We knew we wanted to taste the best New Haven pizza on our visit to the Connecticut town. Beyond that, though, I only had a vague idea of where to go to make that happen.
There’s a lot of New Haven-style pizza in New Haven, guys. There’s a lot of delicious New Haven-style pizza in New Haven.
We decided to do some research in the form of the very fun documentary Pizza, A Love Story. I’ll call it essential viewing for anyone visiting New Haven, as you’ll get a primer on the pizzerias considered by most locals as the top three in the city and the best pizza in Connecticut.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, or Pepe’s.
We tried all three, in that order.
So which one was the best New Haven pizza restaurant on our New England road trip? Read on, friends!
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New Haven Pizza: A Primer
Does New Haven, CT, have the best pizza? Anyone in New Haven will tell you that yes, New Haven has the best pizza in the country, perhaps even beyond that.
I’m from Chicago, though. No, I’m not going to send you to the much-maligned casseroles some may think of when they talk about Chicago-style pizza. I’m talking about Pequod’s, a spot so near and dear to my heart that it’d be hard for me to accept your friendship if you had an ill word to say about it.
Chicago is also tavern-style, what most Chicagoans will say is the real Chicago pizza they consume on the regular.
But I digress. New Haven does, indeed, have some delicious pizza. Is it the best? That may be more of a question of geographical preference.
Why is Connecticut pizza so good? New Haven-style pizza is thin crust and coal-fired. No, it’s not burnt you ignorant Yelp reviewers. That char’s there on purpose, and adds a smoke to the whole situation.
If your fingers aren’t blackened by the experience you’re doing it wrong.
It’s also not about the cheese in the most traditional sense. Most of the best New Haven pizza spots will have a plain tomato pie on the menu. It’s crust, tomato sauce and, a dusting of cheese on top. Add garlic if you’re feeling festive.
There’s nowhere to hide on that kind of pie, and it’s a delight in its simplicity. You won’t miss the toppings if the execution is on point.
How is New Haven pizza different? It’s all about the crust in New Haven.
You’re not here to fold these slices, or cut them with a knife and fork. (I did both at one of the spots below, but that’s not the usual.) These pies have a chew you won’t get anywhere else, and the best slices will almost bite you back rather than flop over.
Fun fact: It’s “apizza” in New Haven, not pizza. Pronounce it “ah-beetz.” It doesn’t make sense. I know it. It doesn’t matter. That’s how it is.
Is New Haven, Connecticut, the pizza capital of the world? The top three pizza places in New Haven are all within walking distance of one another, two just down the street from each other.
I can’t think of anywhere else in the world with this level of high-quality pizza in such a short stroll.
The Best New Haven Pizza: The Top 3
I already mentioned the big dogs — Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Sally’s Apizza, and Modern Apizza — so now it’s time for me to rank them, right?
I don’t know.
Again, I’m from Chicago. These Connecticut folks would consider any rankings from me bullocks anyway.
They’re also very difficult to rank. They were all delicious, and the pies we tried at each were of varying styles and toppings. We’d need a blind taste test of identical slices with identical toppings to make this fair.
But, life’s not fair, and if I was pressed to do it, here it’d be:
1. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
2. Sally’s Apizza
3. Modern Apizza
There. I did it. Again, all three are awesome. I don’t see the fuss around having loyalties to more than one when you’re choosing your top New Haven pizza, but I don’t have a dog in this fight. Read on to hear more about our experience at each, and why they’re placed the way they are.
Note: If you want mozzarella cheese on your pie, you may have to say that. If you want to sound extra, order your apizza with “mootz.” I swear that’s legitimate.
1. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
Pepe’s at 157 Wooster Street is the OG. It deserves the top spot for that longevity alone, but I felt validated in my choice when I found out it’s the preferred pizza stop for Henry Winkler, too.
Winkler and I agree: Pepe’s is the best pizza place in New Haven.
Despite the fact that it’s expanded to 11 locations since, you just feel the history of this place as soon as you arrive. There are old-timey photos hung on the walls of the granddaddy of pizza here, Italian immigrant Frank Pepe, dating back to 1925.
That’s how long this place has been around in Wooster Square.
He’s all smiles as he tosses that pizza up in the air.
He’s all smiles as he’s loving on his wife.
He was likely all smiles when locals found they couldn’t live without a weekly Pepe’s habit satisfied.
We ordered one of the pies this place is known for: a white clam pie, with bacon added for good measure. Winkler loves it, and so do I. For most, this is the best clam pizza New Haven has to offer.
It wasn’t fishy at all, and more salty than anything else. There were all kinds of heart eyes over this one, as if Cupid’s arrow struck just right.
Our second pie — yes, we regularly ate two different pizzas over the course of just a few days — was a gorgonzola and mushroom special as a veg option. It also featured a white sauce, and it was delicate and delicious.
When life offers you gorgozola, you take it.
We didn’t have the red sauce at this stop which may have been a mistake, but the way my taste buds were dancing suggests no mistakes were made.
Note: If you want to be seated right away at Pepe’s or any of the others, arrive early. I’m talking about 4pm. Have a late breakfast or light lunch and make it happen. Lines start to form around 5pm.
2. Sally’s Apizza
Sally’s Apizza was our second stop. This pizza shop has been slinging apizza at 237 Wooster Street, just down the street from Pepe’s, since 1938.
Many a New Haven local has sworn allegiances to one or the other in the battle of Pepe’s vs. Sally’s. Michael Bolton says Sally’s is the best pizza in New Haven.
