20 Charlotte Pizzas You Must Try
Deep dish or thin crust? Pepperoni or salmon? Fine dining or after a late night out? No matter your preferences, these are the slices you need to try
PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER TAYLOR
1. Smoked Salmon Pizza
WP Kitchen + Bar
This pizza, with a crème fraîche base and salmon and caviar topping, is available only on special occasions, such as holiday brunches. When you can find it, order it. WP Kitchen + Bar owner Wolfgang Puck brought pizza to fine dining, and even though the restaurant re-branded from Wolfgang Puck Pizza Kitchen in 2016, it still serves up some serious pies. —Kristen Wile
6706-C Philips Place Ct., 704-295-0101
Benny Pennello’s pizzas are so big, the carry out boxes barely fit through a standard door.
2. The Cheese Slice
Everything about Benny Pennello’s feels young: the kitschy local art that adorns its walls, the pop-punk blaring from its speakers, and large slices that appear as though they were ripped out of a ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon. But the gimmick of size gets you only so far: Benny’s longevity is due to its taste, with its cheese slice being the best possible middleman between drinks on a night out and your bed. Or, if you’re a parent to young kids, like me, a Sunday afternoon surprise that can’t be topped. —Andy Smith
2909 N. Davidson St., Ste. 100, 980-949-8398
3. Pepperoni + Sausage
It’s hard to choose the best part of this pizza, topped with two of America’s favorite pizza meats: pepperoni and sausage. The sausage is ground in Stagioni’s kitchen, the mozzarella is house-made, the crust is made crunchy by a wood-fired oven, and you get to cut the pie with pizza shears. Take a pair home for $35. —K.W.
715 Providence Rd., 704-372-8110
4. Piroska (Balkan-style stuffed pizza)
Intermezzo Pizzeria & Café
Brothers Djordje and Branko Avramovic were less than 10 years old when their grandfather taught them how to butcher a pig at his meat shop in Serbia. They were younger than that when they watched their grandmother pickle cabbage to make roll after roll of sarma for the family Christmas gathering, which, because they use the Julian calendar like most Serbian Orthodox Christians, occurs January 7. After they moved to Charlotte in the late 1990s, the brothers believed they could make a restaurant rooted in their family’s food traditions. But they knew they needed a gateway, something no American could turn down.
So they made pizza.
Their restaurant, Intermezzo Pizzeria & Café, has been around for more than a decade and remains slammed every weekend with a mix of first-timers and long-timers. It is a place where you come for the pizza, and stay for everything else.
I mix it up, sometimes ordering the Intermezzo Supreme with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and black olives. Other times I get the karadjordjeva (pan-seared schnitzel rolled with ham and cheese, and served with potatoes) or sarma (which comes with bread to dip). One menu item captures both. The piroska—similar to the Ukrainian baked-bun-with-filling dish pirozhki—comes stuffed with ham, mushrooms, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, and sour cream. It’s basically a pizza all wrapped up in Serbian personality. —Michael Graff
1427 E. 10th St., 704-347-2626
5. The Luisa
Luisa’s Brick Oven Pizzeria
The pizzas made inside the brick oven at Luisa’s are tallied on a public sign, now numbering more than a million. “The difference is in the oven,” the restaurant likes to say. We agree, but to maximize that Luisa’s finish, we recommend ordering the pizza that’s named for founder Luisa Land. It’s stacked with sliced tomatoes, garlic, ricotta, and pesto. Order a large and share the joy. —A.S.
1730 Abbey Pl., 704-522-8782
6. Sweet Italian Sausage
My wife and I were at Zio recently, listening to a couple a table over tell the waiter that they were moving out of Charlotte the next day, retiring to the coast, and I thought, “That could be us one day.” If I’m ever faced with my last Charlotte meal, there is no question, none whatsoever, that I’d walk down the stairs and into this classic Myers Park restaurant and order the sweet Italian sausage grilled pizza, its crust crisp and tastefully charred, its tomato sauce homemade and rich, its herbs from the patio garden, its slices square, and that final square always unforgettable. —M.G.
116 Middleton Dr., 704-344-0100
Portofino’s’ meatball slices are so thin, they almost resemble pepperoni.
