Thanks to the estimated 4 million Italian immigrants who came to this country in the early 1900s, we see pizzerias anchored in nearly every neighborhood from coast to coast. Just as pizza styles varied based on the migrants’ regional origins, they continued changing in the hands of modern cooks who realized that pizza is a comfort food we can’t live without.
As National Pizza Day (Feb. 9) proves each year, pizza is a creation that crosses all cultural lines. It’s a favorite among kids, college students and older generations alike. Options range from thin to thick crusts with basic or elaborate toppings. And as of late, a growing number of kitchens have begun making gluten-free and low-calorie pies, which not so long ago were unimaginable.
Below are several establishments within College Area and Rolando that offer standout pizzas in both the traditional and modern sense.
Woodstock’s Pizza, 6145 El Cajon Blvd.
This California-style pizzeria uses “vine-to-can” tomato sauce on its pies. It’s a proprietary recipe produced at a Central Valley farm, in which fresh-picked tomatoes are converted into sauce and canned within six hours. The product is distributed to all seven locations across California — most of them perched advantageously in college towns.
Another high point: “We don’t skimp on the toppings,” said general manager Matt Cascone, while citing that the “kickin’ carnitas” pizza introduced about five years ago ranks as a top seller. Topped also with bacon, red onions, fresh cilantro and chipotle sauce, it pairs ideally to any of 15 craft beers on tap.
Woodstock’s was founded more than 40 years ago near Oregon State University by the late Chuck Woodstock. The brand eventually fell under the ownership of Jeff Ambrose and expanded throughout California. Today, Ambrose and his wife, Laura, run the business from their San Diego headquarters. For more information, call 619-265-0999 or visit woodstockssd.com.
Milo’s Pizza & Subs, 6686 El Cajon Blvd.
In sticking to the owner’s no-nonsense New York state roots, Milo’s adheres to old-school pizza-making. So, if you’re looking for whole-wheat or gluten-free crust, you’ve come to the wrong place says owner Ed Rose, whose fictitious name is Milo.
His thin-crust scratch-made pizzas are baked in a brick oven. They use mozzarella from Wisconsin and sauce made from California tomatoes. Should you choose sausage as a topping, “it isn’t the kind that looks like dog food,” as stated bluntly on the website.
Rose worked in pizzerias through high school and in years thereafter. Since setting up shop here in 1996, he’s been an advocate of selling pizza by the slice, but also slings whole pies ranging in size from 12 to 20 inches. He also occasionally brings in guest pizza makers, those being friends from back East who are equally versed in crafting classic pies. For more information, call 619-462-6456 or visit milospizza.com.
Oggi’s Pizza Express, 5500 Campanile Drive, Suite 150
With more than a dozen locations throughout California, and seven in San Diego County, this is Oggi’s only “express” outpost. It opened in 2014 inside SDSU’s Student Union building, which was freshly built at the time. The first Oggi’s debuted in 1991 in Del Mar.
Pizzas at the campus location are ordered at the counter, where customers (mostly students) choose from a display of toppings that employees sprinkle onto house-made dough disks. They bake up sporting medium-width crusts. The interior features a dining area and a bar rigged with 30 taps for craft beer, and the menu extends also to salads and wings. For more information, call 619-286-4447 or visit oggispizzaexpress.com.
Luigi’s New York Giant Pizza, 6126 University Ave.
Owner Ninous Putros is likely San Diego’s youngest pizzeria operator. Now 23 years old, he took over the shop about a year ago and gave it a fresh interior paint job, with plans to add food photography as the décor. He also upped the quality of a menu featuring specialty pizzas, calzones, sandwiches, wings and pasta dishes.
By default, the pizzas flaunt medium crusts, although thick or thin crusts are available upon request. Their edges are brushed with garlic butter after leaving the oven. The dough and sauce are made in-house, as well as the ranch dressing used on the “white pizza” topped with mozzarella, spinach, and tomatoes.
In keeping with its name, the largest pizza size rings in at a whopping 28 inches. It’s cut into squares and easily feeds 10 people.
Putros is the third owner of the pizzeria, which dates back 20 years ago when it was originally called The Joker. For more information, call 619-229-6666 or visit luigispizzasd.com.
Pesto Italian Craft Kitchen, 6011 El Cajon Blvd.
Healthy-style Italian cuisine rules the day in this bright and sleekly designed restaurant, which greets customers with a built-in pizza oven and assembly station upon entering. House-made dough is stretched thin for classic New York-style pizzas. And organic tomato sauce, fresh veggies and scratch-made pesto constitute some of the toppings.
“We’re the real green movement,” quipped owner Alex Massir, a vegan who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Philadelphia. One of his top sellers is the keto pizza using a gluten-free cauliflower crust. It’s topped with mozzarella, artichokes, baby spinach and balsamic drizzle. Or for those seeking a sweet basil fix, the “pesto perfecto” pizza with mozzarella, ricotta, arugula and cherry tomatoes is the way to go. Craft beer and organic wines complement the menu.
Massir launched the restaurant four years ago and plans on opening a second location in Mission Valley Mall. For more information, call 619-265-2700 or visit pestoitalianrestaurantsandiego.com
Rosaria’s Pizza, 6305 University Ave.
What used to be a gas station in the 1960s eventually transformed into Rosaria’s Pizza. It changed hands a couple of times until Bee Ho and his family took over in the late 1970s.
Unaffiliated with Rosaria’s in Point Loma, the pizzeria specializes in thin-crust pies using freshly made dough, although Ho says the kitchen accommodates customers who prefer thicker crusts.
The “gourmet veggie” is a big seller. It’s topped with a garden’s worth of vegetables such as artichokes, zucchini, green peppers and spinach. The “meat lover’s” pizza is carpeted with Canadian bacon, meatballs, sausage and more. And the “Sriracha combo” with jalapenos speaks to those who don’t mind spicy twists mingling with their mozzarella and pepperoni.
Pie sizes range from 12 to 28 inches in diameter. For more information, call 619-582-7097 or visit rosariaspizzamenu.com.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected].