Checkerboard is a dumb name. But this rebranded pizza spot from Ken Forkish makes heavenly New Yorkish pizza dough with just a bit of Neapolitan-style char: a pizza orphan living in the best of both worlds. Treat it like a slice-shaped bread stick: Order a cheese slice.
Square DeFino slices are made of a specially fermented dough, which manages a caramelized crust on the edges while maintaining a floppy vessel for the generous islands surrounded by (not floating in) sauce. It's simple. Its revelatory. Get 'em while they last.
Pepperoni slice at Escape From New York Pizza, $4.20
Escape From New York has been here so long it has, indeed, escaped New York: Getting a pepperoni slice with long-proofed dough, sweet red sauce and generous mozzarella has become Portland's greatest and longest-running pizza tradition—as has getting ribbed a bit by owner Phil Geffner when you come in.
All pizza is relative. The best Neapolitan pie anywhere can be a disappointment when you’re craving a greasy late-night slice, and that same greasy slice can ruin a promising date. Life of Pie has made the perfect lunchtime pie for the typical Portlander. Till 6 pm every day, you can get its basic margherita pizza for just $5. That pie is much better than anyone could reasonably expect for the price, with a tangy and crisp crust that has a fluffy edge, sweet marinara, rough-chopped basil and a few dollops of milky melted mozzarella. Service is brisk, and you can get a glass of wine or a draft beer for another $4. If there’s a better way to spend $9 on lunch in Portland, it’s a well-kept secret. MARTIN CIZMAR.
#4 Ranch Pizza at Poison’s Rainbow 344 NE 28th Ave., 503-946-8080, poisonsrainbow.com. Poison’s Rainbow serves some of the best pizza in the city at hilariously low prices. The kitchen is manned by the people behind erstwhile Division Street pop-up (and future Dekum Street brick-and-mortar) Ranch Pizza, and they’re serving thick, sweet-sauced deep-dish “quarters” that are big enough to make a hearty meal for $4.50 to $6.50. The “#4” with Italian sausage, ricotta and Mama Lil’s peppers remains the classic, and it’s as tasty and hearty as ever—a pizza casserole by your Sicilian grandmother.
Four-topping slice, salad bar and drink at Flying Pie, $9.50
A big, thick, cheesy Flying Pie slice would ground not merely birds but some small hang gliders, and for $8.50 you get that, a massive salad bar plate and a Coke. Add a quarter, get a basic topping. Add 50 cents, get a fancy one.
OK, fine—Pyro's wood-fired oven chars up some of the best single-serve pizza in Portland: a footwide disc whose dough sports bubbles of char, delicious chew and a grip of housemade mozzarella on top. Though we'd loved the Otto's pepperoni pie in the past, we have slowly come to appreciate the unsubtle splendor of the Nicky's sausage laced with fennel and accompanied by red onion.
The Detroit-style pizza broke nationally in 2017. Not only is Michigan-based Buddy’s planning a national expansion, but a half-dozen Portland spots are making their own variations of the square, thick-crust pies. Well, we’d put East Glisan’s Detroit red-top—which is only available on Tuesday and Saturday evenings—up against anything in the Motor City. Owner Kristen Martha Brown learned about the style from the national pizza expo in Las Vegas and set about retro-engineering a small, square pie with a pillowy, crushable dough, ultra-bright marinara and firm, salty cheese. There are no other Detroit-style pies we crave enough to plan our week around.