7. The Meatball Pizza
Portofino’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
It’s hard to believe that something called a “meatball pizza” can be known for its subtlety. That’s the joy of a place like Portofino’s, named for a city on the coast of northern Italy. The care that the restaurant puts into its house-made dough and sauce is also found in its meatballs, thinly sliced and unassuming until that first bite. —A.S.
With barbecue sauce instead of a tomato base, the BBQ Chicken pizza at Brixx is a good choice for those who don’t love a classic pie.
8. BBQ Chicken
Brixx Wood Fired Pizza
For the first 16 years of my life, I clumsily avoided anything with tomato sauce and cheese. I faked illness or allergy or lack of appetite at sleepovers and team dinners to avoid even putting a slice on my paper plate. Charlotte wasn’t much of a restaurant town back then, and pizza generally came in two forms: a saucy delivery pie or the flimsy rectangles from the school cafeteria. (Remember the cubes of pepperoni?) I thought both were disgusting—gag-inducing, rather-go-to-bed-hungry gross.
On the rare instances I was found out, people would look at me with horrified curiosity. “What kid doesn’t like pizza?” my friends’ incredulous parents would ask mine.
Then, in the late ’90s, a wood-fired pizza restaurant called Brixx opened in Dilworth. I went with some friends in high school, all of us decked out in Birkenstocks and Abercrombie tees for a chaperone-less night, and I stressed about what I could possibly order. Scanning the menu, I saw it: BBQ Chicken Pizza. Tangy barbecue sauce replaced the garlicky tomato base I disliked. Grilled chicken, smoky gouda, and melty mozzarella were on top, along with a shower of sweet red onion slivers and a scattering of cilantro.
The server brought my thin crust pizza to the table—along with my friends’ more traditional orders with pepperoni and tomato sauce. I had a Coke ready to wash it down, just in case. It was my last moment as a pizza hater. Suddenly, I was part of a club from which I had long excluded myself. I liked pizza! Well, so long as the pizza came with barbecue sauce and grilled chicken and gouda.
I went on to order that pizza dozens of times—so often that it became the subject of a running joke with my best friend from high school, who became my roommate at Carolina. (I was thrilled when Brixx opened a location in Chapel Hill.) I’ve since developed a taste for all kinds of pizza, even ones with a tomato sauce base. Other restaurants have opened with their own barbecue chicken pies, but none has the sentimental appeal to me that this one does.
Before my 10-year high school reunion in 2014, I stopped at the Dilworth Brixx, ordered a BBQ Chicken pizza, and devoured the whole thing. This time, though, I washed it down with a cold Jam Session. —Adam W. Rhew
9. Prosciutto Flatbread
Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop
Suppose you’ve kicked back at a picnic table to celebrate a late spring Friday with friends and a pint of craft beer. Suppose that pint turns into a few, afternoon turns into evening. Suppose you get hungry, need something to sop up the hops. Walk inside this South End bottle shop and order yourself an individual-sized flatbread: crunchy and cheesy, with salty prosciutto and heat from pickled chiles. —A.W.R.
1320 S. Church St., 980-207-3716
10. Chicken Bacon Ranch
Hawthorne’s New York Pizza and Bar
Hawthorne’s made national headlines last year when nearly 70 visitors reported that the restaurant’s buffalo chicken pizza—nicknamed “The Inducer”—was sending pregnant Charlotteans straight into labor. The restaurant’s best pie, though, isn’t famous: the Chicken Bacon Ranch. Its mix of Hawthorne’s house-made ranch, bacon, red onions, mozzarella cheese, and chicken is special, even if that baby stays put for a few more days. —A.S.
Traditionally thin and simple, the Neapolitan-style of pizza Aliño serves hits every mark—the restaurant even imports Antico Molino Caputo flour from the Italian city. The pies wood-fired at this spacious Mooresville spot are thin-as-can-be, making it acceptable for a single person to indulge in a full 16-inch pizza (the smallest size). It’s best, however, to share the margherita pizza, its globs of melted buffalo mozzarella dotted on top, with friends in the casual, industrial restaurant—the long, family-style tables practically beg for it. —Alyssa Ruane
12. The Chorizo
Shaved radish and a wedge of lime—the finishing touches—make this pizza far more interesting and complex than it would be otherwise. The peppery crunch from the radishes and tang from the lime juice balance the rich heat from crumbles of chorizo. —A.W.R.
