Nicli Antica Pizzeria
Swollen, slightly charred rim. Thin middle. Soft, foldable dough with yeasty aroma and sour tang. Austerely acidic sauce made from hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Creamy rounds of evenly spaced fresh mozzarella. A scattering of fresh basil leaves. Served unsliced, always. This is the gold standard of true margherita pizza perfection. Nicli was Vancouver's first Neapolitan pizza parlour, and it's still the best. Everything about the restaurant – the modern design, classic aperitifs, boutique wine list, impossibly tender artichokes and robust olives – speaks to uncompromising and consistently executed standards of excellence. Owner Bill McCaig studied with the l'Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in California and the restaurant has been approved for certification.
62 East Cordova Ave., 604-669-6985, www.nicli-antica-pizzeria.ca
Owners Lorenzo Bottazzi and Andrea Bini don't believe in VPN certification. In fact, they claim the organization is marginal in Italy. They know this because they're Italian-born (a much more important factor of authenticity, they argue), as is their pizzaiolo, whom they recruited from Naples. Most of the products used in their full-service restaurant (which also serves excellent pasta) are imported. Locavores may frown, but they will never find such fragrant basil or earthy porcini mushrooms in Canada. The dough here has more chew than at Nicli, which some prefer. Unfortunately, the pizzas can sometimes be weighed down by too much cheese. The exception, of course, is the Formula One margherita made with musky, buttery DOP buffalo mozzarella. One can never have too much buffalo mozzarella.
1835 West 4th Ave., 604-568-6177, www.thebibo.com
Novo Pizzeria and Wine Bar
Owners Carmine Paradiso and Roger Visona had to bust through three floors of concrete to create the venting that would allow them to convert an existing gas oven to one that burns wood. Luckily, they own a construction business on the side. This is their first restaurant, but they're obviously serious about pizza. Theirs boasts all the elements of a great Neapolitan pie – tangy dough, airy rise, bubbly rim, fresh cheese. But because they ladle their zesty tomato sauce only lightly over the centre, the crust stays crisp all the way through. And it's served sliced. With its black leather banquettes, high tops and bustling bar, Novo has the familiar feel of a casual chain restaurant. It's probably the most mainstream of the bunch. And that's meant as a compliment.
2118 Burard St., 604-736-2220, www.novopizzeria.com
It's all about the dough at this minimalist pizza counter and take-out joint. Made with a Canadian, high-gluten bread flour and fermented for three days, it's sturdy enough to slice and survive the trip home. Owner J.C. Poirier, who has plans for delivery and more locations, teases an excellent golden crust out of a stone-shelved gas oven. But it just doesn't have the same lightness and blistery char that can be acquired only from the higher heat and domed ceiling of a wood-burning oven. Toppings are classic, except for the honey, apple and ricotta dessert pizza. The tomato sauce, bottled in mason jars for sale, is lightly seasoned with chili and garlic. Bonus points for the lovely shabby-chic décor and free, carbonated water on tap.
915 Main St., 604-681-9334, www.pizzeriafarina.com
Rob Belcham and Tom Doughty (Fuel, Campagnolo, The Cure) have expanded their mini empire east into Grandview. Pizza isn't the only item on the wide-ranging menu, but it does play a prominent role. The dough is nicely puffed and extremely sturdy; a slice can be held by the edge without any tip flop. And the Roman-inspired toppings, especially the potato, rosemary and unctuous lardo, are welcome departures from the same old same old. Unfortunately, someone wasn't watching the decked gas oven very closely: our unevenly cooked pizzas had pale leopard spotting on top and a thick coating of bitter, black ash underneath. The precooked tomato sauce is off-puttingly rich and heavy.
2297 East Hastings St., 604-569-0456, www.campagnoloroma.com
Verace Pizzeria Napoletana and Enoteca
Owner Roberta King learned how to make pizza with l'Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples, where she also apprenticed at Pizzeria Mattozzi, one of the oldest in the country. While there, she discovered the Italians are not as strict about pizza are we are often led to believe. Thus, she's not going after certification and is busting with inventive toppings (the asparagus and goat cheese is extremely popular). But her red sauce is almost sickly sweet. On two separate occasions, the dough hadn't risen very well (possibly caused by stale flour) and the char on a couple of pizzas was acrid-tasting. The restaurant does, however, offer excellent service and a nice wine selection with extremely low markups.
189 Keefer Place, 604-669-5552, www.veracepizzeria.com