Related Articles: Restaurants, All

Little Star, Patxi's and Zachary's

Divine Deep-dish

For those who have never made it to Chicago, home of the famous deep-dish pizza, the Bay Area has been adorned with a few pizza joints that would make any Chicagoan think twice. We surveyed the inch-thick pies at SF newcomers Little Star and Patxi's, then stopped by the East Bay's old standby, Zachary's. There are some things you can make at home; others, like super-thick deep-dish pizza stuffed with ingredients and smothered with tomato sauce, are best left to the professionals.

Little Star
Lucky for San Franciscans, Little Star Pizza opened in the Western Addition in 2004. It's hip, with dark mood lighting, cool servers, a rocking jukebox and PBR on tap. Not your typical pizza place, it works just as well for a casual-yet-classy date as it does for dinner with a small group of friends.

Little Star's Divisadero location is perfect in just about every category except for few things: they are not open for lunch, they do not deliver, they can't easily accommodate large parties, and they don't take reservations. The no-reservation policy usually results in long waits; because of this, Little Star has become a coveted secret for fear the wait could get even longer.

Happily, a Mission location opened at the up-and-coming corner of 15th and Valencia in September 2006. It follows the same aesthetics as its former locale, with a funky minimalist design, a cozy bar, and slightly larger space, making it a better venue for larger parties. Takeout is available at both locations.

Little Star offers a short but satisfying list of starters, including a caprese salad ($8), spicy chicken wings ($8) and garlic bread ($4). The mixed salad ($5/$8) is chock full of fresh leafy mixed greens, ripe cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, red onions and tossed with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. While the thin-crust pizzas ($11-$21) are actually pretty good, they aren't extraordinary. The deep-dishes ($11-$22 for 9-inch or 12-inch pies), on the other hand, are incredible.

The signature deep-dish pizza, the Little Star, is filled with spinach blended with ricotta, feta, mushrooms, onions and garlic, then topped with savory, chunky tomato sauce. It's amazing. I was a little wary of the ricotta, but now I understand why this pizza was named after the restaurant; it's divine, and the cornmeal crust stays crisp under the loads of toppings. Devout (meat-eating) fans know to add sausage or pepperoni to the Little Star for a slight upcharge. If you can handle it, they do offer desserts: a house made cheesecake ($5) and gelato ($4).

After impressing folks in Palo Alto, Patxi's opened their second location in Hayes Valley in August 2005. With exposed brick walls and flat screen monitors hung on the walls, it has a more masculine, suburban brewpub feel. In fact, when we dined there, the room was full of mostly men.

On a Friday evening with larger parties waiting, we where whisked to our table for two. The menu includes Caesar, spinach, garden and greek salads ($4.50/$8.50). The scrumptious greek salad, with thick slices of cucumber, marinated red and green bell peppers, kalamata olives, succulent pickled onions, and feta cheese was a meal in itself.

The Special ($16.35-$23.95 for 10-inch to 14-inch pies) deep-dish is filled with mozzarella cheese, sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. We ordered a small and left with lunch for the next day. If you want to build your own Chicago-style or thin crust pizza, they offer some great California-inspired options, including whole wheat crust ($1) and soy cheese ($1). They don't use chunky sauce like Little Star and Zachary's, but they do have a buttery, flaky crust like Zachary's. Patxi's offers takeout, and, unlike Little Star, is also open for lunch, when you can order deep-dish by the slice. After a meal like this it's nice to have a chance to stroll, and Hayes Valley is a great place to do it.

Zachary's, a Bay Area institution with three locations in Oakland, Berkeley and San Ramon, has been serving pies since 1983 and has won over 100 Pizza awards. On any given day, one can find people lined up out the door patiently waiting to get a slice of heaven. Zachary's is famous for good reason. Although it has a charming décor with colorful art work, this is a true blue pizza restaurant. Families, friends and couples are here for one thing only: the deep-dish pizza.

Their stuffed pizza comes in 10, 12, and 14 inches. A 10-inch sufficiently serves two, and depending upon how hungry you are, most likely you'll leave with leftovers. We tried one of Zachary's favorites, the Spinach and Mushroom deep-dish ($15.95). The buttery crust is a little flaky, and does well to hold together the ingredients oozing out. Topped with a chunky tomato sauce and loaded with mushrooms and cheese, it's no wonder why this place is famous.

They also offer thin crust pizzas which range in price from a small one topping ($8.15) to an extra-large four topping ($24.65). The thin crust looked tasty, but it's only possible to consume so much in one sitting. They also serve basic salads, beer, and wine by the glass and bottle. We stuck to beers, a perfect accompaniment to pizza, and started with the garden salad ($5.50), mixed greens garnished with cucumber, red onion, and tomatoes.

Like Patxi's, Zachary's serves all day. For those who would rather not brave the line, Zachary's does offer take-out and half-baked pizzas. For the intrepid, however, there's a perk: you can pre-order your pizza if you're dining in, so that it's closer to ready once you get a table.

You can have a dinner for two at any of these establishments including pizza, salad, and beers for under $45 and usually leave with lunch for the following day; deep-dish is a great deal and a great meal any which way you slice it.

Patxi's Chicago Pizza
Chicago Pizza
Hayes Valley
No Reservations accepted

Little Star Pizza
Chicago Pizza
Western Addition and Mission
No Reservations accepted

Zachary's Pizza
Chicago Pizza
No reservations accepted