Pizza served by the slice might just be the trickiest thing in the food world to do consistently right. There are so many moving parts that even one misstep can turn an otherwise good slice into a lousy one.
For instance, the person working the oven might remove the pizza too soon, resulting in lukewarm slices. The person decorating the pie might oversauce, undersauce, or get stingy with the toppings.
And, of course, your own timing has an enormous effect on the quality of the pizza you’re about to enjoy. Arriving for a slice just as the pie is drawn from the oven is like winning the lottery—and about as rare as winning the lottery, too.
I visited seven Portland slice shops to see which one made the best pepperoni slice, and graded them on a curve, from least best to best. (None of them were “worst.”)
Here’s what I found, with one caveat: Who’s running the ovens, who’s decorating the pies, and when you order a slice all play a factor in the quality of each slice—not just on a daily basis, but often on an hourly one.
Of all the slices I ate, this one was the most... okay, I guess? The pepperonis were flimsy and lacked texture and taste, while the crust was missing char and crunch. It could’ve been warmer, and was, hands down, the greasiest slice I had—which to be honest is not a sin in the world of pizza. In fact, when I picked the slice up, I let the grease pour down into a little orange pool on my metal plate. The upshot: That grease makes a nice dip for your crust once you’ve eaten all the pizza around it, and no, I’m not kidding. And while this slice was my least favorite of the favorites, I would definitely eat one again, and it wouldn’t only be limited to having it after a long night of too much fun.
Sizzle Pie: 624 E Burnside | 926 W Burnside | 125 NE Schuyler | 4144 NE Sandy, call 503-234-7437 for any shop
Baby Doll Pizza
I’m torn about Baby Doll. Its crust had some of the best char and it was definitely the crunchiest of them all. Plus it opens early and stays open late. The cheese was just okay, but the slice either needed more sauce or the sauce needed more salt. And while the pepperonis were good—they were those little mini ’ronis that curl up when you cook them—they were so sparse that it was mostly like eating a slice of cheese pizza. Again, if someone on the line had sauced it differently or had been more generous with the pepperonis, this slice could very well have received a better grade.
Grade: C +
Baby Doll Pizza: 2835 SE Stark, 503-549-4450
Escape from New York Pizza
This by-the-slice pizza parlor is the old school punk of pizzerias. It turned 35 in June and celebrated by giving away a free slice to anyone who walked though the doors. With its fuck-it attitude, no ranch ethos, and walls covered in photos of the past three-plus decades, it’s definitely the best place to grab a slice. But does the pie do the work? Sure. The pepperonis, cheese, and sauce were in harmony with one another. My only complaint is that it could’ve been a little warmer. But that was sort of a blessing, because the grease didn’t burn my skin when it slipped off the slice and dribbled down my wrist.
Grade: a solid B
Escape From New York Pizza: 622 NW 23rd, 503-227-5423
This was also a very solid slice. The sauce and cheese did their things, and there were plenty of crispy crunchy pepperonis, which was a good thing, because they provided the crunch that the crust lacked. Could’ve used another minute in the oven... but I ate it and I enjoyed it.
Grade: a solid B
Pizza Jerk: 5028 NE 42nd, 503-284-9333 | 621 SE Morrison, 971-803-7960
Like Pizza Jerk, Handsome’s slice lacked the crunchier crust, but because the pies are made from sourdough starter doughs, it was definitely the most complex and interesting of my journey. The red sauce was a little more rustic, showcasing bits of tomatoes that didn’t get sucked into the eye of the blender, but I’m not mad about that. It kind of matches the wood-fired oven from which it was drawn, and the curled-up, burnt-end pepperonis were plentiful, with the proper amount of bite. Pro-tip: It came out pretty hot, so let it rest for 30 to 60 seconds before taking that first taste.
Handsome Pizza: 1603 NE Killingsworth, 503-247-7499
There’s lots to love about Scottie’s. He pays his workers a living wage, he supports political causes I’m down with, and I’ve never had a bad slice there. It was no different this time around. The charred crust was crunchy, the cheese was solid, the pepperonis were crunchy and flavorful, and the less-is-more so less-is-better sauce—made from what I presume was only quality tomatoes and the right amount of salt—was perfect. Even better? It was delivered to me within 60 seconds of taking my seat, which means this slice probably came from a pie that was just taken out of the oven, proving that it’s not just who makes the pie, it’s when you order it. Couldn’t have asked for a more perfect slice.
Cost: at $3 a slice, it’s easily the best deal of the bunch
Scottie’s Pizza: 2128 SE Division, 971-544-7878
Vitaly Paley’s pizza joint on the corner of Southwest Broadway is definitely the fanciest place I went to, with a décor that was more Imperial than Escape from New York. Even the waxy slice of butcher paper underneath the slice seemed ashamed of the paper plate it was served on. But you have to hand it to Paley: Of all the slices I tried, his had the best cheese, the tangiest sauce, the best (and generously portioned) mini pepperonis, all of which were carefully balanced. The slice I ordered was definitely the best of the bunch—and it’d better be at $5.75 per slice, as well as an additional 15 cents to help pay for the health care of the people serving and cooking for me. (Happy to oblige.) I tried to find a flaw in this ideal slice and the only one I could come up with is that it came out maybe a little too hot, and that’s not a real concern. Rather, a slice is like a good glass of wine: Let it breathe so you can enjoy all its notes.
The Crown: 410 SW Broadway, 503-228-7224