By Jaysen Lee-St. John
Dec 15, 2020
Ed. note: If you’re wondering about the byline, yes, I assigned this story to my brother. Pizza is his favorite food, he’s lived in Shanghai for a dozen years, and belongs to several WeChat groups dedicated to pizza there. The man goes to pizza parties with strangers. I couldn’t think of someone better suited to wax gluttonous on the best pies in that city. Plus, toting along my two-year-old niece for his reporting trips, he got to indoctrinate the next generation into our cheesy cause. —Jeninne
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A PICKY eater. Moving from the U.S. to China certainly exposed this flaw and forced me to expand what I considered palatable. But after 12 years in Shanghai, it’s nice to still have comfort food at an arm’s reach. Regardless of where you stand on the polarizing pineapple debate, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a resident of this city who disagrees that it has a real pizza scene bursting with flavor. Below are some of my favorite places that I hope you’ll get to enjoy one (post-Covid) day.
This New York-themed pizza place took Shanghai by storm when its first store opened in 2017, quickly becoming a haven for expats looking for a slice, if for no other reason than the fact that you could get just that: a slice. “We don’t feel constrained by nostalgia or limited by what should or should not be on a New York slice,” says owner Nat Alexander, who believes, for example, the dough to be the most integral part of any pizza–and his sourdough is decidedly not New York. Their curiosity and free-thinking have led to many unique experiments. While they have a nice variety of standard pizzas, they also come out with four or five different flavors each season. Past iterations have included Chicken Tikka, Mushroom Mac & Cheese, and the Al Pastor. My favorite seasonal pizza thus far, and recently announced new addition to the standard menu (!!!), is the White Pepperoni: a parmesan-based cream sauce, classic pepperoni, and a parmesan-crusted crust for that extra bit of cheesy goodness. (I always add pineapples, but, as I said: polarizing.) If you’ve only got time for one pizza in Shanghai, make it this one. Slices RMB20-30; 16-inch pies RMB150-180; @homeslicepizzashanghai
This Neapolitan restaurant has been making amazing pizza since 2010. Italian awards adorn their walls while alluring aromas waft out of their open-air kitchen. Marvel as chef Francesco Nevola stretches and crafts his sometimes simple, sometimes substantial pizzas behind a thin layer of glass. Hold your breath in anticipation as he slides the pie into the wood-fired oven behind him. Within a few short minutes, he reveals a charred masterpiece and adds the finishing garnishes. The ingredients are top notch and the presentation is exquisite. An authentic, unpretentious rendition of what pizza is (supposedly) supposed to be. Pies RMB58-148; www.mammamiapizzeria.com.cn
Don’t let the odd name, rinky-dink façade and shockingly reasonable rates fool you. You’re going to want to assume Babbo is one of the many casual Italian places in this city that aren’t worth your time or calories. But this quaint Italian eatery serves up pretty pies with dare I say completely perfect crust. It gets a nice char for flavor and crunch, and the dough is light, airy and fluffy. See, crust, for me, is usually just the vessel for the cheese and sauce, but this one stands tall on its own (and even scored a bellissimo from Homeslice’s Nat Alexander). The pies here are also noticeably saucier than other places, with relatively large chunks of tomatoes. If plentiful sauce is your jam, hit up this quiet spot for an intimate dinner. 1023 Kangding Rd., Jing’an District; pies RMB90-120, but check out their killer delivery deals on Eleme.com
If the name of this place sounds familiar, that’s because Shanghai’s “Famous” Joe’s Pizza is in fact the same as the eponymous well-known downtown-NYC spot that’s been slinging slices since 1975. They serve their original recipes by the (jumbo) slice as well as by the whole pie. Highly recommend their White Spinach slice: the bulbous blobs of ricotta add a delightful smoothness as you bite through the crispy crust, and bonus points for being healthy. My Manhattan-born mom came to visit a couple years ago and “needed to try” their Sicilian slice. After it was “toasted to perfection,” as she said, the buttery crust and crunchy pepperonis were a match made in persnickety-mom heaven. Get it fresh or get it delivered. Just get it. Slices RMB20-40; 18-inch pies RMB 150-290; @joespizzashanghai
This Italian eatery prides itself on its authentic ingredients, many of which are certified by Italian institutions proving they originated in specific regions of Italy, hence the name. Popping those ingredients in a cherry-, apple- and apricot-wood-fired oven results in a delectable dose of pizza goodness. They have a nice mixture of traditional Italian pies as well as some from the “New World.” Two standouts: the Porcini (mushrooms and truffle oil) and the Marco “Pollo” (barbecue chicken). The mushrooms are squishy and not overpowering. The chicken is tender, and the hint of sweet and spiciness in the sauce made for an impeccable combo. Also on my list is the Cinderella (pictured), a fairytale match of pumpkin, pine nuts, spinach, caramelized onions and goat cheese. Hit up this place on Sundays when pizzas are buy-one-get-one-free. 12-inch pies RMB100-190; docitalian.com
What’s your favorite pizza in Asia? Share a photo on Instagram, tag us @travelandleisureasia and use the hashtag #TLAsiaPizzaWeek for a chance to be featured on our social media.