Everything You Need to Know About Pizza in Vancouver

Vancouver's a great place to find a delicious piece of pizza. Here are pizza joints in the city that are offering up a quality slice

Credit: Flickr / European Parliament

Can you tell which pizza category these would fall under?

Seeking out the best pizza in Vancouver isn’t as easy as you’d think with so many quality pie joints in the city

Vancouver was once a town where pizza was synonymous with flabby, “cheesiest-cheese blend” topped Frisbees that would make any Italian shudder. Then Gastown’s Nicli Antica opened in spring 2010, dominating Vancouver’s neglected pizza scene like a major leaguer tossing 99 MPH heaters at a little league game.

Following Nicli’s success, upscale pizza joints began opening one after another across town.

Verace Pizza Napoletana is a new competitor on the border between Gastown and Chinatown. The BiBo opened in Kits. Campagnolo Roma opened in East Van’s Grandview. Vancouver institution Rocky Mountain Flatbread just expanded to Main Street.

By September, there will be four more upscale pizzerias in Vancouver: NOVO Pizzeria and Wine Bar (Kits), Pizzeria Barbarella (Mt. Pleasant), Pizzeria Farina (South Main) and Via Tevere (location TBD). Naturally, it’s time to rank Vancouver’s best pie.

Defining authentic Neapolitan pizza

Many of the new pizzerias are pursuing Neapolitan pizza certification. So what’s the difference between Flying Wedge and an authentic Neapolitan pie? Everything except the shape.

In order to be a purveyor of authentic Neapolitan pizza, a restaurant needs to be certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), an international association of Neapolitan pizzaiolis (pizza makers) with an officially established denomination of control (DOC)—a legal entity that’s able to certify Neapolitan pizzerias.

The North American branch of the VPN, located in California, is the place many Canadian pizza makers go to receive training and restaurant certification.

I gave the VPN a call and asked a million questions. Donato Rumi, a VPN official, explained that pizza was invented in Naples in the Middle Ages and has since been reinterpreted by every country in the world. In order to maintain pizza standards, he thinks certification is key. It’s a convincing argument given some of the stuff that passes for “pizza” these days.

Vera Pizza Napoletana: thin crusts, plum tomatoes, wood fired and absolutely no pineapple

According to Rumi, real Neapolitan pie has a thin, airy crust that blisters when baked. Only fine-ground flour (think 00 grind talcum powder), fresh yeast, water and sea salt may be used for the dough. It doesn’t stop there. The sauce must be made with plum tomatoes. For toppings, pizzaiolis should stick to mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), fresh basil and dried oregano.

“Maybe prosciutto and olives can be added, but absolutely no pineapple and no barbecue chicken,” says Rumi. And most importantly, all authentic Neapolitan pizza must be cooked in a wood-burning oven. “The wood should be extra dry and not smelly. Don’t use aromatic wood. Stick to walnut or birch,” Rumi elaborates.

Is VPN certification essential for quality pizza?

Some Vancouver pizza makers disagree with Rumi and the need for VPN certification. Verace Pizza Napoletana’s owner Roberta Lee received training in Naples and thinks that the American arm of the VPN is an overpriced marketing gimmick, given that restaurant certification costs over $2,000 per year.

Verace’s pizza is authentic and high quality but lacks an official stamp of approval, although Lee’s expertise is evident. The way she describes the artisanal ingredients and preparation is so poetic, I nearly drool while we chat.

Other restaurants like The BiBo don’t think they need VPN certification because they’re actually Italian. BiBo’s pizza maker, Salvatore Miele, came from Naples a few months ago.

When it comes to consistent Vancouver favourites like Rocky Mountain Pizza, chef Oliver Zilauf explains that Rocky has a special local flavour and has traded in Neapolitan musts like a wood-fired oven for more eco-friendly and efficient solutions like a gas oven.

Nicli Antica will receive their official VPN certification very soon and many more will follow.