Ask any person what their favorite food is, and one of the top answers is likely to be “pizza.” Not only because pizza is delicious, but also because it’s ubiquitous in the American diet, has many subsects from which to choose (New York-style, Neapolitan, pizza rolls, etc.) and can please just about every diner from babies to foodies and college bros to paleo people (there are now cauliflower-crust pizzas in your grocer’s freezer).
Pizza is a great equalizer. It’s round. It’s shareable. It’s a communal convenience food and one of the first innovative meals to be delivered directly to your home; before UberEATS, there were pizza delivery guys saving dinnertime for busy families and babysitters everywhere.
This Pizza Issue is an ode to the dish as extolled by CityBeat staffers, as well as readers. In addition to our favorite pizza picks, we have listed the Best Pizza winners from the 2018 Best Of Cincinnati issue as chosen by readers. So, like pizza itself, this publication is a communal experience. And if you happen to hate pizza (you weirdo), we also have a list of pizza alternatives — other round foods with stuff on them.
Note: We would be remiss if we didn’t inform you about CityBeat’s upcoming Pizza Week (Nov. 5-11) featuring $8 specialty pies from local pizzerias (some of which may or may not be included in this issue). Get more info and find participating pizzerias at cincinnatipizzaweek.com.
ALTO Pizza Kitchen + Bar — ALTO Pizza Kitchen + Bar is the place for any Kentuckian — or Cincinnatian visiting from across the river — to grab a cocktail and pizza without breaking the bank. (They also have an ordering kiosk inside the nearby taproom of Braxton Brewing Company.) Their affordable Italian menu has oven-baked linguini, arugula salad and a brisket sandwich — but their pizza is, of course, the star. The crust is crispy yet substantial; you may need to use a fork, which is a plus to me. Their specialty pies include a gooey mac and cheese pizza sure to delight both adults and kids, a vegetarian pizza with eggplant and artichoke hearts and, my favorite, the Charcuterie Pizza. Best Bite: The Charcuterie Pizza is a culinary masterpiece at $15 for a 12-inch pie. ALTO features a charcuterie board as an appetizer option, so you know that this is not a meat-laden pizza that's seen fresher days. It's topped with roasted tomato sauce, mozzarella, pecorino, stag white cheddar, pepperoni, salami and mortadella. 43 W. Seventh St., Covington, Ky., alto-pizza.com. — MADGE MARIL
Betta’s Italian Oven — Will de Luca opened his family-run trattoria — named after his mother, Betta — in 2003. The casual wood-fired pizzeria has framed photos of de Luca and his family on the wall, a deli case with housemade daily salads (think artichoke salad, marinated olives, antipasto, etc.) and a menu featuring easy red-sauce Italian: everything from meatball subs and homemade lasagna to veal parmesan and spaghetti marinara. But the wood-fired oven takes center stage in the kitchen, producing perfectly singed, rustic and bubbly thin-crust pizzas. Favorite house creations include the Pizza Diavolo — a spicy pepperoni and sausage pie — and the Quattro Stagioni (aka “four seasons”): a classic topped with fresh mozzarella, Kalamata olives, prosciutto, tomatoes and basil divided into quarters (representing each season: spring, summer, fall, winter) by strips of dough. Best Bite: This place is a regular in mine and my husband’s dining-out rotation for its ability to please pretty much anyone we’re eating with. A must-order on every visit is Betta’s take on a classic Pizza Margherita, topped with hand-squeezed, chunky San Marzano tomatoes, homemade fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. Simple. Delicious. 3764 Montgomery Road, Norwood, facebook.com/bettasitalianoven. — MAIJA ZUMMO
