Perfect pizza is at the ‘Place’ on Noriega 

My tennis teacher Marty — chiseled body, big chin, classic strokes, strictly public court — is picky when it comes to dinner. He likes it fresh, simple and hearty. Ever since I raved about The Pizza Place on Noriega trying to catch my breath during overhead drill, he has been traveling from North Beach almost to Ocean Beach to eat there.

An athletic guy like Marty fits in with the broad-shouldered surfer dudes hanging at the bar drinking pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon ($9). Marty orders exactly one pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ($4).

But plenty of families with little kids and characteristically pale locals have made The Pizza Place their place.

Pizza this good does not happen by accident. Two friends from Boston, Dave Ashin and Kevin Baryza, who cooked around town in such kitchens as Fish, Acquerello, Farallon and Blue Plate, missed the pizza from their childhood, so they decided to make their own — the best version of comfort food pizza I've ever devoured.

Thin, elastic, crisp, flavorful crusts in monster rounds are topped with lots of stuff always in perfect proportion. The pies emerge from the gas pizza oven golden and fragrant. The waiters whisk them to metal stands at the tables.

While every pizza eater harbors her own love, my valentine at PPON is Rotten Robby ($17.99), a meaty pie paved with tuffets of Italian sausage, mushrooms, pesto, tomato sauce, mozzarella and slices of jalapeño. It smolders excitingly, not menacingly, on the tongue, and the toppings elegantly blend.

The Dimitri ($17.95), slathered with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, tomato sauce, cheese and little mounds of minced garlic, tastes completely different than the Robby, and just as winning. I even adore the Veggie ($16.99), an integrated yet distinctive mix of raw and cured ingredients.

While you wait for your pizza, share a big plate of roasted cauliflower ($5), oven-charred, scented with orange zest and perked up with black olives and red onion.Also, don't miss the dreamy iceberg salad ($4.50), a pile of crunchy torn lettuce tossed with walnuts, radishes, shredded carrots, parsley and a sharp blue cheese dressing based on a vinaigrette.

Save room for dessert — either the Sunset sundae ($5), Häagen-Dazs chocolate and vanilla with house-made chocolate and caramel sauces, whipped cream and chopped peanuts ; or a little square of lovely tiramisu, imported from Italy ($5).

Tumblers ($6) or bottles ($24) of nondescript wine are certainly reasonable, but pizza this good deserves something better. Bring your own and pay the $12 corkage.

The windowed corner space in a residential neighborhood has two high ceilinged rooms — a barroom with pizza oven and a dining room with wooden tables and stackable chairs. The walls are decorated with oil paintings by local artists. A mounted wooden sculpture of a blue Lincoln with rotating pizza tires sets an upbeat tone, as do the Police, reggae and ’70s rock on the sound system.

The chef/owners, who both live nearby, opened The Pizza Place a year ago because they wanted to serve their community. But their pizzeria is so ideal, people from all over the city should be flocking there. Two bus lines run right by it; the N-Judah stops four blocks away. And you can bike there. No hills, no problem. The Pizza Place on Noriega is a destination for anyone who loves a great pizza. Isn't that everyone?

Patricia Unterman is author of the "San Francisco Food Lovers' Pocket Guide" and a newsletter, "Unterman on Food." Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

The Pizza Place on Noriega

» Location: 3901 Noriega St., San Francisco

» Contact: (415) 759-5752; www.pizzaplacesf.com

» Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; noon to 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Tuesday

» Price range: Salads and starters, $2 to $7; pizza, $15.99 for medium; $2.50 per slice

» Recommended dishes: Iceberg salad, roasted cauliflower, Rotten Robby pizza, The Dimitri pizza, Veggie pizza, make your own slices, tiramisu, Sunset sundae

» Credit cards: Visa and Mastercard

» Reservations: Not accepted

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Patricia Unterman

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