Bethesda's Best Pizza
Patch ventured out to explore the prodigious power of pie.
Pizza is a very personal thing. Each of us likes our pizza a certain way. In my family alone there are vast preferences, posing a challenge when it’s time to order in.
My younger daughter insists on delivery-style plain cheese pizza with soft, hand tossed crust, and most “gourmet” pizzas are unacceptable. There’s my older daughter who prefers thin crust, loves a variety of toppings, and even tolerates a veggie or two. My husband wants his covered with everything — except meat — yes, on anchovies. Fortunately he caves on this demand most of the time. For me — sauce. I want copious amounts of sauce. I like all styles of crust and most toppings, but it has to have good sauce; that’s a deal-breaker.
So keep this in mind as you read my reviews — pizza is a very personal thing. Perhaps your opinion differs from mine, and cheese is the most important thing to you. Or, maybe you love Sicilian deep dish pizza, which is certainly your right. One thing we can all agree upon is that pizza has been an American passion almost since its arrival in New York City back in 1905. Since then, the proliferation of pizza parlors is virtually astonishing. Just look at the number we have in Bethesda alone.
Lori Wark, environmentalist and Patch reader, illuminates the implications of our worldwide obsession with pizza in her blog Adventures in Climate Change. You can listen to an interview with investigative food writer, Fred Kaufman, who reports the majority of tomatoes grown globally today are used in canned tomato sauce to make pizzas. The number one cheese produced is mozzarella — as a topping for pizza, according to Kaufman.
A few readers offered up opinions about pizza in Bethesda. This added to my sphere of knowledge, but did not provide a consensus (as expected for the reasons noted above). For this story, I focused on places that specialize in pizza, not just include it on their menu. But, even that’s hard to narrow down. You can also distinguish pizza by type — the epicurean pizzas at Mia’s vs. the mass-produced version from Domino’s. There’s also the old school pizza vs. the modern pie. Many purists prefer plain cheese and sauce — no diversionary toppings like “white” pizza or barbecued chicken.
As I traversed some of the lesser known pizza parlors in our fair city, I made a superb discovery — M&N Pizza. You know that curious round, brick building on Old Georgetown Road across from Fairmont Avenue? Ever wonder what’s inside? I finally ventured in to find a blasting pizza oven tuning out the some of the best pizza in the area. My whole family liked it. The sauce is the star here, very tomatoey and savory, with cracked red pepper giving it some heat. The mozzarella is ‘Grande’ style which means it forms a crisp top and gooey center. The pepperoni pie is spicy and thick, and the crust is midway between thick and thin. This family-owned business welcomes a steady stream of regulars for a slice or a pie. You may want to join them.
I can’t talk about pizza in Bethesda without stating the obvious — Mia’s is, by most accounts, the best in town. Bethesda welcomed Melissa Ballinger, aka Mia, about five years ago. Since then, Mia’s won a competition conducted by Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine in 2009 in the “Search for the Best Pizzeria”— Winner of South/Southwest Final Four.
Mia was trained by Washington D.C.’s renowned locally-grown chef Peter Pastan — first at Pizza Paradiso in Dupont Circle and then at 2 Amy’s in Cleveland Park. But Mia brings her own brand of inventive wood oven pizza to Cordell Avenue. In a restaurant with bright yellow walls and shelves of Italian wines, cheerful, efficient servers welcome customers of all ages to dine in. Countless others take home food from Mia’s. Under the expert eye of Mia herself (who always seems to be there), the staff keeps dishes moving, always freshly prepared and bursting with robust ingredients: sweetly piquant kalamata olives; molten patches of buffalo mozzarella; dark red concentrated tomato gravy; singed crust crackling from a roaring flame; and a gentle drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
The pizzas are generous enough to share, but I like to order more than one to sample the artistic combinations she’s created. This week, my husband and I tried Il Forno (honoring the restaurant that was here before Mia’s) with a pretty combination of tomato sauce, kalamatas and a bright green spinach and ricotta blend. Tradition with a spin. We also ordered a special called the Abruzza with artichokes, onion, kalamata’s and goat cheese. Every bite a party in your mouth.
You can design your own from a variety of gourmet ingredients like caramelized onions, fontina cheese, sundried tomatoes, barbecued chicken and arugula. The salads look terrific, and there are several popular antipastis including deviled eggs. Even the freshly baked cupcakes get rave reviews. But if you’re at Mia’s, order at least one pizza. No matter what your taste, you’ll probably find something you like. A lot.
