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Yes, San Francisco Has Its Own Style of Pizza

This article is a guest feature by SliceOfSF.

California has long been known for its focus on local and sustainable food. It is fresh, in-season, and sourced through carefully cultivated relationships.  While California cuisine was originally championed by the likes of Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower, farm-to-table focus has since spread across the US and influenced just about every style of food.

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The San Francisco Bay Area has managed to define a unique style of pizza: a style known for its focus on local, fresh ingredients, community engagement, and goofy little slices. @cheeseboardcoll @arizmendieville @sliverpizzeria all champion this style. Being from New York, I have found them all to be model businesses that have the best interest of their surroundings in mind. They also make some tasty stuff. If you don’t know about these places and this genre of pizza, you should. • • • • #community #farmtotable #cheese #hippie #pizza #bayareaeats #bayareafoodie #eatersf #bestfoodbayarea #eeeeeats #sf #sanfrancisco #berkeley #slowfood #infatuationsf #cheeseboard #sidewalkslice #neighborhoodfood #uniqueeats #pizzas #localguide #sfguide #story #foodwriting #foodforthought #uniqueeats #regionalfood

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Pizza is the perfect food to embody California cuisine’s major characteristics because pizza is essentially a blank slate.  Restaurants will top their dough with Nutella and Banana or smear it with cream cheese and cover that with smoked salmon. Given its flexibility, there is a lot of room for creativity.  Not to mention, the pizza community seems open to melding the old and the new. It is full of individuals who love the craft and are happy to encourage others who share their passion, regardless of the form that it takes. Traditionalists would lead you to believe that pizza is an unchanging, set-in-stone craft, but most are willing to try inventive pizza.  Furthermore, pizza is from Italy, a country known for a culturally-ingrained respect and appreciation for quality, local, sustainable food. The world is gravitating toward breaking conventions like genre fusion in music. This mindset simply encourages the culinary world to do the same.

So, what is San Francisco-style pizza?  It is comprised of a basic, thin crust and just about anything else, so long as it is sustainably-grown and locally-sourced.  For example, during the fall, you can expect to find a pizza topped with root vegetables and during the summer, you can expect to see juicy, ripe tomatoes among other things.  Now, when the season’s best is hard to come by (like during the winter), these pizzerias often shift their focus towards cheese. Fresh cheese is produced year-round so there is always something new and exciting to emphasize.  Perhaps the distinguishing characteristic is the sliver, though. These restaurants always top your order with small, roughly quarter-slice sized pieces of pizza. It arose to ensure that a customer never felt slighted. Now, no matter the size of the order, you will get an extra sliver… or 3.

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@cheeseboardpizza is easily one of the most famous businesses in the Bay Area. The way they support local business, focus on sustainability, and serve their community is commendable. When it comes to ingredient quality, this place does it right. The toppings are so, so fresh and the cheese is incredible. The pizza itself leaves quite a bit to be desired, though. My crust was burnt and I was pretty underwhelmed. That green sauce helped make up for the weaker base. All that is to say, I’ll continue to support them. Their popularity speaks to the community they have built. Rating: 7.0 Cost: $ • • • • #eatersf #pizza #bayareapizza #sfeats #coop #collective #cheeseboard #cheese #cheeseboardpizza #berkeley #hype #neighborhood #shattuck #bayareafoodie #eastbayfood #eeeeeats #thrillist #pizzaparty #sffoodies #foodiesofinstagram #dinner #jazz #pizzalover #bestfoodsf #california #farmersmarket #seasonalfood

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Who makes San Francisco-style pizza?  Well, they are just about all from Berkeley so it is truthfully Bay Area Pizza but that doesn’t have the same ring to it.  First and foremost there is the Cheese Board Collective. The Cheeseboard opened in 1967 as a cheese shop. They started making vegetarian pizza for friends, once each week, in 1985.  It got so wildly popular that they opened a full-fledged pizzeria next door soon after. Ever since, The Cheeseboard has embodied the tenets of California cuisine and is seen as a model business.

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It has become clear to me that your experience at a place like @arizmendimission is directly correlated to your taste for the day’s ingredients. My second experience was awesome! The toasty, smoky, sweet potato and poblano with salsa verde was so good. The dough was also baked really well this time and stood up to the heft of the toppings. It’s tough to rate this kind of place because of the variability. Go figure it out for yourself. • • • • #sffood #infatuationsf #sffoodie #eeeeeats #eatersf #uniqueeats #salsaverde #snacks #bayareafoodie #slice #pizza #pizzatime #pizzaparty #fallflavors #pizzapizza #bakery #foodie #berkeleyfoodie #thrillist #eatersf #missiondistrict #cheese #sanfrancisco #sf #foodiesofinstagram #farmtotable #berkeley

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Another key player is Arizmendi Bakery, which got its start in 1997 with the help of the Cheeseboard.  The cooperative model of the Cheeseboard was thriving and others began to take note. Arizmendi exploded in Oakland so much that within a few short years, they expanded to San Francisco to continue growing and influencing broader communities.  Similarly, Arizmendi makes one type of vegetarian pizza per day and frequently has a line out the door. They additionally sell par-baked pizzas, raw dough to use at home, and unbelievable pastries.

After these two came many others inspired by their mission.  From restaurants like Sliver who fit the original mold very closely to Escape from New York Pizza, The Mill, and Nick’s Pizzeria, pieces of The Cheeseboard can be seen across the San Francisco pizza spectrum.  Escape From New York supports local organizations and artists as does the Mill. Nick’s and the Mill have a few options to choose from and are not vegetarian but always feature the freshest ingredients they can find.  

San Francisco-style pizza is a movement, a community, a food, and a legacy.  It is California cuisine and farm-to-table, applied to a new food with a strong culture. One thing each restaurant has in common is an open-mindedness, encouraging individuality from all walks of life.  The local musicians who often play inside these establishments, the artists that decorate the physical location, and the incredible people behind each place are all responsible for making the Bay Area community stronger.  To that, we all owe you some gratitude.