The Best Pizza in Marin County
Here are a few top spots to keep on your radar.
Here’s a word for you: pizzaiolo (pizza yolo). Casually defined as anyone who makes pizza, a pizzaiolo can also be formally trained by spending nine days at the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) in Naples, Italy, learning the history, ingredients and proper preparation of southern Italy’s most famous culinary treat. The AVPN’s dictates are precise, requiring any restaurant that refers to its pizza as “Neapolitan” to use only double zero (00) flour and San Marzano tomatoes and to cook the pie in a wood-burning oven, among other details. Marinites love and respect this type of pizza, but our region also makes room for every known permutation.
California-style pizza adheres to the “local is better” premise; toppings and crust ingredients are sourced from close by. Regional distinctions are honored, too: New York pizza is soft enough to easily eat when folded in half; Detroit style is thick and cut in rectangles; Chicago is deep-dish; Roman style is oval shaped. Other versions swap out wheat-based crusts for bases made of cauliflower, cheese or broccoli, which suits followers of gluten-free, keto, paleo and Whole30 regimens. Gluten eschewers can also find sorghum, fava bean or rice flour crusts with a chewiness similar to wheat’s.
Though Creekside Pizza & Taproom took home the honors for pizza in our Best of the County 2019, here are a few other Marin places widening the possibilities of the pie.
Boca Pizzeria, Corte Madera and Novato
A trained pizzaiolo with the AVPN, chef/co-owner Sam Ramadan designs pies made with mozzarella prepared in-house daily, only organic San Marzano tomatoes and a Caputo double zero flour crust made with dough that’s rested and proofed for 36 hours. The domed oven in Corte Madera can handle 14 pizzas at once. “My pizzaiolo is a badass and can keep up with the volume,” Ramadan says. That can mean a packed restaurant full of families ready to partake but no wait.
Bootjack Wood Fired, Mill Valley
Owner Ged Robertson has used the legendary built-in Alan Scott oven here from the moment he took over the building from Tartine’s Chad Robertson (no relation). “It really is perfect for bread,” Ged says. He and chef Kyle Swain developed a “completely unique, not Neapolitan, not New Haven, just this place’s pizza.” It’s got a thin crust made with an organic, specially produced flour blend from Petaluma’s Central Milling.
Cafe Reyes, Point Reyes
Though there’s no oyster pizza on this cozy restaurant’s tight menu of bivalves and pies, owner Robert Horvell’s brick oven is a hub of activity. Stoked with madrone and pepperwood and operating at a cool 900°F, it turns out Neapolitan-style pizzas in less than 90 seconds. “It’s all about the BTUs,” Horvell says. Margherita with hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes and Northern California mozzarella is a classic favorite (and one of the versions AVPN graduates must learn), but the Farallon, with crimini mushrooms and wine-cured pepperoni, is equally popular.
From mid-day to late night, Larkspur’s Farmshop serves up the impossible: an exceptionally crispy yet chewy thin-crust pizza straight from their beehive oven. Grab a seat at the hopping bar to try one of the California-inspired pies, like lamb merguez with spinach, yogurt and za’atar seasoning or the kale and three cheese pizza with a honey drizzle on top. Can’t do the carbs? Try the avocado hummus that started a chick pea revolution.
Gaspare’s Pizzeria Ristorante, San Rafael
Sicilian native Gaspare Indelicato started his eponymous Terra Linda restaurant in 1985. His son Daniel took over two years ago and now runs both the San Rafael and San Francisco locations. “We have a recipe from the 1950s and haven’t changed it,” Daniel says. “It’s the closest thing to New York style.” The dough is hand worked and tossed to make it nice and elastic; eight minutes in the Montague pizza oven are all that’s needed for a crust with a soft bite and enough firmness to hold the many toppings on the ever-popular Terra Linda Trojan with spinach, feta, and sausage.
