26 November, 2022, 09:57

Hold the Ranch: A Tucson Craft Pizza Crash Course

“We typically shoot for 91% hydration in our dough,” Tyler Fenton from Reilly Craft Pizza + Drink casually mentions. After weeks of chatting pizza with local pizzeria owners which included discussions about the difference between Roman and Napoletana pizza (Romans believe in adding olive oil to their dough), a fierce discussion on why Ranch is not served as a side to pizza, and pizza acrobats (they do exist), Fenton’s comment didn’t seem so weird. You might not know this, but Tucson is home to certified authentic Napoletana pizzerias, former International Pizza Academy teachers, and local chefs who have learned, lived, and trained in Italy. Pizza ovens have been flown in, perfect local ingredients sought out, and hours have been devoted to the ideal technique of tossing a pie. It’s official – Tucson restaurateurs are serious about their pizza.

There are strict Napoletana style pizza guidelines according to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, who don’t mess around. A wood oven at 900 degrees is a must, dopio zero flour, and if that pizza is bigger than 11 inches, no certification for you. Italians love their pizza and rightfully so, since they created it.

In the late 17th and early 18th century, this common street food found a home in Naples, Italy. With two main styles flying from the wood oven, customers could choose Pizza Marinara or Pizza Margherita. Legend has it that Pizza Marinara received its namesake from the hungry sailors or marinari that ate it for breakfast. The Margherita has less humble beginnings. Queen Margherita from Savoy traveled to Naples in 1889 and fell in love… with pizza. Reflecting the three colors of the Italian flag, this special pie has marinara, buffalo mozzarella, and basil. From there, the globalization of pizza hit another milestone as Italians crossed the pond and adapted it to their surroundings birthing a variety of regional styles.

With Tucson’s explosion of artisan and Italian style pizza kitchens over the past few years, and the many regional styles represented, such as Roman, Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and California, it’s high time to find out what makes them all slightly different.

Vero Amore

Want to see what the fuss is all about when it comes to Napoletana style pizza? Visit Vero Amore, the first pizzeria in Tucson to be Certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. “In it’s perfect form it is soft and crunchy, and equally proportioned from the crust to the toppings,” describes executive chef, Angel Morales. “We are not taking anything away from what the pizza is supposed to be. We are not putting in so many ingredients that you forget what the pizza should be.” Take the Lussuria, a crowd favorite featuring fresh mozzarella, genoa salami, garlic and tomato sauce. “The fatty acid from the salami cuts through the mozzarella. It is a like a salami sandwich, just awesome,” Morales shared. Committed to showcasing traditional pizza, Vero Amore has fired up their oven for over 8 years. With a recent relocation and face lift, the restaurant now offers several private dining rooms and a large patio designed to soak up the Arizona sun. Rumor has it that in about a month a speakeasy and cigar bar might just be located behind the kitchen.

Vero Amore’s Menu Highlights:

  • Marinara – sauce, oregano, and garlic
  • Margherita – sauce, basil, mozzarella, and parmesan
  • Quattro Formaggi – gorgonzola, parmesan, regular and smoked mozzarella
  • Capricciosa – sauce, artichokes, mushroom, olives, mozzarella, and prosciutto
  • al Prosciutto – mozzarella, parmesan, prosciutto, arugula, olive oil, and garlic
Dining Room at Vero Amore by FORS Architecture

Dining Room at Vero Amore by FORS Architecture


Falora opened in February 2013 and has already received national accolades from Eater National. While Falora uses a certified Napoletana oven and follows several of the required guidelines, they have adapted the style with an artisan approach. Ari Shapiro, owner of Falora, thinks of pizza more in styles, such as New York, Chicago, and Napoletana. “Artisan is an approach to those styles.” At Falora, amongst the community seating, you can find the classic Marinara and Margherita, as well as inventive pies such as the Fumo, which takes inspiration from the bagel and shear with cherry tomatoes, chevre, smoked salmon, capers and red onion. In addition to preparing and serving great food, Falora focuses on community. Order the Bene Bell and proceeds go to local charity, Ben’s Bells. Falora also promotes locality with a rotating seasonal pizza and salad, which – trust me – are a must.  “Our salads have a bit of a cult following,” Shapiro shared.

