When you think about it, few dishes are more American than a pepperoni pizza.
Both pepperoni and pizza are versions of Italian specialties that we as a nation have made our own. (In fact, there's no such thing as "pepperoni" in Italy, and American visitors who order it there are often surprised and disappointed when what they end up with is peperone — bell pepper.) Few other cuisines are as widely popular as pizza, and pepperoni is one of the most widely popular toppings, no matter the regional style of pie they are decorating.
In our most recent ranking of the 101 best pizzas in America, more than 700 pizzas were considered by 78 pizza experts, who selected a wide variety of pies from all over the United States. There were a few pies that incorporated pepperoni, but it was usually not the starring ingredient. Take Eddie’s special at Eddie’s in New Hyde Park, New York — sausage, meatball, pepperoni, pepper, mushroom, and onion — or the deep dish with sausage and pepperoni at Pequod's in Chicago, Illinois.
There were many pies on our list, however, that featured little else but sauce and cheese as their bases before being topped off with pepperoni. To us, this is the correct definition of a true pepperoni pizza, and here are the ones that made our list.
1. The Backspace, Austin, Texas
With a pedigree that includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and stops at the French Laundry and Café Boulud, it’s not a huge surprise that chef Shawn Cirkiel has found huge success with his restaurant Parkside — but culinary degrees and high-falutin’ restaurant experience don’t necessarily mean that you can make a great pizza. Luckily for Austin, Cirkiel does, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at a temperature of 900 degrees. There are six pies on the menu at The Backspace, featuring toppings like fennel sausage, roasted peppers, and roasted mushrooms, but the one that garnered our enough of our experts’ votes is the Pepperoni Americano: picante salame, tomato, mozzarella, and basil. Pair it with an aranciata, just like in Naples, or enjoy it Texas-style with a glass bottle of Mexican Coke.
2. Pizza Brain, Philadelphia, Pa.
“Increase the piece!” It’s the world’s first pizza museum, for heaven’s sake, and those in the know know that when you’re craving great pizza in Philly, you need go no further than this nineteenth-century brick building in Kensington. There, you’ll eat thin-crust pizza cooked in the double-deck gas-fired oven at the cash-only joint Kickstarted in 2012 by Ryan Anderson, Joseph Hunter, Brian Dwyer, and Michael Carter. As you wait for the crew to cook your pie, bask in Pizza Brain's unique ambience, check out their pizza memorabilia museum (featuring what the Guinness Book of World Records called the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world), or rummage through their pizza tattoo book for a few laughs. Pizza Brain’s "Jane" is their version of a Margherita — a cheesy trifecta of mozzarella, aged provolone, and grana padano blended with basil — and that’s a good place to begin.
3. Delancey, Seattle, Wash.
Those critical of the Pacific Northwest pizza scene need to back up. Let’s put this in context: Washington became the 42nd state in 1889, 16 years before Gennaro Lombardi opened America’s first pizzeria… in New York City. Washington and Oregon (though Oregon has 30 years on its neighbor) deserve some credit for working without a century-long tradition backing them up. Consider Seattle’s Delancey, which Brandon Pettit, a former New York music student, opened with his wife in 2009.
4. Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza, Elizabeth, N.J.
What can you say about Al Santillo? Santillo may be the least well-known great pizza tradition curator in America, the gatekeeper to three generations of pizza-making and one of the most unique pizzerias in America. The man has tomato sauce running through his veins. Al Santillo’s grandfather, who had long made focaccia for his family at home, decided to try it as a business in 1950. "He wanted to keep the place open in the evening and make a little more money, so he started making pizza," his grandson Al has noted. "In 1957, he bought the brick oven I use now." It’s an oven Al says is called a low-arch, one whose every brick was cut by hand, and which he insists “permits infinite possibilities in temperature and character."
5. Antico Pizza Napoletana, Atlanta, Ga
Antico Pizza Napoletana may have only been open for a few years, but that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to discussions about the best pizza in Atlanta. Giovanni Di Palma’s Antico is generally considered to be the city’s best pizza, and many of Atlantans would claim that it’s among the top in the country. It’s difficult to argue, as their classic pepperoni with a thick puffy crust and cheesy center might just be one of the best pizzas you’ve ever tasted.
Check out more of the country's best pizzas.
More from The Daily Meal