The Pizza Peel has a secret menu, with pizzas such as The Godfather.
13. The Godfather
The Pizza Peel & Tap Room
With all the classics and enough toppings to make your own pie any way you’d like, Pizza Peel’s menu has most tastes covered. Things get a little crazy on its secret menu, which diners can request in addition to the regular one. You’ll find inspired pies such as The Godfather, a white pizza with a garlic oil base topped with three meats—salami, prosciutto, and pepperoni—and spinach and roasted red peppers. The kitchen doubles up on the cheese—both sliced and shredded mozzarella—then drizzles balsamic over the whole pie, adding the final layer of flavor that makes this pizza a must-order. —K.W.
Inizio Pizza Napoletana
Its brilliant green center stands out even before you dig in. Pistachio pesto and rosemary make for herbaceous bites, while chopped pistachios add a unique crunch. Topped with ricotta and buffalo mozzarella, this pizza is the savory version of a cannoli. —K.W.
Shavings of parmigiano reggiano top the di Parma pizza at Omaggio.
15. Di Parma
Daniel Siragusa uses a lighter, crispier dough than most pizza joints in Charlotte for his pies. It’s slippery and tough to wrangle into an 11-inch circle, but the crust comes out of the brick oven airy and thin, which is helpful, because at Pizzeria Omaggio, you’re not just served a slice. Instead, a full pie appears in front of you, intimidating yet also inviting.
The cheese is not simply Parmesan, Siragusa clarifies; it’s parmigiano reggiano. Thin shavings of the Italian cheese are piled on the di Parma pizza like freshly fallen snowflakes, with arugula peeking out like blades of grass. Siragusa insists on high-quality ingredients: parmigiano reggiano that’s been aged for 20 months and prosciutto crudo from San Daniele, a town in Italy known for its expensive and unmistakably flavorful meats.
Siragusa’s di Parma pizza is one of the white pies on the menu at the restaurant’s Metropolitan location, with cherry tomatoes and arugula that balance the saltiness of the prosciutto and parmigiano.
After moving to Florida from Rome at the age of six, Siragusa remained tied to his home country through food and family—mostly at the same time. “I was the little kid in the restaurant, playing with my toys in the booths,” he says, remembering the dozen or so family places he grew up in: trattorias, pizzerias, ristorantes.
At 20, Siragusa opened his first restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi, but Hurricane Katrina destroyed the location a year and a half later. Jobless, he moved back to Florida and opened a new restaurant in his family’s chain, Mario the Baker, in Miami. Nine years later, he craved his own place and looked for a home base outside of Florida, settling on Charlotte.
Among a sea of by-the-slice joints, Siragusa sticks by his Italian roots with Pizzeria Omaggio’s personal pizzas. Admittedly, he says, some people have their doubts. They think, “I can’t possibly eat the whole pie,” but they do. And then they order dessert. —Emma Way
1055 Metropolitan Ave., Ste. 130, 704-370-0777
16. The Bisonte Classic
Bisonte Pizza Co.
Jimmy and Steve DaPolito are not native Charlotteans. The brothers moved to the city in 2012 after Steve’s son, Jason, did and complained about not having a go-to place to chow down on pizza and wings. Such a stark commitment to pizza and wings comes from only one place: Buffalo, New York.
Although pizza wasn’t invented in Buffalo (like wings were), Buffalonians are picky about their pizza—and Charlotte has a lot of these western New York transplants. Jimmy, 50, says that when he and his older brother researched the market before moving down, they saw that Charlotte had the second-highest number of western New York transplants, second only to Tampa, Florida. Once they arrived, the two ate approximately $3,000 worth of pizza and wings across the city within four months to complete their research. Finally easing Jason’s wing-and-pizza woes, Bisonte Pizza Co. came to life in Matthews in March 2013, and a second location sprouted by Johnson & Wales University in uptown last June.
“We scoured the whole Fourth Ward,” Jimmy says. “We realized there was no neighborhood pizzeria here, with how residential this area is, and that’s what we wanted to be.”
