A week ago, after arduous and weighty research, I came out with my Top 5 picks for best pizzas in town. Listed in alphabetical order according to where I found each pizza. Which, apparently, was confusing.
I get that. It’s a little confusing to read what I just wrote. What’s the ranking? people asked. Where’s the best pizza?
First, thanks for saying something. Thanks to you, I’m recasting the listing into a ranking of the best pizza places in town.
Methodology? I went in as a pizza lover with an open mind. No preset standards about certain styles, combos of toppings or thicknesses of crust. Just looking for an experience that would wow my taste buds in a way that would linger on my brain. That simple.
I tasted more than three dozen pizzas, either served up on the premises or hot and fresh out of the box in my car. At each place I tried two, three or four pies (except for North Shore Farms, which makes only one kind, and The Alley at Aiea Bowl). Each pizza got one chance, meaning I didn’t go back to try the same pizza.
And it was all about the pizza. Service and ambience didn’t matter. The first impression counted the most: How OMG is it? Are my eyes rolling around? Am I marveling to everyone at the table with every bite? (If you’ve eaten with me, BTW, sorry about that.) If I was by myself, did I have to resist the urge to phone someone about the incredibleness?
Second impression was the lasting one. Days later, was I still dreaming about that pizza? That was the clincher. The ones I loved, I wanted more of. Most of the time, these were the same pies that hit it out of the ballpark with the first impression, but not always.
To drool over pics of the top-ranked pies, check out the gallery. Here’s a peek at the rest.
Best pizza places in town: The ranking
Drive out of your way for these
1. V-Lounge and Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizza (tied): V-Lounge was the godfather of local pizza; now Inferno’s shows up in Kalihi, a scrappy challenger from out of nowhere, and the two are evenly matched. Both do kiawe wood-fired pizza that quickly bakes the crust and leaves charred airy bubbles. V- Lounge’s crust is softer and holds up better longer, and among its artisanal creations, salsiccia is the ultimate comfort pie. Inferno’s San Marzano tomato sauce and toppings sing to each other but the crust, fantastically crispy when hot, cools off to a pronounced chewiness pretty fast.
3. Antonio’s New York Pizzeria: For when you want well-done standards. Great, reliable pies with nicely oiled, crispy crusts. Get the meaty Village and ask for thick-cut mushrooms.
4. North Shore Farms: Only one kind of pizza, but grilling gives it an insane crust that’s extra-crispy and toothsomely chewy at the same time. To top if off, the whole thing is slathered with a mac nut pesto that’s off the charts.
5. J.J. Dolan’s: As I said before, the king of downtown pizzas, but not for the crust, which can be slightly dry. Spinach and garlic is like eating a duet that’s singing in perfect harmony, and scampi is good too.
Stop in if you’re nearby
6. Apartment3: Pizza’s not the main draw at this seen-and-be-seen hot spot, but pickled pepper is a zingy eye-popper, even if the thin crust is pre-made.
7. Formaggio Grill Kailua: Also relies on a pre-made crust, which works when topped with pesto-dressed chunky romaine and soft morsels of pancetta.
8. Bar 35: Thin-crust pizzas can get interesting, as in packed with smoked salmon or topped with mild Brie. But the flavors just miss memorable: Rich salmon could be cut with onions, and Brie is oddly not quite cheesy or salty enough.
9. Fendu Boulangerie: Baked in a thin-crust style that’s actually quite bready, these pies can go overboard with cheese, but get points for flavor-burst toppings like pesto and fresh Hamakua mushrooms.
Only if someone else is paying
10. The Alley at Aiea Bowl: Not much flavor in the 10 Pin, which is sparse on toppings aside from cheese and pickled jalapenos, and the crust is soft.
11. Boston’s Kaimuki: Sad and soggy every time, even eaten right there, although the garlicky spinach hits home.
12. La Pizza Rina: Even if the pan-style crust is cooked well, tomato sauce is sweet, clashes with savory toppings like pepperoni and just doesn’t work.
13. Magoo’s Pizza: This one actually destroyed a friend’s happy childhood memories of driving there for pizza with her dad. Sweet tomato sauce and myriad toppings clash in a cacophony of sweet, sour and salty. Big, juicy shrimp and oozy, oven-roasted garlic are standouts, but not enough for a save.
14. Big Kahuna Pizza: Listen to everybody who tells you to get the garlic balls. Pizza here, aside from featuring the most cloyingly sweet sauces sitting atop bread — yes, bread — comes closest in composition, taste and texture to school lunch pizza in elementary school.