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Jerusalem pizza smackdown

by harry June 23 2008

Tito Bravo. Pizza with aprons.

Where can one get a slice of good pizza in Jerusalem? That question is certainly a difficult, perhaps impossible, one to answer, because there is no good pizza per se in Israel. It's simply fruitless to compare Jerusalem pizza (or Tel Aviv for that matter) to its American counterpart. More often than not the crust is exhaustingly chewy, there is either not enough or way too much sauce, and the cheese is low-quality rubber. Toppings can also be problematic, as your entire pizza is likely to be covered from the top of the crust to the point of the slice in corn, tuna (from the can) or olives.

So in the same way that one would not expect to find the world's greatest falafel in the Upper West Side, one shouldn't search for the greatest slice in the holiest of cities. It's just not going to happen. So let's not quantify it as where to find good pizza in Jerusalem, but rather where to find pizza in Jerusalem that is good for Israel. Sadly, we must set our standards low, because the ugly truth is that it's more likely than not that disappointment is baking inside any given local pizza oven. The perfect slice must be a proper balance of high quality cheese, a crisp yet chewy crust and a flavorful and fresh sauce, and in Jerusalem (as with many other issues here), the proportions are all out of wack.

Big Apple Pizza
At first glance, it appears that someone did a lot of shopping at one of the myriad of tschoky stores that litter Times Square. New York license plates and Statue of Liberty figurines ordain the walls and countertops. Back in they day they used to blast recordings of New York radio stations (Z100 if I remember correctly) to contribute to the "authentic" atmosphere. Their pizza is without question one of the best Jerusalem has to offer. Freshness is key, and Big Apple has enough volume of sales that their slices are rarely sitting out, and if you have a few minutes to wait, fresh pies are always coming out. So if congealed cheese is your thing, this is not the pizza for you. Their cheese is without question of a higher quality than the status quo, and thankfully they do not fall victim to the Israeli habit of oversaucing. Their crust is chewy, but not exhausting to the jaw.

Pizza Sababa
Pizza Sababa is appropriately enough the David to Pizza Hut's Goliath. This family -owned joint has been around since 1990, and for many years Pizza Hut was located directly across the street. A few years ago the more expensive Pizza Hut closed down, while Sababa's sales are going strong. As the lone enduring pizza joint on the German Colony's main fairway, they certainly have a monopoly on pizza eaters and passerby who want a quick bite. In my opinion, that is why Sababa remains popular. Its all about location, though I have heard numerous people mention their pizza as Jerusalem's best. Sababa prides itself on the homemade sauce and dough, but their pizza tends to be stingy on the sauce.

Chilis does pizza right.
The only prominently treyf (non-kosher) Pizza joint in town, Chili's loves nothing more than to serve their pizza with pepperoni (though its really salami - if you are going to serve meat on your pizza, can't you at least be authentic?). They also have pizza with goat cheese, grilled peppers, grilled chicken and other toppings you will literally NEVER see in any other pizzeria in Jerusalem. Their sauce-cheese balance is very good, and their crust has a nice crispiness to it, but due to their unique toppings, the slices tend to sit on the counter a bit too long. It's best to go with friends and order a fresh pie.

Tito Bravo
Finally, California cuisine comes to Jerusalem. Not like we've been asking for it, but it's a welcome addition to Jerusalem's culinary scene. Tito Bravo delivers with, without question, the freshest ingredients of any pizzeria in the city and a unique Israeli flare. Your Italian grandmother (or neighbor) might never forgive you for ordering a pizza with a sunny side up egg, labane and zaatar on a sourdough crust, but don't worry about upsetting her too much: You can order your pizza with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil as well.

Green Door Pizza Bakery
Not Italian pizza at all, but you can't write about pizza in Jerusalem and not mention Green Door Pizza.  It's Arabic style, which is pretty much thick pita bread with tomato sauce (from a can), cheese and a cracked egg. It's not about the pizza but the experience of walking through the green door, smelling the smoke from the wood -burning oven and washing down your 10 NIS pie with some turkish coffee.

Pizza K'mat Chinam (Pizza almost for free)
For pizza-dabblers on a budget, this place (not yet listed in our guides, but located at Shmuel Hanagid St. 1, at the corner with Ben Yehuda St., and reachable via phone at 077-750-9900) is a dream come true. For real-deal pizza aficionados, though, it's the ultimate nightmare. A large pie runs for merely 20 NIS (26 NIS with toppings), but you get what you pay for: The dough is foamy, and there's little to no sauce and "cheese" on it.  

Ben Jacobson contributed to this report. 

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