A Quest for the Perfect Pizza in Northern Thailand

For Americans, one of the first things missed when they are living abroad is a good American style pizza.  While pizza is made just about everywhere in the world, there is a special experience with a good American pizza and a cold beer that is difficult to duplicate in an exotic corner of the World.  Chiang Mai expat Tom Tanner did a thorough investigation of the local pizza scene and his report follows….Pizza pie

A Quest for the Perfect Pizza in Northern Thailand

By Thomas Tanner

I’m a big proponent of Thai food. I’ve been living up in Chiang Mai for 10 months now, and I still enjoy eating Thai food usually three meals per day. But every now and then, I tend to revert back to my roots and crave a hamburger or a pizza. Finding an excellent hamburger here is not a problem – there are many places, at least in Chiang Mai, that should satisfy most hamburger aficionados:  Chiang Mai Saloon, Gekko Garden, Loco Elvis and Mike’s are the best that I’ve had, and in that order.

 

Pizza - Mad DogMy quest to find the perfect pizza in Thailand has been a different story all together. One of the first pizzas that I tried here in Chiang Mai was at Mad Dog Pizza. Although some people that I know here tell me it’s “one of the best”, I didn’t like it at all. It seemed like they served me a previously frozen pizza. Reading between the lines, what they might have meant is it’s, “one of the best places to hang out”. OK, that may be more accurate, as this place is busy nearly every night with expats and tourists. People must go there for the camaraderie but certainly not for the pizza.

After my visit to Mad Dog, I’ve eaten pizza at Pizza Hut which is pretty good, but expensive and far from perfect. I’ve eaten the pizza at The Pizza Company which I didn’t find to be that good. I’ve eaten at Art Café and The Diner, where the pizza was so bad I almost lost my appetite, permanently.

Pizza - La PinSeveral weeks after my many disappointments in finding the perfect pizza, I began watching some YouTube videos from a well-known expat that lives here in Chiang Mai. In one of his videos, he mentioned that a restaurant named LaPin has great pizza. I went to LaPin later per his recommendation. It is more of an Italian restaurant and not a pizza joint, which is fine by me; they had excellent pastas, lasagnes and calzones on their menu as well as a decent wine list. Their pizza was good, but not great; and far from the perfect pizza for me.

 

Pizza - Success ItalianThis same guy later posted another video about pizza in Chiang Mai. This time he mentioned Success Pizza. My girlfriend and I couldn’t wait to check it out, just “knowing” that this place might offer the Holy Grail of pizzas based on his enthusiasm from the video. We found the restaurant with no trouble at all, as it’s right on the Mae Ping River, fairly close to LaPin. The staff was friendly and the restaurant was appealing, but, again, the pizza was just “good”… far from delightful. “Aroy Mai”, (was it delicious?) was what the pleasant owner asked us after we had finished eating. There’s only one answer to a question like that which is “yes/chai”, as saving face is priority number one here in Thailand.

Being that this YouTuber has lived in Chiang Mai for over a decade, he must certainly know the city inside and out, so the reality set in that only “OK” pizza can be found here. It’s something that I wasn’t happy about, but I could certainly live with.

Pizza - Brick OvenA few frustrating weeks later, I was talking with the owner of Loco Elvis, the restaurant that I frequented many times during my three-month tour here in 2012, because they appealed to my comfort zone, and the food is good. He insisted that the best pizza that he’s ever had in Thailand is found in a small town called Phayao about three hours away.

I’ve wanted to visit Phayao, even before the mentioning of it – if they’ve got the best pizza in Thailand, then going there is a no-brainer.  Damon, the owner of Loco Elvis told me the name of the pizza place is called The Brick Oven. After returning to my apartment from talking with him, I immediately went to the Trip Advisor website to see what other people have said about it.

“Amazing”, “Fantastic”, “Best Pizza in Thailand!” were some of the comments about this place, accompanied by its perfect “excellent” rating of six voters.

Two weeks later, my friend and I arrived in this little town rarely visited by farang, after enduring many winding and wet roads through the mountains and jungles in northern Thailand. We didn’t waste any time going to The Brick Oven, and we were on our way there less than twenty minutes after securing a hotel.

We found the place fairly easily… a nice, clean restaurant settled amongst a side street in this quiet and charming town… but the staff was not so charming. This is Thailand; sometimes when (apparently) the owner is away, Thai people cannot conceal that fact that they would rather be anywhere else in the world than to wait on two farang in a restaurant. With this in mind, the grumpy staff members were forgiven.

We each ordered a beer, but the grump-o-waitress told us they don’t serve beer. What is pizza without beer? That’s the same as going to the movies and not having popcorn. Or ordering a salad without lettuce. The grumpiness that I forgave so quickly previously is now back on the table, as this is strike two. But I realized that essentially we came here for pizza and not beer (nor smiling service for that matter), there was still hope for getting an “amazingly fantastic pizza that’s the best in Thailand.”