Brick Oven Loveland — Full disclosure: This 1-year-old pizza joint is owned by CityBeat’s office manager Sam and her husband, which is actually great news for staffers — especially those of us who usually wouldn’t make our way out to Loveland for dinner (aka me) because Sam sometimes brings carryout to work for everyone. Brick Oven Loveland makes their own dough and sauce, and covers their pizza in a blend of provolone and mozzarella cheese. You can create your own pizza with toppings ranging from pepperoni and mushroom to capers and Kalamata olives, or order from their list of specialty creations, like the Loaded Spud (an olive oil and garlic base with potatoes, onion and mozzarella and cheddar cheese with bacon, chives and sour cream), Wild Honey (barbecue sauce, onion, pineapple, ham and bacon topped with honey drizzle) or one of Chef Joe’s “unique” creations like the Flame Pizza (spicy marinara, three cheeses, hot sauce and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos). They also have Stromboli, baked pasta, hoagies, cheesy breadsticks topped with a seasoning blend that makes them freakishly delicious and a Sammy’s pizza dough-sandwich creation stuffed with cheese and toppings. Best Bite: The Veggie Pesto pizza with pesto sauce, onion, roasted red peppers, artichokes and feta cheese. It’s like a flavor punch in your mouth: salty, garlicky, feta-y. Worth the drive. 390 Loveland Madeira Road, Loveland, brickovenloveland.com. — MZ
The Gruff — This pizzeria-deli hybrid serves up some of the freshest pizzas around. If you want a more artisan slice without feeling too pretentious, this local haven is a good bet, with options that range from a classic Margherita (a holy combo of basil, roasted tomatoes, olive oil and mozz cheese) to Smoked Brisket (with olive oil, pickled jalapenos, red onion, smoked cheddar and drizzled with cilantro and barbecue sauce). Their whole schtick is health-conscious grub, so no need to dab grease off your 'za before diving in here. Best Bite: Full disclosure: I'm a vegetarian. So, my pick is heavily biased. Their vegetarian option includes artichokes, which I dig. On the untraditional side, the sauce is a white wine garlic spread with crumbly goat cheese and mozzarella on top. Sundried tomatoes and spinach seal the deal. 129 E. Second St., Covington, Ky., atthegruff.com. — MACKENZIE MANLEY
Harvest Pizzeria — The Columbus-based Harvest Pizzeria finally opened a location in Over-the-Rhine last year. What makes Harvest stand out from other local pizza shops is their unusual pies. Almond pesto acts as a base for a pizza topped with spinach, mozzarella and artichokes. The fennel sausage pizza not only contains sausage but also fennel pollen. And for $12.75, you can get “creative” and add toppings like chipotle-spiked tomato sauce, clams, vegan sausages and truffled mushrooms. Eat more than just their pizzas, though. They also offer apps — pimento cheese, buffalo cauliflower, pickle chips — burgers, cocktails, draft beers and dessert like butterscotch budino. Come for an early or late lunch (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) and get a nine-inch pizza for $8.50. Best Bite: Almond pesto pizza. Adding almonds to pesto tastes better than pine nuts, and it seems healthier than your typical pesto pizza. 1739 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, harvestpizzeria.com. — GARIN PIRNIA
Marion’s Piazza — Ask anyone who grew up in Dayton or its ’burbs what the best pizza in town — or the region —is, and they will unanimously scream “Marion’s!” In Dayton, Marion’s Piazza — which opened its first location in 1965 — is an institution. Over the years, the Glass family has stuck to their formula of cracker-like crust (aka Dayton-style pizza), canned sauce and vegetables and bagged cheeses. Yet despite the lack of some fresh ingredients, their pizzas taste damn good. You can even order the crust extra crispy, or god forbid, less crispy. A nine-inch pizza (most cost around $8) is a personal size and can be eaten in one sitting — no shame there. Besides pizza, they also offer subs, pasta and dinner salads (for only $2.49). You don’t have to visit Dayton to get Marion’s, as they thankfully have a location in Mason. Dine-in or get pizza to go. Best Bite: The deluxe pizza, heaped with crumbly sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. But if you don’t eat meat, their vegetarian pizza is a good substitute. Multiple locations including 6176 Soundwave Blvd., Mason; 241 N. Main St., Centerville, marionspiazza.com. — GP