Lo Coco’s, San Rafael
The Neapolitan-style pies at this Terra Linda favorite are still as good as the day the restaurant first opened in 1971. The roasted eggplant pizza nods to Filippo Lo Coco’s Sicilian roots while the zucchini and garlic pizza, baby clam, oregano and garlic pizza, and their most notable artichoke heart pizza capture the foods of the broader Italian canon. Although Filippo recently retired, Lo Coco’s trademark crust is unchanged, a medium-bodied, nicely chewy one that nods to Campania, the purported regional home of all things pizza.
Pizza Antica, Mill Valley
The fried chicken with spiced honey may be as well-known as the pizza at this NorCal chain but the Pizza Antica outpost at Mill Valley’s Strawberry Village may serve even more meatballs than either chicken or pie. The broccoli pizza with pancetta hits just the right savory-sweet spot and customizations include a house made gluten-free crust and burrata. Or go for one of the salads, any of which can be topped with a piadina, a flatbread pizza crust. Decide later whether or not tonight’s dinner includes a dose of virtue.
Pizzeria Picco, Larkspur
With pizzas named for top bike brands (Cannondale, Specialized), colors (bianchi) and places (Marin, Kona, Soma), Pizzeria Picco throws down on wood-fired pizza with thoughtfully sourced, local ingredients. But the fresh salads (chop, Caesar) and Straus soft-serve (try it topped with Mexican spiced hot fudge) draw as many fans as the pizza.
Pizzalina, San Anselmo
Though Louise Franz has worked in Bay Area restaurants since her stint in the ’80s at Jeremiah Tower’s Santa Fe Bar & Grill, she, too, had to travel to Naples to earn her certification as a pizzaiolo from AVPN. That achieved, she opened Pizzalina in San Anselmo’s Red Hill Shopping Center in 2012. A convert to the Neapolitan style, Franz ferments the dough for a few days so its glutens will be easier to digest. “It also makes the dough stretchier,” she says. Cooked in an imported Mugnaini pizza oven at 710°F (“my dough’s sweet spot,” Franz says), the pizza is ready in under 90 seconds.
Servino Ristorante, Tiburon
Dictates of the AVPN aside, the enduring popularity of margherita pizza has a simple explanation. “The Italians figured out that the acidity of the San Marzano tomatoes cuts the fat from the cheese and balances the herbaceousness of basil,” says Natale Servino, part of the second generation to run Servino on the Tiburon waterfront. Californian in style, the pizzas here reflect the dish’s roots in southern Italy — Caputo double zero flour and imported San Marzano sauce are practically obligatory. Funghi pizza with crimini and baby shiitake mushrooms spends a brief moment in the almond-wood-stoked fire before it is dressed with thyme and truffle oil.
Tamalpie Pizza, Mill Valley
Karen Goldberg and crew have been serving up happy families here for years. This popular community gathering pizzeria names all of their pies after Marin trails, hence meeting here post hike a favorite past time for many athletic Marinites. The most popular choices are the Laurel Dell with fennel sausage and chard, and Troop 80 with Hobbs sausage or pepperoni. They also recently updated their salads, the goddess salad is excellent!
Tony Tutto, Ross
When chef-owner Tony Tutto moved his pizzeria from Mill Valley to Ross in 2018, he took along his beloved Marsal oven. “There are no hot spots, you don’t have to move the pizza while it’s baking and it comes out perfect for the California-Italian style pizza that I like,” he says. Many of his customers followed him here for his farmer’s market-inspired pizzas, especially the Peter, Paul and Pesto pie. Tutto says he uses all organic ingredients, except for cheeses, and half the menu is vegan: “the menu is really a reflection of what I like and who I am.” A recent offering was topped with stinging nettles, leeks, spring onions, smoked mozzarella and herbs.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s February 2020 issue under the headline “Pizzaiolos of Marin”.
For other recommendations for where to eat, check out our Food & Drink pages.
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.