I’ve also included a list of pizza restaurants in Bethesda. I’ve probably missed some, but it’s a start. I state my opinion, but remember, pizza is personal, and only you will decide which one suits your taste buds best. There’s so much more to be said about pizza in Bethesda, but I leave you with this open invitation to add your opinions, comments and recommendations. Mangia!
- M&N’s Pizza – 7750 Old Georgetown Road. Great sauce, silky cheese, crisp medium crust and a bit greasy. See my comments above.
- Mia’s Pizza – 4926 Cordell Ave. Award-winning pizzas — read my review above.
- Vace’s Italian Deli – 4705 Miller Ave. Beloved by many who’ve discovered this hidden gem. Take out pizza with rave reviews for freshness, authentic style. So many flavorful toppings to choose, ample amounts of sauce and cheese. Crust holds up under the generous toppings.
- Victor’s Pizza, Pasta and Kabob – 4860 Cordell Ave. New York style, with thin crust, large slices and very greasy.
- Manny and Olga’s – 8118 Woodmont Ave. I haven’t tried this yet, but they offer some interesting versions like My Big Fat Greek Pizza with olives, spinach and feta, free delivery for orders over $10.
- Papa John’s Pizza – 7200 47th St. (behind the Marriott Residence Inn). Very popular with younger crowd. Crust is consistent, sauce is bland, cheese is thick, but the crust is tender and soft. They offer great deals related to local sports events.
- Domino’s Pizza – 4957 Elm Street. Their “improvement” was, in my opinion, a mistake. It’s greasier and overwhelmed by garlic. I don’t recommend this pizza, but I do miss the bargain meal that was "Two for Tuesday Night" at our house.
- California Pizza Kitchen – located at Westfield Montgomery Mall, 7101 Democracy Blvd. #245. This is good! The toppings are varied, fresh and interesting. The crust is a perfect holder for all those good toppings. Lines are impossible, but get there early and recognize that this is not a bargain.
- The Corner Slice – 7901 Norfolk Ave. They offer NY style slices and pies. The texture of the crust is tender and soft, yet thin. The sauce has a nice tomatoey flavor, and they put the perfect amount of cheese on the slice — not too much and not too little. The only criticism here is too salty.
- Flippin' Pizza – 10400 Old Georgetown Road (next to Giant). Greasy, skinny, nondescript crust, bland sauce — if you’re not particular, it’s a good deal. Two slices and a drink cost $5.
- Geppetto – 10257 Old Georgetown Road (Wildwood Shopping Center). I love this pizza because it’s flavorful and fresh. They have a sumptuous white pizza. It’s expensive though.
- Vince and Dominic’s – 10474 Auto Park Ave. (near Home Depot). Very friendly place with New York-style thin crust containing hearty amounts of cheese. Unfortunately, it’s often over-salted and makes you thirsty for hours afterward. Those with high blood pressure be warned. Welcoming to team parties.
- Jerry's Subs & Pizza – 7340 Wisconsin Ave. Jerry’s has good sauce with chunks of tomato, but they are skimpy with it. The cheese is thick and often gets burned on the top. The crust tastes bland, but it has a good consistency.
- Mamma Lucia – 4916 Elm St. This local favorite is beloved by many of my friends. It has extremely thin crust and the toppings are thin, too. I think it tastes like cardboard, but that’s just me.
- Pines of Rome – 4709 Hampden Lane. This Bethesda restaurant institution has real Italian pizza with giant smashed tomatoes in the sauce — so you know I love it. It has light cheese, and the crispy crust can get soggy from all that sauce. So eat it right away.
- Red Tomato Cafe – 4910 Saint Elmo Ave. Wood fired, Neapolitan style pizza, heavy-handed with the garlic. The cheese is delicate and they have some interesting toppings. Worth a try.
- Ledo Pizza – 10301 Westlake Drive (near Westfield Montgomery Mall). This is a Maryland institution and for good reason. Ledo’s was the first to cut pizza into squares — how innovative. The crust has the consistency of cake, which is delicious, but leads me to think they use shortening — boo. I love this sauce, very tomatoey and well seasoned.
- Brooklyn Pizzeria – 7812 Old Georgetown Road. New and awaiting some opinions from you! Let me know.