PHLReview

Down North Pizza review image
8.8

Down North Pizza

$$$$

2804 W Lehigh Ave, Philadelphia
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Down North Pizza in North Philly is more than just a comfortable neighborhood slice shop where you’ll hear staff cracking jokes and possibly catch a few seconds of Modern Family on the TV. It’s also one of the first places we recommend whenever somebody wants a great pizza in Philly.

Each pie—ranging from $22-$27—comes with six thick slices and makes us feel like we’re watching the Iverson step over for the first time when lifting the brim on the takeout box. No matter which pizza you pick here, you’re guaranteed to get a slice with a super-doughy center, copious amounts of cheese, and a charred outer crust acting as a crackly border.  

The 10 Detroit-style specialty pizzas here, named after songs by Meek Mill, Freeway, Major Figgas, and a few other rappers, come topped with a garlic honey drizzle, beef pepperoni, onions, peppers, lamb sausage, and plenty of other options. But it’s one of their simpler cheese pizzas, Roc The Mic, that's our favorite and really shows why the pizzas here are some of the finest in the city. It only has three toppings on it–beef pepperoni, mozzarella, and Norf Sauce–but it’s overflowing with flavor. The pepperoni is razor-thin and the subtly sweet red sauce, which is zigzagged over the pizza, drenches every crunchy edge and has a distinct basil flavor. It’s really the sauce that makes this pie the headliner and better than any similar option at a corner slice shop—it has a honeyed tanginess that we plan our weeks around just so we can taste it again.

Down North Pizza review image

While the pizza is the main event here, the rest of the menu has worthwhile add-ons that can round out a meal. The hand-cut fries can be sprinkled with Old Bay, moist chunks of crab, chips of beef bacon, or cheese. But since most of the pizzas juggle a few toppings, you’re better off going for the naked fries. They’re shoestring-style and maintain their crunch better than other choices that come bathing in a few sauces. And with a vegan section on the menu, featuring things like oyster mushroom and vegan cheese-topped pizzas to cauliflower wings, there’s enough range on the menu for most groups to find something they’ll want. 

Down North is also a place that’s not shy about its mission. Any person heading into the neighborhood takeout spot will see a mural with the bold letters, “The Journey To End Mass Incarceration” behind the counter. At its core, Down North Pizza has an empowering workforce development plan which includes hiring solely previously incarcerated individuals.

While that quest is one of the reasons we’re talking about this spot nonstop, we have another one: whether you’re walking in for a quick weekday bite or coming here as a reward for sending two emails before noon, Down North serves some of the best pizza in the city—perfect for any game day, night in with a glass of merlot, or picnic in FDR Park.

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Food Rundown

Roc The Mic

This perfectly balanced pizza, with zigzagging rows of sweet basil sauce over a layer of mozzarella and chunks of beef pepperoni, is our favorite thing here. The tomato spread doesn’t go overboard on the sugar scale making this pie a perfect mix of oily beef pepperoni and gooey cheese.

Break You Off

With the right ingredients, pizza can be a form of self-care. We’re specifically talking about this blend of peppery lamb sausage and whipped ricotta on a bed of mozzarella. Sprinkled with za'atar and drizzled with garlic honey to give it a nutty taste, this pizza is a dreamy mashup of creaminess, spice, and earthiness.

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Flipside

We know the war on pineapples on pizza is settled, but if the battle was still brewing, the long slices of caramelized pineapples on this pizza would spark a peace treaty—the fruit manages to be crispy while still maintaining its juicy bursts. Topped with beef bacon, pickled jalapeños, and BBQ sauce, this is a pizza that you’ll be thinking about for days after you try it.

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Norf Fries

These shoestring fries are smothered in cheese sauce, beef bacon, and barbecue sauce. Because of the spread overload, they kind of lose their crispness, can get soggy, and messy (keep a fork on standby) if you aren’t eating them right away. Thankfully, the barbecue smokiness and cheesy mild sweetness is still enjoyable no matter what texture the fries are in. These are our favorites here, but if you want something simple, you can always get an order of naked fries.

Down North Pizza review image

Honey Chipotle Wings

The wings here are on the smaller side, but they’re beautifully cooked. The skin crackles, and yet the meat is so tender that it falls off the bone during each bite. When tossed in their honey chipotle sauce, the way the syrupy and peppery glaze blends with the meat make them some flawless wings. One thing to know: if you don’t see the wings online when ordering, request them at the counter and they might be able to whip some up for you.

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