MidiCi — The national chain MidiCi opened in Cincinnati at the end of last year and joined Race Street’s eclectic lineup of Tokyo Kitty, Americano Burger Bar, Mita’s and the ever-popular Maplewood Kitchen. MidiCi’s sprawling space contains an elongated bar where you can sit and watch the Neapolitan pizza carbonize in the wood-fired oven. Jars of Nutella and containers of other Italian foods line a shelf near the entrance. They offer more than pizzas — they’re a full-fledged Italian restaurant, serving kale salads, gelato, espresso, cocktails, Italian beer, Italian sodas and housemade meatballs. They even make their own salad dressings and spicy chili oil, which you should dab on your pizza. One caveat: on the menu they list the calorie count per item, which will either be helpful or will steer you away from fattier foods, like the 1520-calorie Egg N’ Bacon pizza. But this isn’t Olive Garden, so load up on the pizza and healthful salads. Best Bite: Truffle pizza. Anything with truffle cream, mozzarella and olive oil is going to be good. 595 Race St., Downtown, mymidici.com. — GP
Mio’s — Mio’s has been around since 1975, making “stuffed pizzas” for more than 40 years. What’s a stuffed pizza, you ask? Good question. Basically a deep-dish pizza with a strange name — some of the restaurant’s menus actually list “deep dish” instead of the “stuffed crust” moniker to be less confusing. Whatever you call it, Mio’s thick crust pie is a delicious substitution for an actual deep-dish Chicago-style pizza that one can eat in Cincinnati. You can get thin-crust pizzas here (and calzones, salads, etc.), but why would you? Sure, the deep-dish pizzas take a little longer, but they’re worth the wait. Best Bite: I will order any and all deep-dish pizzas from any pizzeria; I’ll even buy whatever weird bake-in-its-own-pan deep-dish frozen pizza contraption DiGiorno comes up with. I’m a die hard. And Mio’s satisfies any craving I have for that baked and buttery and cheesy and kind of weirdly wet on top deep-dish creation. I just get a plain cheese and tomato sauce pie or throw on a veggie or two — nothing wild; maybe just green pepper and onion. Multiple locations including 6930 Madisonville Road, Mariemont, miospizza.com. — MZ
Padrino — Milford’s Padrino, from the owners of neighboring 20 Brix, is the kind of place to frequent when you love yourself a classic, while also being enticed to think a bit outside the pizza box. Here, the crusts are more thin and the toppings more artisanal. On the traditional side, you’ll recognize the red-based pies, topped with any and all veggies and meat for when you know you need some good, old-fashioned pizza. But when you’d rather have a different kind of meal, you’ll find pizza specialties ranging from Thai to Toscano and Dark Star BBQ to The Britters. And either way you go, you really can't go wrong. Best Bite: The Britters is my go-to because I love the garlic-butter base, the savoriness of the spinach and sundried tomato, and the sweet taste of the goat cheese and balsamic. 111 Main St., Milford, padrinoitalian.com. — KATIE HOLOCHER
Ramundo's — Grab an East Side slice. Ramundo’s classic by-the-slice, NYC-formula is an overlooked cheesy wonder with zesty sauce underneath. It’s not fancy. There’s no overly gourmet or hip pies here. But, according to them, it’s the closest thing to New York City pizza you’ll get in the Queen City. And I concur (but maybe I’m biased because I live right down the hill from their Mount Washington storefront) — it’s crispy and greasy and cheesy: everything a pizza should be. Plus, I like to imagine if Peter Parker lived in Cincy, he’d work here. Best Bite: I always get it by the slice. Lots of regulars fold their pizzas before taking a bite, but the reigning method is up for debate. Get whatever toppings you want on your slice and make it a combo with a side and drink. Their side salad is basic, but that’s why it’s good. 3166 Linwood Ave., Mount Lookout; 2210 Beechmont Ave., Mount Washington, ramundospizzeria.com. — MM
