5 Iconic USA Pizza Styles & Where To Eat Them

5 Iconic USA Pizza Styles & Where To Eat Them

James Want
James Want


This article is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more.

Pizza in the USA has evolved into a handful of regional styles that have become icons of their respective locales, and on the world stage. Each style boasts unique characteristics, from the shape, to the thickness of crust, to the process, and choice of toppings – influenced by the history, the people, and preferences of the area. 

The shift from being an “ethnic” food in the late 1800s to gaining cross-cultural clientele began in the 1940s when soldiers were returning home from World War II, craving the flavours they’d experienced in Europe. Some opened restaurants, others took their families to existing restaurants, spawning a country-wide appreciation of pizza. 

Today one can travel from the streets of New York, famed for its thin, foldable slices, to New Haven, Connecticut for their own, thinner, crispier alternative, before venturing west for thicker, deeper crusts baked in round or steel pans. Alongside these well-known variants, less defined styles like California’s progressive approach to traditional Neapolitan-style executions, inspire more pizzaiolos around the country. 

These styles have been crafted over generations and enjoyed by millions, shaping city culinary scenes. Unsurprisingly, pizza is an essential part of any trip to the USA, revealing both its cultural and culinary diversity. While the following styles have been dubbed as such, for locals they are just ‘pizza’, but for tourists, they are a reason to explore new states, flavours, and approaches. Dig in.

New York-Style Pizza

Said to have been officially born in 1905, at the hands of Gennaro Lombardi – who claimed the first pizza-business license in the country – New York-style pizza is characterised by its large, floppy slices and crispy outer crust, reflecting the culinary traditions of Italian immigrants adapted to American tastes.

Traditionally baked in a gas oven, the thin yet pliable base and chewy crust gains a distinctive, slightly charred flavour. It is typically offered as an 18-inch pie, served in eight slices, with foldability perhaps its most defining characteristic. Freshly grated, hard, Mozzarella cheese is the standard choice while a simple tomato sauce seasoned with herbs makes a base for classic toppings like pepperoni, sausage, and vegetables, all adorned with balance and moderation. 

Two of New York’s favourite and most historic slices, conveniently, happen to be within a few minutes walk of one another – John’s of Bleecker St and Joe’s Pizza on Carmine St, with almost 150 years of pizza making between them. Across town, Scarr’s Pizza on Orchard St is considered amongst the best in the city, alongside Lucali and Brooklyn’s Roberta’s.

New Haven-Style Pizza

New Haven-style pizza, known locally as ‘Apizza’, stems from New Haven, Connecticut which borders New York State on the USA’s East Coast. Famed for its thin and crispy, charred crust, the traditional New Haven gets cooked in a piping hot, coal-fired brick oven. Universally acknowledged to be created by Frank Pepe in the 1920s, Pepe’s opened on Wooster St in 1925 and continues to be New Haven’s longest-running New Haven pizza restaurant. 

Thinner and crispier than its New York counterpart, but retaining that slightly fermented chew, New Haven is perhaps defined by an irregular, oblong shape and two toppings: the tomato pie and white clam pie. The tomato appears cheese-less, although it’s dusted with a fine grating of pecorino, while the clam features freshly shucked hard-shell clams from Rhode Island which are still briny. 

Slices of New Haven style tend to be smaller than that of New York so you’ll be forgiven for ordering a whole pie at Pepe’s, nearby Sally’s (which opened in 1938) or Modern (founded in 1934), the three of which form the ‘holy trinity of Apizza’. For a more cosmopolitan offering, punters can enjoy craft beers, pizza and dancing at BAR New Haven.

Detroit-Style Pizza

Originating from the Motor City, Michigan in the mid-20th century, Detroit-style pizza is a rectangular deep-dish pizza, known for its thick, chewy crust. It’s baked in a high-walled steel pan, which was originally used to hold small parts in automobile factories, giving the pizza its characteristic shape and depth.

As the story goes, one of the fathers of Detroit-style pizza, Gus Guerra, sourced these pans from a factory-worker friend, while his Sicilian mother-in-law created the recipe – hence its very distinct Sicilian focaccia style dough. The wet dough is added to an oiled pan, then folded, dimpled and rested, then prodded with Wisconsin ‘brick’ cheese and left to rise around it. Hours later the sauce is layered onto the dough (sometimes pre-baked) with additional toppings and more cheese built right to the edge of the pan creating the famous, caramelised, crunchy crust. 

While Guerra was at the bar that later became Buddy’s Pizza, local’s say he took the soul of Detroit-style pizza to his own venture Cloverfield Pizza in 1953, which his son is still involved with today. Loui’s – started by another former Buddy’s employee – forms the must-visit trifecta of Detroit pizza today.

Chicago-Style Pizza

For pizza fans, eating a deep dish at Burt’s Place in Morton Grove, Chicago, Illinois is what cheese-filled dreams are made of. Chicago-style pizza is also known as deep-dish pizza but is differentiated by its round pan, and thick, sturdy crust that resembles a pie more than a traditional pizza. 

​​The Chicago deep dish was born from a desire for more heft. Ric Riccardo – who’d recently returned from Europe – wanted to create a pizza restaurant but his Texan business partner, Ike Sewell, kept pushing for more toppings during recipe testing, eventually opening Unos. Today the Chicago-style pizza is characterised by its layer ordering, inverting that of other styles. The buttery crust is first topped with Mozzarella cheese, then fillings like sausages, peppers, onions and mushrooms, with tomato sauce ladled over the top to finish. The pizza is then baked for up to 30 minutes, with the sauce protecting the layers beneath as the thick crust cooks.

For true Chicago-style deep dish, there’s Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Pequod’s Pizza, and the aforementioned proprietors. It’s worth mentioning that this pie-esque creation also birthed the exact opposite style of pizza in Chicago, with the thinnest of the thin-crust, and always square-cut. Grab a slice at Pat’s or Marie’s Pizza and Liquors.

California-Style Pizza

The California-style pizza embraces a new world approach, and progressive spirit of the West Coast state. It’s similar to the Neapolitan style, but not strictly adhering to its traditional tenets, distinguished by a gourmet approach to toppings and crust. This pizza variety originated from the creative culinary ethos of California, focusing on fresh and local ingredients, first seen from Alice Waters. While not invented by Wolfgang Puck, the style gained immense popularity in the 1980s with Ed LaDou at the helm of Spago. 

Topping innovation is where California-style pizza truly shines. Chefs often employ a combination of gourmet and unconventional ingredients, favouring seasonal produce and artisanal products such as goat cheese, roasted vegetables, truffles, and exotic meats and seafood. Pizzas are typically cooked in a wood-fired oven, imparting a subtle smokiness, boasting bases ranging from classic tomato to more unusual choices like puréed sweet peppers,  pesto or white sauces. 

The style spans a large portion of the West Coast and it would be remiss not to mention Tomasso’s, which first opened its doors in 1935 in San Francisco. The city also boasts Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, A16 and Yellow Moto Pizzeria (formerly known as Flour + Water) – all three considered among the country’s top pizzerias. South in Los Angeles, Nancy Silverton dishes up what is now considered the quintessential California pizza at Osteria Mozza. 

This article is sponsored by VisitTheUSA.com.au and is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more, and thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

James Want



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