Foods of Washington: DC’s Pizza Renaissance

A lot of people were talking about DC’s pizza today because of some comments in the New York Times. In the Washington Post‘s Going Out Guide response, author Maura Judkis mentions that DC restaurants have really picked up since 2003. That got me thinking, though. When exactly did DC become a pizza city?

Washington is definitely a pizza city. There are so many options these days, from the cheap and greasy jumbo slice to D.O.C. sanctioned Neapolitan pizza and New Haven style apizza. While no one is going to say that DC somehow has better pizza than any other city in the world, nor did we invent pizza (except the jumbo slice), we have quite a lot of options, many of which are highly delicious. Most Washingtonians have their favorite place to get pizza in DC, and will usually defend their pizzeria of choice with great passion. So yes, Washington is definitely a pizza city.

But there was a time when the pizza choices were somewhat slim and a lot of today’s fancier options were missing from the city. So when did it become so easy to find good pizza in DC?

In the early 2000s.

A generic pizza place at 11th and E NW in the 1980s.

The history of pizza in DC is somewhat disputed, but most agree that it was first advertised in 1938 by Luigi Calvi. From then on, pizza was present in DC (and in large quantity, especially being a city that is home to several colleges) but it was nothing too special.

The famous jumbo slice was invented in 1997 in Adams Morgan, originating at Pizza Mart and quickly spreading throughout the city’s neighborhoods. However, though this was a much bigger and more iconic slice than DC had previously enjoyed, it wasn’t anything new style-wise. Pizza in DC hadn’t truly changed yet, it was just larger.

While Pizzeria Paradiso’s first location, a small space in Dupont Circle, opened in 1991, the real rebirth of pizza in DC came in 2001 with the opening of 2 Amy’s on Macomb St. NW, which specialized in Neapolitan style pizzas. Soon after, in 2002, Pizzeria Paradiso opened its second location in Georgetown, which was much larger than the first restaurant and attracted a wider cliental (the first Paradiso would move to a bigger space in Dupont in 2009). In 2003, Chinatown welcomed Matchbox. These three popular pizzerias inspired Washington’s residents and visitors to see pizza differently — as something that could be dressed up in the evening as well as down at 3 am — and set the scene for Comet Ping Pong in 2006 and Pete’s New Haven Apizza in 2008.

Looking at the opening dates of some of these popular pizza places, it’s not hard to see that the pizza boom occurred primarily between 2000 and 2010. Which DC pizza institution is your favorite?

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5 Comments on “Foods of Washington: DC’s Pizza Renaissance”

  1. dericnoble@gmail.com says:

    No mention of We The Pizza (okay), Graffiato (very good), Flippin Pizza (the best chain pizza you can get in DC), District of Pi (haven’t been, but I hear good things), DC Slice (the best food truck pizza in DC), or H&Pizza (the absolute crown jewel of DC’s pizza rennaisance–with a new location that’s just opened on U street)? You guys are leaving out some of the best ones!

  2. Captain Neimo says:

    Hands down … Luigi’s Pizza is the best … a staple restaurant for me since the 70s. I still garlic at the thought of their Italian sausage pies… yum..

  3. Martha says:

    The best pizza that I can remember was from Gusti’s, in NW. In the 60′s, my dad would take us all there for dinner. It was quite a treat and I can taste the pizza as I type. I’ve never found pizza anywhere in the world that was so good.

  4. […] crusts didn’t convince you, local history blogger Sarah Adler has more proof: She has traced the history of pizza culture in D.C. all the way back to […]

  5. BrnHre says:

    Armand’s! At the carryout location formerly located at Fessenden & Wisconsin NW, they used to have a collage of photos of the Redskins (the real ones… the Hogs, Rypien, Monk, etc.) hanging out with the pizza makers. It may have said Chicago pizza, but that was DC through and through.


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