Top this—pizzas with a touch of gourmet

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      Who doesn’t like pizza? Aromatic, crisp, hot, thin-crust, wood-oven pizzas; pillowy pies dripping with sauce and cheese. A bargain slice just doesn’t cut it when you’re craving a flavourful bite.

      Thankfully, good pizza can be had in almost every neighbourhood. Here are some of my go-to spots—with just a glimmer of a chain among them—that could end up on your Best Pizza shortlist.

      (781 Denman Street, 604-568-4554)
      A first visit to Nook, a teeny West End Italian boí®te, brought back memories of Sicilian holidays spent eating lots of pizza and savouring leftovers on beaches, in olive groves, among ancient ruins, and on Mount Etna. Back home, nothing quite measured up until Nook opened last May. It was inspired by having “the best pizza of my life at Seattle’s Serious Pie”, said chef/co-owner Mike Jeffs by phone. “It was groundbreaking for me. I just had to do this in Vancouver. A nice neighbourhood spot; good, simple food; and a glass of wine—it’s something that’s been forgotten,” he continues. “Making pizza isn’t hard, and it doesn’t take years of experience. Using really good ingredients is the essence of Italian cooking. I use real Gioia buffalo mozzarella from Los Angeles. My prosciutto is from La Quercia in Iowa.” Jeffs says the key to making pizza is to focus on it, and at Nook only one cook makes the pizzas. Most popular: Margherita; prosciutto, arugula, and roasted garlic. Jeffs recommends: The Special (rapini, pancetta, and Caciocavallo cheese). Price: $14 to $16 for a 12-inch pie.

      (1629 Yew Street, 604-737-1155)
      There’s lots to like about Kitsilano’s pretty, 30-seat Piatzo. Open just three months, it’s drawing favourable word of mouth from its mostly neighbourhood clientele. “Those who come a first time, they come back,” says chef-owner Esmail Rahshenas, who ran a pizzeria in Sweden for many years. Thin-crust pizzas dominate a tight menu that extends to panini and pasta. His vegetarian whole-wheat crust pizzas (white crust is also available) are seriously popular with his customers. “Whole-wheat crust just tastes good. We don’t overload it so that you can taste it and each ingredient,” he says on the line from the restaurant. Options include a classic Margherita and the Verdure, with mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted peppers, garlic, basil, and feta. “Fresh ingredients, love, and care make a great pizza,” Rahshenas says. Most popular: In addition to the vegetarian options, Al Pollo (grilled chicken), and Parma (prosciutto and arugula). Rahshenas recommends: Margherita (mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil). Price: $8 to $12 for 10-inchers, $12 to $17 for 14-inch pies.

      (1154 Robson Street, 604-688-7338)
      Fine-dining CinCin isn’t most people’s prime pizza destination, but the restaurant’s pizzette (seven-inch pies) are popular as a shared appetizer or as a bar snack with a glass of wine. Chef de cuisine Todd Howard credits CinCin’s alder-wood-fired oven for taking the restaurant’s pizzette to another level. “Four minutes in our oven that gets up to 800 degrees in the back gives a good thin, crispy, Roma-style crust,” Howard says. “Quality ingredients, balanced flavours, love, and keeping it simple make our pizzas a cut above.” His appreciation for high-quality ingredients is evident in CinCin’s four varieties: Prosciutto di Parma, Brome Lake duck, smoked wild salmon, and local, seasonal mushrooms. Howard is happy to customize pizzette using the mostly local, organic ingredients the restaurant has on hand—even truffles, in season, and for a price, of course. How civilized—and tasty—is that? Most popular: Local mushroom. Howard recommends: Prosciutto di Parma. Price: $15 to $16 for a personal pizza.

      Hell Pizza
      (1931 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver; 1-888-HELL-911)
      The antithesis of purist pizza joints is surely North Van newbie Hell Pizza, the first Canadian outpost of a New Zealand pizza chain. Kiwi expat Steve Willis, who runs the franchise, says on the line from Hell, “Our pizza crusts are part whole-wheat, and are halfway between Italian thin-crust and puffy deep-dish style. We use pure mozzarella, make everything in-house—from sauces to pizza dough and pasta—cut our own vegetables, and roast our own chickens.” There are pizzas named for the seven deadly sins (like Lust, Gluttony, Greed, et cetera), while the “Gore-Met” line slays with Pandemonium, Mayhem, and Grimm, the latter of which Willis recommends in particular. It’s a crazy combo of chicken, green onion, cream cheese, apricot sauce, rosemary, and pine nuts. “It scares a lot of people,” Willis says. “I tell them I’ll give them their money back if they don’t like it. So far I haven’t had to.” Most popular: Mordor (smoky barbecue sauce, pepperoni, bacon, chicken, onion, and green peppers). Willis recommends: The vegan Sinister (refried beans, avocado, onion, salsa, peppers, and jalapeños). Price: Snack size (eight-inch) $8 to $8.50, regular size (12-inch) $16 to $17.