I’m 50% Italian and 100% American, so I really love-a the pizza. And so does everyone else in Portland, which inspired me to write this poem:
Pizza is so good,
Pizza is so fine,
Why to get good pizza,
Must I wait in line?
Thank you. To go along with my poem, I am also sharing a few of my favorite pizza joints.
My Apizza Scholls philosophy is very simple. Go for the Apizza Amore, stay for the Apizza Amore. It’s fantastic. Apizza’s rich tomato sauce, fresh whole milk mozzarella, pecorino romano, just chopped garlic, fragrant green basil, extra virgin olive oil, and the incomparable capicollo. Almost paper thin, salty, smoky, it’s everything a cured meat should be. While I worship at the altar of Amore, it’s not to say Apizza doesn’t have other pizzas you should put in your belly–the Bacon Bianca, and Pig & Pineapple come to mind. I’m not the only one with fierce feelings for these pies, so if waiting in line to eat isn’t one of your hobbies, go early.
Baby Doll Pizza
Occupying a sliver of the boisterous block of bars and cafés at SE Stark & 28th Avenue, this mellow little pizza joint (formerly home to Stark Naked Pizza) dishes up a succinct menu of sandwiches, salads and New York-style pies both traditional and somewhat unexpected—like the bacon, mushrooms, garlic, walnuts and dates-loaded house special. If you aren’t getting nearly enough gluten in your diet and don’t plan on making out with anyone anytime soon, order the pleasingly doughy garlic knots…with a side of anchovies.
Nobody in Portland does late-night dining quite like the Cartopia food cart cluster at SE Hawthorne & SE 12th, where an asphalt-covered lot hosts popular carts like Whiffies Fried Pies–savory and sweet moon-shaped pies filled with everything from pulled pork to peanut butter and chocolate, Potato Champion–heaping cones of piping hot thick cut fries and a variety of exotic dipping sauces, Pyro Pizza–complete with in-cart wood-fired pizza oven, and funky Perierra Creperie. While most food carts around town hit their stride during the noon hour, Cartopia gets interesting around dinnertime, and keeps things hopping until around 3 am. Now that’s an afterhours party.
Positioned squarely in the middle of Division Street’s burgeoning restaurant row, this quiet neighborhood Italian joint (sister to Northwest Portland’s longstanding Basta’s) is perfect for a mellow weeknight dinner—it’s rarely crowded, cava is but $6 a glass, you can commandeer a cozy booth for privacy/a nap, and the sauteed pea tendrils plus a mozzarella and anchovy wood-fired pizza are an affordable and tasty enough supper to make you consider coming here nightly.
Due to an unfortunate but mercifully brief post-college stint of suburbia dwelling, I developed a deep mistrust of any food that originated in a strip mall. But here in Portland, we’ve got food friends in low strip mall places, friends like darling Dove Vivi. It might take you few tries to find it, hidden in the blinding technicolor shadow of Pambiche, but just look for the clusters of happy pizza-loving hipsters crowding the patio tables outside. Like the patrons, the pizza has unique style–Dove Vivi uses a unique cornmeal crust and bakes the deep dish pies in thin cast iron pans, creating thick, hearty, richly flavored pizzas like spinach pesto, smoky collards with ricotta, and my favorite, the “Corn”–fresh sweet corn, smoked mozzarella, balsamic marinated roasted red onions and chives. Salads are simple and excellent–try the finely shredded lacinato kale and ricotta salata with lemon shallot dressing, and don’t pass on the housemade zuccotto for dessert. It’s strip mall dining at its best.
This magnificent renovated city firehouse sits proudly in the center of the Woodlawn ‘hood, and strains at the seams nightly with devoted locals. The wood-fired pizzas fly through the dining room, but if you’re in the mood for meat, get the roast chicken, it’s the best in the city. As though you needed another excuse to head straight there, if the weather is fine and the garden patio’s set up, you won’t find a more tranquil and picturesque al fresco dining setting in which to savor a pizza bianca and pint of Heater Allen pilsner.
Give Pizza a Chance
When I finally got around to giving this busy pumpkin-colored food cart a chance, and waited in line for 1o minutes to order, I was mad. Mad that I hadn’t come sooner, mad that I’d always let myself be seduced by some other cart along the way, mad that I’d already eaten my first lunch of the day and thus could only manage to stuff in one piece of pizza. GPAC’s wheat pizza crust is thick (but not off-puttingly so), and it’s chewy, crisp on the bottom and so good and hot you’ll eat your way through the entire piece and down to the crust nubbin in no time. The cheese is soft, thick and bubbly, the sauce is fresh and balanced, and for $6 you can get a lunch deal that includes a slice of your choice, a fresh Greek salad and a housemade soda.
