Photo by Michael A. Gardiner
When TripAdvisor named San Diego the country’s best pizza city, many scoffed at the notion a place with no signature pizza style of its own (and one best known for fish tacos) could come out on top. What they missed is the fact we have great examples of just about every kind of pizza: New York, Chicago and more. Perhaps the Neapolitan-style pizza at Buona Forchetta (3001 Beech St.) in South Park is the best proof of that.
While the crust of Neapolitan pizza is thin, it isn’t the crisp-edged, foldable New York-style. Rather, its crust will generally be thin but bubbling up at the edge into a chewy, savory and deliciously bready crust zone. No morning-afterthe-frat-party unwanted “pizza bones” here. This crust is the good stuff.
Neapolitan pizza was farm-to-table before there was farm-to-table: San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and the finest flours. Indeed, the official certifying agency requires the dough be made from only 0 or 00 flour, fresh brewer’s yeast, water and salt. It must be kneaded by hand or a low-speed mixer and formed by hand and cooked in a wood-fired oven at a minimum 800-degrees Fahrenheit. There are only two basic Neapolitan pies: marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil) and Margherita (tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil).
It is with the latter that Buona Forchetta really shines. Its Margherita is pure, simple and perfect. The crust is the star: savory, a hint of salinity with just a suggestion of sweetness. The 800-to-900-degree oven crisps the crust, leaving it tantalizingly pliable under the blistered edges. The toppings are more seasonings than features, the tomato’s acid balancing things out, cheese providing richness and basil just a bit of herbaceous pop. They also do an alternate version with buffalo mozzarella and a small shower of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese on top with grape tomatoes adding some sweetness. It may well be the best pie in town.
There are 30 more pizza varieties (plus, on request, gluten-free versions of them all) ranging from classic to semi-classic, plus daily specials on the menu. My favorite was the Sergio, featuring mozzarella di bufala , prosciutto di parma, arugula and parmigiano . What it lacked in simplicity it made up for in the over-the-top barrage of prosciutto and arugula. And once you get through those toppings you’re left with that crust, that wonderful, delicious crust. It’s good stuff after you’ve gotten through the good stuff.
Buona Forchetta also offers non-pizza options but they’re less consistent. A ravioli carbonara was either too creative by half or deeply flawed; you decide which. Better yet, don’t. Gnocchi Amatriciana , on the other hand, was perfectly executed. The gnocchi themselves were tender, ethereal, yet each one was distinct in and of itself. The sauce was rich from the guanciale but with a perfect acid balance.
Ultimately, though, it’s the pizza that Buona Forchetta is about. Beautiful Neapolitan pizza that helps you see why pizza became a thing in the first place. That should help you realize why TripAdvisor may not have been totally crazy to call San Diego the best pizza town in the country.