Photo courtesy of Spak Brothers Pizza.

Choosing a pizza is serious business in Pittsburgh.

I’ve seen families split over sectarian lines in Squirrel Hill (Mineo’s vs. Aiello’s) and go their separate ways. This is one place that the chains haven’t really made a dent, and locals still rule.

One study counted 9.9 pizza places per 10,000 people in Pittsburgh — putting us only behind Orlando (Orlando?) as the American city with the most pizza places per capita (Orlando?). And plenty of places have opened since then.

Want to get up to speed on the best pizza in Pittsburgh? Here are the places you must try. (And please do add your suggestions in the comments below or on our Facebook page.) 

Photo courtesy of Iron Born’s Facebook.

Iron Born, Strip District and Millvale

A few years ago, Detroit-style pizza hit Pittsburgh like a runaway Buick, and the pizza scene has never been the same. It’s thicker than the usual thin crust, with a caramelized, cheesy, crunchy edge and a soft, chewy rectangular crust. This spot was born in Smallman Galley’s restaurant incubator — and proved so popular, they’ve remained there for two years. In June, Iron Born has moved to a standalone space nearby in the Strip, and they’ve got a location in Millvale. The white sauce Forager Pie is a particular favorite, topped with piles of fresh mushrooms and ricotta, and drizzled with honey.

Photo courtesy of Caliente Pizza & Draft House Facebook.

Caliente Pizza & Draft House, various locations

These pizza people have ambitions. Not only are the folks at Caliente opening places at a furious rate, they’re also putting their pies to the test on the national and international level. They’ve won awards at the Super Bowl of Pizza — the Pizza World Championship — including first place for nontraditional pies like their Wagyu Beef Truffle Fromage, and the duck-topped Quack Attack. A great place for creative, unusual pizzas (and the wings are excellent, too).

Photo courtesy of Driftwood Oven.

Driftwood Oven, Lawrenceville

Driftwood seems to imply that there’s a certain amount of destiny at stake — this piece of wood, shaped by the inexorable action of the waves, washed up on this particular beach at this particular time. Well, these guys were destined to make some of the best pizza in Pittsburgh, according to Chrissy Teigen, Bon Appétit magazine (who gave them a Top 50 Best New Restaurants nomination), and us. Their distinctive sourdough pies are created with care. A Mason’s Best Friend white pie features mortadella and spicy pickled peppers atop ricotta, mozzarella and fresh garlic. You can also get Roman-style rectangular cuts, called “Omi’s Slices,” like the Red Top, with pecorino Romano, oregano, olive oil and sea salt. They work with an array of Pennsylvania purveyors, getting items like hand-pulled mozzarella from Caputo Brothers Creamery in Spring Grove, PA. Even the dough is made with Pennsylvania-grown grains.

Photo courtesy of Spak Brothers’ Facebook.

Spak Brothers Pizza, Garfield

Like it was designed by some kind of laboratory, Spak Brothers’ pie is such a perfectly-proportioned arrangement of cheese, sauce and crust (thin) that you just can’t quibble with anything. Not too greasy, not too floppy, not too cheesy (okay, that’s not really a thing). If you hate perfection, by all means go elsewhere. Bonus: Vegetarians and vegans aren’t an afterthought here and can get seitan as a topping. 

Photo courtesy Slice on Broadway.

Slice on Broadway, Beechview, Carnegie, East Liberty,

This is just a great all-arounder — perfect when sold by the slice. Slice makes a well-balanced thin-crust pie, with an incredible array of toppings. Try the meat attack Slaughterhouse Five (bacon, capicola, pepperoni and prosciutto atop red sauce) or go lighter with the Garden (baby spinach, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, black olives and roasted red peppers). For those brave, truly hungry souls out there, they also do a Lasagna Pizza on thicker crust.

Piccolo Forno, Lawrenceville

If you do one thing supremely well, then you should never stop doing it. For Piccolo Forno, that’s pizza. When it opened on Butler Street in 2005, Lawrenceville had barely begun to shake off its postindustrial doldrums. Even though others make credible Tuscan-style wood-fired pizza now, Piccolo Forno still packs in the crowds. The Mortadella e Pistachio is a particularly inspired pie. Luckily, if you have to wait, they also own the adjacent Grapperia Bar Classico (around the corner), the most Italian bar in Pittsburgh, serving grappa, amari and cocktails.