Good Neighbor Pizzeria
You couldn’t ask for a better neighbor than this laid back little Woodlawn pizzeria, with its beautiful pizzas piled high with fresh seasonal ingredients, cheap and tasty salads, old brick walls covered in funky local art, full bar with five beers on tap, super friendly service, and Big Buck Hunter arcade game. As for the pizza–pick from tasty house combinations like the pesto, artichoke hearts and green onions-covered Mean Green or pork-piled Hog Heaven, build your own pie, or buy a slice of cheese, pepperoni, or veggie up at the bar. When the doors are rolled up in the summer, and I’m plunked down at a picnic table with a glass of wine and a slice of Canadian bacon and pears-topped Sweet Piglet, I’m thinking we all need more Good Neighbors like this one.
Expert pizzaiolo Will Fain, his wood-burning pizza oven, and a serious stack of firewood occupy a comfortable corner of the NE Killingworth block they share with the likes of Podnah’s, La Taq, and Tea Bar. The handful of pizzas on the menu are named after inspirational figures, ie, The Steve Lieber, The Chris Walas, and The Rico Suave, or you can pick and choose your own, then pair it with a beautiful seasonal salad and something from the rotating tap list. Handsome commences pizza-making at noon on weekdays, 1pm on weekends, beforewhich the restaurant is operated by Seastar Bakery, meaning that no matter when you happen upon this space, you’ll be happy, but plan accordingly depending on whether you’re craving a muffin or margherita.
I love Hot Lips, but I’m not sure the feeling is mutual because the last time I ordered an Omnivore Bliss, it came with enough chopped garlic that my hardcover Twilight series melted into a pile of quivering goo. There was chopped garlic on top, chopped garlic hiding beneath the pepperoni and bacon, chopped garlic inside the black olives, and gangs of chopped garlic fisticuffing the sausage and mushrooms. To say I had garlic breath after that meal is an understatement, and the final blow came later that evening, when I tried to kiss my lifesized cardboard cutout of Edward Cullen good night like I usually do, and his exquisite face burst into flame. But although Hot Lips ruined my relationship with my cherished cardboard vampire, I still think their local, organic and sustainably-sourced pizzas are tops, and so are their phenomenal seasonal sodas–your summer isn’t complete without at least two strawberry soda floats a day.
Ken’s Artisan Bakery
I spend a lot of time fantasizing about living in Paris, but when my Stumptown café au lait, the Sunday NYT and I claim a seat at this airy Alphabet District bakery’s big wood communal table and I tear a smoldering pain du chocolat from limb to limb, watching the warm chocolate ooze out from between the buttery fluttery layers of pastry, I’m thinking there’s no place like Portland. I savor my jambon and asiago baguette sandwich and lemon meringue tartlet, then before reluctantly heading home, order a half dozen dusty pink rosewater macaroons, piece of opera cake, slice of pear frangipane tart, and loaf of fresh walnut bread to go. Come Mondays, it’s tempting to spend the entire day here–the bakery stays open for pizza night, baking the exceptional thin crust pies that fuel nightly lines over at Ken’s Artisan Pizza in Southeast Portland. Even if I had the chance to move to Paris, how could I ever leave Ken’s?! Read full write-up>>
Ken’s Artisan Pizza
The crown jewel of this beautiful, bustling Southeast pizzeria is the massive custom built pizza oven that bakes with such intensity that pies are cooked in a scant two minutes, the crust rendered perfectly chewy and blistered, the toppings barely disturbed. Start your meal with a Caesar, a smoked trout salad with pickled asparagus, radicchio, and crème fraîche, or the wood oven roasted vegetable plate, then move on to the pizzas, which are lightly adorned but pack a flavorful punch. A few of Ken’s finest are the traditional Margherita (with or without arugula), the spicy Soppressata (my favorite), fennel sausage and onions, and the Amatriciana with roasted tomato sauce, housemade pancetta and red onions.
