Montesacro Vikesh Kapoor

There is SO MUCH pizza in Portland. As a food critic, I could probably make my yearly quota of reviews on the backs of new places attempting the latest and greatest in crust, cheese, and tomato technology.

This means that there are some really bad pizza places (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE), some pizza places I previously panned that got better (apologies to Pizzeria Otto—everyone should go there!), and some pizza places that I just couldn’t get to for a column, despite being super good (OMG Ranch Pizza! Drool).

Here are four new spots that you should try right now, including two restaurants—both originally from San Francisco—caddy-corner from each other in the Pearl that couldn’t be any more different if they tried. Get out there and stretch that cheese.

Montesacro Vikesh Kapoor

Roman Style: Montesacro

1230 NW Hoyt, Tues-Sun 11:30 am-10 pm,

There are a handful of places I like to think of as “fine pizza dining” (think: Ken’s Artisan, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty), and Montesacro folds beautifully into this list.

To clarify from the start: Montesacro actually serves what’s known as a “pinsa,” which they say is a “modern take on an ancient flatbread once prepared by peasants living outside Rome’s imperial walls.” In real talk, it means that Montesacro’s pinsa is a hand-formed oval crust made with a blend of rice, soy, and wheat flour that’s fluffier and chewier than your average ’za.

I love it very much. It’s the kind of restaurant that excels at buying good cheese, meat, and veg, combining it well, and then getting out of the way.

Montesacro, named for a Roman neighborhood, brought the first pinsas in the US to San Francisco in 2015 to much buzz and acclaim. The Northwest Hoyt location, which opened in December, is the second. With it comes an electric oven specially ordered for pinsas, which achieves bubbling and just the right touch of char. Owner Gianluca Legrottaglie pulls ingredients from Italy and the US, including a super-rich buffalo mozzarella from Ramini Mozzarella, a woman-owned business from a small town in Marin County, California.

Get that buffalo mozz with tomato, fried eggplant, pecorino cheese, and basil ($17); it’s salty, nuanced, and hearty in a way that pepperoni only dreams of. Another pinsa with tomato, lamb sausage, and oyster mushrooms gets a subtle Mediterranean treatment, with tzatziki and mint ($18). And bear with me: a pinsa with caper mayonnaise, tuna belly, and buffalo mozzarella ($18) sounds like an incredibly bad Japanese Costco pizza (in fact, it probably is), but here, it’s not only beautiful to look at, it’s really tasty, balanced with hot chilis and pickled red onions. It has, in fact, won an international pinsa award.

At most other pizza places, anything besides the pie itself is an afterthought. Not here: Definitely spring for the $26 selection of three meats and three cheeses, where you’ll be treated to beautiful sheep’s cheese manchego or a just-spicy salami from Seattle’s Pino Rogano.

There’s also a grip of veggies marinated in olive oil, and salads that rival the best in town, including a raw asparagus, arugula, and English pea blend topped with salty pecorino cheese ($13). Or a vegan dish of roasted cauliflower and cherry tomatoes, mixed with briny capers and olives, topped with chilis and breadcrumbs—a lot of texture and flavor for $13.

Lunch brings a $17 special of a margherita pinsa, arugula salad, and espresso. And while we had no problem scoring a table for dinner on a recent Sunday, with the way this food is tasting, I’d take advantage of making a reservation.

Chicago Style: The Star

1309 NW Hoyt, Sun-Thurs 11:30 am-10 pm, Fri & Sat 11:30 am-midnight,

The Star brings Chicago deep dish to the Pearl District by way of the Bay Area. It’s a muddled route, and the results aren’t perfect. But because our options for this buttery-crust beaut are woefully lacking, it is now the best in the city.

The Star nails the deep-dish crust. It’s a solid but flaky base for the copious amounts of mozzarella piled onto each pizza (a small will definitely fill two tummies), and you will achieve the required two-foot cheese string when claiming your first slice.

