If there’s a food with more kid-appeal than pizza, I’ve yet to encounter it. Warm and cheesy, it’s the definition of comfort food and a reliable way to satiate children without breaking the bank.
Given our affection for pizza, maybe it’s a food worth building a vacation around—or at least including in your next itinerary. From a New York City slice to Chicago’s deep-dish pie, get ready for a mouth-watering pizza crawl in these nine destinations with amazing ‘za.
The Margherita pizza was invented in Naples, Italy. Elegant in its simplicity, this red (San Marzano tomatoes), white (mozzarella di bufala or fior di latte cheese), and green (fresh basil leaves) pie has a patriotic color palette to match the Italian flag. Named in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, the original recipe has stood intact since the 19th century. It is served at many venerable local pizzerias; look for certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana to assure you’re eating the real deal.
The dough is made with powdery wheat flour, fresh yeast, water, and just a touch of salt, producing a thin, light-as-a-feather crust. It is cooked in a blistering oven for no more than 90 seconds. Each pizza is fairly small, around 10-12 inches in diameter, so most diners order their own individual pie.
Besides Pizza: The Bay of Naples is home to glorious islands, including Capri and Ischia. Catch an early ferry, spend the day swimming, and arrive back in time for a (pizza) dinner.
New York City
In the Big Apple, the slice rules. A New York pie is very large and cut into eight slices, with a hand-tossed crust that is pliable enough to be folded in half and eaten as you walk down the street. Though flexible, the crust gets its structure from high-gluten bread flour. Many believe the crust’s distinct flavor comes from the minerals present in NYC’s tap water. Once the pizza maker has acrobatically flung the dough high in the sky, a layer of crushed tomato sauce is topped with shredded, low-moisture mozzarella cheese that is creamy as opposed to rubbery.
Nearly every New Yorker has a favorite slice. At cash-only Lou & Ernie’s in the Bronx, a dusting of cornmeal on the underside adds texture. At Cuts & Slices in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Caribbean-style toppings such as curried oxtail and jerk shrimp boost the originality. For a slice that comes close to the Platonic ideal of New York City pizza, head to J & V in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where they’ve been tossing dough since 1950.
Besides Pizza: The American Museum of Natural History’s collection includes dinosaur fossils, a stellar planetarium, and the Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, where priceless diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires add sparkle.
Chicago is known for deep-dish pizza that’s so thick and hearty, it’s practically a casserole. Locals remain loyal to their favorite pizzeria. Gino’s East is beloved for its robust pizza, better-than-your-nonna’s meatballs, and graffiti wall, where you are encouraged to leave your mark. Other hometown stalwarts include Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, and Uno’s. Decide which one to try, or go for broke and sample them all.
Besides Pizza: At Shedd Aquarium, visitors may touch numerous sea creatures, including stingrays.
Buffalo, New York
Western New York State’s Buffalo-style pizza may not be well known outside of the region, but one bite may convert you. It features a hefty amount of slightly sweet tomato sauce, a soft, thin crust, and lots of stringy cheese that surges all the way over the edge. Pepperoni cups are a favored local topping. Bocce Club Pizza has been serving its pies since 1946 and continues to draw a crowd.
Besides Pizza: Get a feel for the city’s industrial past at Buffalo RiverWorks, where adventure seekers can zipline and rock climb among giant silos and grain elevators.
Motor City pizza was originally baked in steel trays that once held small industrial parts used in automotive factories. Today, this deep-dish pizza is cooked in high-sided, rectangular pans, with a black surface to conduct heat. It’s the reverse of most pizza recipes, with thick tomato sauce spooned over cubes of high-fat Wisconsin brick cheese. There’s no skimping on the cheese, which is spread all the way to the edges of the pan, caramelizing as it melts against the sides and creating a lacy edge. The dough itself is very hydrated, creating a spongy, porous interior and crisp exterior.
Buddy’s claims to have originated Detroit-style pizza in 1946. Today, they have a dozen branches around town, including the original on Conant Street.
Besides Pizza: The Michigan Science Center is a mecca for curious kids.
New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven pizza is so unique it even has its own name, apizza, a nod to the dialect and accent of the Neapolitan immigrants who settled here. They modified their old country recipe, making a thin-crust pie cooked in a coal-fired oven until the crust is charred. The dough is proofed slowly, with this lengthy fermentation adding flavor nuance. The original apizza had no cheese, only tangy crushed tomatoes, so if you want cheese, you’ll need to ask for it. White clam pie is a New Haven specialty, a combo of shucked clams from nearby Long Island Sound, a sprinkling of aged cheese, and a dose of chopped garlic.
Pizza rivalry runs deep in New Haven. The big three pizzerias are Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, better known as Pepe’s, which was the first to open in 1925; Modern Apizza and Sally’s Apizza opened just a few years later. They’re all delectable, so you can’t go wrong.
Besides Pizza: The Yale University Art Gallery offers self-guided tours and materials designed to help start conversations about art with kids. Free admission makes it a low-stakes activity.
Naples may be the birthplace of pizza but Rome is the epicenter of pizza al taglio, or pizza by the cut. Large rectangular trays of pizza are baked in an electric oven and covered with a variety of seasonal toppings, from delicate zucchini flowers in spring to earthy porcini mushrooms in autumn. Ask for exactly how much pizza you want and your desired piece is cut with a big scissor, then weighed and priced accordingly. You’ll see Romans of all ages snacking on it to tide them over to lunch or dinner, making it the Eternal City’s favorite street food.
Besides Pizza: The Colosseum won’t disappoint. After dreaming of gladiators, head down the road to Villa Celimontana and let the kids run around the playground with local bambini.
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis pizza is distinguished for several reasons. First, the thin crust is made without yeast, accounting for the cracker-like texture. Second, rather than being sliced into triangular wedges, it’s usually cut into small squares known as a tavern cut. Third, the tomato sauce is seasoned with a generous shake of oregano as opposed to the standard basil. Finally, it’s topped with Provel cheese, a processed combo of provolone, Swiss, and cheddar, with a low melting point and extra-gooey texture.
Sample it at Imo’s, founded in St. Louis in 1964, currently with more than 100 stores and restaurants.
Besides Pizza: Ride a tram to the top of the iconic Gateway Arch for the city’s finest view.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles doesn’t have its own distinct pizza recipe, but it’s a hotbed of Neapolitan-style pizzerias. There are several fine pizzerias scattered throughout the City of Angeles but at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Hollywood, the pizza is an exact replica of what you’d eat in Naples, where the original da Michele’s was established in 1870.
Order the classic Margherita and your pillow-soft, thin-crust pizza arrives topped with zesty tomato, fior di latte cheese, a dash of grated Pecorino, and fresh basil leaves. If someone at your table doesn’t like pizza, the house-made pasta is as light as a cloud.
Besides Pizza: Griffith Park’s zoo, observatory, and miniature train ride offer fun options in a leafy urban oasis.