We ordered a pizza with Italian sausage and some veggies. After the pizza arrived, I was once again disappointed, even before my first bite, because there was hardly any sausage on it. The severe lack of sausage toppings was probably comparable to how much exercise equipment is in Rosie O’Donnell’s mansion.  Although the crust was to my liking, the pizza as well as my overall experience was a massive disenchantment.

Pizza - the Duke 2A few days after my trip, another friend told me that I should try the pizza at The Duke’s. The Duke’s is a very popular restaurant here in Chiang Mai, which recently opened its third location. I’ve driven past The Duke’s many times, particularly the location on the river, which is very close to Success Pizza; but I had never stopped there before.

When my girlfriend and I arrived on a Saturday evening, the place was bustling with farang and Thai customers. I immediately noticed that nearly half of the tables had a pizza sitting on it which is a very positive sign.

After we were seated, we were not only able to order a beer; we were able to order a good beer: Rogue! They had the usual Thai beer assortment, but it’s not often one can have the option to drink a (semi) micro-brewed beer in Thailand. The pizza we ordered was the Meat Lover’s: ham, sausage, and pepperoni were the “pre-arranged” toppings. Fifteen minutes later, our pizza arrived. We ordered a size small, but it was far from small. Size can be an objective term, just like telling others if a pizza is good or not, but Holy Hand-grenade, this was a massive pizza for a “small”. And a generous amount of toppings were used … no scarcity issues here.

My quest is officially complete: the pizza at The Duke’s is in fact the perfect pizza.

The cherry on top of their great pizza is the atmosphere is top-notch … and the staff was friendly … and it’s reasonably priced; our “small” pizza with probably ¼ pound of toppings was just 260 baht. After discovering the perfect pizza that used to be hidden in plain view right under my nose, my girlfriend and I have paid a visit there every weekend since. Dare do I say to make a trip to Chiang Mai just for the pizza, as having high expectations only leads to unhappiness and disappointment; but their pizza is not only the best that I’ve eaten in Thailand by a long shot, it was better than many pizzas that I’ve had in America. The Duke’s is highly recommended for anyone with a passion for pizza.

_____________________________________________________

tom tannerTom Tanner risked everything to come to Thailand at age 45, having escaped a failed marriage as well as a failed economy in the U.S.A. His biography in, The Amazing Stories of Tom in Thailand tells all; an informative, entertaining and sexy Amazon eBook about Thailand and the drama in moving here. Every Thailand newbie should read it, and every person who likes a good travel yarn will find it to be a page-turner. Click the thumbnail below to preview it for free or to download.

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25 thoughts on “A Quest for the Perfect Pizza in Northern Thailand

  1. Back in the US, I became addicted to Chicago Style Pizza; that’s with a thick soft crust cut square deep dish pizza on a square pan. Very juicy, and the best place in the world for this is at Pizzeria Uno on the North Side of Chicago. The place franchised out to about a dozen or so shops spread out over the US and fortunately there was a Pizzeria Uno in San Francisco near my home back in the US. Unfortunately, I have never been able to find top quality deep dish Chicago Style Pizza outside of America, but I will continue to search. For sure, if I ever return to the US, I will be making a beeline to Pizzeria Uno.

    • The best pizza is in NYC, and the best in NYC used to be Angelo’s on Main St. in Kew Garden Hills, Queens. It was the best until Angelo retired and his stupid son hired illegals from Mexico to make the pizza. Everybody knows that Italian Americans, and not Mexicans, make the best pizza. Stupid son! Now, even here in NYC, good pizza is getting harder and harder to find.

      • Among American pizza aficionados (of which there are many), there is a running debate about New York Style Pizza v. Chicago Style. New York Style Pizza is thin crust. I remember first visiting Manhattan back in the 60′s (yes, that was a looong time ago) and learning the amazing virtues of New York Style Pizza, often served from tiny, scruffy little pizza shops. It was wonderful. It was better than anything experienced in my hometown in the Far West. Later in life, my pizza experience was raised to new level when I discovered Chicago Style Pizza. It has a very thick, soft crust and seemed more juicy than New York Style. So while I can appreciate great New York pizza, I must confess that I have been won over by Chicago Style Pizza (plus the beer to go with it seems a little better in the Midwest). And now, of course I am living in Northern Thailand, where I am lucky to find a pizza that can be called “pretty decent.” There are some things from back home that just don’t seem like they can be transplanted.

  2. No, Tanner, Duke’s is not the best.
    Good, sure.
    Size, okay.
    But nowhere near the best in taste or quality that is available in Chiang Mai.
    Keep looking.

    And when you find the place I’m talking about, you will be order to order beer there, too, because they do understand pizza.
    While Duke’s understands tourists.

    You’ll find it.

  3. As a long time Chiang Mai resident I concur with the findings of your hunt. However, a few more that would be sure to top your list are Yummy Pizza, Paradise Pizza, Pizza n Pasta and Coach’s Pizza. Check em out!

