly 20 taps, including wine as well as beer. A wristband charges you by the pour, whether it’s a Henhouse Brewing pale ale or a Napa viognier.
The slice: Chances are your kids will dictate the order — Italian sausage, say, and bell peppers ($11 for personal size, $25 for medium) — and that’s fine. It’s Round Table. You know what you’re getting here. But any pizza served hot from the oven is good pizza, especially when served with a pint.
Details: Open daily at 2540 San Ramon Valley Blvd., San Ramon; www.roundtablepizza.com.
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