"Getting truly great Buffalo-style pizza is hit and miss thanks to the absolutely insane number of pizzerias scattered around the city and its suburbs."
There is pizza, and then there is Buffalo-style pizza, a version that combines judicious quantities of dough and tomato sauce with fresh, heavy Mozzarella cheese and lots of equally judicious toppings. What's judicious? Buffalo's classic pizza isn't as thin as a cardboard-like New York City pizza or anywhere near as thick as a Chicago Deep Dish: it's on the thinner side, in-between. Unlike California's "anything goes" pizzas, you'll recognize the list of ingredients as similar to those on any Domino's or Pizza Hut menu, but when properly prepared, the balance and freshness of the Buffalo version puts international chains to shame.
The Story: Though trying to rank regional pizzas is as difficult as rating different genres of cars -- your personal needs form a lens through which you judge the options -- we firmly believe that Buffalo's pizza ranks at or near the very top of the list. We've tried Manhattan's thin crust pizzas, Chicago's deep dish pizzas, California's nouvelle cuisine pizzas, Italian brick oven pizzas, and many variations in between. Though each of these options has its own appeal, the foundation of a good Buffalo-style pizza, personified by the vaunted Bocce's Pizza, is a combination of ultra-fresh ingredients, perfect oven cooking, and certain magical proportions. We love a good deep dish (Lou Malnati's, anyone?), and we have fond memories of delicious Californian and Italian pizzas, but the one we'd want on our deathbed is Bocce's.
The Secret: There's the tomato sauce, which is equal parts sweet and tangy, layered on just enough to avoid dripping off the slices with every bite. Then there's the Mozzarella cheese, which has none of the sourness of spoilage and serves as a binding for the crust and the ingredients. The crust, which as noted should be a little thicker than a New York pizza but thinner than a Chicago one, is often greased with olive oil and rendered perfectly crisp at the edges without burning. And the toppings -- spicy pepperoni, fresh peppers, white onions, mushrooms, and ham are our favorites -- serve as accents for the underlying flavors. You can add whatever you want, but in our view, the core of this pizza stays great almost regardless of what it's mixed with.
The Shame: Getting truly great Buffalo-style pizza is hit and miss thanks to the absolutely insane number of pizzerias scattered around the city and its suburbs. While we'd lean towards Bocce's no matter where you are, not all of its locations are created equal. In our experience, Bailey's the best, but Transit's very close; Hopkins, in our experience, isn't. There are other places to try, but having repeatedly sampled them over the course of many years, we can't vouch for their consistency.
The Alternatives: Though there's a classic Buffalo-style pizza, a small local chain of Pizza Plant restaurants mounted an aggressive campaign in the 1980's to reinvent local pizza options, and actually succeeded to some extent. Its trophy invention, the Pizza Pod, continues to be one of our favorite pizza-esque options, transforming the flat surface of two to six slices of pizza into a football-shaped shell of dough with pizza toppings inside. Not content to offer the Pod with only traditional fillings or dough, Pizza Plant developed a list of outside-the-box creations, then offered customers the chance to make their own versions with exotic components -- garlic dough, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and other fresh items found their way onto the list before they'd taken off elsewhere in the country.
Another substantially different option can be found at Just Pizza, a franchised chain of pizza parlors scattered throughout Western New York. Though these restaurants vary quite a bit in ambience, owing perhaps to their owners' tendency to take over old restaurant locations without substantially improving their interiors, the menu remains pretty consistent from shop to shop. Key to the appeal of this menu is its ability to turn the classic Buffalo pizza on its head, preserving the proportions of cheese and crust while making internationally-influenced changes to the ingredients. One version drops the equivalent of a Greek salad on the top of a crust, while another fuses the spicy flavors of Italian Fra Diabolo with pizza and your choice of meats or shrimp. It's as close to the creativeness of California Pizza Kitchen as Buffalo gets; its competitor Great Northern Pizza Company bests it only on the Fresh Mozzerella and Basil pizza, an Italian classic that never fails to impress.
A final alternative is the local wood-fired pizza. We lament the passing of Rigoletto's, Italian restaurants that roughly twenty years ago managed to utterly transform local impressions of what pizza could be by offering a classic Tosca white pizza with clams, as well as many other delicious, different options. What took its place were restaurants with wood-burning ovens derived from Siena, Italy, most notably the now-defunct Giacobbi's, and later Main Street's Siena, which serves these traditional pizzas alongside pricey but classy dinner fare. If you're a fan of California-style pizzas and don't need the culture-bending twists of California Pizza Kitchen's offerings -- available in supermarkets -- Siena is the place to go.