Falora Menu Highlights:

  • Marinara– san marzano tomato, basil, oregano, garlic, e.v.o.o.
  • Arrosto– feta, eggplant, purple/Yukon potatoes, dates, white truffle oil
  • Bianca- mozzarella, asiago, basil, e.v.o.o.
  • Bene Bell– san marzano tomato, mozzarella, bell peppers, artichoke hearts, sugar snap peas
Margherita Pizza from Falora

Margherita Pizza from Falora

Reilly Craft Pizza + Drink

Tyler Fenton, chef/owner at Reilly describes his pizza as, “an artisan style pizza. We pay respects to traditional Italian pizzas. We may have roots in Italy, but we are not following any governed guidelines. We set our rules.” The pizza dough is more bread-like and they search for both texture and structure within the dough while still maintaining that chewy-crispy balance. A must try at Reilly Craft Pizza + Drink is the Speck and Egg pizza. Adding the egg halfway through the baking process prevents it from overcooking. One slice into the pizza and the unctuous yolk is running all over the place. Just think of sopping up your morning eggs with a piece of pizza dough and you can get the picture of why this particular pie is amazing. Add a historic building, ingenious cocktails and a beer garden and you have a package that is hard to beat.

Reilly Craft Pizza + Drink Menu Highlights:

  • Margherita – sauce, mozzarella, basil
  • Calabrian Salami + Roasted Fresno Chile – sauce, mozzarella, fontina
  • Yukon Gold Potato + Pecorino – olive oil, mozzarella, rosemary
  • Roasted Squash + Ricotta – sauce, fresno chile, mozzarella, fontina, fried sage
  • The Vegan – sauce, eggplant, roasted onion, roasted peppers, mushroom, garlic

Zona 78

Don’t worry if you don’t live downtown. With two Foothills locations, this wood fired pizza joint has been serving up pizza for 10 years. Since it opened, this restaurant has focused on showcasing local ingredients. With a recent commitment to a rotating seasonal menu, you’ll find dishes designed to highlight Arizona products and the farmers behind them. What does this mean for pizza? A monthly pizza with only the freshest of ingredients, such as this months Taleggio, Kale and Local Mushroom. (Yes, Arizona does have mushrooms. Check out Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers). “We have always loved working with Sleeping Frog Farms. Their commitment to quality is something we believe and you can see it in their product. The seared kale has this great savory quality that combines with the mushroom to highlight the washed rind creamy taleggio. This pizza has been an instant favorite,” shared Kevin Fink, chef and director of operations. Although Zona 78’s classic pizzas are always available, make sure to try the rotating pizza. It won’t stay around forever.

Zona 78 Menu Highlights:

  • Tuscany– house-made sausage, mozzarella, kalamata, garlic, onions, fennel, Portobello mushrooms, fresh basil
  • Pizza Boy– rustic sauce, salami, zona-made mozzarella
  • Mediterranean-feta, mozzarella, kalamata, artichokes, pine nuts, tomatoes, pesto, e.v.o.o.
  • Taleggio and Local Mushroom-mozzarella, crispy farm kale, e.v.o.o.
Zona 78's "The Pizza Boy "

Zona 78’s “The Pizza Boy “

Dry River

Explore Tucson’s east side for pizza joints and you’ll find Dry River Company. The restaurant looks like any classic pizza place and serves up Napoletana style pizza. Wood fired oven? Check. Thin chewy crust? Check. San Marzano tomatoes? Check. If you are looking for something other than the classic Margherita check out their Tomatillo pizza. This pizza has roasted tomatillo sauce, chicken, caramelized onion, cheddar, and jack cheese. “The tangy sauce keeps you reaching for your beer,” says General Manager Cory Jochems. With pizza and beer, what more can you ask for?

