This year's Pizza World Cup—a smashing success! Chengdu's pizzerias (we use the term loosely) were lining up around the block like proud parents to enter their pizzas in the competition. And the pizza! Each more delicious than the last, inspiring our judges to stop pause between bites so they could write home about the amazing pizzas they were trying.
The only nice thing we can say about this year's Pizza World Cup, on the whole, is that it was a vomit-free event. To be sure, we sampled some pretty darn good pizzas. But they were the exception: Like the much-discussed gap between rich and poor in China, there is a giant gap in pizza quality in Chengdu. As one judge wrote, the low turnout "left us judging between a bunch of average pizzas with one or two clear standouts."
Without further ado, onto the winners:
1 Le Sud
*Based on the following criteria:
Overall taste and texture – 60%
Toppings as specified – 20%
Value (price-to-size ratio) – 20%
Perhaps you're one of those types who, when you just want a good pizza, money is no object. If that's the case, get these in your speed dial:
• Le Sud
If you just want it cheap, call up one of these guys.
• Le Sud
When it comes to pizza, size does matter, regardless of what your momma told you.
• Le Sud
The following pizzas' meat toppings rated the highest among the meat-eating voters.
• Le Sud
These pizzas offer superior cheese.
• Le Sud
• Sunflower Café
Like to show the restaurant who's boss? Don't want any surprise corn kernels showing up on your pizza? The only places that followed our instructions to the letter, according to both toppings and delivery time were Vera Napoli, Le Sud, Peterpan, and Peter's Tex Mex.
Pizzas listed in order of overall ranking:
38 x 27 cm | RMB45 (delivery unavailable)
We're happy to give credit where it's due, but this is ridiculous. Like the smart kid in high school who messes up the grading curve, Le Sud's pizza doesn't leave anybody else a chance. It's the biggest, the cheapest, and, in many of our judges' eyes, the best-tasting. Le Sud's pizza offers an extremely thin crust, fresh herbs, and good tomato-sauce and cheese coverage. What it doesn't offer, unfortunately, is delivery, which means that if we want a pizza, we'll either have to fork out the money for a cab or hop on a bus or our bikes. That really throws a wrench in our lazy, order-in-pizza plans.
33 cm | RMB85 (free delivery within 3 km)
Peterpan's pizza is, for Chengdu standards, huge, and, by most judges' accounts, it tastes good. The only thing that keeps it from winning our pizza competition year after year is its price tag, which weighs in at almost two times that of some of the other pizzas'. The Peterpan pizza was generally praised for its use of fresh cheese, herbs, and "nicest crust."
28.5 cm | RMB56 (free delivery within 2 km)
A very solid pizza, consistently celebrated for its "thin and crunchy" crust and robust, four-cheese flavor. "Looked very appealing" noticed one judge. "Thin, perfect, tasty sauce, well-made," remarked another. We were surprised when Bookworm showed up an hour-and-a-half earlier than requested ... but better early than late, unless you're throwing a surprise party, right?
Sunflower Café (Grandma's Kitchen)
27 cm | RMB65 (free delivery)
After coming in rock-bottom or not far from every year prior, we were most pleasantly surprised when Grandma's Kitchen sent in a quite competent pizza this year. Although at first sight it instilled in us a sense of fear—if not for our taste buds, then for our arteries—with the pungent oil slick of blue cheese riding atop the crust (it was so blue it looked like spinach was hiding under the cheese), all was OK once we got over our fears and bit down. Or, in the more succinct summary of one judge: "Tastes better than it looks."
27 cm | RMB58 (plus RMB5 for nearby delivery)
Over the years, Vera Napoli has consistently sent in a decent pizza. "Looked and tasted pretty authentic," wrote a judge. Not a few remarked on the quality and variety of cheese. Why, then, has Vera Napoli never been crowned winner? We're guessing that it boils down to the VN pizza's standard size, relatively high cost, and lack of something special to set it apart from the competition: It's simply, as one judge remarked, a "standard good pizza."
24 cm | RMB65 (free nearby delivery)
Dear Peter's: We get it. You're a Tex-Mex restaurant. Does that really necessitate decorating your pizza in a bell-pepper holiday-fiesta theme? A whole-wheat crust was the only thing that really distinguished it from the rest of the mediocre pack. With its stingy helping of tomato sauce and rubbery cheese, the pizza was described as a "classic standard Chengdu pizza."
27.5 cm | RMB50 (free delivery within Second Ring Road)
We were surprised when Highfly showed up at noon, a full two hours earlier than specified. We were somewhat less surprised, however, by the fact that at the end of the judging, several slices of the Highfly remained. This was largely due to the fact that the ham (and unasked-for pepper) had been distributed across the entire pizza. Across the board, judges gave this pizza a thumbs down. Among their complaints: too-thick and soft crust, too much meat, and too little tomato sauce.
29 cm | RMB45 (free nearby delivery)
Our jaws dropped when Shamrock—the winner of our very first Pizzalympics—declined to participate this year. We decided they should enter anyway, so after all the other pizzas had been delivered, we called them as paying customers and put in our order for a large half-cheese, half-ham. Our mistake. After a full hour, the pizza arrived (from across the street, mind you)—a small Hawaiian. We sent it back and waited. Our judges were hungry again by the time the spam-laden disc showed up—but even so, the cruel joke of a pizza remained unfinished. One described it as a "cheese monster blobbing all over." The undercooked crust, wrote another, "is like cardboard." Yet another remarked: "If Dicos made a pizza, it would be like this. The worst pizza I have ever eaten."
The famed Dave eagerly agreed to participate in this year's Pizza World Cup. After all, it was the Dave's Oasis pizza that took last year's winning title, sending customers flocking to the tiny bar to try it for themselves. But on Pizza Day, alas, no Dave's Oasis pizza was in sight. We called and called; nobody picked up. A couple days later we dropped in on the Oasis and tried to order a pizza (not to judge—we were just hungry) and were told that they had run out of crusts since they stock only enough to make 10 pizzas a day. We can't say we'll be back anytime soon.
Another restaurant who agreed to participate, didn't show up, and then was entirely rude when we gave them a reminder call. Not so surprising, given some of the letters of complaint we've received from readers about this place. Alas, CM is the only restaurant in Chengdu that we know of with a brick oven—and we have heard from people who like some of their dishes.
Sardinia fared quite well in last year's Pizzalympics—the only reason they didn't place among the top three was because they failed to follow our toppings instructions. This year, however, they suffered from a total decision-making breakdown. OK, we'll participate. Wait, we don't know. Wait, we have to think about it. On Pizza World Cup Day, we gave them the final call. OK, we'll do it, they said. Fifteen minutes later they called back. "Actually, we're too busy," was their final verdict. Frankly, if we had called up wanting to order a pizza and were told that the restaurant was too busy, we'd be wary of calling back.
Although they had quasi-committed to entering the day before, when their pizza hadn't shown up by 3 p.m., we didn't even bother to give them a reminder call since we still had the taste of their entry from last year in our mouths.
No response, just like the last two years. Three strikes—Chengdu's priciest pizza is out.
The Chengdu Pizza Test is an annual event. If you would like to enter your pizza for review next year, please e-mail us at chengdoo [AT] gmail [DOT] com.
Thanks to all the restaurants who fearlessly sent pizzas to the lion's den. Thanks also to the judges on our panel who chewed and swallowed the good, the bad, and the ugly.