Lonely Planet Writer

Poll: Bye-bye American pie?

lombardisEngland may have invented the sandwich, but they didn't invent the club, the muffaletta, the Reuben, the Dagwood, the cheesesteak, or the Elvis. No, those were American inventions improving on the original (or, in the case of the Elvis, proving that innovation can sometimes be taken too far). Likewise the pizza: invented by Italians, brought to America by Italians, and diversified over the past 100 years into numerous regional variations springing from the original introduction. To pizza purists, there has been too much experimentation in some cases, but locals will never miss a chance to defend their region's home-grown pizza no matter how much it deviates from the original blueprint.

The best regional style of pizza in the US

Lonely Planet US Travel Editor Robert Reid recently gave his picks for the USA's best pizza, but what do travelers think?

On the Lonely Planet Facebook page, we asked people to vote for the best regional style of pizza in the US, and the New York coal-oven thin crust pie crushed the competition like a basket of ripe San Marzano tomatoes. Chicago pizza has many ardent admirers, but it couldn't put up the numbers to beat the ever-popular New York pizza. California-style pizza, a term typically applied as a pejorative by anyone not from California, received an honorable 14% of the votes. The biggest surprise was New Haven pizza, often touted by pizza aficionados as one of the top pizza cities in the US (if not the very best), yet it only managed to pull in 3% of the vote. New Haven even lost to St Louis pizza, a pizza that proudly uses a processed cheese-like product that under US law can't be labeled as cheese.


Conclusion: people really need to go eat a pizza in New Haven.

US vs. Italy

It's clear that most people favor New York pizza in the US, but how does American pizza match up against its Italian forebear? We asked which country makes the best pizza, Italy or the US, and we were immediately scoffed at.

'Is that a serious question??? C'mon!!!!' said one responder with an Italian surname. 'Is it a joke????' asked another. It continued from there: 'Oh please... don't be stupid'; 'Come onnnnnnnn, I can't believe you are even asking this question!!!'; 'I refuse to answer such an obvious question'.

The poll results were are one-sided as the comments, with Italy dramatically overshadowing the US:


But is this really such a ridiculous question?

Let's look at the timeline:

  • 1830: Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba, generally held to be the world's first pizzeria, opens in Naples (started as a street stall in the 1700s).
  • 1880-1900: Nearly 1 million Italians migrate to the US bringing their cuisine with them.
  • 1889: The first cheese pizza is made by Neapolitan Raffaele Esposito. 'Pizza margherita' is the basis for most modern pizza.
  • 1897: Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi arrives in New York and opens a grocery in Manhattan's Little Italy selling pizza. In 1905, Lombardi's, the first licensed pizzeria in the US, opens.
  • Present day: Tony Gemignani is a 9-time World Pizza Champion, and was Champion at the 2007 World Pizza Cup in Naples, winning for the Best Neapolitan Pizza Margherita. Tony Gemignani is from Fremont, California.

Modern pizza was invented in Naples, and shortly thereafter was taken to the US by a wave of Italian immigrants. Yes, Italy was first, but does being the first mean being the best?

Conclusion: The sample size is too small; more data is required for a definitive conclusion. We all need to eat more pizza in Italy and the US to really answer this question — purely for the sake of science of course.

[Top photo: Lombardi's pizza, by Nick Sherman]