Columnist: Ted Pigott Ted's Beyonder Story
(Part Two of a Three-Part Series)
In part one of this three-part series about some of my favorite foods and drinks in Taipei, I shared a little bit about my love of coffee. As I mentioned, I start each day with a cup (or two) of coffee, and I often drink another cup (or two) later on in the day in one of Taipei’s many fine cafes or coffee shops, usually while doing a little drawing.
However, I also have to eat, and when it comes to food, I definitely have certain foods that I like, and that I like to eat a lot of. Pizza is definitely one of these foods.
Pizza—My Kind of Comfort Food
People have often asked me, “Ted, why do you like pizza so much?”
And after I thought about it for a bit (while I was eating some pizza), I realized that pizza is comfort food for me. For someone from Taiwan, it might be lurou fan or o-ya-jen (an oyster omelet).
But for someone like me, who was born and raised in the American Midwest, pizza is what I crave. As I’ve often said, when I’m sad, pizza makes me happy. And when I’m happy, pizza makes me even happier.
To me, there’s something magical about the crispy, chewiness of the crust, the tangy zest of the tomato sauce, and the melted goodness of the cheese, not to mention the added bonus of other toppings like Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, red peppers, jalapeños, and so on and so on. Sprinkle some red chili paper flakes on top for added heat, if you’d like. Somehow all of these elements come together–and work together–to make something that tastes so good.
And it’s healthy, too, at least in my humble opinion. As I used to tell my mother, when you eat a slice of pizza, you can get all of the major food groups in just one dish. And, pizza is something you get to eat with your hands, which is always fun.
Growing up in Northwest Indiana, pizza was a special treat. We’d eat it at birthday parties, or after a football game, or on the weekend. Sometimes, we’d have it delivered to our house, and I even started to bake my own pizza at home. In fact, in my high-school speech class, I gave a “how-to” speech about how to make pizza. I then gave out samples of my pizza to the class after my speech. Everyone seemed to like it, even the teacher!
In addition, in my family, we would also order pizza, usually from Noble Roman’s, on Sunday nights when we went over to my grandparents’ home. (I later found out that my grandma and grandpa actually didn’t like pizza all that much themselves, but they ordered it because they knew that we grandkids really enjoyed eating it so much).
So, on a deeper level, I guess I associate pizza with good times from growing up. Plus, it just really tastes good!
As I always say, I’m always in the mood for pizza.
A Short, Personal History of Pizza in Taipei
When I moved to Taiwan in the mid-1990s, finding good pizza was hard, and to be honest, it wasn’t all that good. Still, when I wanted a little taste of that familiar food that I loved so much, I could seek it out in places like Kiss Pizza near Shida, where the friendly owner Jane did her best to make pizza, mostly for the students at the Mandarin Training Center.
I would also order take-away from Domino’s or Pizza Hut. But for the most part, I just didn’t eat much pizza. (I did once try to make my own Chinese-inspired pizza with a congyoubing for the crust and tomato sauce and cheese on top, heated up in a toaster oven. It was a disaster, but I still ate it.)
In the years that followed, things slowly and steadily got better and better. Of course, there was the regrettable craze for low-quality NT$50 pizzas in 2007 or 2008 that, thankfully, came and went in the way of the Portuguese egg tart.
Fortunately, in the last five years, the availability of quality pizza in Taipei has increased dramatically. Just as coffee and craft beer have improved immensely in Taipei in recent years, so has pizza. Now, there are so many new places offering pizza in the city that I have not had the chance to try them all yet (though I will certainly do my best to do so!).
My Favorite Pizza Places in Taipei
Today, when it comes to pizza in the city, I have a few clear favorites.
A Quick Note on Evaluating Pizza
Before that, though, a quick note on how I evaluate pizza.
First, whenever I go to a new place, I always order a Margherita pizza (which is, basically, a plain cheese pizza). This is the original and most basic of pizzas, and by ordering this, I can really taste the crust and the sauce and the cheese, without any interference from additional toppings. To me, a true test of a pizza maker—and a pizzeria—is how well they do this pizza. To be completely frank, if they can’t make this right, then I don’t have much hope for the rest of the menu.
Next, I also like my pizza to be served straight out of the oven, piping hot. I want it to be so hot that the cheese burns the top of my mouth when I take the first bite. And even though my mouth has bean seared, if the pizza is really good, I’ll want to keep eating. That’s the sign of a good pizza.
Finally, and this may go without saying, but I like the kind of pizza that I like. My taste buds are firmly centered in the American Midwest, and I will always have a soft spot for pizza that reminds me of home.
