Like all good legends, the arrival of pizza in Japan is a bit mysterious. Two crewmen from an Italian vessel reportedly introduced the people of Kobe to pizza and it later spread, with Tokyo’s first pizzeria opening during the 1950s.
From that moment, pretty much all of Japan was dominated by a particular pizza-style, Neapolitan. Originating from Naples, this well-known style of pizza consists basically of tomatoes and mozzarella hasn’t changed in more than a century. There’s even a trade association that certifies pizzerias as “authentic Neapolitan” only if they meet specific requirements.
This might be changing, however. An increasing number of new pizza chefs in Tokyo have begun to experiment with different styles and even created their own.
Here’s a sampling of the best pizza parlors Tokyo has to offer:
Da Isa – Neapolitan
Commonly ranked among Tokyo’s top pizzerias, it’s not hard to see why. Yamamoto Hisanori trained in Naples, where he collected a series of awards before returning to Japan and opening Pizzeria e trattoria da ISA (Da Isa for short) in early 2010. Located alongside the river in Nakameguro, this restaurant often has a line of diners coming from all over Tokyo during peak hours.
And how is the pizza? Again, you easily can see why Da Isa has such draw. The margheritta is near textbook perfect, made with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil. The atmosphere, likewise, feels like a legit pizzeria. Somewhat clustered, loud, but always welcoming.
Seirinkan – Neapolitan
Another of Tokyo’s Neapolitan pizzerias, Seirinkan stands out because of Kakinuma Susumu’s desire for perfection in his craft. Having spent a year traveling across Italy, the aspiring pizzaiolo returned to Japan and opened a shop named Savoy, which later was renamed Seirinkan in 2007.
This pizzeria has only grown in popularity. The multilevel eatery has a distinctive steampunk feel. And while the pizza is Neapolitan-style, it unquestionably has a distinctive flair. There’s only a smear of tomato sauce on the margheritta, which is topped with cheese, ripened tomatoes basil, and olive oil. The crust is chewier than most with a slight dusting of salt, which really brings out flavor in Kakinuma’s signature marinara.
Pizzakaya – California-style
Located in Roppongi, this restaurant offers California-style pizza. Also known as designer pizza, it was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s by chefs like Ed LaDou in Berkeley, who later designed the menu for California Pizza Kitchen. These pizzas often have thick crust and unusual toppings like arugula, truffle oil, goat cheese, figs and even salmon.
Pizzakaya, for example, has a Santa Fe pizza with southwestern flavors like lime, grilled chicken, caramelized onions and freshly made guacamole. The restaurant itself has a retro, 1950s diner feel, complete with nostalgic movie posters and ads. Plus, there’s a nice selection of Californian beers on tap.
Slice – New York-style
About as hipster and trendy as you could get, Slice is located in a hidden corner of Shibuya with other boutique clothing stores and coffee houses. And it has some incredible NY-style pizza!
An evolution of traditional Neapolitan, NY-style was created by Italian immigrants arriving in America during the early 1900s. Unlike most other pizzas, it was often sold by the slice. To properly eat a typical 18-inch slice of NY-style pizza you, therefore, have to fold it into something resembling a taco, which avoids unnecessary spillage.
At Slice you can grab a slice of traditional favorites like cheese, pepperoni, mushroom, sausage and even jalapeño or a daily special for just ¥500.
DevilCraft – Chicago-style
Just a select few places offer Chicago-style pizza in Tokyo and even fewer give you something I would call authentic. As a Chicagoan, I have a small bias toward Midwestern-style pizza, which is more than just deep-dish. That being said, in a sea of Neapolitan pizzerias, DevilCraft is a bit of a maverick.
Opened in 2008, it was conceived as a gastropub offering in-house beers and quality food. Chicago-style pizza is like a thick pie with cheese underneath a layer of tomato sauce and ingredients. Most people who’ve never tried it are surprised how deep it can actually be – usually 5–8 centimeters.
So, for a unique pizza experience and a small taste of Chicago in Tokyo, DevilCraft is a must-try spot, with locations in Nihonbashi, Hamamatsucho and Gotanda.
CityShop – Vegan
The newest pizzeria included on this list, CityShop is part of the ongoing redevelopment now occurring alongside the Shibuya River. Keeping with a theme of change, CityShop offers truly unique pizzas.
These include your choice of a signature crust made of whole-wheat and kombu or a vegan option of soy crust. While options are continually changing, when I was there you could also get a vegan, activated charcoal crust made of bamboo flour. Cheese isn’t limited to just dairy-based options either, with soy cheese being yet another option for vegans or those who are lactose intolerant.
Most of the pizzas are colorful, with fresh ingredients and even fruit being used as a topping. It has a truly unique, rather complex taste for a pizza. For those wanting something different, it’s worth a try.
Feature photo: Shutterstock