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Dining Out

Any way you slice it

With crusts ranging from thin to puffy, springy to whole-wheat, neighborhoods offer a variety of pies

By Devra First
Globe Staff / July 1, 2009

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Boston lends its name to baked beans and custard-filled pie, but when it comes to pizza, New York hogs the glory. But how often do you eat baked beans and Boston cream pie? And how often do you eat pizza? Boston loves a good pie as much as New York does, and there are plenty of excellent examples in the area, from the famous (Regina, Santarpio’s) to the neighborhood favorites (Armando’s, Tony’s Place), the no-frills (Galleria Umberto) to the upscale (Scampo). We went on an extended pizza crawl to pinpoint some of the best. The following establishments are worth their sauce; those with an asterisk deserve particular notice. Long live Boston pizza.

NORTH END

Antico Forno, 93 Salem St., 617-723-6733. www.anticofornoboston.com

Pies from a wood-burning oven, charming waiters, and a reasonably priced sit-down dinner in the North End. What more could you want?

*Ernesto’s, 69 Salem St., 617-523-1373. www.ernestosnorthend.com

Double wide, double good. The slices here are as big as two and have a chewy, springy crust that’s addictive. A great slice.

*Galleria Umberto, 289 Hanover St., 617-227-5709.

Only open for lunch, starting at 11 and serving till the friendly guys behind the counter run out. The Sicilian slices are worth waiting in the long line for. It was recently named one of the 25 best pizzas in the US by GQ, but the atmosphere is more cafeteria-style than high style.

*Regina Pizzeria, 11 1/2 Thacher St., 617-227-0765. www.pizzeriaregina.com

In the Regina vs. Santarpio’s debate, I’m going to have to go with Regina. Open since 1926 and everything a pizza place should be - fabulous pies from the brick oven, pitchers of beer, boisterous waitresses, and Sinatra on the jukebox. That’s amore! (And yes, that’s on the jukebox, too.)

SOUTH END

Mangia, 537 Columbus Ave., 617-267-6600. www.eatmangiapizza.com

With other branches in Brookline, Walpole, and Canton, Mangia manages to make thin-crust pizza without turning it into a cracker. The dough is delicious whole grain, and the bright red sauce has pure tomato flavor.

*Picco, 513 Tremont St., 617-927-0066. www.piccorestaurant.com

Charred heaven. Blasted in an ultra-hot ceramic oven, a Picco pie is blackened in spots with a well-textured crust, a bit puffy and tender yet crisp. Made with high-quality ingredients such as wonderfully milky fresh mozzarella from Lioni Latticini in New Jersey.

The Upper Crust, 683 Tremont St., 617-927-0090. www.theuppercrustpizzeria.com

Your choice of wheat or white crust; we preferred white. A good everyday pizza more than something extraordinary, but if you put a pie in front of me, I’d happily scarf it down. Other branches all over town; check the website for specifics.

Woody’s Grill & Tap, 58 Hemenway St., 617-375-9663.

A wood-burning oven boosts Woody’s pies a notch above most bar pizzas. They can err on the side of too much salt and too much cheese, but a solid Fenway option.

EAST BOSTON

*Santarpio’s, 111 Chelsea St., 617-567-9871. www.santarpiospizza.com

Plenty of character at this old-school pizza joint operated by folks who know what they’re doing. A great pie is marred slightly by tip droop - I don’t like a slice that pouts. Best when not weighed down by tons of toppings. Do not miss the barbecued homemade sausage, which rivals the pies as an attraction.

BEACON HILL

Scampo, The Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles St., 617-536-2100. www.scampoboston.com

Lydia Shire’s latest, the stylish Scampo offers substance when it comes to pizza. Shire’s famous lobster pizza is here, but the classic tomato, mozzarella, and basil outshines it with flavorful simplicity.

Figs, 42 Charles St., 617-742-3447. www.toddenglish.com

Rectangular, thin-crusted, crisp-edged, and strangely addictive pizzas from chef Todd English. The sauce on the Oliver’s pizza, Figs’ version of the basic pie, is garlicky and rich, with condensed tomato flavor. Tastes great room temperature, too, which is good as these thin pies cool quickly. Pizza also comes with such toppings as fig and prosciutto, calamari, and spicy shrimp. Also in Charlestown.

