How many slices of pizza can you eat in a two hour sitting? I can eat 10, if you count walking slowly in between different pizza spots on campus as a sitting, and two bites as a slice.
I visited five integral pizza–serving spots on Penn’s campus with the intention of ranking their pies. Before setting out on this journey, I came up with a list of ranking criteria: the time it takes between ordering and shoveling pizza into my mouth, the cost of said pizza, and its taste and texture based on the categories of crust, sauce, and crust–to–sauce–to–cheese ratio. I also decided that I’d be ranking two types of pizza from every place: pepperoni and Hawaiian.
Without further ado, the following pizzas appear in order of worst to best.
5. Axis Pizza
Location: 20 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
A little ways from the Penn Bookstore lies Axis Pizza, which boldly states “Café & Salad Bar” in its logo underneath a red–and–white “Axis Pizza.” The seating area in Axis was the largest of the five stops I made, but at 2:30 p.m. on a Sunday, its pizza selection was the smallest—they didn’t have Hawaiian pizza ready to serve. We start this ranking off on a fundamentally broken foot.
Unfortunately, the pepperoni pizza I was given in a white paper bag (for takeout) didn’t make up for the disappointing lack of pineapple and ham. The crust was hard, chewy, and flavorless, not unlike unsalted crackers. Strangely, as if to make up for the lack of flavor in the crust, everything else was over–salted, and seasoning was visible all over its cheese. Perhaps because it was the last pizza of my journey, perhaps because nobody else in the restaurant was eating pizza (as I left, I observed a man biting into a cheesesteak), perhaps because I didn’t get any cheese pull and spit out the bite I took out of the crust, Axis Pizza disappoints. It was cheap and fast though—I would eat it again if it were 2 a.m. and I didn’t have a headache.
4. Zesto Pizza & Grill, Pepperoni Slice
Location: 125 S. 40th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
Speaking of headaches, taking a bite out of Zesto’s pepperoni pizza surrounded by bold, red walls and Hot Wheels-esque décor felt like I was being assailed by a nightmare with my eyes open. Zesto’s pizza boasts an incredibly thin, slightly soggy crust with a decent sauce–to–cheese ratio. Its pepperoni slices are large and generous, and definitively greasy. It needs a water chaser despite the gummy feeling the cheese leaves in your mouth. It’s pizza, all right. No other comments.
3. Allegro Pizza and Grill
Location: 3942 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
Unlike the 2 a.m. swarms of college–aged Allegro customers, when I walked in at noon, a child’s pizza party was taking place in the restaurant. I ordered my two slices and had them in my hands at an alarmingly quick speed. Allegro’s pizza is high in grease and big in both slice and pepperoni size. It’s crispy and has a good cheese–to–crust ratio, yet is very sadly under–sauced. Although my first bite of pizza was more than good and my slices both exhibited excellent cheese pull, as I ate more, I found myself growing emptier from the lack of sauce and flavor—primarily on the pineapple pizza.
2. Papa John’s
Location: 104 S. 40th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
When I went in for my pizza, I discovered that I couldn’t buy pizza by the slice (my bad), and after ordering a half–Hawaiian, half–pepperoni pizza, I also discovered that Papa John’s doesn’t mix sauces (also my bad). Ordering the pizza was fast and getting the pizza took longer, but the store’s employees were amicable and the doctor’s office–esque muted tan walls felt familiar.
The pizza that I eventually tasted was a full Hawaiian BBQ Chicken pizza with slices of pepperoni on half of it. As with typical Papa John’s pizzas, I observed heavy cheese and sauce slippage, with emphasis on the sauce due to the sheer quantity of it. Yet the pizza isn’t gut–wrenchingly salty, and the topping–to–crust ratios are appropriate and consistent. The crust is doughy and large, but it’s also tasty and can be finished off without complaint. Papa John’s is a household name for families looking for a quick, easy bite for dinner, and it should be: it’s consistently good.
Location: 3925 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
If I needed to describe &pizza in three words, they’d be Instagrammable, trendy, and unique. The &pizza atmosphere is jarring: black–and–white walls close in on you with loud music and lots of hard angles. At noon, when the only other person in the spot is another student eating alone and staring out of the window, stepping into &pizza almost felt like stepping into another world.
I ordered the American Honey and Pineapple Jack pizzas on their preset, “The Hits,” menu. &pizza also offers a “Craft Your Own” pizza service, but ordering the already–made pizza combinations is fast and easy. Both pizzas I tried were bursting with flavors: the American Honey, with sweet honey, spicy, small pepperoni slices, and the unmistakable tartness of goat cheese and the Pineapple Jack, with huge chunks of pineapple and tangy stripes of pickled red onion.
The Pineapple Jack is less of a “Hawaiian pizza” and more of a “pineapple lovers pizza,” which almost defeats the integrity of this ranking. It doesn’t really though, because amidst the unrelenting pineapple slices is a fun, Hawaiian–enough pizza. As for the American Honey, its flavors contradict each other when it’s hot and taste like a punch of spicy sweetness on crust, but mellow out once the pizza’s cooled down. &pizza can’t be bought by the slice and was thus pricier for a taste test than the other pizzas I tried, but it’s funky enough to be worth it.
0. Zesto Pizza & Grill, Hawaiian
Location: 125 S. 40th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
The perfect pizza slice doesn’t care about what kind of flame–decorated shop it's born out of, or what its pepperoni sister tastes like. Zesto’s Hawaiian pizza, the only Hawaiian pizza I tasted with bacon, is the best slice of pizza I ate on this long, long journey. It’s cheap, sold by the slice, and not too salty. The ratios on this slice are perfect: thin crust, ample sauce, and enough cheese for a cheese pull. Ham, bacon, and pineapple blend together on this perfect ratio to bring to you my ultimate winner: Zesto, but only the Hawaiian slice.