Taft’s Brewpourium — New Haven “apizza” is a crispy, coal-fired version of Neapolitan pizza bearing the name of its origin: New Haven, Conn. The juxtaposition of the crust’s crunchy exterior and soft center separates apizza from the traditional pies served in the Queen City, as does the Brewpourium’s attention to detail. Owner and managing partner Dave Kassling, a graduate of Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza in San Francisco, is the man behind the magic that is Brewpourium’s apizza, and his expertise is easy to taste across the menu. In addition to its new spin on the prestigious Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, a white clam pizza fitted with extra virgin olive oil, parmesan and garlic, Kassling & Co. tend to Cincinnati’s meat-lovers with their Roebling (meatball, pepperoni, ricotta) and the BBQ Pork Pie. Best Bite: The BBQ Pork pie, featuring a barbecue sauce made with Taft’s Cherrywood amber ale, the pizza includes pulled pork, red onion, jalapeno and smoked cheddar. 4831 Spring Grove Ave., Spring Grove Village, taftsalehouse.com/brewpourium. — AUSTIN GAYLE
Two Cities Pizza Company — New York City and Chicago are well-known for several things. But most importantly, each city is known for a particular style of pizza. New York pizza is hand-tossed with thin, wide slices and deliciously greasy cheese. Chicago style? You’re talking deep dish — a super thick round pie covered in chunky tomato sauce with a crunchy, flaky pan crust. Now, you don’t have to travel further than Mason to get a taste of both. Two Cities Pizza Company, a dining destination housed in Mason’s former city hall — with a bit of an Art Deco nightclub rebrand — closes the chasm between the dueling pizza metropolises. Go classic and grab a deep-dish Windy City with sausage, onion, green pepper and chunky tomato; and the Marathoner NYC-style margherita. In addition to pizza, they offer tempting best-of-both-worlds street food from each city, like a Chicago dog with all the fixings (no ketchup; add celery salt) or a New York dog with brown mustard and sauerkraut. Best Bite: Get New York-style pizza if you’re a moron. If you aren’t, get their deep dish. I am a noted deep-dish pizza fanatic (see Mio’s entry on page 11) and this is some good deep dish. I always opt for a basic cheese deep dish, with chunky red sauce. It really allows the flavor and texture of that buttery crust to shine. 202 W. Main St., Mason, twocitiespizza.com. — MZ
Favorite Vegan Pizzas
One of the best parts of pizza is the cheese and whether you forgo diary for ethical or medical reasons, plenty of pizzerias offer options to mimic that melty magic.
Mac’s Pizza Pub — Mac’s was an early adopter of vegan cheese. The local chain makes its own dough and sauce in house daily, cuts its own veggies and has vegan pizza options — two of them on the menu, in fact — like the Natural Vegan (mushrooms, tomato, red onion, green pepper, Kalamata olives, vegan mozzarella and tomato sauce) and the Tree Hugger (garlic butter and olive oil base with spinach, red onion, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and vegan mozzarella). You can also create your own and even opt for a gluten-free base. Multiple locations including 205 W. McMillan St., Clifton, macspizzapub.com.
The Kitchen Factory — This Northside pizzeria does sandwiches, salads, pizzas and a late-night menu from its walk-up window. They have two types of pizza: hand-tossed New York-style pies with housemade dough, baked in a stone oven, or artisan Neapolitan pies. Opt for by-the-slice (vegan slices are $4) or get a whole pie. Sub vegan cheese on any creation or create your own with topping options including barbecue tofu or tempeh. 1609 Chase Ave., Northside, kitchenfactorynorthside.com.
Favorite Gluten-Free Pizzas
If you can’t or don’t want to eat a gluten-y crust, these offer gluten-free substitutions.
Harvest Pizzeria — See a full listing for Harvest above, but the big news is you can make any crust here gluten-free for a $3 upcharge. 1739 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, harvestpizzeria.com.
