Back in 1955, three Berkley-dwelling businessmen came together with an idea for a restaurant that specialized in something they knew everyone could enjoy. Pizza. And so, the first La Val's Pizza was born. First opening up on Euclid Avenue, the pizzeria grew over the years, changing hands and opening five locations throughout the area. Today, La Val's Pizza of Albany serves up some of the same classic pies from the hey-days of the UC-Berkley pizza joint hangout, using fresh ingredients in place of 57-year-old mushrooms. The Brazilian couple that owns and operates the location have also crafted a menu of Brazilian pizzas, which feature ingredients such as Brazilian cheese, smoked meat, and tan-tan drums.
San Francisco Pizza's owner and executive chef Silvio Barbosa Jr. has spent more than a decade perfecting his recipes for hand-spun pizzas and freshly prepared pasta, salads, and sandwiches. His menu is anchored by more than 25 specialty pizzas festooned with both traditional toppings such as pepperoni, basil, and sausage and more surprising fixings such as pine nuts, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and hearts of palm. Diners can also dig into pasta dishes and sandwiches accented with freshly grilled veal, seafood, and poultry to silence the loud hunger pangs drowning out the tiny angels perched on their shoulders.
Though using all-natural and locally grown ingredients is becoming popular in today’s restaurants, Straw Hat Pizza has been dedicated to these forward-thinking practices since serving its first pie on July 10, 1959. For more than 50 years, Straw Hat Pizza has followed some very down-to-earth guidelines: tomatoes are handpicked and hand-sorted from its own fields, cheeses are free from fillers, and all produce originates from within 150 miles of the store. Of course, this is pizza, so the local focus is accented by Old-World practices. For example, the Idaho wheat is grown in volcanic soil at least 4,500 feet above sea level, according to Italian pizza and pasta tradition.
Straw Hat’s pizzas, like the best blind dates, arrive dressed in a diverse selection of veggie and meat toppings⎯such as lemon-pepper chicken, chorizo, and bell peppers⎯but pies aren’t its only signature item. In the 1970s, Straw hat introduced the Hot Hat, a stromboli-style sandwich stuffed with melted cheese and ham, meatballs, or pepperoni. Additionally, the cooks whip up an eclectic choice of sides, including onion-battered green beans and garlic-parmesan bread sticks.
North Beach Pizza has been curing cravings for gourmet pizza, pastas, submarine sandwiches, and other hearty eats for more than 20 years. Thin and thick pizza crusts are tossed by hand and topped with whole milk mozzarella before baking evenly in industrial ovens, creating perfect, edible canvases ready to be bedecked in ingredients that include everything from fresh spinach and feta cheese, to clams and Linguiça––a form of Portuguese pork sausage. Delivery is free to eligible areas around each location, saving time that may be better spent setting the table or taking inventory of its legs.
The dough wizards at Papa John's hand toss circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings. Hand-cut produce crowns all of Papa John's pizzas, mingling with the sun-soaked sweetness of sauce made from fresh, California-grown tomatoes. By adhering to its brand promise of "better ingredients, better pizza," Papa John's grew from a back-tavern pizzeria into more than 3,500 restaurants within three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.
Will and Karen Gioia passion for cooking has taken them everywhere from the coveted kitchens of Rick Bayless and Chez Panisse to rural France. But the breadth of their travels led them to a singular focus for their own restaurant: tradition. At Gioia Pizzeria, they prep thin-crust pies with locally sourced and sustainably grown ingredients and strive to recapture the flavors of Will's childhood in Brooklyn, which was spent surrounded by Italian relatives and recipes. Today, Will and Karen evoke the same familial spirit at their two locations: a casual countertop spot in Berkeley, and a spacious San Francisco restaurant lit by vintage fixtures. The San Francisco Bay Guardian differentiates the couple's pizzas from greasier East-coast variants, deeming them "New York-spirited, with hearty crust and California-fresh toppings." Pecorino and house-made Sicilian sausage sprinkles the salsiccia pizza, whereas the vegetarian butternut squash pizza derives its complex flavors from organic squash, mozzarella, gorgonzola, and gremolata. The Julian—a pizza named after Karen and Will's son—changes its ingredients seasonally, having sported prosciutto, red onion, and garlic in the past. The team's emphasis on homemade fare doesn't end at pizzas, either. They fill their sweet, ricotta-stuffed cannolis onsite and tap their own lemon trees to fill glasses with fresh lemonade everyday.