You don’t have to go to - or order from - a pizza joint the next time the craving strikes. With pizza seemingly popping up at more restaurants than ever before - either simply as “pizza,” as you might expect, or under the “flatbread” moniker - chances are you don't even have to go to an Italian restaurant to find a good pie. Below are 10 must-try pizzas that are not from pizzerias. Most can be described as inventive or artisanal, but some keep to the well-loved food's humble roots.
The recently built restaurant that replaced the original Carrabba’s on Kirby is expansive, attractive and noticeably very patron-friendly. Pizza-friendly too, as what might be Houston’s most impressive pizza oven is set not far from the entrance, fronted by its own counter-service pizza bar. With a dedicated pizzaiolo using dough made fresh daily, the large oven furiously burns logs in one corner to help cook the pizza with a desired quickness. The result features a delicious crust with a salty and slightly buttery taste that is both relatively light yet substantial. The pizzas are unfussy, accessible - if not terribly like those in Italy - but often terrific. Their margherita pizza, featuring quality mozzarella, juicy ripe tomato slices and fresh basil, is one of the most delicious in town.
3115 Kirby Dr.; 713-522-3131
Coppa has been a hot spot since it opened in the Rice Village last summer. It's also known for its pizzas. Thin-crust and Italianate in construction, these pizzas are generally light and feature a crisp and fairly flavorful crust. Noticeably good-quality ingredients are available in 10 different Italian-inspired combinations, plus the chance to add some additional protein in the form of an egg or cured ham. The attractive pies are a perfect complement to the breezy and inviting, yet somewhat upscale, setting, especially on the sprawling patio. The quality pizzas are pretty much the same at the restaurant’s big sibling, Coppa.
5201 Morningside Dr.; 713-522-3535
The ambitious restaurant (just Provisions, the casual side, to be technically correct) does pizza well. Creative combinations such as asparagus, quail eggs and pecorino or guanciale, caramelized onions and scamorza are among the seven choices, including the requisite margherita. Featuring a sturdy, chewy crust, the pizzas are fired in an oven employing both gas and wood, for which the kitchen gives a regional touch with favorites mesquite, oak and hickory.
807 Taft St.; 713-628-9020
Many years ago at Grotto, Tony Vallone introduced the concept of serving quality Italian-style pizzas in an exciting and somewhat serious Italian restaurant. Long since sold to the Landry’s group, Vallone brought the concept to his Galleria-area Ciao Bello, where the pies are served with what is called a "thin Roman-style crust.” Available in several types of topping combinations that you might find in Italy, and with a crust that is thin and crisp as in Rome, their version of the classic margherita even features the richer, more expensive buffalo-milk mozzarella. The sausage and roasted red-pepper pizza might be the most popular, and enjoyable, with just enough of the savory fennel-spiked sausage mixing well with the sweet notes of the pepper, and the charred cracker-thin crust provides a necessary base and a pleasant textural contrast.
5161 San Felipe St.; 713-960-0333
The pizza at the Sardinian-themed Arcodoro, long one of Houston’s best, which might be surprising to many diners, seems to have suffered somewhat with the recent departure of executive chef Giancarlo Ferrara, a native of Salerno, which is down the coast from the birthplace of pizza, Naples. The pizzas at Arcodoro are still recognizably Italian: light, featuring quality ingredients used judiciously and black chars on the bottom of the crust from the wood-burning oven. Unfortunately, on a recent visit the crust was a little soft and a little bland, and overall the pizza was not terribly interesting; it could have used just a little more attention from the kitchen. There is still promise here.
5000 Westheimer Rd.; 713-621-6888
Though the restaurant is intentionally not as authentically Italian as its neighbor Arcodoro, their pizzas arrive with the big raised crown at the edges - the cornicione, just as in Naples - which is rare here in Houston. The rest of the crust of these small, terrific pizzas is delicious, if not rich, and it provides a proper platform and nice textural contrast for the quality toppings. The overall effect is not exactly Neapolitan - a little heartier, and not really wet in the center - but the pizzas are extremely well done, and certainly some of the best in the area.
2200 Post Oak Blvd.; 713-993-9898
Sporting an Italian name but more accurately categorized as Italian-inspired, Coltivare in the Heights has struck a chord with local restaurantgoers since it opened in January with its style of garden-fresh fare in a vibrant, comfortable setting. Arguably the most consistently enjoyable items on the menu are the pizzas. Produced in a wood-fired oven, the pies feature a thick and airy - almost breadlike - dough that is distinctive and flavorful. Aside from a version of the traditional margherita, the topping combinations used for the pizzas are bit unusual, but seem to work. A version featuring caper berries, cured anchovies and feta - the kitchen really likes salt - and the potato pizza certainly do. With slices of Yukon gold potatoes, oyster mushrooms, rosemary and nearly indistinguishable taleggio cheese, the potato pie is very enjoyable and not heavy as the combination might suggest.
3320 White Oak Dr.; 713-637-4095
Less Italian and more homey than the other restaurants on the list, the pizza at this Bosnian restaurant is surprisingly satisfying. Featuring a slightly different, soft crust and toppings that include feta, pastrami and another Bosnian dry beef sausage, these pizzas exhibit an eastern Mediterranean flair. Like the rest of the menu, the individually sized pizzas at Café Pita+ are not only enjoyable, but an excellent value, priced between $7.99 and $9.99.
10852 Westheimer Rd., 713-953-7237; 5506 Richmond Ave., 832-530-4935
This comfortable spot on the Heights' main commercial drag offers four pizzas under the guise of flatbreads. Though three feature interesting themes such as pork belly and arugula, oxtail and greens and roasted garlic and vegetables, the only pizza really worth the trek is the relatively straightforward cheese pizza. Featuring mozzarella, Parmesan, provolone and the odd cheddar, it works much better than the others with the uncomplicated crust, providing a moistness and complementary flavor that makes this a satisfying, easy treat.
350 W. 19th St.; 713-360-6204
In a way, finding pizza at Da Marco is almost as surprising as at the Southern-rooted Heights General Store. Pizza is becoming more popular in Italy, and restaurants serving pizza along with other dishes have become more common in recent years, but it is almost unheard of for a top restaurant there to serve pizza. As there is a little more flexibility in this country, pizza does not seem out of place at Da Marco, which is not only Houston’s top-rated Italian restaurant, but also top-rated overall for food. They only serve two attractive Italian-style pizzas - a classic margherita and rich prosciutto, burrito and egg - which are meant to be ordered as a preface to other food.
1520 Westheimer Rd.; 713-807-8857