I could have called this the Top 5 Deep Dish Pizzas in the Bay Area, but that would have been a bit misleading – there really are only five purveyors of the stuff in the Bay Area (five and a half if you include The Star, the new spinoff of Little Star in Oakland). Some of us who aren't even from the Midwest remain big fans of the Chicago style of layered, pan pizza that Jon Stewart recently mocked, mercilessly, saying, "It's not pizza. It's a casserole... It's a cornbread biscuit which you've melted cheese on and in defiance of all things holy you've poured uncooked marinara sauce atop the cheese." And so, since you may not be aware of your options, allow me to lay them out for you in order of quality, in my humble opinion. (I'll also point out that while my opinion may be humble, it's fairly well informed. I just completed this 50-pizza compendium of the Bay Area about a year ago – and I'm still working it off at the gym.)
Not all deep dish is created equal, and though longtime stalwart Zachary's has been keeping the Chi-town spirit alive in Berkeley and Oakland for decades now, some upstarts have arrived in the last decade to create some competition – and three of the pizza spots below arrived within the last 12 months alone.
So, without further ado, the ranking, in reverse order.
The Links pizza at Urban Putt. Photo: Kristen Loken
5. UP at Urban Putt
The newest deep dish menu in S.F. is at the swell, adult amusement complex Urban Putt. Downstairs there's 14 holes worth of varied, often Rube Goldberg-esque miniature golf, as well as a bar and some arcade games, and upstairs is the restaurant, UP. There are sandwich and salad options, too, but the core of the menu is deep dish pizza, with varieties inlcuding the meaty Links, with fennel pork sausage, boudin blanc, tomato, and portabello mushrooms; and the Caddy Shack with bacon, jalapenos, leeks, and cherry tomatoes. While the texture and flavor of the crust here is decent, the deep-dish here feels a little under-cooked and doughy compared to more established Bay Area rivals, but things may improve as they get their bearings. 1096 South Van Ness at 22nd
Now with nine locations around the Bay, as well as more in Denver, Seattle, and Santa Barbara, Patxi's officially lays claim to the biggest deep dish empire on the West Coast. They offer two different Chicago styles: regular pan pizza with a cornmeal crust, and stuffed, which has an extra layer of dough separating the fillings and cheese from the tomato sauce on top. The plain crust in the stuffed pizzas here isn't as good or flavorful as the cornmeal option, and the sauce always needs a little seasoning, but the runaway success of this chain means they do a lot of things right. Volume is often the enemy of quality, though. Multiple locations.
The stuffed pizza at Zachary's. Photo: sarvagyak/Flickr
The oldest deep-dish purveyor around the Bay is Rockridge-based Zachary's, which now has three other locations in Berkeley, San Ramon, and Pleasant Hill. Zachary's specializes in the stuffed version of deep dish, with that extra layer of dough, and the most winning aspect of their product may be the tomato sauce, which is always extra chunky and excellently seasoned. I'm a fan of their Mediterranean pizza, which comes stuffed with red bell pepper, green olive, artichoke heart, feta, and jack cheese, but the spinach and mushroom is their vegetarian-friendly signature. Crusts here have great texture and flavor, and toppings are always high-quality. Multiple locations.
The Dillinger pizza at Capo's. Photo: Jay Barmann
No place else can you sample all the different types of Chiago-style pizza; the menu at Capo's covers all the pizza bases – like a survey course in deep dish. The trouble is, these pizzas are so hefty and rich, with lard in the crusts, you won't be able to try that many in one sitting. You have your standard pan pizza as well as stuffed, the Quattro Forni which is baked in four different ovens, and Capo's make the Pizzeria Uno style of cast-iron pan pizza as well, and excellent thin crust pizza to boot. Crusts are extra-thick here, with a greater crust-to-filling ratio than most, but they are damn tasty (maybe because of the lard). Try the hearty Old Chicago, with Italian sausage, meatball, garlic, and ricotta; or go for their newest addition, the Dillinger, which won a recent pizza cook-off in Las Vegas and features a sharp cheddar crust topped with chicken, broccolini, bacon, artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, garlic, crushed red pepper, and a smoked Hangar One vodka cream sauce. It sounds like a lot, but it works. 641 Vallejo Street at Columbus
Photo by Thomas Kuoh Photography.
1. Little Star
I'm hesitant to say it's all about the crust at Little Star, which is cornmeal-based, buttery, and always delicious, because their topping cominations and even their salads all contribute to an overall, conistently great experience. But it is kind of all about the crust. There's no doubt that Little Star hits it out of the park, crust-wise, and deep-dish connoisseurs in S.F. have all figured this out, packing their three locations (one in Albany) night after night for the last decade. The Classic, with sausage, peppers, onions, and mushrooms, remains the standard-bearer for this classic Chicago combo; and you also might want to try to the off-menu Brass Monkey, named for the Beastie Boys' song (and a customer who always ordered this combo whose named happened to be Mike D.), with spinach, mushroom, sausage, onion, ricotta, and feta. No matter what your feelings about Chicago- vs. New York-style pizza, I dare anyone to keep from devouring whatever's put in front of them at Little Star – and the thin crust isn't bad either. 400 Valencia Street and 846 Divisadero