The brothers behind Bisonte, unsurprisingly, use family recipes passed down from their grandmother to their father to them—a familiar story for many Italian-Americans. And that family feel transcends the food. Jimmy and Steve have 50 years of pizza experience between them, and if we named all the Buffalo spots they worked at, western New Yorkers’ eyes might widen with homesickness. Alright, fine: Does either La Nova or Cappelli’s ring a bell?
The siblings had three managers follow them down to the South to start Bisonte (the word is Italian for “buffalo”), and they have many more Buffalo transplants working at the two locations—not on purpose, though, they say. They also employ many JWU students and offer paid marketing internships.
Jimmy is single and “married to his pizzerias,” and the brothers live together. Their lighthearted sibling relationship sets the entire tone for their restaurants. In a laid-back place where the walls are dressed with signed Buffalo Bills memorabilia, the brothers piggyback off one another—Jimmy’s “in the kitchen with an apron on, more often than you’d think,” and Steve’s better at the business end, though they can both switch into any role with ease. Their passion drives these two to do everything right—the dough and vegetables are fresh every day, and they use whole milk mozzarella “with a kiss of Buffalo milk” for stringy cheese that reheats like a dream. Needless to say, they make a mean Buffalo-style pizza (though they offer New York-style pies, too).
Buffalo-style pizza should never be confused with New York-style pizza. The difference? It’s best explained by geography, Jimmy says.
“New York style is thin, and Chicago style is thick,” he says, motioning as if there were a map in front of him. “Buffalo is the middle.” Thus, Buffalo-style pizza is a medium thickness. The preparation techniques also differ; for example, Buffalo-style dough sits and rises for a bit before getting shuffled into a brick oven on a pan, instead of on its own. The pan keeps the bottom of the crust from burning, while the mounds of toppings cook. The crisping part comes only after the toppings are cooked, and the toppings are perhaps the most important part of all.
Take one good look at the pepperoni on Bisonte’s piled-high classic pie and compare them to those on a pizza that’s not Buffalo-style. You’ll see that Bisonte’s pepperoni is smaller, with drool-drawing charred rims. These iconic slices of meat are what Steve calls “cup ‘n’ char”—when cooked, they form little cups and char just around the edges, making for delightful pools of grease that enhance the flavors.
With home-made blue cheese and marinara sauce—just about everything they don’t ship in from Buffalo is house-made; the Beef on Weck rolls are from western New York’s Costanzo’s—the brothers of Bisonte are bringing Buffalo’s best into their new neighborhoods. —A.R.
It’s hard to find Chicago-style pizza in town, but Matt’s in Cornelius does it right.
Matt’s Chicago Dog
Pizza style is preference, and if yours is deep-dish, Chicago-style, the Cornelius location of Matt’s Chicago Dog is your place. Don’t shy away from the “blanket of cheese” on these pies, because that, plus the vine-ripe tomatoes on top, is what makes these slices quintessentially Chicagoan. —A.R.
18. Lasagna Pizza
Meatballs, ricotta, garlic, mozzarella—everything you want oozing out of your lasagna rests on top of this Neapolitan-style pizza, served in the restaurant’s Elizabeth and Waverly locations. The sauce is tangy from San Marzano tomatoes, and the crust is crispy from a wood-fired oven. —K.W.
19. Garlic & Clams
True Crafted Pizza
The menu at this south Charlotte pizzeria has a number of standouts, including the grilled prosciutto di Parma pizza and the meatballs, house-made and drenched in a flavorful pomodoro sauce. It says something, then, to insist that diners try the Garlic & Clams pizza. The list of ingredients for this wood-oven pie is short—littlenecks, pancetta, roasted garlic oil, Parmesan, and red pepper flakes—but its savory flavor is long and satisfying. —Cat Carter
7828 Rea Rd., Ste. F, 704-543-8783
20. Breakfast Pizza
From the crust to the spicy red sauce and cheddar-jack cheese, the flavor of chorizo from Wild Turkey Farms seeps through this already-tasty pie, giving it a depth that most don’t have. Queso fresco and scallions on top add an extra punch, and the runny egg yolks make this dinner classic built for breakfast. —K.W.
300 East Blvd., 704-332-6507