BRIGHTON

Pino’s, 1920 Beacon St., 617-566-6468. www.pinospizza.com

Oh, the rivalry. On the one hand you’ve got Pino’s, on the other Presto (see below). They are on the same block. Both serve about the closest you’ll come to a New York pizza parlor slice in these parts. Both have an amusing bunch of wise guys behind the counter. Try them both.

*Presto, 1936 Beacon St., 617-232-4545.

My favorite over Pino’s (see above) by a nose. A crisp crust, the right sauce-to-cheese ratio - classic.

JAMAICA PLAIN

Dogwood Cafe, 3712 Washington St., 617-522-7997. www.dogwoodcafe.com

The brick-oven pizza can be heavy on the cheese - a recent pie featured a uniform blanket of white, no sauce visible at all. But it’s still tasty, and the restaurant is a great hangout, with a pubby wood interior and fun crowd. There are good topping combos available, and at brunch you can get a breakfast pizza with eggs, sausage, bacon, home fries, and mozzarella.

ROSLINDALE

Pleasant Cafe, 4515 Washington St., 617-323-2111. www.pleasantcafe.com

Marked by a neon sign, this longtime neighborhood haunt serves thin-crust pizza and great atmosphere, plus dishes like broiled scrod, lasagna with meatballs, and prime rib. Other pluses: a bar and salt-of-the-earth waitresses.

WEST ROXBURY

Tony’s Place, 188 Baker St., 617-323-3550.

In the same vein as the Pleasant Cafe - a neighborhood restaurant that hasn’t changed much over time. The Pleasant may be better-known, but I prefer Tony’s pizza. The crust is more pliant with lots of bubbles, and there’s a bit less cheese.

CAMBRIDGE

*Armando’s, 163 Huron Ave., Huron Village. 617-354-8275.

The regular, New York-style pizza is good, but this nondescript pizza parlor serves one of the best Sicilian slices in the area. If you’re there when the Little League team they sponsor is in, it’s good, noisy fun.

Cambridge 1, 27 Church St., Harvard Square. 617-576-1111. www.cambridge1.us

If you want doughy and chewy, head elsewhere. Grilled over charcoal, the pizza here has an ultra-thin crust. The basic margherita and the potato, cheese, and rosemary pie are just right. Bonuses: nice but unfussy salads and Italian beer. There’s a second branch in the Fenway.

Emma’s, 40 Hampshire St., Kendall Square. 617-864-8534. www.emmaspizza.com

Another one in the thin-crust camp, sometimes straddling the line between pizza and cracker. Great topping choices, plus the option of a zippy rosemary sauce that takes this out of traditional territory. The perfect pre- or post-movie stop, right near the Kendall theater.

*Gran Gusto, 90 Sherman St., North Cambridge. 617-441-0400. www.grangustocambridge.com

Is this Cambridge or Naples? The pizza is cooked in a brick oven, the crust thin and crispy, rich little islands of bufala mozzarella studding the bright, fresh sauce. You’ll also find pasta, lamb from the brick oven, and other Italian treats.

Zing!, 1923 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square. 617-497-4300. www.zingpizza.blogspot.com

New to the scene, serving novel toppings on thin, crisp crust. The real standout is the least traditional - the Blue October replaces tomato sauce with butternut squash puree, topped with blue cheese, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and spinach.

ARLINGTON

Za, 138 Massachusetts Ave., 781-316-2334. www.zarestaurant.com

A good choice if you like crazy toppings. Rhubarb, asparagus, dill pickle slices, or Verrill Farm strawberries? You may find them on a pizza here. There’s also the macaroni and cheese pizza, crust topped with mac and caramelized onions. The crust is a bit thicker than I like, and the food can be a long time coming, but it’s a good place to come for a leisurely dinner with the kids.

NEWTON CENTRE

Sweet Tomatoes, 47 Langley Road, 617-558-0222. www.sweettomatoespizza.net

That’s a real good pie, a thin crust topped with chopped tomatoes rather than sauce. Fresh, lighter than average, delicious Neapolitan-style pizza. Also in West Newton and Needham.

REVERE

Bianchi’s Pizza, 322 Revere Beach Boulevard, 781-284-9472. A cheesy, greasy, giant, salty slice. Take it across the street and eat while gazing out over Revere Beach. A water view makes pizza taste even better.