Buffalo-style pizza has long been a relative secret, inspiring passionate debate locally, but little known outside Western New York. That’s started to change. Buffalo was named one of America’s favorite cities for pizza by Travel + Leisure, and the cup-and-char pepperoni trend crossing the country (written about in The Wall Street Journal) shows that in this case, Buffalo’s long been ahead of its time.
If you’re new to it, Buffalo-style pizza features a slim, sometimes non-existent crust coast-line with ingredients out to, and often over the edges, a thick, airy undercarriage with little structural integrity that’s topped by a sweet sauce and enough cheese to guarantee a stringy pull. If you were going to use other regional styles to describe it, you might say it features a Chicago amount of cheese with a Motor City trim, a Maine undercarriage, and a New York City soul. But cup-and-char pepperoni is the baseline, and hey, its heart is all Buffalo.
If you only have time for two pizzerias, you must hit Bocce Club Pizza and La Nova, but here’s a to-do list of Buffalo’s top 10 pizzas for a more thoroughly saucy slicefest.
Stop #1: Bocce Club Pizza (4174 Bailey Ave, Buffalo, NY 14226)
Buffalo’s O.G. pizzeria began in 1946 as a bocce club downtown until bartender Dino Pacciotti bought it, experimented with an oven he found in the basement and started turning out pies so popular parishioners of a nearby church began skipping mass for pizza. They moved a 20-minute drive north to Bailey Avenue in 1959, but over the years, Bocce’s believers have grown legion and for good reason. Imagine a New York slice with a soft crust and a focaccia undercarriage, but with three times the cheese, twice the sauce, and so much pepp and cheese that they surge over the edge. It’s gooey, gorgeous and pure gluttony. Love at first slice.
Stop #2: Macy’s Place Pizzeria (3348 Genesee Street, Cheektowaga, 14225)
Father-and-son team John and Nick Argy took over Macy’s in 2009 (founder Chuck Maciejewski, opened it in 2002), a tiny spot on a quiet stretch of Genesee Street that would be easy to drive by if not for the statue of a chef on the roof. Cheese is the focus here—Macy’s goes light on salt and sauce—and the one-day fermented dough is sweeter than the typical Buffalo slice. There’s a modest 10 cup-and-char Margherita pepperoni rounds per slice (a third with browned edges, but all cupped), a light film of zesty grease across the top of the cheese, which seeps over the edges, and a pleasing crunch-crack to the crust. This tidy triangle resembles a little magic pizza carpet, a concentrated version of Buffalo-style pie worth a ride to Cheektowaga.
Stop #3: Deniro’s Pizzeria (2251 George Urban Blvd, Depew, NY 14043)
Deniro’s is a tiny pizzeria with a yellow awning around the corner from the Duff’s on Dick Road. Their classic cup-and-char pizza is a lion of a pie. Most slices don’t have less than 12 rounds of pepperoni (some have twice that) providing a burst of spicy pepper flavor and ‘roni edge crackle with every bite. There’s ample cheese with cheese pulls on bites midway through the slice—but not so much you can’t see the sauce, which is thoroughly, though not swimmingly, applied. It’s a bendy slice with a soft undercarriage and little crispiness except at the crust, which is dark at the very edge and tastes delicious. Unless there’s someone you really love who you need to get back to with food, this is quintessential parking lot pizza: place on the passenger seat, flip open, eat, repeat. (Just a 10-minute drive to the airport, Deniro’s is a terrific first or last bite on the way in or out of town).
Stop #4: Santora’s Pizzeria (3440 Transit Road, Depew, 14043)
Expansion hasn’t been kind to Santora’s rep, but its 1927 founding actually makes it Buffalo’s oldest pizzeria (and arguably, America’s sixth oldest). And founder Fioravanti Santora’s legacy can be enjoyed in Depew (Santora’s oldest spot, it opened in 1970) where owner Larry Santora says they go their own way. The white-pockmarked undercarriage is poofier than most Buffalo-style pizzas but well-browned, its crust lined with a blackened edge where the cheese turns crusty. The sauce is sweet, the pepperoni is charred, there’s a crispy-crackly bite, and a hot melted cheese string stretches cartoon-like as you bite. While it looks less like the thin round pies of yesteryear found in old photos on Santora’s website, and more like the Bocce Club Pizza style that has become so popular around town, one thing’s clear: this is a great Buffalo pizza.
