Plenty of pizza shops have opened in Washington in recent years, but Pizzeria Orso easily has been the most anticipated. It’s backed by the owner of the elegant Falls Church restaurant 2941, and more important, the pizzaiolo is Edan MacQuaid, who helped 2 Amys in DC’s Cleveland Park become the area’s benchmark for Neapolitan pies.
Neapolitan pizza isn’t easy to get right. The crust, blast-fired at 800 degrees, has to be thin but not crispy as well as weighty enough to support buffalo mozzarella, which contains more water than typical mozzarella, and a finishing drizzle of olive oil. But the pizzas at Orso have almost always been spot-on.
Thanks to a sourdough starter, MacQuaid’s crust has more flavor than competitors’ versions and chewy, puffed edges with the characteristic Neapolitan burnt-black mottling. The pies get another boost from excellent toppings: Little coins of spicy pepperoni dot the Diavola pie; cockles in their shells join capers and red-pepper flakes on the salt lover’s Vongole, a replica of the one at 2 Amys; and a ham-and-mushroom gets a cream sauce that’s not overly rich. Orso also turns out folded pizzas, the edges rolled and stuffed with cheese, but as with their Pizza Hut counterparts, the extra ingredients can feel excessive.
Save for poached eggs in a lightly spicy marinara sauce and a miniature eggplant Parmesan, MacQuaid’s antipasti have been disappointing. Some of them—including potato-and-cheese fritters, a broth with steamed clams, and suppli al telefono (fried risotto balls stuffed with buffalo mozzarella)—would benefit from an extra shake of salt. Leave room for dessert: Cannoli, especially the chocolate-chip and pistachio renditions, are terrific.
Although the entrance is in a nondescript office-building lobby, the charm picks up in the yellow-painted dining room, where cartoon-like posters—say, of a bear (orso in English) tearing into a pizza against a backdrop of Mount Vesuvius—add whimsy. Meanwhile, families ogle the wood-burning oven, waiting for what might be the best Neapolitan pizza in Washington.