When Nancy English took over as the Portland Press Herald’s food critic in 2005, Maine’s dining scene had only a fraction of its current variety, creativity, and buzz — and the state’s pizza offerings, in particular, were pretty humdrum. “When I first came to Portland, in the ’80s, it was just your classic pepperoni pizza pie,” English recalls. A couple of decades later, little had changed. “The ideal was just huge amounts of cheese and sauce,” she says. “It was all about the quantity of toppings, mozzarella dripping all over everything, and of course, you need a really sturdy crust to handle all that stuff.”
Don’t get us wrong, we like the occasional gooey, maximalist slice as much as the next guy, but Maine’s pizza offerings have come a long way since English gave up the dining beat in 2011. Credit the artisan-bread revolution, which habituated Mainers to flatbreads and sourdough and charred and blistered crusts. Credit the farm-to-table movement, which expanded our topping horizons and gave us mobile pizza pop-ups at farmers markets and barn dinners. Maybe even credit the brewery boom, which launched dozens of taprooms with pizza ovens to keep craft-beer fans from overindulging on empty stomachs.
English credits the arrival of Otto Pizza, the now-ubiquitous chain (with nine locations in Maine and 10 more in Massachusetts), which got its start on Congress Street in 2009. Otto sold Mainers on a thin, crispy crust and transcended red sauce and mozzarella: their mashed potato, bacon, and scallion and cranberry, squash, and ricotta pies got a lot of breathless press early on (and frankly, they hold up).
“It was so exciting when Otto started — just like, ‘Wow!’” English remembers. “Thin crust, really modest amounts of toppings. It was more about flavor, and they were messing with your head with toppings — mashed potatoes, the carb-on-carb thing. That was really thrilling.”
Maine, she says, was “ripe for the mouthwatering version versus the same old version,” as a decade-plus of proliferating pizzerias has proven. These days, Mainers can find authentic Neapolitan on the midcoast and Jersey-style thin crust down east and arugula on the toppings menu from Portland to Augusta to Fort Kent, not to mention plenty of throwback parlors that have withstood the test of time. Maine’s pizza scene is booming. Here’s where to get a slice of the action.
Chef Randy Forrester’s crust is a thing of beauty, forming a pillowy, char-dappled ring around every pizza, delicately crisp on the outside, tender inside. Plus, natural leavening yields a characteristic sourdough tang. That’s why Forrester can pull off a nearly naked marinara pizza, graced only by bright tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, and black pepper. Nothing else necessary. Mediocre crusts might hide under tons of sauce, fistfuls of cheese, and loads of toppings, but a crust as superlative as this deserves to show off. 52 Washington Ave. 207-835-6012.
Anyone who grew up with parents who pushed vegetables by smothering them in melted Velveeta will feel a certain nostalgia about this one. The broccoli is dressed up with garlicky ricotta and cheddar (an upgrade on Velveeta), and roasted onions add smoky sweet3ness, all on a hearty crust that holds up against the decadent cheesiness. A delightful and grown-up take on a classic nutritional compromise. 405 Intervale Rd. 207-926-4224.
When servers at the capital’s essential wood-fired–pizza pub set this one down on the giant tomato cans they use as tabletop pedestals, the confetti-like shaved brussels sprouts make the Mill Park Pie look like a party. Roasted butternut squash, bacon, mozzarella, and some generous swirls of balsamic round it out, a perfect triangulation of savory, sweet, and smokey — plus a little crunch from those brussels. Cushnoc’s thin-crust pies are never over-charred and pair nicely with their crisp and malty Kresge Kölsch beer. 243 Water St. 207-213-6332.
Sure, you love it on pasta, but the rich, spicy complexity of a great bolognese is just as terrific spread across one of Lazzari’s featherlight, 10-inch, Neapolitan-style crusts. No sloppy marinara base here — Lazzari’s bolognese is meat-forward, slow-cooked beef and pork hearty enough to carry the pizza with just a few dollops of house ricotta and mozzarella and a few stray basil leaves alongside. 618 Congress St. 207-536-0368.
Furbish Brew House, with its fine view of Rangeley Lake, adroitly adapted modish Neapolitan-style pizza to the environs. Whether it’s AT thru-hikers ducking into town, day trekkers returning from Bigelow Preserve, skiers done with a day at Saddleback, or fishermen or paddlers coming off the lake, the clientele is inclined to be extra hungry. So it’s good that the crust is a little sturdier and that the toppings are applied liberally. And sweet, zingy barbecue chicken feels particularly rewarding — and calorically restorative — after an exertive day in the great outdoors. 2541 Main St. 207-864-5847.
