Last week I picked my five favorite pizza places in Pittsburgh, but I also asked readers for their input. Pittsburghers from near and far (including many who are Pittsburghers at heart no matter where they live) wrote in to tell me about their favorite pizzerias. So much passionate advocacy already has made me add a few pizzerias to my "must visit" list. Here are some of their comments:
Kathleen Ganster, Hampton: For over 30 years, Grande Pizza has been located in Richland. I know it is owned and operated by two brothers who moved here from Italy years ago, but I don't know their whole history. My teen boys insist on Grande's when we want "real" pizza. The Grande Special is my 78-year-old mom's favorite, their vegetarian is my 45-year-old vegetarian brother's favorite and my boys eat anything. My 17-year-old and I love the white pizza with lots of garlic and anchovies. Although it is more expensive than most of the "chain" pizzas, it is worth every penny. If you haven't made the trip out to their shop on Route 8 in Richland, I urge you to do so.
Barb Murray, Baden: The best pizza I have ever had anywhere is from Schiulli's Pizza in Oakland. Their regular pizza is a masterpiece, combining a thin crust that's slightly sweet-chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside with a perfectly seasoned sauce. The toppings are always fresh and generous and the cheese is a tasty blend of high-quality Italian cheeses.
I have had many items there, but always go back to the regular pizza with onions, pepperoni, black olives, and green peppers, baked well done. I usually get a cup of ranch dressing to dip the pizza in, but you don't need it, the pizza is amazing by itself. The pizza is always hot, the toppings flavorful, the cheese melted and gooey, and the pepperoni never makes a pool of grease.
Jeff Evagues, Manorville, N.Y.: I live in New York and Vincent's is still the best I have ever had. In fact, I am flying in for the Pitt game and that will be my first stop.
Nicole Pazur, West Deer: My personal favorite happens to be Messina's in Hampton. Primarily a take-out and delivery pizzeria, they make a Sicilian pie that is delicious. My husband and I order it at least once a week, his half with pepperoni and mine with extra cheese, perfectly browned. The crust is thick and the sauce oh-so-flavorful. The folks at Messina's know us by name and likely joke that we never order anything different. I have to admit, their phone number is one of the few I've memorized.
Heather Luiso, Bloomfield: Pizza Italia in Bloomfield is run by one family (Dom and Augie are brothers) and their recipes have not ever changed. Their sandwiches and Sicilian pizza are very good, but their traditional pies are simply the best. The crust is thin and not overly chewy. Their sauce is simple and the blend of cheese they use is a fantastic combination. Their prices are reasonable for the quality they serve. We usually order our pies plain -- in our opinion, if quality ingredients are used, there's no need to drown a pizza in heaps of toppings. On the occasions that we are craving something extra, we'll go for sausage, which is crumbled on top of the pizza. You will not be disappointed if you try this place.
Bobby Cherry, Moon: The absolute best pizza can be found at Bella Notte Pizza in the Strip District. I stumbled upon the place several years ago and have been hooked. Their pizzas are loaded with the best cut pepperoni in the city -- cut in little pieces and sprinkled all over the pie. Their pasta dishes are incredible, too. I always struggle to remember that I can't order everything. The place lacks on decoration, but makes up with the food and really incredibly friendly wait staff. It's no wonder they have the 'Burgh's best pizza -- it's owned by the Sunseri family. Go there hungry. Trust me.
George Nieman, Baldwin: While Mineo's, Vincent's and Fiori's are the old standards, you'd be remiss if you didn't mention the most unique and popular pizza joint in the city ... Beto's on Banksville Road. Beto's also has withstood the test of time ... and has a dedicated, almost cult-like following with people traveling from all over the Tri-State area for a couple slices. In fact, I've run into people from all over the country there. When I visit, I normally get three slices, one extra cheese, one pepperoni and one mushroom -- satisfying all my cravings, though extra cheese is my personal favorite. Like the "Ambridge-style" pizza, they pile the cheese and extra toppings on cold, after the pizza has been cut. YUM.
David D. Berkowitz, Washington, D.C.: Growing up in Squirrel Hill, my friends and I had the opportunity to try lots of pizza. Although we had great respect for Mineo's, we have an enduring affection for the wonderful pizza made by Joe Aiello at Aiello's Pizza that has lasted some 35 years. It's the combination of the balance of flavors and attention to ingredients, particularly the thin, chewy crust, that makes Aiello's so special. But most of all it is Joe, who is so wonderfully inviting, that makes it a delightful place to go. Although I live in Washington, D.C., a trip to Aiello's (even on Thanksgiving eve) is the first stop off the Parkway before getting home, if only to get a slice. A welcoming smile from Joe when my friends and I walk in, makes the trip complete.
Todd Yancey, Belle Vernon: My whole family loves Sunset Cafe in Greensburg because it isn't your typical pizza. It is very flavorful, with fresh garlic in the sauce. They also top the pizza differently. Instead of spreading sauce over top of the dough and then putting cheese and then toppings, Sunset uses fresh dough, but places a ring of cheese and a ring of sauce, which is alternated around the pizza from inside to outside, with the toppings underneath the sauce. It truly makes for a different pizza taste. The large is also cut differently. It is a round pizza, but cut like a square pizza would be. I understand they have been preparing it this way since the 1930s. It really is a classic within the Greensburg area. My family always orders the traditional red pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms.
George Tadich, Jr., Albuquerque (formerly of Hopewell): The absolute best pizza in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else, is from Breezy's Pizza, on Sheffield Avenue in Aliquippa. They've been serving "by the square" since 1967. I always order four "squares" with pepperoni and mushrooms. I can't describe why I find it so delicious. It's "Ambridge style," as your article described it, including the toppings added cold after the pizza has baked. I just crave it ... for over 40 years now.
Christie M. Boyle, Chicago: This is a fellow Pittsburgher who just recently moved to Chicago -- pizza capital of the world. ... Nonetheless, I'd take a pizza from Fiori's any day over the deadly deep dish offered in Chicago. Even though Fiori's stole my heart at the ripe age of 5, I must add a vote towards Mineo's (Mt. Lebanon) white pizza as well.
Roseann Biagiarelli Thomas, West Mifflin: Di Salla's Pizza was the first one in Munhall in 1954. I lived on Ravine Street, which is just around the corner and everyone from all the neighborhoods used to come to the junction for the pizza. I am now 64 years old and I have not tasted any pizza that is better than our pizza. The same family has owned this pizza shop since it opened. Last May there was an accident and a car went through the building and the pizza shop did not open until August. When it did the place was so crowded you had to wait for almost two hours to get a pizza. That is how much people from Munhall and the neighboring communities love Di Salla's pizza.
Restaurant critic China Millman can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1198.