Craig and Annie Stoll knew as soon as they met that they’d someday be in the restaurant business together. Annie had studied restaurant management and was a front of house manager and Craig had trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America. “On our first date, all we talked about was restaurants,” recalls Annie. “By our second, we were already discussing opening a restaurant together.”
In 1998, the couple opened Delfina, a casual elegant trattoria in the Mission District that focused on farmers market-driven Italian cuisine—and won a James Beard award for its efforts. But as East Coast natives—Annie is from Philadelphia and Craig is from the NYC suburbs—they knew what was really missing in San Francisco was a superb pizza place, the kind that served the New York style pies they had grown up eating.
So when the junk shop next to Delfina closed its doors and the space became available, the Stolls saw their chance to introduce the West Coast to pizza the way it should be prepared. In 2005, they opened Pizzeria Delfina, cranking out pies that are a cross between traditional Neapolitan and New York style. Craig traveled to Naples, Italy several times to learn the art of Neapolitan style pies and then married that with the New York style pizza of his youth.
The main difference: unlike traditional Neapolitan pizza, which is made in a wood-burning oven, Pizzeria Delfina cooks their pies in deck ovens (ovens that stack on top of one another). “Our first location was too small for a wood-burning oven, but we found that the pizzas turned out consistently crispy and beautiful in the deck ovens,” says Annie. “And they traveled so much better because they don’t get soggy.” (A plus if Uber Eats is delivering your pie.)
But it’s not just the pizza that keeps customers coming back. Pizzeria Delfina, which now has five locations, including its newest one Downtown across from the MOMA, is also known for its super fresh pasta plates (their spaghetti Pomodoro is a fan favorite), citrusy salads, and veggie dishes dictated by what’s available at the farmers market. “All of our menus are a little bit different because each chef goes to the farmers market on their own and they have the freedom to be creative,” says Annie.
Which results in dishes like their carciofi—artichokes, mozzarella, wild arugula and ricotta salata—or beets with marinated farro and goat cheese. They also do “Fried Chicken Mondays” which are well received, and change their menu every Wednesday to reflect what’s in season.
From a pizza perspective, however, the Margherita is the most popular. “It’s simple and delicious. Our pizzas are craveable food,” says Annie, “and it’s that simplicity and craveability that has led to Pizzeria Delfina’s overwhelming popularity.”
Though their latest location, which is housed in the former site of a famed Italian deli, has only been open since late last year, it’s already on track to become their busiest. And like anything worth its sauce, the Stolls have attracted their fair share of imitators: now there’s a Neapolitan pizzeria on practically every block in The City By the Bay. But the Stolls aren’t worried about the competition. As Annie puts it, “we’re the OG.”