As a New Yorker, it's blasphemous for me to have store-bought frozen pizza in my apartment. There are so many dollar slices within a two-block radius that are not only less expensive, but also more delicious.
But not everyone has the luxury of hot, cheesy, greasy, carb-filled goodness at a moment's notice, and not many can be bothered to order delivery from chains named after a patriarch and/or a tile-based game.
So the last resort is a frozen pizza.
To say that I'm a cheese pizza expert is a bit of an understatement. I feel like I've sampled NYC's finest and have been armed with the palate to take on nine of the most popular subpar frozen varieties.
As with all food, cheese pizza is quite subjective - some prefer a balanced ratio of sauce to cheese, and don't even get me started on the thin versus fluffy crust debate. Thus, it should come as no surprise that taste and taste alone was the No. 1 criteria in this ever-so-important ranking.
Check out how the pies stacked up.
9. 365 by Whole Foods Market Four Cheese Rising Crust Pizza
This was, by far, the most memorable pizza of the bunch, but not for the right reasons. It was extremely garlic and spice-heavy, which packed way too big of a punch. Unfortunately, that took away from the cheese and crust combo, which really only served as texture plays, but also not for the right reasons: They were very greasy, soggy and just not palatable. Whole Foods missed the mark on this one, which had me feeling anything but whole … just hungry.
8. California Pizza Kitchen Four Cheese Crispy Thin Crust Pizza
Off the bat, the smoked gouda was a touch too overpowering. While I did appreciate the four-cheese blend with herbs like thyme, there just wasn't a harmonious balance between each of them. Also, this pizza was going through a bit of an identity crisis. Was it flatbread? Was it pizza? Was it a communion wafer? Spots were soft and chewy while others were crispy. And in some areas the cheese extended to the edges, while other portions felt like a middle school dance where an arm's width apart was the requirement. I wanted to like this because restaurant CPK is always a good time (even though I had my most severe case of food poisoning after eating a mango chicken pie in college), but it just fell short ... and even sour. (Seriously, what is in that freakin' smoked gouda?)
7. Newman's Own Thin & Crispy Crust Four Cheese Pizza
Something is in the four-cheese-pizza water because, like CPK, America's favorite philanthropist's iteration just didn't rise to the occasion. It was very one-noted, except this time a salty Parmesan emerged in the battle for taste-bud attention. I didn't mind the crust, which tasted "grainy," if you will, but the lack of sauce really drove the nail in my first slice's coffin.
6. Tombstone Original Five Cheese Pizza
I have distinct memories of playing "Oregon Trail," dying of dysentery and being asked, "What would you like on your tombstone?" The running joke was to put pizza toppings so that the next person to play would read "Here Lies Cheese, Pepperoni and Mushrooms." While I didn't entirely hate this pie, its uninspired recipe could have definitely benefited from toppings. Tombstone is only as good as the ingredients on top of it, which is why I am a huge fan of the company's Supreme variety (which, frankly, would blow most of this competition out of the oven).
5. Trader Joe's Organic 3-Cheese Pizza
If you're looking for the one that tastes most like the concoction served in your middle school cafeteria, this is it. And while it's not shaped like a rectangle, the cheese congealed, the sauce was sweet (and not tomato-y) and the crust was, dare I say, more like a pita? That said, I certainly didn't mind the nostalgia (and the fact that it was organic). In fact, it was in desperate need of the crumbled sausage that adorned it when JNCO Jeans were cool and Tamagotchis were collectively dying across the country.
4. DiGiorno Four Cheese Rising Crust Pizza
"It's not delivery, it's Digiorno." No crap. The distinct flavor brought me back to the days of my mom not wanting to cook dinner and firing up one of these bad boys. Where DiGiorno shone was its pillowy crust that really did "rise" to great lengths. The cheese also melted and coated the entire surface flawlessly, resulting in ooey-gooey mozzarella strands worthy of an Instagram Reel. But there is something about DiGiorno's sauce that always rubs me the wrong way. It's certainly not horrible, but it's unique enough to have eaters not only say ,"It's not delivery," but also, "It's not really legit pizza." And yet, I'll never turn it down when offered.
3. Freschetta Naturally Rising Crust Four Cheese Pizza
Those who are extremely picky about their crust will revel in Freschetta's naturally rising recipe that was, bar none, the best-tasting one on this list. Where Frechetta lost points was balance - there was entirely too much crust to earn this a gold or even silver medal. That said, the flavors were bold and oddly fresh (I guess it lived up to its name) and it cooked perfectly in the oven without a trace of sogginess or burnt ends. I'd love to customize this one with my own favorite toppings since the foundation is already deserving of a solid A.
2. Rao's Five Cheese Brick Oven Crust Pizza
OK, so I may be a bit biased after ranking Rao's marinara as my (spoiler alert) No. 1 jarred sauce, but what did you expect? The brand knows how to deliver a product that tastes the most authentically Italian, which is saying a lot considering I come from a big Italian family where pizza was practically its own section in the daily food pyramid. This pizza is no exception, boasting a crispy but soft and dense crust that actually tasted like it came from a brick oven. My only gripe is that it was a touch too salty, which is saying a lot for someone who keeps a shaker on standby. But that signature sauce … woof. I could guzzle it through a funnel.
1. Red Baron Classic Crust Four Cheese Pizza
Be gone with your negativity. It may be one of the cheapest options, but Red Baron proves you don't need expensive ingredients to deliver on flavor. In fact, for a pie so well-priced, it didn't skimp on cheese or sauce, which made me heart every layered bite oh-so-very much. The crust was, indeed, quite thin, but I love a pizza where the toppings do all of the talking. Add a dash of Tabasco for a kick and enjoy a slice of 'za that anyone, both young and old, can get behind.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com