Having said that, though, I have developed a taste for Naples-style pizza, especially after I made a couple of pizza-eating pilgrimages to Naples when I was backpacking around Europe in the early 1990s. In fact, I once made a special detour to Naples on my way from Sicily to Brindisi, just so that I could spend a whole day eating pizza in the birthplace of this food. If I recall correctly, I had pizza five different times that day.
Solo Pizza Napoletana
Today, when I want a southern Italian-style pizza, my go-to place is Solo Pizza Napoletana. They make a wonderful Naples-style pizza, which may be the best of its kind in the city, especially at such a reasonable price. The basic Margherita there is a steal at NT$148.
Though it might sound strange at first, Solo is actually Italian by way of Japan. It began as a pizza shop in Nagoya before branching out to Taipei, and its chefs have won top-honors at pizza-making competitions in Italy.
The staff at the Taipei branch is always friendly, greeting customers in both Italian and Chinese. At Solo, you order your pizza at the counter first and then take a seat. But don’t get too comfortable. Pizzas at Solo are in and out of the dedicated pizza oven very quickly, so you may have your pizza on your table just minutes after you’ve order it.
Pizza is the main attraction at Solo, but they also serve up some tasty soup, sausage, and other side dishes. Cold Coke and beer are available, as well as good coffee (I like the espresso there as my post-pizza drink).
First things first: I was not that big of a fan of this place’s name when I first heard it. Frankly, it sounded a bit, well, cheesy, especially with the “-z” at the end of “boys.”
However, I quickly became a big fan of the pizza at Big Boyz, and now I don’t seem to mind the name that much.
Simply put, Big Boyz serves good old-fashioned American-style pizza. This makes sense, since the pizza chef there learned his craft in California. The thin-crust pizza at Big Boyz reminds me of what I would get a typical pizzeria in my hometown, or on a college campus.
What really sets Big Boyz apart, though, is the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza they offer. Growing up near Chicago, I have always loved this hearty style of pizza. Not everyone does—my brother, who lives in Chicago, never eats it. But I love it, and I never thought I’d ever be able to get it in Taipei. Now, I can! Be sure to order this pizza in advance, since it requires some preparation time and a longer time in the oven.
Other Up-and-Comers and Old Favorites
After being unable to get Chicago-style deep-dish for so many years in Taipei, you can imagine how surprised—and how overjoyed—I was to find a second place serving it in Taipei. Love at First Bite Bakery Café is not really a pizzeria, but it does serve up a good deep-dish pizza. The deep-dish pizza here does not need to be ordered in advance, but it does take about forty to fifty minutes, which is perfect for me, since I can draw at my table before my pizza arrives.
Love at First Bite might be a good choice if you are with a group and some of the people in the group do not like pizza, since burgers, salads, and even ribs are available here. In addition, there is a wide range of cakes and baked goods, with particularly good cheese cakes.
A more recent discovery has been OTTO Pizza Bar. I’ve only been here once, but I liked what I had that lunch. The Queen Margherita was very solid, and I look forward to trying more of the menu, including the appetizers and desserts there.
I chatted with the owner of OTTO a bit after my meal, and he told me that he wants to serve the kind of pizza he liked when he was growing up in Italy. He did make it clear that they are not serving Naples-style pizza and that the pizza at OTTO is more northern style, and basically what you’d get in other parts of Italy, outside of Naples.
Other pizzerias in Taipei I enjoy include Zoca Pizzeria, which has been a reliable pizzeria for me for many years. The owner and his family are very friendly, and I always enjoy sitting out on the restaurant’s little deck.
For a cheap, cheerful, convenient option in the Gongguan area, I usually end up at So Free Pizza (Gongguan branch). It’s close to my gym, so I often go there as a “reward” for a hard workout. They have a Taiwanese take on pizza, and everything is vegetarian, with some vegan options. I always order the smoked cheese, and I usually draw the pizza oven there.
And on my ever-growing list of places that I have yet to (but really want to) try are Little New York Pizzeria, the Shack in Xindian, and Pizza Rock in Yonghe, not to mention various pizzerias in Taichung, Taidong, Kaoshiung, Taninan, and Kenting, among many others.
Home Is Where the Pizza Is
When I first came to Taiwan more than twenty years ago, I had trouble finding good pizza. Now, there are so many good pizza places in the city that I’ve haven’t even had the chance to visit them all quite yet.
For someone like me, who holds pizza near and dear to my heart, this has been a truly wonderful development, and it’s just another example, to me, of Taipei getting better and better, and more international.
After all, for me, pizza is a powerful reminder of home, so it’s so nice that I am now be able to get some really great pizza in the city I’ve come to regard as my second home–Taipei.