The New York Times has struck a mighty blow for gifted small-town independent pizzaioli across the country in its new ranking of the “22 Best Pizza Places in the United States.” Some of the selections also prove that start-up pizza shops can quickly win national acclaim, even in a little hamlet in the Mississippi Delta or in a culinary hotspot like New Orleans, where famous restaurants perch on nearly every street corner and pizza isn’t foremost on tourists’ minds.

It’s unclear why the Times released the 2024 list on the same day that 50 Top Pizza’s guide—featuring its own 50 U.S. favorites plus 40 more shops hailed as “Excellent Pizzerias”—landed on the internet. Is it just a coincidence, or are best-pizza lists turning into a brutally competitive free-for-all?

But while 50 Top Pizza, an Italian organization, skews Neapolitan, the Times’ list is arguably a more democratic survey of America’s pizza scene. It’s also providing exposure to lesser known but deserving pizzaioli like Marisol Doyle, chef and co-owner of Leña Pizza + Bagels, and Jesse Sauerbrie of The Lincoln Winebar in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Related: What’s your pizzeria’s pain point? Get the solutions from our experts at PMQ’s upcoming Pizza Power Forum, September 4-5 in Atlanta

Cleveland is a little Delta town with just 11,199 residents. Mount Vernon boasts a population of 4,527. In fact, eight of the Times’ featured pizzerias occupy towns with a population under 50,000 (although a couple of them are suburbs to larger cities like Boston or Birmingham, Alabama).

Yes, you’ll find some of the country’s most famous pizza shops on the Times’ list, such as Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix and Roberta’s in Brooklyn. But judges also made excursions to out-of-the-way spots like Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Illinois (population: 553) and The Tillerman in Bristol, Vermont (3,782 souls).

“There are great pizzerias virtually everywhere in the United States, from small New England towns to the Mississippi Delta to rural Iowa to Los Angeles to Alaska. And they’re being opened by chefs from an unusually wide array of backgrounds,” the Times writes. “The result is a dish that has become a cooking style of its own, channeling a seemingly limitless number of cultures and ideas.”

PMQ discovered Leña just a few months after Chef Marisol and her husband, Rory, opened the Neapolitan-style spot last spring and featured it in the November 2023 cover story. Prior to Leña’s launch, many of their future customers, raised on chain pizza, initially regarded the new concept with puzzlement. As Marisol recalled, “People would ask me, ‘So what kind of pizza are you going to do?’ And I would say, ‘Well, it’s Neapolitan-style pizza.’ And they would just look at me and be, like, ‘So what is that?’ I was taken aback a little bit.”

The Truffle Ricotta Mushroom pizza at Leña (Rory Doyle / Leña)

Today, Leña packs in the crowds with artisanal pies you won’t find at Little Caesars, such as the Roasted Eggplant Supreme (a housemade eggplant pesto sauce, mozzarella, roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, ricotta and basil) and the Truffle Ricotta Mushroom (housemade white Parmesan sauce, cremini mushrooms, white truffle oil, garlic confit, ricotta and mozz).

Related: Honored by 50 Top Pizza, Janet Zapata’s journey of faith keeps bringing new surprises

According to the Times article, “The pizza at Leña collapses the distance between Naples, Italy, where Marisol Doyle, the restaurant’s chef and co-owner, studied pizza making; the Mississippi Delta, her adopted home; and Sonora, Mexico, where she was born and raised. The menu includes pies you’d expect to find at a modern Neapolitan pizzeria, like margherita and pepperoni (named Pepperrory, after Ms. Doyle’s husband and business partner, Rory). But there are also pies highlighting seasonal produce and Ms. Doyle’s Mexican heritage, including an al pastor pizza (pineapple comes on the side) and the Sonoran, which replaces tomato sauce with refried beans and is topped with housemade roasted jalapeño salsa. Leña is reminiscent of many urban trattorias, except that it sits in a storefront on a small-town main street called Cotton Row.”

It should also be noted that Leña has only been in business just a little more than a year, while St. Pizza, another Times favorite, opened in New Orleans during Mardi Gras 2024.

But St. Pizza owners put in countless hours in the kitchen and tested “hundreds of pies” before opening their walk-up window operation. “We’ve been working on this for two years,” co-owner Tony Biancosino told in February. “Pizza is one of those things you have to do every day to get it super consistent.”

A recent St. Pizza post on Instagram noted, “When we set out to build St. Pizza, we set out in search of pizza perfection. It’s a pepperoni-and-cheese-scattered process, and we have only just begun.”

At Scratch Brewing, owners Marika Josephson and Aaron Kleidon grow or forage many of their own ingredients in the heavily wooded rural area surrounding their restaurant. Lincoln Winebar keeps its menu as local as possible, too—Sauerbrie is known to hike the woods in search of wild mushrooms and picks his own chives at his dad’s pumpkin farm. A current seasonal pizza on his menu: the Beets Baby, featuring a pesto made with local beets and pistachios, fresh baby arugula, goat cheese and a lemon and balsamic reduction.

Meanwhile, The Tillerman describes its vibe as “old New England meets Northern California meets a flower market meets a farmers market meets a warm, vibrant community.” Owners Jason Kirmse and Kate Baron change up their menu with the seasons. Their Facebook account recently showed off a springtime specialty pie featuring a broccoli raab pesto, garlic, lemon ricotta and their housemade mozzarella.

A springtime specialty pizza from The Tillerman in Bristol, Vermont (The Tillerman / Instagram)

Take a gander at the full list of America’s 22 best pizzerias according to The New York Times. Maybe you’re on it!

Amar Pizza: Hamtrack, Michigan
Bird Pizzeria: Charlotte, North Carolina
Bungalow by Middle Brow: Chicago
City House: Nashville
Hapa Pizza: Beaverton, Oregon
In Bocca al Lupo: Juneau, Alaska
Leña: Cleveland, Mississippi
The Lincoln Winebar: Mount Vernon, Iowa
Little Donna’s: Baltimore
Pizzeria Bianco: Phoenix
Pizzeria Sei: Los Angeles
Post Office Pies: Mountain Brook, Alabama
Razza: Jersey City, New Jersey
Roberta’s: Brooklyn
Rose Pizzeria: Berkeley, California
St. Pizza: New Orleans
San Lucas Pizzeria: Philadelphia
Scratch Brewing: Ava, Illinois
Short & Main: Gloucester, Massachusetts
The Tillerman: Bristol, Vermont
Yellow: Washington, D.C.
Young Joni: Minneapolis

Featured, Pizza News