Rating Specialty Pizzas

By: Todd Kliman


American Flatbread

43170 Southern Walk Plaza, Ashburn; 703-723-7003

From the dining room, decorated with posters for olive oil, organic vegetables, and a map of nearby farms, you can look out on a mall parking lot and see the sign for McDonald’s. Coincidence? Or by design? Because if ever there was an anti-McDonald’s, this Vermont-based pizzeria franchise is it. Virtually all of the produce and most of the meat come from nearby farms, and the place almost descends into preachy earnestness in touting its message. The pies are worth the fuss. The marvelously hillocked crusts—cooked in an earthenware oven in the center of the room—have the right amount of chew and crispness, plus a welcome bit of char on the underside. Toppings are thoughtfully deployed, melding into a unified whole.

Prices: $11 to $19.
Signature pie
: New Virginia Sausage (with nitrate-free maple fennel sausage from Wood Trail farms).
Hours: Open daily for dinner.
Rating: ****

Bebo Trattoria

2250-B Crystal Dr., Arlington; 703-412-5076

The pizzas at Roberto Donna’s Galileo Grill were among the highlights of that short-lived experiment. These are even better—worth braving the sometimes insulting service for. A Neapolitan-style recipe that includes beer yeast is the basis for the dough, which is fired in an imported Italian brick oven. The result is a light, airy canvas—thin on the bottom, bubbly at the edges—for the kitchen’s first-rate adornments.

Prices: $8 to $19.
Signature pie
: Rolli Dia Prosciutto Ripieni (tomato, mozzarella, basil, ricotta-filled rolled ham, topped with Parmesan and olive oil).
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner only.
Rating: *****

Cafe Pizzaiolo

507 S. 23rd St., Arlington; 703-894-2250

So ubiquitous is the wood oven, you’d think it was the secret to gourmet pizza. But the pies at this unpretentious Crystal City pizzeria—whether the thin and crispy Neapolitan style or the heftier New York style—are baked in a gas-fired stone-hearth oven. The result is a flatter pie than the 2 Amys/Pizzeria Paradiso model, with a character—sweet, tomatoey sauce, good crackle in the crust—more reminiscent of Little Italy than of Italy.

Prices: $6.75 to $20.
Signature pie: Smoked mozzarella and prosciutto.
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday 10:30 am to 9:30 pm. Delivery available.
Rating: **** 

Comet Ping Pong

5037 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-364-0404

The wood-burning oven, with its layers of insulated concrete and Italian volcanic ash, was built on site. The tomato sauce is made from organic tomatoes, canned by chef Carole Greenwood, from Toigo Farms. The cheese comes from Blue Ridge Dairy in Virginia. The proof, of course, is in the pizza. After an up-and-down start, this self-consciously postmodern pizza parlor is now turning out DC’s best pies—superlative, cracker-crisp crusts topped with vividly fresh ingredients and slicked, New Haven style, with a drizzle of olive oil.

Prices: $7.50 to $18.
Signature pie: Smoky Pie (mushrooms and bacon smoked over wood-burning grill next door at Buck’s Fishing and Camping, with onion, garlic, and smoked mozzarella).
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.
Rating: *****

Coppi’s Organic

1414 U St., NW; 202-319-7773

At peak times, the wood-burning Italian brick oven gets up to 1,400 degrees. That means the round, single-serving pizzas cook quickly. But don’t presume that speed means sloppiness. From the organic flour used to make the dough to the first-rate ingredients that go into the toppings, this U Street standby minds the details. If only the pies were less dry.

Prices: $14.95 to $23.95.
Signature pie: Saraceno (lamb sausage, smoked mozzarella, spicy Moroccan sun-dried-tomato harissa).
Hours: Open daily for dinner.
Rating: ***

Ella’s Wood-Fired Pizza

901 F St., NW; 202-638-3434

The stone slates inside the wood-fired brick oven give the impression of an enlarged fireplace—and raise expectations of a soulful taste of the hearth. The crusts are thin and crisp and lightly salty, but they lack the air pockets and variations in texture that make for memorable pizza. And what does it matter if the toppings are good and fresh if they slide off the crust as soon as you pull your first slice?

Prices: $8.95 to $17.95.
Signature pie: Margherita with basil and sea salt.
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner.
Rating: **

Fireworks Pizza

201 Harrison St., SE, Leesburg; 703-779-8400

The best things about the free-form pies at this Loudoun County pizzeria—owned by the same folks behind the neighboring Modern American restaurant Tuscarora Mill—are the high-quality toppings: locally grown veggies, nitrate-free pepperoni and prosciutto, sausage made from Virginia lamb, Mahon cheese. The kitchen’s creative combinations are almost enough to distract from the disappointing crusts, which, despite their time in the wood-burning oven, are oddly flabby and floury. The beers, a mix of Belgian ales and New England porters, are as carefully sourced as the ingredients.  