Dry River Menu Highlights:

  • Margherita– tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil
  • East Side Pie– tomato sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, ricotta
  • Traditional– tomato sauce sausage, pepperoni, banana peppers, mozzarella
  • Pesto– roasted red bell peppers, parmesan, provolone, pesto sauce
  • Shrooms– portabella mushrooms, tomato sauce, fontina, parmesan, fresh thyme


Hot & Dirty from Cartel

Hot & Dirty from Cartel

If Napoletana style pizza isn’t your cup of tea, check out Roman style. By adding olive oil to the dough you get more texture with each bite. In addition, sea salt is added to the top of the pizza as opposed to the dough itself, allowing the seasoned ingredients to really pop in your mouth. If you can pull pizza maker Eric Corbin away from the wood oven, ask him about the techniques in rolling out a Roman style pizza. From how they mix the dough, to how they pull it onto the peel, it all enhances the overall dough and make it characteristically Roman. Eric is a World Champion Pizza Acrobat (See below) and is serious about his pie. He recommends their Burrata pizza, which is burrata, prosciutto crudo, and arugula. “It’s just a few ingredients but when they are that high of quality you don’t need to pile it on or do that much with it,” mentions Eric. In case you don’t want to wait until lunchtime to chow down, Cartel also serves up breakfast pizza, which is a great addition to a cappuccino.

Downtown Cartel Menu Highlights:

  • The Morning Glory-tomato, mozzarella, bacon, egg
  • Fontina– mozzarella, pecorino, roasted veg
  • The Gordo-mozzarella, gorgonzola, pecan, pear, honey
  • The Special F–  rosemary, arugula, cherry tomato
  • The Grape/Arugula– mozzarella, asiago, pecorino, red grapes, pecans, arugula

Scordato’s Pizzeria

With extreme heat comes extreme responsibility, and Scordato’s Pizzeria embraces that. One of the details of wood fired oven pizza are the bits of charring that occur on the crust. Some may see this as burnt, but take a bite and you’ll see how those spots of char enhance the pizza with a smoky caramelized flavor. But, don’t just take our word for it, visit Scordato’s Pizzeria and taste for yourself. If you’re hungry for lunch but not willing to take down a 12 inch on your own, they offer a 6 inch served with mixed greens.

Scordato’s Menu Highlights:

  • Robiola, Fontina, and Mozzarella– chopped kalamata olives, roasted mushrooms and fresh arugula
  • Chicken Meatball and Ricotta Cheese– fontina cheese, tomato sauce, fresh basil
  • Eggplant, Zucchini, and Roasted Red Pepper– mozzarella (both tomato sauce and pesto sauces)
  • Prosciutto, Arugula, and Fresh Tomatoes– parmigiano reggiano shavings, fontina, mozzarella

Tavolino Ristorante Italiano

With only four pizzas on the menu, you better believe Tavolino Ristorante Italiano has dialed them into perfection. With both wood-fired and traditional style, these pizzas are designed to showcase their high quality ingredients. Whether you love truffle oil, burrata, pecorino, or fresh mozzarella you will find something here to delight your taste buds. In addition to pizza you can find great hand made pastas, salumi and craft cocktails, making it the perfect place to take a date.

Tavolino Menu Highlights:

  • Burrata e Pomordorini– burrata, cherry tomatoes, oregano, and basil
  • Salamino Picante– spicy Italian salame, fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, parmigiano
  • Proscuitto– prosciutto, panna, mozzarella, arugula, truffle oil
  • Pecorino, Patate, e Funghi– spicy pecorino, mushrooms, potatoes, rosemary

Time Market

If you haven’t had the pain levain bread yet from Time Market, don’t just walk, run! With one bite it’s easy to see what all the commotion is about and why they sell out so quickly. Of course good bread means good dough and good dough means good pizza. In addition to the daily specials, Time Market offers both whole pizzas and by the slice.

Time Market Menu Highlights:

  • Merguez- merguez sausage, mozzarella, red sauce, fresh fennel, mint, lemon zest
  • Amalfi- spinach, crimini, mozzarella, red onions, balsamic reduction, e.v.o.o.
  • Dauphine- potato, béchamel, Niman Ranch ham, leek, fontina, garlic, fresh thyme
  • Boscaiola-house mozzarella, sausage, mushrooms, red sauce, onion, red pepper flakes

Regardless of if you like your dough slightly chewy or more bread-like, whether you prefer beautiful spots of charred goodness or the delightfully perfect one inch crust, there’s a place in Tucson for you. Stick with the classic Marinara or go wild with  non-traditional toppings. Preach artisan. Preach Italian. It doesn’t matter. Just leave the Ranch at home.

Alicynn Fink is a recent grad from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Follow her stories at restaurantwife.com.