Frequent business traveler Marc Olarsch admits he's "a pizza snob" who can talk for hours about his favorite places for delicious pies.
"In Boston," he says, "Santarpio's is hard to beat. And, in New Haven, Pepe's is the best. In northern New Jersey, Lodi Pizza is a must. And on the Jersey Shore, no one beats Nunzio's."
Olarsch, who's vice president of sales for a company that sells orthopedic implant products from Bradenton, Fla., says he loves pizza while traveling because it tastes good and there are few outstanding pizza restaurants in Florida.
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"Pizza is a unique business dinner that sets me apart," he says. "How many steakhouses can one eat in?"
Like Olarsch, many business travelers are passionate about pizza. They find it a quick, tasty meal that saves time during a hectic business schedule. And, it fits within a travel budget that often is too tight in these economic times.
USA TODAY surveyed its panel of Road Warriors- some of the world's most-frequent business travelers who volunteer information - for some of the nation's best pizza and turned to restaurant guidebook publisher Zagat for its choices of top pizza restaurants in 23 metropolitan areas.
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Chicago and New York are the best U.S. cities for pizza, Road Warriors say.
In Chicago, the most frequently mentioned are Giordano's, Gino's East and Lou Malnati's, which each has many restaurants.
"At Gino's, I love the cornmeal crust, the very fresh vegetables and the funky atmosphere," says Ted London, a consultant in Sacramento. "I have even gone to Gino's from the airport on a long layover."
Travelers' list differs from Zagat's
Zagat says Chicago's top pizza joint is Great Lake, an organic-focused restaurant with "beautifully chewy and fragrant pies" and with "crust so good you could eat it plain."
In New York, Zagat didn't pick Manhattan's renowned pizzerias John's and Arturo's, darlings of food critics for decades. Instead, it chose Brooklyn's Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitano as the best.
John's and Arturo's rate highly, Zagat says, but Totonno's is a "circa-1924 venue" that's "a mandatory stop in Coney Island" because of its "bubbly crusted" pies and "old-school authenticity."
Zagat gushes over pizza restaurants in other cities: In Washington, D.C., 2 Amy's makes "pizza like God intended." In Los Angeles, Pizzeria Mozza is a "blast for the senses." And in Dallas, Cavalli Pizza Napoletana offers "some of the best pizza outside of Rome."
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In a survey of 2,015 of its readers on the subject of top pizza, Zagat also found:
-New York-style thin-crust pizza is the most preferred style, followed by brick-oven and Neapolitan pizzas. Chicago-style deep-dish pizza ranks fourth.
-Pepperoni is the No. 1 pizza topping, followed by mushrooms and sausage.
Los Angeles-based Road Warrior Rob Newman complains that too many restaurants turn their noses down at pepperoni and don't include the topping on their menus.
"Forget about trying to remain highbrow," says Newman, a television commercial producer. "Give us what we like."
Larry Seal of Beverly Hills, Calif., last week found what he liked in Italy - "one of the best pizzas of my life" in a small Venice trattoria, Osteria Trattoria Al Nono Risorto.
"Their pizzas are fresh and crisp with amazing spices and the tastiest ingredients I have had anywhere in Italy," says Seal, an executive leadership and communications coach. "Fresh basil and tomato and ham and sausage to die for."
While Italian in origin, pizza has taken on an international flavor and is found around the globe.
Kathi Gaspar, a speech recognition software trainer in Sioux Falls, S.D., recommends the Thai chicken pizza at the Kona Brewing Co. in Kona, Hawaii.
Gene Jannotti, a consultant in Garwood, N.J., raves about Paisano's, "a great New York-style pizza place" in Hong Kong owned by former Long Island resident Al Morales. Morales operates five Paisano's restaurants there.
Bob Montgomery, a technical analyst in Little Rock who works in the electronic payment systems industry, says Stellon in Split, Croatia, serves the best pizza. "The crust is amazing, the sauce is awesome and the ingredients are not overwhelming - in just the right proportions," he says.
Rip Russell, a motion picture accountant in Manhattan Beach, Calif., works up to six months on location and says "finding a good pizza can sometimes make or break the overall experience. "
During a movie shoot in New Orleans five years ago, he found his all-time favorite pizza restaurant, Theo's, which uses "fresh local ingredients" and has a "delicious" gluten-free crust.
While a delight for many, pizza also is a staple for other frequent business travelers.
Jim Pancero, a sales consultant in Carrollton, Texas, says he often eats pizza on the road and has it delivered to his hotel room because time and availability make it the best option.
"Oh, yeah, and, sad to say," says Pancero who admits he constantly tries to keep his weight under control, "I love pizza."
Guidebook publisher Zagat's best pizza restaurants in 23 major metropolitan areas.
Cavalli Pizza Napoletana
Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria
Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca
Punch Neapolitan Pizza
Ciro's Côté Sud
Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitano
Lefty's Chicago Pizzeria