  4. My brother Greg retired to Thailand. I retired to a country called Florida, which is so full of expatriates from the U.S. that sometimes you think you never left.

    Two of those expats are Bobby and Tommy D, who are from Chicago and named their restaurant after their late brother Joey, who died way too young. Bobby and Tommy are big fat guys who yell (happily) at their staff from the kitchen. They also like to host event; car shows twice a month, for example. Their little restaurant building shares a huge parking lot with Best Buy and Lowes, so there’s lots of room for big car shows.

    And the pizza. Look at their website’s name: http://www.joeydschicagostyleeatery.com/

    Chicago style? You bet! And excellent. Perfect, thick crust, great sauce, lots of toppings. Serious Chicago-style pizza.

    • Even great pizza is not enough to motivate a Chiang Mai expat to return to the police state of the USA or Florida or any other one of those oppressive states. We just try to have some of the best things about America (which includes a great pizza) come to our little corner of the world.
      Incidentally, the best pizza in America according to the experts is in New Haven, Connecticut, a dreadful little city: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/10/22/new-haven-pizza-named-best-in-america/

      • Agree Greg

        Been putting off our visit to the US for 2 years now.
        Have to do it as I have grown kids but how I hate the thought of going thru the gestapo gates at the airport to then be watched everywhere we drive etc.
        I am not kidding I literally avoid it as long as I can.

        • But don’t do it for the Pizza! (Even if the pizza you can find in America is better than anywhere else).
          I feel exactly like you about going back, and I hope you can get back here quickly.

  5. As I was reading your article but before I finished it, I was thinking about Duke’s pizza and was prepared to take you to task if you rated some other pizza place in Chiang Mai better than The Duke’s. I heartily endorse your opinion: Best Pizza in Thailand.
    Some other comments mentioned a few places I might try someday but seeing as I mostly eat Thai food and love it, I see no compelling reason to look for any place better than Duke’s when I have the occasional desire for farang food.

  6. We have had the Duke’s pizza before. The BBQ Chicken pizza is good, but the best pizza we have had in Chiang Mai has been at Doo Dee Pub & Restaurant just south of Chiang Mai Gate. Every Wednesday you can get any pizza on the menu for 200 baht. Recommend trying the Diavola (little spicy) and the Stagioni (split up into 4 different sections).

    Lastly, not sure we can agree with you on the burgers….we enjoy some of Loco Elvis’ Mexican fare, but the burgers, although sound enticing on the menu, have never really delivered for us. Gecko Garden is alright with their Lamb burger being hit or miss. Never tried Mike’s though even though it is right across the street from Loco Elvis…maybe we should give it a go pretty soon.

    Greg, congrats on making the finalists list on AsiaRooms for top “Travel Tips Expert”…Well deserved!

    • @Chris & Angela – I will try Doo Dee Pub sometime. And thanks for your comment on my blog post. Don’t waste your time on Mike’s burgers, unless of course, you want a simulated American greasy spoon experience. Same with his chile con carne. Truly awful stuff.

  7. hunting for good pizza is a life long quest…hunting for the “BEST EVER” pizza is a dream…
    in a pinch there is a DIY solution…B U T…you’re gonna need an oven!!!…and not all of you have access to one…
    if ya go to foodnetwork.com and search alton browns section he has a nearly fool proof pizza dough recipe…after you’ve mastered that you’re free to make the BEST EVER” pizza…of course that’s easy for me to say here in the desert of tucson aridzona…where a great pizza is only a phone call away…but I do enjoy reading about your adventures hunting the wiley wasskely pizza in the hills of northern thialand…jc

  8. OOPS!!!…
    that pizza dough recipe over at foodnetwork.com at alton browns section has one that can be cooked on a grill!!!…
    ever’body can find a grill…
    happy hunting…jc

  9. Our pizza cafe was not yet open at the time this article was written and to be honest we do probably not serve the best american style pizza. We do however make artisan Napilitan style pizza that has gotten amazingly good reviews from customers.

    We do not use the word artisan as a marketing gimmick. Our cafe only serves pizza and everything is hand made. We use a long fermented dough leavened with natural yeast strains containing only water and unbleached tipo 00 flour. Our raw sauce is made from fresh carefully selected tomatoes. Pizzas are topped with real mozzarella cheese and baked in a blazing hot 750F open fire oven. We are By Hand Pizza Cafe located inside the moat right next to Wat Lamchang and Manee guesthouse in Moonmuang Soi 7.

    Here is what one of our customers wrote on his blog
    http://facetothewind.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/now-theres-no-reason-to-ever-leave-thailand/

      • I have tried a pizza @ by hand pizza lounge cafe.They bake them in a rather small wood and charcoal oven. If you are in for a real tasty pizza with a kind of authentic taste this is a good place. Most of all I like the taste of the pizza/base.

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