Prices: $9 to $17.
Signature pie: Smokey Blue (Gorgonzola cheese, roasted onions, smoked bacon, dashes of reduced balsamic vinegar).
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Rating: **

Matchbox

713 H St., NW; 202-289-4441

From a perch at the always throbbing bar, you can look over at the hand-built hearth. The fire is laid daily—no gas or electric power here. Powerful enticements, and the pies that emerge from the flames look great—thin, crisp crusts, abundantly adorned. But in the tasting, they’re upstaged by the mini-burgers and lacy fries.

Prices: $10 to $21.
Signature pie: Matchbox Meat (pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, bacon, tomato sauce, mozzarella).
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Rating: ** 

Mia’s Pizzas

4926 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-718-6427

After an uncertain start, this cozy Bethesda restaurant is producing some of the area’s best pizza. You’re not likely to find a pie with sturdier construction: Pull out a slice—it won’t flop. The cooks are instructed to leave the pies in the wood-fired ceramic oven a little long­er than is considered advisable at many places, resulting in a light amber color and a pronounced crunch. Extra oomph comes from the sauce, made with cooked tomatoes.

Prices: $8 to $14.
Signature pie
: Salsiccia (house-made pork sausage, mozzarella, Margherita pepperoni, portobello mushroom, cooked-tomato sauce).
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Rating: **** 

Moroni & Brothers

4811 Georgia Ave., NW; 202-829-2090

A wood-fired brick oven in a Salvadoran restaurant? You bet. This storefront in DC’s Petworth is among the most encouraging signs in the current pizza boom. Its crusts, rolled thin and flavored with olive oil, are chewy on the perimeter, crunchy inside. Owners Jose and Reyna Velasquez used to work at Pizzeria Paradiso, but their pies are closer to the New York or Philly style than to the boutique standard of Paradiso. This is prole pizza—lots of sauce, lots of cheese—and proudly so.

Prices: $8 to $15.95.
Signature pie
: Diavola (tomato sauce, sweet peppers, jalapeño peppers, red onions, mozzarella, sausage).
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Rating: ***

Pie-tanza

2503 N. Harrison St., Arlington; 703-237-0200

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about these pies, baked in the wood-fired brick oven at this Arlington strip-mall restaurant. The crusts are thin, but not look-at-me thin. None of the ingredients has been sourced from a farm. But the pies are tasty and satisfying, and it’s nice to be able to choose among at least 36 toppings to customize them.

Prices: $8.99 to $11.69.
Signature pie: Classic Mediterranean (no sauce, black olives, pancetta, sweet roasted tomatoes, fresh herbs, olive oil).
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Rating: **

Pizza Zero

4925 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 240-497-0751

This moody, slick-looking Bethesda cafe cooks its pizzas over an Argentinean mesquite-wood grill, which produces a memorable crust—thin and crispy, with a slightly sweet, lightly smoky flavor that even the blanketing of cheese can’t obscure. When it comes to toppings, the bolder the better.

Prices: $7.50 to $12.
Signature pie: Porteño (tomato sauce, mozzarella, provolone, Argentinian sausage with chimichurri sauce).
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Rating: ** 

Pizzeria Paradiso

2029 P St., NW, 202-223-1245; 3282 M St., NW, 202-337-1245

DC’s first serious foray into the wood-burning, single-serving boutique-pizza genre 16 years ago, Pizzeria Paradiso is still sending out pies of distinction cooked with care. At times the balance between chewy and crispy is out of whack (more chewy than crispy), and it would be nice to see some changes in the menu, but the spicy Atomica, with salami, black olives, and hot-pepper flakes, and the Bottarga, with its namesake mullet roe and a soft-fried egg, belong in any food lover’s little black book.

Prices: $9.50 to $16.95.
Signature pie: Bosco (tomato, mushrooms, spinach, red onion, and mozzarella).
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Rating: ****

RedRocks

1036 Park Rd., NW; 202-506-1402

All the specs are authentic—the pies are cooked at 750 to 900 degrees in a wood-burning, dome-shaped Italian brick oven. So why aren’t the pies at this Columbia Heights townhouse in DC more satisfying? They’re too beholden to their crusts. Spareness is one thing, but cheese and sauce sometimes come across as mere condiments. The place has promise, but it has to solve the matter of proportionality.

Prices: $8.95 to $12.95.
Signature pie: Sausage and peppers (tomato, mozzarella, house-made fennel sausage, sweet peppers, Parmesan).
Hours: Open Monday through Friday for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Rating: ** 

2 Amys

3715 Macomb St., NW; 202-885-5700

When it opened in 2001, 2 Amys quickly established itself as DC’s best pizza. The seriousness of its mission is evident in its certification from the Denominazione di Origine Controllata in Naples, the governing body that stipulates what can and can’t go into and on a Neapolitan pizza. We could exhaust you with the details—such as how the fresh yeast is fermented for 24 hours—but we’ll simply say the crusts are sublime, as light, airy, and crispy as you could hope for, and the toppings are unfailingly fresh and alive.

Prices: $6.95 to $12.95.
Signature pie
: Margherita (tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil).
Hours: Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Rating: ***** 

What the ratings mean: 5 stars = extraordinary; 4 = great; 3 = good; 2 = worthwhile; 1 = ordinary.