Across the street from Bath Iron Works, this cash-only, rathskeller-ish, proletarian hangout is coming up on its 50th (!) anniversary in 2023. Somewhere along the line, a dining writer apparently proclaimed it, “the only real pizza in Maine” — which, who knows, may have made sense at the time and today is the restaurant’s somewhat inscrutable slogan. In any case, the Cabin turns out thick-crust, delivery-style pies, the floppy slices always generously topped. The cult order is the shrimp scampi, a hefty scatter of gulf shrimp over a bed of super-garlicky white sauce. Most Cabin pies benefit from a grease-skimming napkin dab before you dig in. 552 Washington St. 207-443-6224.
If ever there was a pizza for cooler days and longer nights, that’d be the deeply savory mushroom pie at Hearth & Harbor, with slices of shiitakes, mushroom cream sauce, and melty brie on a perfectly freckled crust. It’s pure, delicious earthiness. The only way to improve upon it would be to order an accompanying bourbon. 336 Main St. 207-244-8247.
It might look at first as if the pizza maker skimped on the ’nduja, a spreadable Italian-style pork sausage, pronounced en-doo-yah, but any more of it and your mouth would be a fuoco (on fire). Plus, red slivers of Calabrian chilies (fitting, since ’nduja also originated in Calabria) add more kick. Oxbow Brewing Company’s Oxford location is a former Nordic ski center, and after exploring the trails out back, a skier will feel warm again in a hurry with an ’nduja pie. It’s not only about the heat, though. Roasted garlic lends earthy depth, a drizzle of honey adds sweetness, and the crust has some sourdough bite, all adding up to a satisfyingly nuanced pizza. 420 Main St. 207-539-5178.
Maine Beer Company got to be one of the state’s best breweries by keeping things simple: no smoothie sours or milkshake IPAs here, just a concise, expertly executed lineup of classic styles. It stood to reason that, once they started serving pizza at their Freeport taproom, they’d figure out how to nail the most elemental of pies, the Neapolitan paragon, the margherita. They don’t mess with the time-tested design: crust charred just so, bright tomato sauce, soft gobs of fresh mozzarella, and a few aromatic leaves of basil. It’s like their bottle labels say: “Do what’s right.” 525 Rte. 1. 207-221-5711.
It wasn’t so long ago that the best pizza Damariscotta had to offer came from a gas station. Oysterhead changed the game in the midcoast’s Twin Villages when it opened in 2019, its wood-fired oven turning out indulgently topped ’zas on sublimely chewy thin crusts. The Dr. Gonzo is characteristically rich, topped with both mozzarella and Gruyère, foraged mushrooms, and a marsala duxelle — that is, a decadent spread of cooked-down ’shrooms and shallots. The coup de grâce, though, is the everything-bagel crust, a little bit salty and perfectly pliant, like its namesake, flecked with poppy and sesame seeds. 189 Main St. 207-563-6816.
It means “beef” in Italian, but the simple name of this decadent pie kind of sells it short: the Manzo is topped with aged provolone, sweet potatoes, roasted onions, greens, and, yeah, braised beef. Monte’s uses light and crispy pinsa-Romana–style crust, a multi-grain, cold-fermented flatbread that takes 72 hours to make and that owners Steve Quatrucci and Neil Rouda say is easier to digest than traditional pizza dough. 788 Washington Ave. 207-613-9873.
Some questionable things wind up on pizzas — pickles? anchovies? — but brown sugar is downright unusual. Flight Deck’s Barrel Roll is a maximally garlicky white pie, with garlic-infused olive oil as well as a heap of minced garlic melted in with the mozzarella. The garlic might overwhelm if not for a sweet undertone from none other than brown sugar. (Add bacon to round out the flavor profile and add some crunch.) Also notable: the Barrel Roll is cut into strips rather than slices, turning it into a shareable riff on (and big improvement over) breadsticks. 11 Atlantic Ave. 207-504-5133.
Glistening roasted red peppers, deep-green leaves of kale, and satiny little dollops of ricotta, all framed by a bubbled and blackened crust — sometimes, pizza is as much a visual delight as a culinary one. The No. 3 on Lincolnville General’s pizza menu is as pretty as a pie can be and tastes great to boot. The crust is chewy with a bit of crackle, and house-made tomato sauce and a layer of mozzarella tie all the other toppings together in beautiful bite after beautiful bite. 269 Main St. 207-763-4411.
