What makes an Atlanta pizza?

Soul and spice, say local chefs

What makes an Atlanta pizza?
Lemon Pepper Wet pizza at Phew’s Pies

Photograph by Martha Williams

When the rest of the world was making sourdough during the pandemic, Matthew Foster of Phew’s Pies was perfecting pizzas. His home kitchen was the birthplace of his Lemon Pepper Wet pizza, whose fanbase includes rapper Killer Mike and Mayor Andre Dickens. It’s made with a lemon pepper base, Foster’s homemade diced lemon pepper wings, dried basil, and cheese—garnished with whole wings and a wedge of lemon.

“I think the flavor of Atlanta is a bit of soul and spice, with a little bit of sweetness,” says Foster, who now runs his mobile pizzeria in several locations around town.

We’re not a New York thin slice or a Chicago deep-dish. In a word, Atlanta-style pizza is FLAVA! All caps and no regrets. Pizza-makers throughout the city are channeling culture and creativity into pies that could be born only out of Atlanta.

“As a Black man, when I’m thinking of pizza, I think about what my community likes to see and what we like to eat,” says Foster. Ingredients like oxtail, turkey, and hot honey represent the people around him, so he’s putting them on pizza. His offerings include the Oxtail & Ricotta, the Jive Turkey, and the PPP Loan, with pepperoni, pineapple, and Parmesan.

Yusef Walker opened Dolo’s Pizza with Alyson Williams in Underground Atlanta in 2022 after its successful run as a pop-up. He wants to make fine-dining ingredients accessible for all, so he’s making pizza with major culinary creativity. Take his iconic Black Pizza as an example—it’s made with a base of pesto containing activated charcoal and Thai basil. It may sound bizarre, but the pizza, topped with roasted tomatoes, spinach, and mozzarella, tastes incredible.

“I wanted to do our own thing,” says Walker, who also operates Ms. Icey’s Kitchen & Bar. “I want you to walk away and say, I do like truffle oil, I do like lobster, because you got to try it on pizza.”

Walker’s Caribbean roots influence his Hot n’ Sweet pizza, topped with plantains and jalapeños. The Lemon Pepper Lobster is another popular option. For Walker, the pizza is a perfect snapshot of the city. “Lemon pepper is synonymous with Atlanta,” says Walker. “You have the bougie part of Atlanta with the lobster, on a not-so-bougie part of Atlanta—a pizza. Atlanta is one giant contradiction.”

Experimental, check. Sweet and spicy, check. Ron Hsu of Humble Pie in West Midtown says another part of what makes Atlanta pizza, and Atlanta in general, so unique is its diversity. “We’re multiculturally influenced,” says Hsu, who also runs the Michelin-starred Lazy Betty. “You’ve got Buford Highway, there’s Duluth with its own Koreatown, Emory, the Ethiopian pocket. There are so many great flavors in this city, and so much great produce.”

Hsu has experimented with combinations like a Thai-inspired chicken satay pizza, Chinese-inspired chicken rangoon, and, my personal favorite, the seasonal plum and prosciutto pizza, conceptualized by his sous chef, Sharifa Chambers. The wine list is also well curated to go with the pizza options.

Produce and diversity, check. But don’t forget the dough. Their dough recipe is the one thing that chefs won’t reveal. Hsu uses flour from Athens, Walker calls himself the “sensei of dough,” and Foster rests his for up to 48 hours. Getting the science just right takes a lot of practice.

“Pizza is my favorite food,” says Foster. “I love being the light that shines from my city that says, Hey, look, we make pizza, too.”

More Atlanta-style pizza spots

Glide Pizza
Glide quickly gained a cult following for its simple but banger pizzas out of Old Fourth Ward and Decatur. The options are easy: Start with a cheese, pepperoni, or garlic pie, and add classic toppings of onions, mushrooms, sausage, jalapeños, capers, and spinach. Add a Mike’s Hot Honey pack for a sweet and spicy kick.

Junior’s Pizza
This popular pizza place started as a pop-up in 2017 and now has permanent locations in Summerhill and Hapeville. Try the Pizza of the Month for creative pies like the Return of the Mack, featuring the flavors of a Big Mac, with beef, Thousand Island dressing, pickles, and cheese.

MTH Pizza
This neighborhood pizzeria in Smyrna, from the team behind Muss & Turner’s, uses local produce with seasonality in mind. The superspicy Hell Boy is a red pizza with chili garlic sauce, Calabrian chili, spicy soppressata, cheese, and pepperoni. The white pizza ABC . . . Easy as 123 . . . comes with Granny Smith apple, cheddar, bacon, and sage. Don’t skip the wings, with flavors like Drop It Like It’s Hot, El’s Ras-zzle Dazzle, and, of course, Lemon Pepper.

Antico Pizza Napoletana
Can we even talk about Atlanta pizza without mentioning Antico? The Italian pizzeria opened in 2009 in West Midtown and has since expanded to four locations. The classic pizzas—Margherita D.O.P., with San Marzano tomatoes; Lasagna, with meatballs and ricotta; and Verdura, with broccoli rabe, mushrooms, and garlic­—are all delicious. Try the calzones, too.

Savage Pizza
This comic-book-and-superhero-themed pizzeria is an icon in Little Five Points and Avondale Estates. The specialty pizzas are hearty and creative. For an ode to Atlanta, try the Southern Cue, with local legend Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q sauce, roasted chicken, onions, bell peppers, and applewood-smoked bacon.

Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria
This pizza chain isn’t from Atlanta, but they understand the assignment. The Nashville-born pizzeria with three locations in the city is all about pies, music, and art. The P.R.E.A.M. (Pizza Rules Everything Around Me) pizza is a classic, with their house white sauce, Italian sausage, pepperoni, spinach, and mushrooms. Also try the Got 5 on It, Cee No Green, and Hot Chicken.

This article appears in our January 2024 issue.