Lovely’s Fifty Fifty
Lovely’s Fifty Fifty owners (and sisters) Sarah and Jane Minnick have carved out this sweet, homey little nook along buzzy North Mississippi Avenue, creating a space that walks the line between modern and vintage, with high ceilings, massive wood beams, a huge roll-up glass garage door, and an eclectic collection of precisely-hung vintage prints lining the softly hued walls. Young hipster couples and families alike occupy the tables and booths, making for a lively neighborhood melting pot of top-notch vittles and people-watching, and the kitchen turns out all the trappings of a well-rounded diet–remarkable wood-fired pizzas, seasonal salads and small plates, creamy housemade ice creams, and very good wine.
With its thatched awning lined with tiny twinkle-light lanterns and big front windows that open out onto North Mississippi Street, Mississippi Pizza is like a lovely-smelling beacon for pizza lovers and those looking for a cozy haven alike. Plop down in a red leather window booth with a crispy-crusted Heart Stopper–pepperoni, Italian sausage, and Canadian bacon, go vegan with a pesto-slathered slice covered in kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, or dish up a gluten-free pie on the big funky sidewalk patio. Hit Baby Ketten Karaoke every Tuesday night at 9pm, join the Wednesday Quizissippi trivia nights, or take in a show at the adjoining Atlantis Lounge, which sports a full bar.
I’ve been sawing into Nostrana pizzas for years now, and actually have a very impressive knuckle scar thanks to their “we make it, you cut it” philsophy, aka “the Italian way.” Since wine is very cheap in Italy and as a result, my memories of eating real Italian pizza, sliced or unsliced, are rather blurry, I’ll take Nostrana’s word for it. But no matter how you slice it (ha), this wood-fired oven pizza is a winner. The crust is thin but substantial, and appealingly chewy, with black blisters dotting its doughy landscape. I’m partial to the classic Margherita, but you can’t go wrong with the Dungeness crab and crème fraîche-topped Granchio, squash blossom and burrata-dotted Fiore, or Salumi with Mama Lil’s peppers. Pair your pizza with a bottle from the Italian and Oregon-centric wine list, and be sure to slice your pie before you start sipping.
Oven & Shaker
James Beard-award nominated chef Cathy Whims (Nostrana, Genoa) and Aviation Gin co-founder Ryan Magarian joined their culinarily complimentary forces to open this sleek Pearl District hangout, where the white hot wood-burning pizza oven bakes and blisters a steady stream of thin crust Neopolitan style pies while hot bartenders shake up icy Anejo Manhattans and Pineapple Trainwrecks for a trendy crowd. Lovers of the widely-worshipped Nostrana radicchio salad, it’s on the menu, along with three other pretty young leafy things, and a handful of “finger and fork” small plates. On weekends, go off the beaten pizza path with the inventive brunch dishes like broiled grapefruit with brown sugar caramel, duck Eggs in Purgatory, and the prosciutto plate with pimento cheese and a biscuit. Weather permitting, have your wood-fired meal and White Lady cocktail outdoors on the beautiful sidewalk patio–you’re smack dab in the middle of some of the Pearl’s prime people-watching terrain.
The first time I went to PREAM (Pizza Rules Everything Around Me), I developed tinnitus within 20 minutes, even though the hip hop wasn’t even that loud, reminding me that a) I’m getting old. That said, from salad to polenta to pizza to olive oil cake, the meal was solid, beautiful and inventive, and who really needs to be able to hear to enjoy a great pizza, anyway?
Pyro’s crust is thin, chewy and blistery, the pizzas are cooked in a honest-to-goodness wood-fired oven right inside the cart, the toppings are fresh and delicious, the sodas are housemade, the people are nice. I don’t have to wait forever to get a seat. Heck, there aren’t any seats. There’s a scant wait of seven or so minutes for your pizza. Which happens to be just enough time to put in an order for a peanut butter chocolate fried pie across the way at Whiffies Fried Pies. Take your pizza and fried pie home and pop open a bottle of cava/beer/YooHoo, and you might just have the perfect meal.
Bringing a touch of gloss and glamour to the Central Eastside, this pizza and pasta-centric eatery anchors a block of deliciousness, with adjoining sister enterprises including Mi Piace specialty market, Ancient Heritage Dairy’s creamery, and beloved Alma Chocolate’s production space. Kickstart your meal with one of the excellent cocktails, dabble in the bites and antipasti, then dive into the pasta and pizza sections of the menu, which hold such delicacies as mint pappardelle with braised beef shank and leek ash corzetti with clams, pork sausage and black garlic, and a handful of nicely blistered pies, from a classic margherita to the robust beef tongue, bone marrow and peppers. Early bird eaters, flit in for the bar-bound weekday Punch Hour.