Michael's Pizzeria in Long Beach, California, is known for its thin-crust pizzas. But now, not only is the eatery famous for stretching dough, it's also famous for stretching the truth by calling itself the No. 1 pizza spot in America and citing restaurant reviewer Zagat. Along the Northeast corridor from New York to New Haven to Providence, over to brawny Chicago and far across to the foggy San Francisco Bay – you can almost hear the cry of "We was robbed" echoing from mom-and-pop joints and tony bistros alike.
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The restaurant says it uses local, organic ingredients, makes its own mozzarella daily, and has been voted the tastiest pizzeria in Los Angeles for the past two years. "We managed to top that by being named the Best Pizzeria in the United States, a title Tony's in San Francisco has held for years," owner Michael Dene told the Long Beach Patch this week. "It's very humbling, and I'm extremely proud of my staff who works in the front of the house and the heart of the house." (No one at Michael's answered the phone when Yahoo Shine tried calling on Thursday.)
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A spokesperson from Zagat tells Yahoo Shine the company has not officially released a ranked listing of the best pizzerias in the nation. Michael's was recently named one of LA's favorite restaurants and the best budget Italian, and it is also one of the highest nationally rated pizzerias, according to a July survey. So, calling itself the best is a little shady, but claiming that the country's best pizza hails from La La Land? Well, for an iconic food like pizza, for which regional passions run deep, them's fightin' words.
In reference to which city boasts the top pies, one critic tweeted to the media outlets that reported Michael's boast:
"I'm from Na Haven, and I concur," agreed a commenter on Zagat's. "Best of the best. Why can't I find anything close here in Los Angeles?"
Another chimed in, "As soon as the rest of the country (outside of New York) taste actual pizza, can we redo this survey? In my travels across the US I've had meals that were good, but they weren't pizza. Nobody has NYC water that turns it from just dough into pizza dough."
Even a native Angeleno wrote on Michael's Facebook page, "Tall order being rated top pizza in the country, gonna have to check this out. Forgive me for being skeptical."
In the weeks leading up to October, National Pizza Month, Zagat toured the country, sampling pizza joints in every state. While it touted old standbys with a nod to regional varieties – the white clam pie from Frank Pepe's in Fairfield, Connecticut and Pizano's of Chicago's Pepperoni and Giardiniera pizza – Zagat's favorite pizzerias included plenty of surprises. Other top-rated restaurants include Big Kahuna's Pizza in Honolulu (pineapple, anyone?), Dough Pizzeria in Dallas, and Veraci Pizza in Seattle. Zagat's ratings are based on customer surveys and a tallied score that combines food, décor, service, and price.
Food writer Steven Coomes, who was formerly editor of Pizza Today and founded Pizzamarketplace.com, scoffs at the very idea of a top-rated pizza. "I get my back up anytime I hear someone saying 'the best,'" he tells Yahoo Shine. "It's hype, Zagat's isn't the unbiased guide it used to be. There is so much out there, how do you pick the best? [The quality of pizza] is tied to particular ingredients chosen that day and put into the hands of a particular pizza maker. To borrow a word from the wine industry, it's about the terroir."
He also points out that eating a good slice stimulates emotions that transcend flavor. "With equal fervor, people love really good pizza and really crappy pizza," he writes on his blog, "and for reasons that go far beyond a pizza maker's flour or oven choice." Coomes explains that eating a humble tomato and mozzarella pie brings up memories of family and of one's favorite childhood parlor – even if it was grease-glazed rubbery cheese on a soggy crust with the sound of the Pac-Man video game and pinball machine as background music. "I've covered the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiori, Italy," he adds, "and even the Italians make no claim that one is the best."
As for the Michael's Pizzeria brag, New York fans, at least, might want to hold back their Bronx cheers. Dene grew up eating pizza in Brooklyn, and his parents came from Naples, the birthplace of pizza. "Michael's Pizzeria was born out of necessity," he said in the Patch interview. "I wanted real Italian pizza, not the take-out, cardboard variety we're accustomed to eating in the United States."