Pizza is an essential part of the college experience. From late-night bites to classic Neapolitan flavors, I tracked down the best pizzas in Columbia for every occasion.
When I first came down South from Chicago, I panicked. I had not had any positive experiences with pizza in the South. I missed the cracker-like crust of my Chicago tavern-style pizza and I know what you're thinking — Chicago and deep dish. Well, deep dish is a sometimes food.
Ever since, I, as a food writer for Columbia, have dedicated my past two years in Columbia to tracking down a good pizza.
Your mouth deserves better than Domino’s and Papa Johns, so let’s look at some restaurants that suit any of your needs, from date night, upscale take-out or a Southeastern chain that’s supreme for late-night ordering.
Situated on the North end of Sumter Street, Il Focolare neighbors the NoMa Warehouse and Indah Coffee. Small and cozy — thanks to a centerpiece wood-fired stove — this quirky restaurant is the perfect place for a date night. An open kitchen provides entertainment and a sense of inclusion in the process of cooking.
Be sure to start off with the garlic bread that features sourdough from its sister restaurant, smallSUGAR. And make sure to resist the urge to order a second round — save room for the pizza.
The pizzas come in two categories at Il Focolare: red and white. Most pizzas range from $13 to $20.
The red sauce-based pizzas feature a simple San Marzano tomato-forward sauce — suffice to say the tomatoes really shine. The Margherita pizza, which is $15 is also a well-executed take on the simple classic. On the side of white pizza, expect a creamy white sauce. The potato and rosemary offering is the best of the white pizzas.
Beware: Don’t try to eat a whole white pizza alone, as the richness makes them a two-person job.
Overall, the crust consistently delivers the right amount of chew and char, the kind of thing you would expect from a wood-fired pizza.
Food aside, Il Focolare — and the City Grit Hospitality group behind smallSugar and Il Focolare — is a local restaurant group that is dedicated to ending poverty and increasing food access in the Midlands.
It’s only fitting that the name of this take-out-only restaurant is Italian for the space it occupies — an old laundromat. Located at the corner of Beltline Boulevard and Trenholm Road, Il Bucato is easily the best take-out-only pizza joint in Columbia. Their pies simply travel well.
Il Bucato’s cheese pizza is a crowd-pleaser. It meets all the standards: crisp crust and an even distribution of sauce and cheese. But, things start to get really good with the Pruscuttio and Arugula pizza. It’s a classic combination, and Il Bucato does it well.
Notably, the restaurant steps outside of the box with its "cherry pie."
The "cherry pie" pizza is the best and is a stand-out on Il Bucato’s menu. Coming in at $18, this pie stars wine-soaked cherries. I like to think of them as "savory, pizza-appropriate gushers." Combine this with goat cheese and arugula and you have an impressive pie.
With a streamlined grab-and-go service, they bring the pizza out to your car, Il Bucato is the “let's get a nice pizza to-go” spot.
Stoner’s Pizza Joint
Let’s face it — every college town needs a decent late-night pizza spot.
Columbia definitely has a few, but Stoner’s delivers consistently. This once, mom-and-pop-shop-turned chain is a great, local chain worth your time and money.
The go-to Stoner’s Pizza is undoubtedly a thin cheese pizza. Alright look, it's greasy. It doesn’t keep overnight very well, but that is OK! It always does its job as the perfectly cheap, mouth-watering anecdote to college town pizza hunger.
There are a few things to like about Stoner's: They have late hours and are often open past midnight, easy mobile ordering and phenomenal breadsticks.
The breadsticks may be the best thing on the menu. They’re a glorious buttery, garlicky mess. Ideal for snacking on while watching a football game or studying for a big test. They're a glutenous delight.
For sweet-tooths, the cinnamon and sugar breadsticks are a great. Most importantly for the sugar inclined, do not sleep on the cookies. The collection of six gooey, soft-baked dough for $6 is straight from your inner child's dreamland.
Don’t look for pizazz, this pizza was made for dunking in garlic butter and marinara, and make sure to take out a napkin (or three) and dive in to one of the best in town.