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Bella Mia 

Bella Mia's coal-fired pizza oven

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Bella Mia's coal-fired pizza oven

It takes a lot to make Triangle foodie believers of some folks, especially if they hail from northern climes. Say you have a friend like this. You regale him with tales of South Indian dosas in Cary's Little India and the fleets of taco trucks lining Hillsborough Road in Durham. You treat him to a five-course meal at the Fearrington House. You feed him kale and ricotta salata panini at Toast, grits soufflé at Magnolia Grill, hibiscus flower paletas at LocoPops, white chocolate baguettes at La Farm Bakery.

He shrugs, turns to you and says, "Yeah, but where can you get a great pizza?"

Sadly, until recently, the answer was "nowhere." There was good pizza, tasty pizza, both the satisfyingly greasy variety and the fussily topped gourmet version. But nowhere existed a truly superlative lets-line-up-at-the-door-and-wait-an-hour-oh-my-God-let's-come-back-again-tomorrow pizza.

Enter Bella Mia. In a slick Cary shopping plaza, it's the physical antithesis of the stereotypical Naples pizzeria. No rickety tables and grimy white tiles here. Bella Mia is all gleaming surfaces and artfully mosaic-covered walls. Don't let the decor fool you. This is as close to the real-deal Neapolitan-style coal-fired pizza as you'll find anywhere in America. Chewy, salty, flavorfully scorched, the crusts are a masterpiece—and they ought to be.

They're the brainchild of owner Rick Guerra, a former New York vegetable importer who spent years researching the elements of the perfect pie before opening Bella Mia earlier this year.

You can choose your own toppings, starting with the basic mozzarella-and-basil margarita ($9.50) and building up to the prosciutto, house-made meatballs and roast zucchini. (Toppings range from $2–$2.50.) Or go for one of the specialty pies. I'm particularly fond of the Bleecker Street (fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and slivers of Parmigiano Reggiano, all topped with a tangle of peppery arugula ($13) and the West 4th (a four-cheese pie oozing with milky mozzarella and ricotta, leavened with basil ($13).

Sides and salads are subtle and lovely. Try the rucola salad (small $4, large $7), a simple masterpiece of baby arugula, tomatoes and shaved parmesan, all tossed in a sharp, lemony dressing. Calzones ($11) are great too. But let's face it, it's all about the pizza here.

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