Philadelphia is known for some staple food items, but it is also has a newfound legacy for being one of the best cities in the country for this iconic go-to: pizza. The city is boasting a host of outstanding pizza spots, and while the sheer quantity doesn’t compare to the grandeur of the New York slice, Philly has quality — along with very well the best pizza place in the country.
Good things have to start somewhere, right? So let’s dive back into the 1900s and look at where pizza in Philadelphia began. The first recorded spot seems to be Marra’s, which has been serving up authentic Italian cuisine with impressive brick-oven pizza. They’ve been in business for over 90 years — with Salvatore and Chiarina Marra moving to the US from Naples in 1920 — and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Along with Marra’s, four other Philly greats come to mind: Lorenzo’s, Tacconelli’s Pizzeria, Santucci’s Original Square Pie and Cacia’s Bakery.
Starting with Lorenzo’s, this place is the epitome of the Italian Market. For over 80 years on the corner of 9th and Christian Streets, Lorenzo’s has been wheeling and dealing pizzas and sandwiches at astronomical portions. Its the real deal with the most square footage of pizza per dollar. The Lorenzo family is part of the “Founding Fathers” of the Italian Market, and Lorenzo’s is a legendary spot to visit for tourists and locals alike.
Originally starting as a bread-baking business, Tacconnelli’s began in the 1920s before the war took all of Giovanni Tacconelli’s working sons away to Europe, stopping the business. Post-war Tacconelli wanted something to do with his brick oven, and chose to follow the roots his mother had laid down: tomato pie. Now with five generations and over 70 years of service, Tacconelli’s is a tomato pie haven.
Speaking of tomato pie, another iconic name that should come to mind is Santucci’s. This place has multiple locations and now with 70 years of service under its belt, Santucci’s has been in the tomato pie business since its 1959 opening in Northeast Philly. However, six years prior to Santucci’s, a now-fourth-generation spot opened in South Philly: Cacia’s Bakery. Open 363 days a year, Cacia’s is known for its truly old-world Italian staples: pizza and tomato pies included. The kicker of Cacia’s? There’s always (at least) one family member working at the shop. Just ask for a Cacia!
Now that respects have been paid to the Philadelphia pizza ancestors, it’s time to move up to the Philadelphia pizza veterans. These two places have been slinging out pies since the 1980s and are both respected establishments in Philly, but have been doing things very differently. The first is Lorezno & Son’s — which isn’t to be confused with Lorenzo’s — and has been a South Philly staple since 1970, located just one block down the street from Jim’s Steaks on South Street. The second veteran is Dock Street Brewery. This place has been nestled in Southwest Philly since 1985, and while it is very well Philly’s first microbrewery, it also has some pretty big claims to its pizza.
Finally, it’s time to discuss the contemporary pizza greats of Philly. But where to begin? Well, if you start with some household Philly food scene names, you end up at Pizzeria Vetri and Pizzeria Stella.
Pizzeria Vetri is the pizza namesake of Philly legend Marc Vetri, and his blooming pizza spot now has three locations after opening in Fairmount in September 2013. Their wood-fired oven only takes three minutes to cook their pizzas, creating a near perfect model of efficiency. The second spot — Pizzeria Stella — belongs amongst the host of restaurants owned by Stephen Starr, and this Neapolitan pizza joint has been rocking in Society Hill for over a decade now.
But what if you can’t or quite simply don’t eat cheese? Do vegans have a place to turn to for a good slice of pie in Philadelphia? Blackbird Pizzeria and 20th Street Pizza — sister pizzerias — are the two beacons for pizza lovers vegan and non-vegan alike. Blackbird is located in Northern Liberties, while 20th Street is just off of 20th and Chestnut Streets in Rittenhouse, with both locations serving up their takes on the outside-the-box circle pie.
But what are the pizza spots that are on fire right now? What restaurants are garnering lines out the door? Where are there spots with people willing to wait over an hour for a slice? Don’t worry, Philly’s got those places too. Angelo’s Pizzeria in Bella Vista, along with Pizza Shackamaxon in Fishtown and Circles + Squares in Olde Richmond.
Angelo’s has taken the Philly food scene by storm, serving up insane pies, righteous hoagies, and maybe, just maybe, the best cheesesteak in town. They do all sorts of pies at Angelo’s from the classic thin circle to the thick square, but each and every slice will have customers coming back for more. All their dough? Made in house and fresh daily. They don’t play around. They don’t have a phone — that’s how dedicated they are.
Pizza Shackamaxon also used to go by a different name — Pizza. Now with a more clear understanding of who they actually are, the folks over at Shackamaxon are rocking serious pies. Like Angelo’s, they have no phone for you to call. You want their pizza? Come get it. However, Shackamaxon prides itself on being first and foremost a slice shop. They think that many people deserve to eat their pies, and by it being a slice shop this allows for more new experiences every single day. You can ask for a pie for yourself, but expect to wait. They will make it on their schedule while accommodating the slices first. However, the location of Shackamaxon is what leads into the presumptuous winner of the “Best in Show” of pizza in Philadelphia — they’re in the old Pizzeria Beddia location.
Joe Beddia is a culinary madman. The man has been on the Philly food scene for years and has long since been a student of the art of pizza making. Beddia opened the original Pizzeria Beddia in March of 2013, and the 300 square-foot corner spot was occupied by Beddia and his pal John Walker. They made every single pie, every single day they were open — which was Wednesday-Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m. — making 40 pies a day for the ravenous customers. In 2015, Bon Appetit magazine named it the “Best Pizza in America,” for Beddia’s simplistic yet masterful pizza’s that came hot out of his deck oven. Beddia was as consistent as he was good — a feat almost unthinkable in the restaurant business considering something as good as his pizza.
But he closed down Beddia in 2018. It wasn’t a sustainable business model with the influx of customers. A year later Beddia reopened as a fully-fledged restaurant, and while the “hype” that surrounded Pizzeria Beddia remained, Beddia had the space to account for everyone. His pies are still as consistent and as perfect as before — and getting more wild by the season — and he’s offering ridiculously good small plates, craft beers, a wine list of only natural wines, cocktails, and soft serve that can be topped with amaro. Talk about one hell of a dessert.
If you want to visit the pizza guru of Philadelphia, Beddia takes reservations up to 60 days in advance, but good luck: they fill up quick. Thankfully, half of Pizzeria Beddia is open to walk-ins, because Joe Beddia doesn’t want to isolate the coommon crowd. In fact, he wants the community to love his food and his craft, just as any master does.
Pizzeria Beddia may be the disputed-yet-agreed upon champ of pizza in Philadelphia, but the truest hidden gem in this week’s article is Iannelli’s Bakery in Passyunk. This gets the award quite simply because there is no schedule to Iannelli’s’ pizza production: the pizza is made whenever Vincent Iannelli feels like it. This bakery has been around for now 110 years, nestled away on East Passyunk Avenue, and is known for everything Italian — their tomato pie especially. But there is one thing they aren’t known for: stable hours. If you follow Iannelli’s on Instagram, Vince will post when he is going to open to fill orders made by customers and neighborhood regulars. If you want the legendary square pie or Italian baked goods, you’re gonna have to call, or email, or pray. Being a true hidden gem, Vince Iannelli wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’s so many more places to touch on — Philadelphia truly is a pizza city — but this is a good roundup of the history, diversity and prowess of pies in the City of Brotherly Love. Tune in next week for a brand new food adventure!