Every week since news broke that pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri would be closing his essential SoMa pizza shop, I've wondered whether I could squeeze in one last visit. I’ve managed to get in a few more through sheer force of worry, but because I'll be spending the holidays back East with family, I'll miss the last service on December 23. My chances are gone.
In my brief time as a San Francisco resident, Una Pizza Napoletana has been something of a lifeline for me. The San Francisco of 2016 and 2017, the two years I've lived here, isn't an easy city to love. It's shockingly expensive, the public services are broken, and the tech sector seems to have remade the city's character in its image. I don't think the gorgeous setting makes up for that. I'm pretty sure I don't love San Francisco, but I knew right away that I loved Una Pizza.
Years before I did, Anthony Mangieri packed up and left New York City for San Francisco. He was already a well-known figure for the work he did at Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan, with the lines to prove it. He left New York City in 2009, the year I moved in and started working in the restaurant industry. In 2010, Mangieri set up shop in SoMa, and nobody was surprised that he had a hit on his hands.
I first wrote about Una Pizza while I still lived in New York, before I ever had the chance to try it for myself. In my conversation with Mangieri, I learned about how he flips the dough only three times to avoid touching it too much and how he cooks three pies at a time in a "train" formation in his oven. Here was a true obsessive.
When I moved to San Francisco in the beginning of 2016, for my then-boyfriend now-husband's work, one of the first restaurants we checked out was Una Pizza. I was immediately won over. It was simply unlike anything I had ever eaten; sure it's Neapolitan, and there are plenty of Neapolitan pies back in New York, but none that match the phenomenal tang of the Una Pizza crust. It's nearly a sourdough. (As I'd learn as I kept eating my way around San Francisco, that made it remarkably San Franciscan.)
The Una Pizza menu didn't change week to week or month to month. The only thinking I had to do was whether to order one or two extra pies for the table. My personal order was always the Filetti, its silky buffalo mozzarella and zingy cherry tomatoes a perfect foil for the charred, chewy crust. The Margherita was the platonic ideal of the form, while the Ilaria a fun change of pace with its fresh arugula. I regret how long it took to me to order the Bianca; once I did, I reveled in its simplicity. I tore into it with my hands, cursing myself for having been blind to its virtues so long.
The whole mise en scene of Una Pizza reflected its clarity of purpose. Smack dab in the middle, right in front of the double glass front doors is Mangieri's work station. A single counter opposite a large wood-burning oven; seating at unclothed tables, stage-right. There wasn't much set dressing to speak of. There didn't need to be. Watching Mangieri make the pies, load them up onto the long peel, and then pivot his body towards the oven, delivering the pies into its heat, was plenty to watch. The pies come out as quickly as Mangieri can make them. One out-of-town friend my husband and I took last month — and we were always taking out-of-towners — remarked that he felt like a parishioner in a church. I felt the same, too.
Of course there's other great pizza in San Francisco. But it's not only the pizza I went to Una Pizza for. I went to Una to bask in the glow of someone else's mastery. It's the same feeling I got at sushi counters in Tokyo (and Japanese Neapolitan masters seem to take a similar approach). To be served by one true expert, to have the privilege of experiencing so directly and so viscerally the fruits of a lifetime of learning and labor. I hated when people would complain about the price. You can't put a dollar figure on expertise like this. And if you could, I bet it would cost even more.
And now Mangieri's going back to New York. As I consider what I want from my own future, I wonder if he's onto something.
He's joining forces with the dynamic Contra-Wildair duo of Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauske Valtierra. Their new venture will see Mangieri's pizzas supplemented by a to-be-revealed menu of snacks and bites. It sounds great. I think a lot of people would like to go to a restaurant like that.
But I needed a restaurant like Una — my Una — to make San Francisco feel like a place I wanted to be. The restaurant my husband and I went to with our visiting friends and family to show off our new home, where we went on random Thursdays, just us. A place where I could feel what made San Francisco special, what made it good.
A place where things made sense because everything was designed with one, simple goal: To create and serve perfect pizza. I craved its constancy as much as its soul-satisfying flavors. I'll miss it terribly.