Incline Public House — IPH is not specifically a pizzeria but the pizzas coming out of their Price Hill kitchen are damn good. For $3, you can substitute a gluten-free crust on any of their pies, like the Prosciutto Fig with fig jam, prosciutto. caramelized onions and goat cheese, finished with an arugula topper. 2601 Eighth St. W., Price Hill, inclinepublichouse.com.
Dewey’s Pizza — Dewey’s also does gluten-free with a 12-inch-only option for each of their specialty pies or create your own. That means you can get a 12-inch Dr. Dre — olive oil, mozzarella, green peppers, red onion, chicken, bacon, house-pickled jalapeno, tomato and ranch — sans gluten. Multiple locations including 3014 Madison Road, Oakley, deweyspizza.com.
Best Of Pizza
Each year, CityBeat’s Best Of Cincinnati issue recognizes the best in the city in categories including Eats, Shops & Services, Music & Nightlife and more. The responsibility of selecting these exceptional entities is divided between our readers and staff. In 2018, more than 900,000 votes were tallied to determine our Reader Picks — and readers logged on to the ballot site to vote for their favorites in a slew of categories, including Best Pizza. Here are the winners:
1. A Tavola
3. Catch-A-Fire Pizza
4. Fireside Pizza
5. Strong’s Brick Oven Pizzeria
7. Mac’s Pizza Pub
8. Trotta’s Pizza & Drive Thru
9. Two Cities Pizza Co.
10. Newport Pizza Company
1. Dewey’s Pizza
2. LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria
3. Goodfellas Pizzeria
Neighborhood Pizza Joint (Downtown/OTR)
1. Goodfellas Pizzeria
2. A Tavola
3. Pies and Pints
Neighborhood Pizza Joint (Central)
1. Dewey’s Pizza
3. Fireside Pizza
Neighborhood Pizza Joint (East Side)
1. Dewey’s Pizza
2. LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria
3. A Tavola (Madeira)
Neighborhood Pizza Joint (West Side)
1. Dewey’s Pizza
2. LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria
3. Trotta’s Pizza & Drive Thru
Neighborhood Pizza Joint (Northern Kentucky)
1. Goodfellas Pizzeria
2. Dewey’s Pizza
3. Strong’s Brick Oven Pizzeria
Neighborhood Pizza Joint (‘Burbs)
1. LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria
2. Mellow Mushroom
3. Pies and Pints
Riffs on Pizza
Tired of the cheesy, tomato-y pie? Or maybe you’d like to consider other types of flat, shareable foods with toppings or fillings? Here are a few ideas to broaden this whole pizza conversation.
BY PAMA MITCHELL
Japanese Pancake (Okonomiyaki) at Quan Hapa — Three variations of this fragrant, baked pancake include one with bacon and a fried egg, another featuring fried cauliflower and onions, and a spicy pie with marinated shrimp and jalapeno. 1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, quanhapa.com.
Casadilla at Casa Figueroa — From the “appetizers to share” menu section, a toasty quesadilla with a housemade cheese blend, salsa and crema. Add beans, veggies, chorizo, pork or steak for a couple dollars more. 6112 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, casafig.com.
Crostini with Dipping Oil at Unwind Wine Bar — Simple but plentiful, these are crispy toasts with herbs de Provence and top-quality olive oil, perfect to accompany any white, red, rose or sparkling wines from the long list of options here. 3435 Michigan Ave., Hyde Park, unwindhydepark.com.
Artisan Flatbread at Zula — There are six variations, but my favorites are the roasted mushroom with garlic confit and mozzarella, and the equally delicious Brussels sprouts with bacon lardons. 1400 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, zulabistro.com.
Tostada at Mazunte Taqueria — Your choice of toppings on a fried corn tortilla — enough for two to share, with meat, cheese or veggies and fresh spinach, pickled onion, avocado salsa and queso fresco. 5207 Madison Road, Madisonville, mazuntetacos.com.