In a country filled with large cities constantly warring over whose pizza is superior, a smaller town’s claim can sometimes get overlooked. That would be the case for New Haven, except for the fact that they already know they have the best pizza in the country — and they don’t need to publicize that fact. For generations, a pizza culture that rivals those of Chicago and New York has been developing on the sleepy Southern Connecticut coast. It’s got its own legends, language, and style, and it’s quietly become the dependable powerhouse of the American pizza mythos. Plus, Frank Sinatra liked it.

Here’s what you need to know about New Haven “apizza”, as told to us by several impassioned New Havenites and pizza expert Tony Gemignani.

Wait, what the hell is “apizza”?

You might’ve noticed that New Haven pizza’s got its own name — apizza. It’s pronounced “ah-beets”, and it’s derived from the Italian dialect of the Neapolitan immigrants who first settled there. Since the people making the pizzas were from the area around Naples, the pizza tends to skew toward the stylings of the original Italian pizzaiolos.

That means coal-fired or coal-powered ovens (though most places have adopted less carbonic methods like gas and wood), a thin crust, lots and lots of char, tangy tomato sauce, and NOT NECESSARILY cheese. That’s right. They’re crazy.

Some History

It all started back in 1925, when Frank Pepe, originally of Maiori, Italy, founded his signature pizzeria, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, on Wooster Street in New Haven. This establishment came after years of hardship for the young man, who previously had taken jobs in factories and macaroni manufacturing (no joke), before deciding to start a delivery business selling “tomato pies”, which are a type of pizza made with spongy dough, tomato sauce, and a light sprinkling of Romano cheese.

Pepe soon abandoned the delivery business and decided to start his own joint in 1925, eventually taking over his former bakery employer’s building in 1937 and opening what is known today as the precursor of all New Haven-style pizzerias. From there, he sold tomato pies and other types of pizza that eventually incorporated other cheeses, like mozzarella, presumably attracting droves of young mutant ninja turtles.

Pepe’s family flourished in the new business, and his nephew, Salvatore Consiglio — having learned the craft of pizza-making from his relatives — soon decided to branch off from Pepe’s to open his own pizzeria: Sally’s Apizza, which makes Neapolitan-style pizzas just like Pepe’s. It was the shot heard ’round the world and launched what is assuredly one of the biggest rivalries in the food world today. US presidents have even been divided on which joint makes the better pie.

From there, the world of New Haven-style pizza grew to include a slew of other pizzerias attempting to emulate what Frank Pepe created back in 1925. Some succeeded, some didn’t. Here are the vital stats for the ones you need to know:

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

The must-get pie: White clam pie
Pie style: Uneven round
Slice style: Asymmetrical wedges
The original. The big dog. All other New Haven pizzerias are in the shadow of Pepe’s, and they know it. In addition to the original coal-fired location on Wooster Street, it’s expanded into several other Connecticut towns, Yonkers, NY, and area casino Mohegan Sun. Lines at the first location are often discouragingly long and cutthroat. Their white clam pie is legendary (shucked fresh in-house daily), and pairs well with their thick-cut bacon.

Sally’s Apizza

The must-get pie: White fresh tomato (Margherita)
Pie style: Uneven round
Slice style: Asymmetrical wedges
Founded by Sal Consiglio back in 1938, Sally’s took many of Pepe’s original fans when it splintered off from the original family and moved down the street. To this day, families in and around New Haven are firmly divided between the two camps (for the most part), and allegiances are taken as seriously as in Game of Thrones (minus, you know, the murder). Sally’s maintains only its single, original location, and has a coal-fired oven just like the original one at Pepe’s

Modern Apizza

The must-get pie: Italian bomb
Pie style: Uneven round
Slice style: Asymmetrical wedges
Slightly less well-known than the other two giants (meaning shorter lines), Modern is more of a local joint that specializes in wood-fired pizzas — as opposed to the coal-fired ones of Sally’s and Pepe’s — with a smattering of fresh, artisanal toppings. Their Italian bomb pie (bacon, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, garlic, peppers) is a tour de force.


The must-get pie: Mashed potato and bacon
Pie style: Oblong or round
Slice style: Rectangular or triangular
Founded in 1996, Bar is the baby of the New Haven pizzaiolos, and, as such, attracts a hipper crowd clamoring for its more innovative pies. It turns into a nightclub after normal dinner hours and brews its own beer, too, thus adding to its youthful mystique. While its oven is gas-fired, it still churns out the kind of thin-crust, high-quality charred pies that its older neighbors originated.

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