It’s made all the more amusing when you learn that Sally’s was the brainchild of Frank Pepe’s sister Filomena and her son, Sal Consiglio.
Fun fact: Both eateries claim there’s no animosity, and that any rivalry is good for business for both.
On our own visit, we had to try the plain tomato pie at some point, so it happened here. It was simple and delicious. We added garlic for extra flavor, and didn’t regret that. It was a flavor bomb.
Our second pie was a pepperoni with anchovies on one side for Brian and a pepperoni with mushrooms on the other for me, pepperonis delicately picked off for Brian.
Everything tasted great, and the crust was quite similar to what they’re serving up at Pepe’s.
The only drawback was that we were seated outside on a chilly fall afternoon, with no heaters. Two little old ladies wandered over to Pepe’s because of it. I mean, we kinda sent them there when they were all, “Where’s the other one?” as we were leaving.
I’m not going to literally freeze out some kindly old ladies, guys. Again, I have no loyalties here.
The outside seating had us miss out on some of the familial atmosphere we were promised in the documentary we watched. We saw what we assumed was one of the owners milling about, but he didn’t stop at our table.
We’d love to come back and eat inside one day and experience some of the ambiance that puts this one above Pepe’s for so many.
3. Modern Apizza
Modern Apizza, at its current location at 874 State Street since 1934, was our last stop.
We arrived around 5pm and had a short wait, cementing the fact that you really should eat like the blue hairs do and get your pizza around 4pm. There was a longish line by the time we finished, but it moved fairly quickly.
The irony here is that everything else you’ll read and see says this is the one with no line. Not true, people. It’s all about when you arrive.
We ordered two pies again, as is our custom, and an order of cheesy garlic bread for some reason. It was delicious but unnecessary, and caused our only leftovers of the week.
It wasn’t a bad problem to have the next day.
Brain and I each got our own at this stop. I got the Veggie Bomb, the veg version of their classic Italian Bomb, and he got a pepperoni, sausage and anchovies concoction. The guy likes hairy fishies.
Mine was chock full of toppings, the reason why I needed a knife and fork for the first bites on each slice. Otherwise, those toppings would slide right off onto the paper plate below.
The pies here didn’t seem as well done as the other two pizza shops, which may be a product of their open flame brick oven, a touch different cooking style than the other two.
The amount of toppings on each of ours was a good time, but it make things a bit floppier. I was able to fold my larger slices, which felt very New York City of me.
These are all minor things. Modern Apizza is still delicious. We’d return to all three.
I’m talking in the most dire circumstances here, if I really had to choose at risk of bodily harm, it’d be Pepe’s for me.
New Haven Pizza: The Other Ones
We ran out of pants space after our journey through the top three New Haven-style pizza joints. That doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there, and some are making quite the scene among the best pizza places in New Haven.
If you have more time or just want to spend a week eating pizza at every meal while in and around New Haven, check out the additional highly-rated options I’ve put together for you. Want a map of ’em all? Check out the link below!
When a pizza place advertises itself as a nightclub, you don’t really have to listen. Bar has been delighting locals with their mashed potato and bacon pizza since 1996.
It’s known as the place where the hipsters go, which isn’t always a bad thing if inventive toppings are involved. Drink and be merry, people. All pizza has a place in my heart.
Zuppardi’s Apizza is technically in West Haven, which is its own Connecticut thing, but it’s on all kinds of best-of lists. Rivaling Pepe’s in longevity, this shop has been open since the 1920s.
Zuppardi’s was founded by breadmaker Dominic Zuppardi, so you know it’s all about the dough here. Taste its shine with a plain tomato pie, an ode to crust and tomato sauce that’s truly New Haven-style.
Roseland Pizza’s brick and mortar location is in Derby, the smallest town in Connecticut and a short drive from New Haven. Small doesn’t make it any less mighty. Roseland prides itself on the fun ingredients you’re less likely to find in the classic pizza shops.
Did I miss the best pizza in New Haven, CT, somehow? What’s the best pizza New Haven has to offer in your humble opinion? It doesn’t even have to be humble. Share it with me in the comments!
Ready for New Haven?
Your Flight: I use a variety of tools to find cheap airfare, but if you’re looking to book during a particular period of time, especially during busy times (e.g. leaf peeping season in New England), you should search on Skyscanner.
It’s great for searching when you’re more flexible, too, as it allows you to compare travel based on length of travel, departure date, etc.
Flights to New Haven proper are pricey and will likely involve connections. Seek out deals to any of the New York City airports or New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport. You’ll be in New Haven and all of the fun within driving distance within a couple of hours (Providence, Boston, and Newport are all faves of mine) and potentially save quite a bit of cash for pizza.
Your Accommodations: I generally recommend websites like Booking.com and Hotels.com for your accommodation needs, as both offer loyalty programs, and now offer listings that are more of the home or condo rental variety.
If you’re overnighting in New Haven, check out my top picks from Booking.com:
- The Blake Hotel
- Courtyard New Haven at Yale
- New Haven Hotel
- Omni New Haven at Yale
- The Study at Yale, Study Hotels
- Cute Country Cottage for Getaway
- Large Historic New England Home
- Nathaniel Clarke Historic Homestead
- Spacious 2-Bedroom Close to Yale Bowl
- Westbrook Inn B&B
Seeking even more wallet-friendly accommodations? Try Hostelworld. Their picks are heavily vetted and reviewed to offer you a safe experience on a budget.
Ready to house some New Haven pizza? Pin me!
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