Ask someone about their favorite pizza and you’re likely to end up in a heated discussion. Some prefer New York, others Chicago’s deep-dish while New Haven white clam pizza often gets a nod.
For years I’ve been reading that Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona makes the best pizza in America. That’s a pretty bold statement. Since I’m a bit obsessed with pizza I scurried to Phoenix, with my somewhat jaded eyes wide open, to test the claims made about Pizzeria Bianco.
First a little background. Pizza chef Chris Bianco is a native New Yorker who moved to Phoenix in the 1980s. He had a gift for making pizza which he honed during a two-year stint in Italy. When he returned to America in 1994 he became a pioneer making artisanal pizza in the U.S.
He starts out with high-protein flour, San Marzano tomatoes and house-made mozzarella. The pizzas are baked for three minutes at 800 degrees in a wood-fired brick oven and arrive at the table with the crust still crackling. Bianco’s devotion to fresh ingredients and locally sourced products is legendary; earning a James Beard Award in 2003 and accolades from the likes of the New York Times and Racheal Ray.
But is it really the best pizza in America?
The menu at Pizzeria Bianco is refreshingly simple: a few appetizers, salads and six pizzas. We went with the classic, a Margherita with just tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil. Oh, and a side order of house-made crispy Italian bread and olive oil; you can never have too many carbs.
When the pizza arrived it looked like something out of a magazine on “What pizza should look like.” The crust had reacted properly to the extreme heat of the oven and was buckled with charred air bubbles, just how I like it. The basil was torn into big enough chunks so you still knew it was basil and the melted cheese made itself one with the bright red sauce. Underneath the crust was just how I like it; charred in bits from the brick floor of the oven.
The feel of the pizza was just right. I grew up in New York so I’m a pizza folder and each slice folded nicely. There was enough spring in the crispy crust that it didn’t crack. The crust had just the right blend of crispy and chewy.
The sauce gave a full tomato feel but Larissa thought it could have used some spices, if there were onions in it we didn’t pick it up. Fresh mozzarella is usually more bland than regular so she also ended up sprinkling a little salt on her slice. I’m not as into salt so I went without.
At $15, the 12″ pizza was not cheap but with the bread dish we were able to fill up on a single pie at lunch. One pie probably wouldn’t be enough for dinner for two people but I couldn’t see spending $30 on two pizzas.
What does “best” really mean?
But back to the original question, is Pizzeria Bianco the best pizza in America? Well no, but is there really a “best” pizza, or anything for that matter? It certainly ranks as one of our top pies and we’re glad we made it to Phoenix to check out what all the fuss was about. Rather than rest on its laurels, Pizzeria Bianco still puts out a top-notch pizza. But it’s really not fair to make it live up to “best pizza in America” status.
The reality is that because of Chris Bianco there are now many places out there emulating him and creating outstanding pizzas every day. And from what I’ve read about the unassuming chef, I think he’d be just fine with that.
Are you hungry for some more pizza? Here’s our story about tasting pizza on six continents to seek the best pizza in the world.
What is your favorite pizza place?