Fiori’s Pizzaria, Brookline and McMurray

The secret sauce to this South Hills classic is, in fact, the sauce. A lot of places put minimal effort into this element, though it’s actually as essential as crust, toppings and cheese. Fiori’s is a sweeter sauce, which elevates their otherwise fairly standard pie into something great. Wait, no, maybe it’s really the cheese — just gooey and chewy enough in all the right ways, yet less of a project to eat than, say, Mineo’s. The puffy, crispy crust and just the right amount of grease also set this place apart.

Pizza from DiAnoia’s Eatery. Photo courtesy of DiAnoia’s.

DiAnoia’s Eatery: Strip District

This place does so many things well, that pizza could easily be an afterthought. It’s not. Their wood-fired pies are perfectly thin and crispy around the edges, with sparing use of top-quality cheeses and ingredients. They do a breakfast pizza here — which varies on different days, but often features a fried egg on top — that actually expands the vocabulary of pizza in Pittsburgh. Plus, it’s fun to say “Dee-Annoy-Ya’s.” Pizzeria Davide will be their new stand-alone takeout and delivery spot next door. 

Il Pizzaiolo, Mt. Lebanon, Hampton, Warrendale

These guys were the among first to bring real Neopolitan-style pizza to Pittsburgh and still rank among the best. They boast training in Naples, and a wood-fired oven made with “bricks and volcanic sand from Mount Vesuvius,” which is way cool. The Salsicca I Rapini pie features sweet fennel sausage contrasting with the slight bitterness of rapini, and is great, as is the self-explanatory Prosciutto E Arugula.

Vincent’s Pizza Park, Forest Hills

Vinnie Pie has been encrusted with so many stories over the years, that it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s legend. The prices look like they can’t be right, but you’re getting your money’s worth in sheer pizza tonnage here. Picture a swimming pool made of crust, filled to the brim with meats and cheeses (and no shortage of greasy, cheesy soup). It’s an experience. The gigantic, puffy crust is usually enough to hold it all together — usually. “Pizza Park” is apt — it’s an amusement park for pizza. If a Vinnie Pie doesn’t taste like it does in your childhood memories, check out the similar Shelly Pie in Wilmerding to see if that gets it right.

Photo courtesy of Mercurio’s.

Mercurio’s, Shadyside and Fox Chapel

Dependable Neopolitan-style wood-fired pizzas, plus locally-made gelato as dessert– this Shadyside spot offers both and doesn’t disappoint. Try the Porchetta with seasoned Italian pork atop burrata, and pair it with some Black Cherry Bordeaux or Amaretto gelato for dessert. This place wins.

Rialto Pizza, Greenfield

A sentimental favorite, as this is my neighborhood pizza joint. I could have their white pizza with spinach and feta for every meal forever (and sometimes have for days). I also love the unpretentious, neighborhood atmosphere, with people dropping in for beer and a chat, and boisterous baseball teams celebrating their victories at Magee Field across the street.

Badamo's Pizza, one of the best in town
The crew at Badamo’s Pizza on Federal St. with their very popular pizza.

Badamo’s Pizza, Mt. Lebanon, North Side

Another thin-crust standout (sensing a pattern here?), though this one is just a little thicker than some. They note “some charring and imperfections result in maximum flavor,” which is a great way to put it. Red slices are only $1.75, which makes me wonder why I don’t have one in each hand right now.

Mineo’s Pizza House, Squirrel Hill, Mt. Lebanon

Full disclosure: I’m a Mineo’s guy. When my Pittsburgh expatriate buddy comes to visit from San Francisco — where they have pretty much the best of everything — the first thing we do is tuck into a giant, greasy Mineo’s pie, with its dense, viscous layers of chewy cheese and pepperoni hidden beneath. It’s hard to know how to attack it, at first — but this isn’t the worst problem in the world. If the cheese is your thing, this is your place.

Aiello’s Pizza, Squirrel Hill

As a Mineo’s partisan, I feel obligated to bash Aiello’s. And yet, I really can’t. As a pizza lover, I have to admit — this is good pizza. It’s fairly cheap and not a greasy mess, and their newly remodeled space is bright and clean and inviting. I just can’t hate any pizza (well, Little Caesars can get thrown in the Mon, honestly) that makes the effort to be good.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.