Stop #5: Imperial Pizza (1035 Abbott Road, Buffalo, 14220)
Pizza Success, Pizza Perfect, Skyway Pizza, Southtown Pizza, Paradise Pizza—these are the names David Powers considered for Imperial, which he opened with partner Jim Bouris in 1992. Of course, now it seems it could never have been otherwise. If you see a similarity to Bocce, say the fact they serve portions of a full 18-inch pizza as their “sizes,” there’s a reason: the partners worked at Bocce (this also used to be a Bocce). The baseline cup-and-char is on the cheesier end with slice pies that are light on the char (though a slightly burnt crunchy ’roni edge adds nuance). There’s a thick layer of sauce, a poofy, inch-deep incline to the crispy-edged crust with a deep-red dried-out sauce that leaves behind a concentrated sweetness like the memory of a crest of a summer wave. Imperial may only have one location, but with a pie like this, its empire of South Buffalo and the surroundings seem safe from all comers.
Stop #6: Artone’s Pizza & Subs (1882 Seneca Street, Buffalo, 14210)
Artone’s is just a sliver of a place on Seneca Street in South Buffalo with a yellow sign out front, but the inside bleeds red, white, and blue with a series of patriotic signs that say things like, “This America. We play in the snow… we eat chicken wings and pizza. We love football.” It’s enough to make you want to order both and start a pickup game, but you’ll settle for a slice. Artone’s sauce has a classic sweet Buffalo bent (you can actually see tomato seeds in the sauce), the pepperoni is picture-worthy cup-and-char, and the cornicione has a 1/4-inch brown lip that is crispy and thin. There’s a lighter brown strip about the same size, a bit thicker, that joins the edge to the rest of the crust. And the sauce coastline starts before the cheese.
Stop #7: Lovejoy Pizza (900 Main Street, Buffalo. 14202)
The downtown spot is Lovejoy’s second, opened in 2012 (the original was opened with John Skotarczak in1998 in the ‘hood for which it was named). Kulik prefers a dark finish, and there’s actually a little restraint when it comes to cheese and pep—there’s more cheese than on a New York slice, but not so much more that it doesn’t leave bare the puffy under-crust and complete saucing. There’s a bit of a gumline and not tons of color on the undercarriage, but unlike many Buffalo-style pies, there’s a little crunch. Lovejoy’s free crust upgrades—garlic, sesame, onion, poppy, hot pepper, Cajun seasoning, and deluxe (everything)—put it in a tier of places that go that extra step. They also do a great chicken finger pizza, and some of the best stuffed hot peppers you’ll ever have. In recent years, there’s been a call out by The Buffalo News that Lovejoy should be named to the city’s list of pizza icons. For good reason.
Stop #8: La Nova Pizzeria (371 W Ferry St, Buffalo, NY 14213)
La Nova almost seems like a cousin of Bocce’s style, but one whose parents were New York City transplants—the pies are thinner and crispier, and while cheese and pepperoni sneak out past the crust in places, there are untopped spots to get a handle on your slice. Of course, it has had a similarly long run—it was established by “Papa” Joe Todaro in Tonawanda in 1957, and moved to its iconic West Side location in 1973. There are at least 21 toppings to choose from and nearly as many specialty pies, but one of the most unheralded and delicious aspects of La Nova is the ability to customize your crust (already a revelation) for free with sesame seeds, onion, garlic, Cajun spice, or Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Stop #9: Mister Pizza (1065 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, 14222)
Founded by Anthony Colicchia in 1996, Mister Pizza is a well-lit takeout spot on the corner of Elmwood and Bird. There are nearly 60 subs, almost 20 wing sauces, tacos, wraps, garlic bread, poppers, calzones, salads, and dinners. And this is Buffalo’s Rosetta stone of pizza menus—there are some 40 pizzas (double La Nova). Given its rep for inconsistency and slow service, some might argue they ought to pare down the menu. But when Mister Pizza is on, it’s on. The first difference is the cheese. There’s just more of it, and in a cheese-loving town, that says something. It seeps over the side and quickly spreads a quarter-inch away from the slice in seconds. The siren call of the glistening 17 pepperoni slices should prevent that from happening though. There’s a thin layer of a well-spiced, deep-red acidic sauce not as thick as most places. This pizza is a chewy, cheese indulgent slice, and if that’s your jam, Mister Pizza’s an all-star.
– Arthur Bovino
Arthur Bovino is a restaurant, food media, and travel writer, The Daily Meal‘s founding Eat/Dine editor, author of Buffalo Everything: A Guide to Eating in the Nickel City and the Buffalo Cookbook: 70 Recipes From the Nickel City, and a graduate of New York City’s International Culinary Institute.