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A Slice of Heaven

New York-style pizza in San Francisco

Growing up in New York City, I never worried about pizza. Ordering a burrito might have been a risky endeavor, but good pizza was always plentiful. As a happy transplant living in San Francisco these past few years, I've grown to love the once-daunting hills, pink Victorians, and calmer pace of life. Only one misgiving about my new home has remained: I miss New York pizza.

Pizza in San Francisco often suffers from three problems: a soft, doughy crust, tinny tomato sauce, and a thick, plastic sheet of cheese. In the selfish pursuit of my own happiness, backed by an unwavering belief in San Francisco's capacity to serve top-notch food, I set out to find the perfect slice.

With open geographical prejudice, I omitted Chicago-style pizza from my search. Deep-dish pizza is delicious, but it was not what I was looking for. Nor were Wolfgang Puck-inspired duck pesto-topped creations. I wanted to find New York-style, thin-crust plain cheese pizza that could be bought by the slice. Following the recommendations of friends and colleagues, I visited several pizzerias throughout the city. Although far from exhaustive, my search highlighted restaurants representative of the highs and lows of San Francisco pizza-eating.

Starting with the lows: although chains like North Beach Pizza and Escape from New York have a loyal fan base, I find them disappointing. At North Beach Pizza, a mound of unmeltable cheese tops a soggy crust and forgettable sauce. The situation is even worse at Escape from New York, where the undercooked crust sticks to your teeth, the cheese is so thick it falls off with the first bite, and the sauce tastes only of garlic powder.

A step in the right direction brought me to the adequate, if overstated, Pizza Orgasmica. Although the usual cheese overload prevented any paroxysms of pleasure, the crust is thinner than most and the sauce well-seasoned. Overall, a dependable mid-level choice.

Although individual slices aren't always available, Giorgio's pizza is so good it made my list anyway. The folks at Giorgio's know that a thin crust adds just the right bite of texture. Most importantly, they know when to stop: the pizza is topped with just enough cheese to provide a creamy foil for their sweet tomato sauce, but no more. If you can't grab a slice, sit down and order a small pie. It'll be worth the wait.

Similar good sense is practiced at Arinell, the mother of all New York-style pizzerias in San Francisco. One look at their pizza told me I was in the right place. The pie is cut into large slices thin enough to hold folded. Instead of coating their pizza with a solid white slab of mozzarella, Arinell uses a lighter hand, allowing the cheese to soak up sauce as it melts. Even the small pools of orange grease look right. My first bite brought back childhood memories: hot strings of mozzarella, bright tomatoes, and a just-crisp-enough crust. With that, I knew my search was over.