Detroit-style pizza, which Bangor Sandwich Co. brought to the Queen City in fall 2020, is a pan pizza not as deep or doughy as Chicago style and not as cakey as Sicilian. You can eat it with a fork, but if cutlery strikes you as too refined, the bottom is crispy enough to pick up, as are the sides, since cheese and toppings extend to the edges, where they blacken slightly. Cupping pepperoni is the classic topping, but Bangor Sandwich Co. gilds that lily with Italian sausage, mushrooms, red onion, green pepper, and black olives — to great effect. 25 Hammond St. 207-573-1361.
When Robert Oddo moved from Ohio to Maine, eventually settling in Aroostook County, he brought with him press clippings about his old restaurant, La Pizzeria Di’Oddo, that now hang on the walls of his new pizza joint, DiOddo’s. He also bought along his old method of making dough: he lets it go through an extended fermentation and doesn’t add olive oil, so he can stretch it into a remarkably airy crust, like a freshly baked and impossibly thin baguette. On the Carmelo, that crust is crowned with a colorful, flavorful combo of mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and sweet, smoky ham, then accented by a lightly acidic drizzle of lemon vinaigrette. 11 Sweden St. 207-492-2186.
The muffuletta is the classic New Orleans sandwich: ample layers of olive spread, various deli meats, and provolone crammed between top and bottom slices of a focaccia-ish sesame-seed bread. Burano’s takes the concept and mashes it up with meat-lovers pizza: crust instead of sesame-seed bread, tomato sauce, and mozzarella instead of provolone, all loaded up with capocollo, prosciutto, soppressata, and olive salad. A darn tasty homage. 128 Front St., Bath. 207-371-7000. 192 Water St., Hallowell. 207-213-6634.
Maine’s easternmost pizzeria, at the foot of the FDR Memorial Bridge to New Brunswick’s Campobello Island, is run by two New Jersians turned Mainers offering Jersey-style thin crust. After Ginny Morano moved to Lubec in 2004, she perfected making her own pizzas at home, but the then–IT consultant had long fantasized about opening a pizzeria. In 2017, after Jersey buddy Dee Kosch moved to town, the pair decided to make a (seasonal) go of it. Morano’s crust is crispy without being cracker-like, sturdy enough to handle the weight of the Triple Meat pie’s pepperoni, Italian sausage, and what the menu calls “ground beef” — that’s Jersey-speak for hamburg. 53 Pleasant St. 207-733-0137.
Brooksville’s much-admired 15-year-old brick-oven bakery changes its offerings with each pizza night (mellow garden and barn dining in summer, takeout in winter). Toppings are overwhelmingly sourced from around the Blue Hill peninsula, so what’s available locally is what’s for dinner. But Tinder Hearth has a penchant for Mediterranean pies, and if you catch a night when feta, tahini, and the Middle Eastern spice za’atar are on the menu (maybe with red peppers or eggplant), you’re in for an herbal, nutty treat. 1452 Coastal Rd. 207-326-8381.
A pioneer of Neapolitan pizza in Maine, Francesco Coletti moved to coastal Maine from Naples (Italy, not Sebago) in the ’90s and opened his Route 1 hole-in-the-wall in 2000. Coletti’s primavera pizza is a lovely showcase for his pillowy Neapolitan crust, topped with a subtle garlic sauce beneath a few dollops of fresh ricotta, basil, and a seasonal mix of roasted veggies. Delicious simplicity. 497 Elm St. 207-571-4476.
A nearly 25-year-old chain that’s not so much exciting as it is reliable — and known for its bagged dough in grocery stores — PPC nonetheless gets high marks for offering options to folks with dietary restrictions: vegan cheese, gluten-free crust, and cauliflower crust. The faux-cheese is Daiya plant-free mozzarella, which has a reputation for being the meltiest, most mozz-like on the hit-or-miss vegan scene. Put it on an Old Orchard pie, with its hefty handfuls of artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, green peppers, mushrooms, and garlic, and now you’ve got someplace to dine out with your vegan pals that you’re rarely all that far from in central and southern Maine. Eight locations.
Flatbread Company, the New England–grown chain that’s had a popular presence on the Portland waterfront since 1999, recently split its empire in two, the result of legal wrangling between partners. The original company got the venerable Portland location. The newly renamed American Flatbread, with just one Maine location, in Rockport, got the best pizza off the old menu. Kalamata olives, roasted red pepper, red onion, goat cheese from Brooksville’s Sunset Acres Farm, and a conservative helping of mozzarella are made extra fragrant by liberal doses of rosemary and garlic. Cut in long strips, the wood-fired crust is nonetheless foldable, so it’s dangerously easy to overindulge. 399 Rte. 1. 207-706-4146.
