Pizza is one of America’s favorite foods; it is a staple in many of our lives. There are over 60,000 pizzerias in America and over 100 in the Portland metropolitan area, but let’s be honest, there’s a lot more bad pizza than there is good pizza, especially in Portland. However, there are a few diamonds in the rough, buried deep in all different neighborhoods of our city. A few of my most pizza-enthusiastic friends and I set out to assess these high-quality pizzerias and ultimately, find the best slice of pizza in Portland.
My tasting team consists of two of my middle school friends, Rye Thelen and Owen Wayson, both sophomores at Grant High School. Rye is a lighthearted jokester who is always up for an adventure. Owen is a natural skeptic with brief yet definitive opinions. During middle school lunches, the best pizza in Portland was often a topic of debate, so I felt it only right to include them in this search. Of the many pizzerias in Portland, we decided to rank five. Only cheese slices were purchased to keep it consistent. Each judge, including myself, would give the slice a score out of ten for a total highest combined score out of 30. This total score would determine the rank. The scores will not be shared to respect the restaurants involved. The judges were told to consider the major aspects of the pizza—crust, sauce, and cheese. It’s impossible to break these aspects into separate categories as they all rely on each other to craft the perfect slice of pizza. All this was taken into account to award a decisive best slice of pizza in our city.
Honorable Mention: Baby Doll
Baby Doll is a Franklin High School favorite, as it is located on SE 28th and Stark. Baby Doll is a solid pizza place with consistently good pizza. Its electric environment adds to the experience. The cheese is unique, almost sweet in a sense. “It is different, I don’t really know what it is,” remarked Owen, regarding the cheese. The classic cheese pizza does have some downsides: it was rather greasy. “I can see the grease. My fingers are greasy now,” declared Rye. The crust and sauce are truly solid and pretty underrated. The speedy takeout makes it extra convenient for anyone looking for something nice and easy. Baby Doll has shut down their eat-in option during COVID-19, and instead has amped-up their takeout and delivery, which are available through Postmates and Caviar. Overall, it’s a great option for the Franklin district residents, and I’m sure will continue to be highly regarded.
#3 The Crown
The Crown is a unique pizzeria located downtown on SW Broadway and Harvey Milk St. Unlike the other locations on this list, The Crown could be considered slightly more fancy than the average pizzeria. Located in a hotel lobby, this hidden shop may be home to some of the best pizza in Portland. If there is anything The Crown does best, it’s crust. “We use a sourdough for the dough… it gives it really like a little bit of a tangy taste that’s super nice,” says Jonas, a cook at The Crown. The sourdough crust certainly does add to the pizza. “I think the crust was the best yet,” Owen declared after finishing his slice. “It definitely does have a unique crust,” Rye replied. As for cheese, The Crown also uses a trademark blend of mozzarella, fontina, and parmesan, adding to the flavor. This is a wonderful combination, making for a more savory bite. All things considered, this is a great place to stop by if you’re downtown. It’s a very versatile pizza and it could easily be ordered for a fancy occasion or just a normal takeout night.
#2 Pizza Jerk
Pizza Jerk is a vintage, 80s themed restaurant that serves a classic Connecticut style pan pizza. The restaurant is located in Beaumont-Wilshire in Northeast Portland. Pizza Jerk presents a unique style of pizza, slightly different from the average New York slice found at most Portland establishments. “There isn’t another restaurant that I feel like does Connecticut style. It’s really thin crust, and the way it’s made is completely different from how you see most places make it,” says manager Aurora. This thin crust is a coal fired pizza style originating in New Haven, thus giving it the title of “Connecticut style.” You can now find this pizza all over the country and even at a few other locations in Portland, but it is extremely hard to do it well. Pizza Jerk uses this Connecticut model, but then adds their own unique touches to make it one of the most distinctive pizzas in the city. “Instead of putting sauce right onto the dough, we layer it with mozzarella cheese and then we put the sauce on top to get the crust nice and crispy on the edges with cheese melted onto it,” Aurora revealed. This definitely has an effect on the crust, adding a little bit of excitement. “I really like the crust,” Owen exclaimed after his first bite. As for the cheese and the sauce, both are very solid and pair incredibly well on the thin, chewy crust. It’s a neighborhood favorite with quick and easy service, even through COVID-19. Much like The Crown, this is a unique slice that deserves a try from anyone looking for something new.
#1 Escape from New York
Escape from New York is a gem in this city of pizza mediocrity. This pizzeria is located in NW Portland on NW 23rd and Hoyt. As soon as you walk inside, you know you’re going to get an amazing slice. The walls of the narrow restaurant are coated with family photos and stickers with various messages. The owners of the shop are constantly chit-chatting with the regulars when they aren’t too busy facilitating orders and the pizza oven. The shop truly feels like it escaped from New York and got teleported to Portland. This would all be unimportant if the pizza didn’t live up to the atmosphere, but of course, it does. As expected, Escape from New York’s specialty slice is classic New York style cheese. When I asked co-owner Phil if he made a favorite unique pizza, he exclaimed loudly through his thick New York accent, “Cheese! Of course it’s cheese! Haven’t you been studying pizza, Oscar!? It’s gotta be cheese!” He’s right, I should’ve seen it coming. Cheese pizza is their specialty, and of course, it’s excellent. Every component of the cheese pizza is stellar. The sauce is cooked for hours and then chilled to be put on the pizza cold. “A lot of shops don’t cook the sauce, we cook the sauce, it makes it better,” Phil remarks. The sauce is easily a highlight, as it is distinct and flavorful, but does not overpower the slice. The dough is handmade every morning for maximum freshness. Then finally, the cheese. The cheese is just a simple, fresh whole milk mozzarella, purely classic, no jokes. It’s a brilliantly straightforward cheese that just completes this classic New York slice. “It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever had,” Rye remarked.
I used to go to school downtown and made the trek to Escape from New York quite often. It was a staple of my middle school life. I’ve found at Franklin that very few people have been to Escape from New York and believe that their neighborhood pizzeria is superior. If you are one of these people, take a trip to Escape from New York, and then you can decide whose pizza is best. Even if it doesn’t change your mind, it’ll still be worth it to hear Phil, through a heavy accent, shouting orders to the kitchen. All in all, Escape from New York was given the distinct title of best pizza in Portland by three old middle school pals.