Everybody has been asked at least once, what’s your favorite pizza place? People from New York will tell you about Totonno’s or “John’s of Bleecker Street”. New Yorker love their thick crust Sicilian pizza. People living in Napoli will mention places like “Da Michele” or “Sorbillo”, and they will probably tell you that if don’t eat pizza in Napoli you are not eating the real thing. After all pizza was born in Napoli and that’s where you can find the freshest mozzarella the sweetest tomatoes and the pizza masters.
But if you are in Tokyo instead, and crave a good pizza, do not despair. In fact Tokyo could probably be the second best place in the world to enjoy this simple and delicious dish. With that in mind, three months ago I have embarked on a journey that took me to at least 30 of the most popular pizza places in Tokyo.
To enlist them in my final “best 5” I started from a basic question: What make a pizza really special and worth eating, that can become your favorite?
These are the factors I’ve watched for:
There are two main pizza style in the original pizzeria in Italy: “Napoli style” and Roma style. Simply put Napoli style pizza its light in texture thin in the middle with thick but light crust. 80% of the pizzeria in Tokyo adopt this style.
Roman style pizza is a little thicker in the middle, a bit flat on the edges and more crunchy. They are usually eaten with fork and knives and don’t come in slices (at least in Italy).
Other recognized styles in Italy are the Sicilian style pizza which is commonly adopted (with some adaptations) in the main pizza chains like Domino’s, Papa John’s or Pizza Hut etc.
Pizza is that sort of food between a meal and a snack and often a last minute choice so location is crucial for the convenience factor. Having a pizza with you friends or family is something shouldn’t required much planning so the right place need to be close by, or somewhat easy to reach.
Atmosphere and service
This is probably one of the most underrated factor by many guest which, consciously or not, will choose to go back to any pizzeria or restaurant because of the overall experience. That is usually characterized by the atmosphere and by the care of the staff at hand. If the place is not authentic the experience won’t be top notch.
This is key for a lot of things but especially for pizza which is a simple and basic food. In Japan there is a tendency to overcharge for pizza for two main reasons
– Ingredient to make pizza are expensive.
– Pizza is on great demand so if you happen to own a pizzeria and your pizza is good you can charge a lot.
I have been to some places that charge you as much as 2000 yen for the most basic pizza. The pizza was good but when I left my bill was over 17000 yen for just me my wife and my daughter. That felt a little odd and definitely not encouraging in going back to the same joint.
Ultimately pizza and the culture that come with it is about simplicity, quick service, quick eating and out the door. With this in mind I have compiled a list which can give you more that one perspective on where you can find you favorite spot.
Savoy (AZABU JUBAN)
Located in Azabu Juban this is perhaps one of the most original pizzeria I have been in Tokyo. Very small and simple and pretty much always crowded with counter seats around the pizzeria where the pizzaiolo perform his duties.
One thing though, you fill find only two choices for pizza: either “margherita” the classic tomato mozzarella and basil, or “marinara” a garlic topped pizza with tomato sauce and no cheese.
Other toppings are forbidden, dare you trying to order some prosciutto pretending is an appetizer and then put it on your pizza. It won’t be allowed.
On the other hand the pizza is great but the atmosphere a little cold and detached. At lunch the will serve pizza with water or complementary ice peach tea.
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (EBISU)
Opened in Ebisu in 2012, “da Michele” is a franchising store which has his roots and started his tradition in Naples in 1870. It’s a great location and ideal settings for a pizzeria. The design remain very essential but much more modern to please city slickers compared to the original shop in Napoli.
The menu however and the pizza quality is up to the best Pizzeria in the neapolitan tradition. In fact all you can find a la carte as far as pizzas are also two selection: Margherita (¥1550) or Marinara (¥1400).
You can choose however to have extra mozzarella or extra tomato sauce. I’d recommend Margherita doppia (¥2000) with double the amount of mozzarella. Prices are fair considering we are in Tokyo and don’t change at all between lunch and dinner. Surprisingly (at least for me) no Italian staff or Italian Pizzaiolo where present to warm up the atmosphere which reduced the overall experience to just above average, and a technically flawless pizza.
There are few appetizers also served but no desserts available in the menu, making “da Michele” a good stop and go to your next destination.
Ristorante pizzeria Carmine (KAGURAZAKA)
Owner Carmine Cozzolino is a real “Sensei” in the restaurant business in Tokyo and he opened his first restaurant in Japan in the late 80’s. For over 30 years he has been opening and collaborating on productions of many restaurants and food related events.
Ristorante e pizzeria Carmine is a casual restaurant attended by many of the families living in the neighborhood in kagurazaka. Affordable prices at lunch from 1240 yen with salad and drink. Carmine has is own style of pizza very close to the Neapolitan standards. Be warned that this restaurant can get really loud and congested because seat are tight, especially if you choose to go over the weekend.
Napule (MINAMI AOYAMA)
Here is a place which main strengths lay in design, food presentation and cleanliness. A fancy pizzeria with tablecloths and plenty of italian deco’ including the tableware, plates etc.
Great mix appetizer and voluminous pizzas. I’ve eaten their meat pizza and I was basically full but of course I had dessert coffee and limoncello.
Napule is part of a big chain restaurant so the service is kind of uninteresting and plain but consistent and detailed. Overall a well done restaurant but on the pricey side. Eating a pizza with drinks, coffee and dessert can easily surpass 6500 yen per person.
da Peppe “NAPOLISTACA” (KAMIYACHO)
My favorite “pizzeria” experience in Tokyo. It has it all from the Neapolitan pizzaiolo to the friendlier servers and authentic atmosphere. The owner Giuseppe Errichiello, also from Napoli, is on a mission; bringing the real pizza culture across the globe.
Price are fair at dinner but better at lunch, where a pizza set is 1200 yen. Once there you must try their “antipasto misto” and their “specialty” pizza (pizza don Salvo ) as well as their pasta and main dishes.
The pizza is really light in the real Neapolitan tradition and some of the other dishes available are very appealing. Remember to leave room for the original pastiera Napoletana as a dessert which is literally to die for.
These are just few distinguished places in my list but of course Tokyo offers a variety of great pizzerias as new ones pop out daily. I am big pizza fan so if I have miss your favorite place please let me know in your comments, as that will be my next destination.