A Lewiston staple since the 1950s, Luiggi’s is where to fill up on Italians, pasta, or decent pizza without putting a dent in your wallet. Better than decent is the oh-so-simple, cheeseless White Pizza #2: a puffy, chewy crust rubbed down with olive oil, garlic, and lots of oregeno and topped with tomato, onions, and green pepper. If you’re not ordering a specialty pie, beware the sneaky ham, which comes on every regular pizza by default. (Really.) 63 Sabattus St. 207-782-0701.
Bit of a scandal on the old Portland food scene back in 2013 when baker Stephen Lanzalotta split with his employers at the East End’s venerable Micucci’s Grocery and opened Slab in the former Portland Public Market, taking with him his recipe for his thick-crust, rectangular Sicilian hand pies. Lanzalotta’s slabs weigh in at a pound and are unfailingly (and accurately) described as “pillowy,” with the cheese and sauce soaking into the puffy, slow-fermented dough. The truly indulgent order is the Spicy Meat, with pepperoni and pepperoncinis in piquant red-pepper sauce, strewn with mozzarella and provolone — plus a blue cheese sauce for dipping. Come hungry. 25 Preble St. 207-245-3088.
Back at Micucci’s, the Siclian slab is still on the menu, a version that’s heavier on the cheese and sauce than at the aforementioned Slab, and the sauce is on the sweeter side too. Some Portlanders have an allegiance to either the 73-year-old Italian grocer or its former baker’s offshoot, but we say, why pick sides? 45 India St. 207-775-1854.
Ashley Labell, executive chef at Kittery’s outlet-adjacent bread-and-pizza emporium, is into creative pairings. Her best is dates and salami, which she says offers “the perfect combo in your mouth in every bite — sweetness from the dates and an intense aromatic punch from the salami.” Plus, some kick from drizzled Mike’s Hot Honey, a blend of honey, vinegar, and chiles, available in the bread-and-gifts shop next door. 460 Rte. 1. 207-438-7036.
Floppy, New York–style thin crust from a no-frills shop that’s lured Ellsworthians (and won over plenty of MDI-bound tourists) for 20 years. Ricotta lover? The house specialty Bianca piles lavish amounts of the soft, sweet cheese on a bed of spinach, garlicky olive oil, and mozzarella. In true New York fashion, Finelli offers it by the slice. 12 Rte. 1. 207-664-0230.
Talk about old-school: the Mantis family has run this iconic Biddo joint since 1960. Only personal pizzas here, little 10-inch wonders cooked in metal pans and using Wisconsin cheddar in lieu of mozzarella. The Yaya’s Greek pizza piles on nice salty feta, spinach, and plenty of onions. 93 Alfred St. 207-283-0002.
Offering grilled pizza on the thinnest of thin crusts, Coals has been a recurring top-five contender in Down East’s annual Best of Maine reader poll since opening in 2019. The paper-thin crust, grilled fast at high heat, bubbles and chars, while the cheese is applied modestly and the toppings are none too moist or gloppy (otherwise, it’d be sog city). The Bayside, with fresh mozz, goat cheese, and a huge pile of spicy arugula atop house-made pistachio pesto, is zesty and delicious. 118 Preble St. 207-747-5747.
Eating at Nora Belle’s feels like being in on a secret. Not a year old, it has an open kitchen where chef-owner Calvin Gorrell feeds pizzas into a volcanic-rock oven imported from Italy. The crust that comes out is perfectly puffy, crisp outside and soft inside. Since the menu changes daily, it’s hardly worth recommending a pie, but Gorrell’s had diners rave about his butternut squash and arugula over a sauce of roasted green tomatoes — a sweet, tangy, and peppery combo. The place is small, so make reservations to eat in. 2 Cottage St. 207-803-8698.
Jessica Shepard’s mobile wood-fired ovens are mainstays at the Camden and Rockland farmers markets, as well as pop-ups around the midcoast, where Uproot has a cult following (last summer, it was a weekly presence at Union’s Pour Farm nanobrewery, where Shepard hopes to return). The delightfully supple sourdough crusts — from a spring-water–fed starter — are canvases for whatever’s in season. “I’m very proud of our dough,” Shepard says. “Then, you just add anything our farmers have a lot of that week.” In late summer, regulars clamor for peach pies, with fruit from Unity’s Hubbard Brook Farm. “People wait all season — it’s no joke,” Shepard says. “The peaches are tender and juicy, and the pancetta is crispy, the ricotta a little sweet. It’s just everything your tastebuds want.” Off season, Uproot sells bake-at-home pizza kits from a new permanent kitchen in Thomaston. 9 Green St. 207-370-1568.