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A man holds pizza dough over his knuckles in a loose, thin sheet in a Portland, Oregon backyard.
Neven Mrgan stretching dough while making pizza at home.
Courtesy of Neven Mrgan

Neven Mrgan’s Guide to Portland Pizza

The game designer known for his work at Panic Inc. — and his home-baked pizza hobby — shares his favorite spots to buy a pie in Portland

When Panic Inc. designer Neven Mrgan isn’t working on iPhone games about censorship or aphasia, he’s often making pizza. Mrgan comes from a family of pizza aficionados: He grew up in Croatia, which has a thriving pizza scene thanks to its adjacency to Italy. His Italian uncle would often cook for the family, and pizza was in his regular rotation. While in college, Mrgan wanted to learn how to make pizza himself, and his mom gave him a primer. “I made my fair share of completely terrible college kid pizzas,” he says. “I’ve always been unfortunately opinionated about food and pizza, and I spent my early years knowing what was good and what’s not but not really knowing how to do it.”

But when he moved to Portland, Mrgan found himself awestruck by the quality of the city’s pizza — long before it became a topic of conversation. The local scene inspired him to experiment with his own pies, playing with sourdough, different ovens, and toppings like adobo roast pork or braised cabbage. “I would eat something in a restaurant, and wanted to recreate it at home,” he says. “That’s how things really started.” We asked Mrgan where he gets his pizza when he isn’t baking it at home, whether it’s topped with palak paneer or just straight-up marinara.


Apizza Scholls

“This is the best pizza I’ve had anywhere — that I’ve eaten in any country. It’s not a wildly unique style, they’re not making it with coconut flour or anything, but nowhere else nails that style of dough and bake. Nowadays, we go for the margherita, because I go with the kids and they’re a little picky. If I’m ordering something for myself, I get the Amore with the capicola, or the Bianca with the whole strips of bacon on it. There’s no bad pizza at Apizza Scholls; we’ve had them all.”

Nostrana

“My favorite pizza there is their marinara, but it’s basically just tomato and a little oregano. It’s like eating a really good bowl of pasta: The lack of cheese just puts it in a completely different context. They often do seafood, which I love, I’m a big fan of that. But the marinara, that one is just so simple and precise, and they use wild oregano. It sounds so froofy to say that it’s better than the oregano you buy at the store, but it is. Plus, because that feels like a light meal, I can get other things.”

Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty

“The dough here is super good, the whole wheat percentage there is great — it doesn’t taste like hippie pizza. The fact she sticks to seasonal toppings, interesting cheeses, it has that feel of, ‘Well, this is what is in season, this is what’s in the garden, so this is what we’re eating.’ It’s a really inviting place, it’s not so in-your-face, but if you go in and say, ‘Hey, I want a pepperoni pizza,’ they’ll be like, ‘There’s nothing like that here.’ I like a pizza place that does a lot of different things; if you go every six weeks, you’ll be able to eat a new thing basically every time.”

Ranch PDX

“When I first heard about Ranch, I was mostly uninterested because it’s thick squares with tons of toppings on top; that’s not usually what I gravitate toward. But when I tried it, I really liked it. It’s over-the-top, it’s decadent, and when I’m feeling like something like that, I think they do that style the best: It’s a really good bake, they get a really good cheese crown around it, a really great dough texture, really saucy, really salty. Before eating here a lot, I didn’t like ranch even on salads, but their ranch is just so good. It’s really dilly, it doesn’t taste like that powder, and it goes so well with the pizza. It’s an unlikely story, me liking a big saucy pizza with a bunch of toppings, but it really works for me.”

Scottie’s Pizza Parlor

“To me, Scottie’s is a perfect neighborhood spot. It is small, it is incredibly friendly, Scottie himself is the sweetest person in the world, and they do really great crowd-pleaser pizza. You can take anyone there and they’ll find something they like. But they put so much thought into it — It’s not like, ‘We bought a crust from a nearby bakery and put some toppings on it.’ They do a sourdough, and he does the two-oven bake. It’s both friendly and approachable, but behind all of that is a really thoughtful approach to how you could do pizza differently.”

Hapa Pizza

“I went when they were at the Park Blocks downtown, when they were there for one of those festivals, and I like a lot about it. They are a very small operation, two people with two Roccbox ovens out there, and they’re doing this irreverent pizza, these banh mi, pho-style pizzas. But also, they’re doing it really well, rethinking how to do it. For a banh mi pizza, they can’t do the bread, they can’t do the mayo because it’ll melt in. So they’re doing it really simply, and then saucing it post-bake. They put thought into how to recreate a food as a pizza, a little more than just putting the same stuff that you’d put on a sandwich on a pizza. I just want to see people do way more of that.”

Bombay Pizza & Curry

“You get to eat Indian food on a slice of pizza. You’re eating a wedge of something, but you get to eat tandoori chicken or palak paneer. Why not just eat the original dish? Well, the novelty, but they also change the textures, the experience. I think that’s the next frontier of pizza, accepting that you don’t have to choose from those same eight toppings. Pizza is the medium, not a dish — whatever flavors you happen to like, you can make it into a pizza.”

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