It’s not entirely impeccable, however. The tomato sauce spread atop all that cheese is a touch too acidic and somehow the whole concoction lacks oomph. Typically, the best topping (fight me) for deep dish is spinach, which gives an earthy edge to such a decadent pie. Here, the Little Star ($23 small, $31 large), with spinach mixed with ricotta and feta, onions, mushrooms, and super crispy roasted garlic, was bland overall. Instead, the slightly spiced meatball pizza ($23 small, $31 large), dolloped with ricotta, was more flavorful, even if we had to pick off onions that were cut far too large.

The menu also features thin crust pizzas (why, though?) and standard sides, like some forgettable baked wings and better-than-expected wedge and goddess salads, all just $5 at happy hour. The Star delivers via Caviar and will even send it half-baked so you can finish it in your oven. I’d go this route so that you can: 1) avoid traveling to the Pearl 2) avoid hearing Smash Mouth TWICE on the restaurant’s inexplicably ’00s playlist, and 3) take off your pants before you eat that much dairy.

Secret Pizza Society Kathleen Marie

Vegan Style: Secret Pizza Society

7201 NE Glisan, Wed-Sat 4-11 pm,

I often think about Fabio, the long-haired romance novel model who once got hit in the face by a goose while riding a roller coaster. This is because anytime I’m faced with dairy replacements, I think of his thick-Italian-accented declaration of “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” from commercials of yore.

So, as I bit into the (I seriously can’t believe it’s not) buttery crust at the Secret Pizza Society, an all-vegan pop-up on Northeast Glisan in Montavilla, Fabio rode shotgun in my mind, incredulous as ever. Open Wednesday to Saturday, the Secret Pizza Society—from a catering team called the Great and Secret Motion Pizza (GSMP)—has a delightfully Old Portland vibe, complete with zines, VHS tapes, and cassettes for sale along with the plant-based pies. 

There’s no pretense of health food or activated charcoal ice cream here: these are 10-inch pizzas with names like Chalupa Batman ($12) with even bigger flavors. The aforementioned pizza is surprisingly spicy, with taco-spiced crumbled tofu, chipotle creme, cilantro, and tomatoes. The Brother Wilton ($12), gives a nod to greenery by adding broccoli to a “bacon” pizza with ranch.

In a true sign that GSMP is here to throw any sense of vegan austerity out the window of its space, shared with vegan bakery Shoofly, it’s the p’yro ($13), the fusion of pizza and a gyro. Pick a pizza of your choice, and they will fold it in half and toss in soy curls, a dousing of spicy-sweet house sauce, and lettuce, wrapping it all in gold foil. It’s huge, messy, and decidedly the shop’s breakout hit—on our visit they handed out coupons after running out of the house sauce. I prefer the pizzas to the muddled p’yro, but it certainly is a food-as-statement piece.

Word of warning: Both the p’yro and the regular pizzas get soggy if you try to save them overnight in the fridge, so eat it while it’s hot. That shouldn’t be a problem.

Assembly Brewing Meg Nanna

Detroit Style: Assembly Brewing

6112 SE Foster, daily 11 am-2 am,

Portland’s passion for pan pizza has been booming for several years. I’m particular to a Detroit-style thick crust with caramelized cheese over the previously trendy wood-fired, too thin Neapolitan pizzas, which I’m pretty sure makes me a heathen. Whatever.

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Assembly is the latest entry to the Detroit fray, and they’re putting out some very fine pies and some okay beer in FoPo. Assembly, which also has the added bonus (or detraction, if you’ve got kids) of being 21-and-over only, has a commitment to its meat toppings, including meatballs and pork roll, an East Coast processed ham product that’s like Spam meets Canadian bacon.

But I liked Assembly’s pizza at its simplest. It’s already a pretty greasy pizza, and so the plain cheese ($13 small, $22 large), with tomato sauce on top or with a few veggies to add nominal roughage, is the way to go—otherwise get extra napkins to collect the oil running down your arm. Got small humans? Call ahead and get a growler and a pizza to go.

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