I’ve always liked pizza. What’s not to like? Bread and cheese and red sauce, maybe some basil, fresh tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, even (gasp! I’m so sophisticated) anchovies.
But I began to really love pizza when I lived in Mexico, in a small, rural town on the Pacific Coast. Zipolitos was a haven for young Italians, surfers and, it turns out, magnificent pizza. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a hand-built masonry oven and an amazing, wood-fired pizza.
The point? Sometimes good food pops up in unexpected places. Honolulu is better known for fried rice than pizza pie, but if you go looking, you just might find a few happy surprises.
La Pizza Rina is an unassuming little place with few tables that fill quickly. Get a small cheese pizza for $8.75 or a large combo for $22.50. Choose thin, medium, or thick crust. I like it thin, but tastes have a right to differ, especially with the classic comfort food that is pizza. The crust is fluffy, the good red sauce is sweet but not too sweet. The toppings all taste fresh. There’s usually enough left over to take home, though you might be tempted to eat the whole thing. (Maybe not, after you remember how strangely satisfying cold pizza is for breakfast.) La Pizza Rina also offers basic, crisp green salads and tasty pasta dishes at reasonable prices. Plus, it’s BYOB. Nice.
And on the subject …
Beer and pizza go together like peanut butter and jelly. J.J. Dolan’s, known mostly as a bar, defines itself as “An Irish Pub with New York Pizza From Two Guys in Chinatown.” Ah, J.J.’s you speak my language. The Irish pub has a bunch of beers on tap. You can sidle up to the bar, cozy in to a booth, or perch at a wooden table and order a frosty brew. Then, get a slice of cheese or pepperoni ($3.50). For something more substantial, I like the Spinach and Garlic ($17.50) but my friends swear by The Scampi Pie, a thin crust flecked with shrimp ($18.50). When I remark that the pizza at J.J. Dolan’s is a little greasy, my boyfriend (a pizza connoisseur) corrects me. “It’s oily,” he says. “And it totally works.”
Okay, so how’s about an after-work snack on the patio, under the bamboo at Bar 35? The gourmet pizza is almost cracker-thin, served on a small wooden paddle. More a pupu than a meal, these pair delightfully with a beer or a cocktail. The Veggielicious goes for 12 bucks and the Simple Pleasure, a margherita, runs you 10 dollars.
As to pau hana at Whole Foods Market in Kailua, it’s so enticing that they had to limit the hours to Monday through Friday, 4-6pm. Sit at the counter and chat with pizza-makers while they roll out dough, slather it with delicious sauce, and toss on nice combinations of quality, organic toppings. A charming cook called Bacon was making a spinach and mozzarella pie when I visited. Local beer is available on tap. During happy hour, you can get a pint and a slice of pizza for 5 bucks. Or, you can get a whole pizza to-go and head on home to the crew.
The V-Lounge hides out on Kona Street near Ala Moana, a wood-paneled bar with pool tables and dart boards. But they make some of the tastiest, crispiest, most interesting pizza in town. Alejandro Briceno, former chocolatier and pastry chef, is the mastermind behind the brick oven pizza stocked with local kiawe wood. Sauce is made from scratch, dough and mozzarella cheese are made by hand. When possible, local ingredients are used for toppings. These pizzas are for real. The Bianca Verde (“White Green”) is outstanding, with a pile of fresh, raw arugula on top ($14). And if you’re feeling fancy, the Prima comes with Hamakua alii oyster mushrooms and truffle oil ($16).
V-Lounge’s swanky sister restaurant in Kailua, Prima, is urban and cool, highlighting local ingredients with a menu of imaginative, mouth-watering, small plate dishes, as well as pizza made in an enormous, white-tile Stefano Ferrara oven ($15-$16).
No need to take my word. Go try. Pizza is one of those pleasures you gotta seek out for yourself. I think my next stop is KCC Farmer’s Market on a Saturday for North Shore Farm’s grilled pizza made by farmer-chef Jeanne Vana and staff with her Waialua Big Wave Tomatoes. The line’s always long, but everyone tells me it’s worth the wait for crust covered with large, juicy, falling-apart heirloom tomatoes, mounded with pesto and cheese. I’ll let you know.