Chefs Reveal Unexpected Pizza Toppings That Are Actually Delicious

Pizza restaurants can be found in pretty much every country — and as the dish moves around the world, it continues to evolve. Pizza toppings can sometimes be a contentious topic, however, especially when it involves (dare we say) pineapple. Many pizza lovers say pineapple pizza is untraditional, but in fact there's a long history of fruits as pizza toppings. There are tons of pizza styles, from deep dish to Neapolitan's thin crust. And, of course, there's a variety of sauces and toppings. 


In fact, chefs the world over can get super creative with pizza toppings — some even imparting their culinary heritage into the pizza they're making — resulting in some unexpected yet delicious flavor combinations. Which is why we've asked chefs about the unexpected pizza toppings they've chosen to serve at their restaurants — and, perhaps more importantly, why those toppings work so deliciously. 

Lemon Slices

Lemon has a lot of uses in food and cooking, from getting rid of the fishy smell of seafood to adding a sour component to desserts and cocktails. But lemon is actually quite versatile and it's not just for seafood and desserts. One of the hacks to brighten up frozen pizza is by squeezing some lemon on it, but what about making a pizza with actual lemon slices as the topping? 


Corner Pizza, which has locations in the San Diego area in California has a wonderful lemon and pesto pizza. It's a white pizza with garlic, mozzarella, pesto, red onions and lemon slices. "The key to this lemon pesto pie is the thinly sliced lemon which adds a brightness and perfect contrast to the pesto giving it a refreshing Mediterranean flavor profile," says Jimmy Maldonado, co-owner of Corner Pizza. Plus, lemon is a great source of Vitamin C so that makes the pizza a little healthier, right? Not that we're saying you should put lemon on pizza to, say, avoid a cold! 

Mole Sauce

Pizza has certainly taken on a new form by incorporating ingredients from different cultures. At Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co., a Latino-owned pizza spot in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, mole sauce takes the place of tomato sauce on this pizza. Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce typically made with chile, onion, garlic, other spices, and often chocolate.


"Our choice of mole on a pizza works well because the Mole Pizza is a flavorful substitute for tomato sauce," says chef Jorge Sandoval of Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. There are different types of mole sauces. According to Sandoval, their Poblano-style mole sauce "serves as a rich base for the Oaxaca Cheese and Mozzarella." Whether you make your own mole sauce or buy a premade version, you can replicate the same effect at home. 

Chinese sausage

Chinese sausage is a broad term but most commonly it refers to lap cheong, a type of Chinese sausage made from pork and pork fat that has been smoked and seasoned with Chinese rose wine and soy sauce, which gives it a sweet and savory flavor. There are a lot of creative ways to use Chinese sausage, and that includes using it as a pizza topping. 


Shins Pizza in Los Angeles serves up a meat pizza that is topped with Chinese sausage, speck, pepperoni, and sambal. Chef Melissa Lopez, executive chef at Shins Pizza loves "how sweet and savory the Chinese sausage is and it pairs so well with the smokey speck, the spicy pepperoni, and the vinegary sambal that we use to garnish the pie. We steam the sausage so that it retains most of its fat, when we cook it in the pizza oven it releases some of the fat and flavors the pizza so well."

Potato Chips

Who doesn't love potato chips? Salty, flavorful — and importantly, crispy. And get this: It's been scientifically proven that when we eat crunchy potato chips, the sounds are also important for our enjoyment. And so, since the crunchy texture of food goes a long way, why not incorporate potato chips on pizza? 


For chef James Trees of Esther's Kitchen in Las Vegas, potato chips on pizza just makes sense. "I love potatoes on pizza!!" he says. "We use potato chips on pizzas for texture and they work really well." At Esther's Kitchen he serves a Brussels sprouts pizza with potato chips that they make in-house using fingerling potatoes. If you're ambitious, you can also fry your own potatoes, but even bagged potato chips would go a long way to add a crunchy texture to pizzas. The hack isn't just limited to pizza, of course. You can spruce up a peanut butter & jelly sandwich with potato chips, no problem. 


Tomato isn't the only vegetables that can be used as a sauce for pizza. There are a number of alternatives to the classic tomato pizza sauce, from pesto to Alfredo sauce. Rosso Pomodoro, the Naples-based pizza chain responsible for the La Pizza & Pasta restaurants at Eataly locations across North America, has created quite a unique pizza for Eataly: The Delicata Pizza which features a puree of yellow zucchini instead of tomato sauce. The Delicata Pizza is then topped with mozzarella cheese, yellow zucchini chips and shaved Pecorino Romano DOP cheese. 


"The name 'Delicata' reflects its light and delicate flavor profile, derived from the subtle taste of the yellow zucchini squash, which also contributes to its vibrant color," says Marzio Orzano, food and beverage director at Rosso Pomodoro, "The combination of sweet notes from the veggie components and savory richness from the Pecorino Romano creates a harmonious culinary experience."


Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine, served as a side dish pretty much at every meal, whether eating barbecue or noodles. In the melting pot that is the United States, that extends to pizza. For chef Mario Alberto, Oliviarestaurant in Los Angeles, the concept of kimchi on a pizza is not an unusual thing since he grew up in Los Angeles, a city that has the largest Koreatown in the U.S.


"My favorite snack after stumbling home was cold pizza with kimchi," says chef Alberto. "It was always the perfect late night snack." Alberto later realized that the flavors reminded him of a pupusa and "the only difference was the vehicle it came on." At Olivia, he serves two pizzas with kimchi: One with gruyere, gouda, and jalapeño, and a non-dairy version with kale and sunflower mozzarella. 

Pittsburgh-based food truck Blue Sparrow has a kimchi and pork belly pizza that has proven quite popular. "Kimchi naturally brings spicy, sour, and umami to any pizza," says Luke Cypher, chef and owner of Blue Sparrow. Cypher likes the way kimchi pairs with the "creamy, fatty nature of mozzarella."

Rapini or Broccoli Rabe

Rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, is not an unusual pizza topping in Italy, but in the United States it has only been more popular in recent years. Broccoli rabe pizza certainly wasn't a common thing when Giuseppe Gentile, executive chef of L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Hollywood, first came to the U.S. in 2005. According to Gentile, back then, "No one liked or knew rapini and it was something only southern Italians knew how to appreciate." 


In Italy, rapini is commonly prepared with garlic, olive oil, Calabrian chile, and sausage. "The bitter taste paired with sweet Italian sausage and that kick of chile or black pepper makes it the perfect dish — on a pizza, in a panino, or as a side with prosciutto," explains chef Gentile. These days, rapini and Italian sausage pizza can be found on menus beyond L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele – you'll find this unexpected pairing at Neapolitan pizza restaurants throughout the U.S. 

Smoked Salmon

There's no reason why bagel toppings wouldn't work on pizza — after all, pizza and bagels are made with dough. Legend has it that famed chef Wolfgang Puck, Spago in Beverly Hills, used to have smoked salmon with brioche on his menu — when Puck ran out of bread one night he improvised with pizza dough. The now-famous pizza is made with dill crème fraîche, smoked salmon, caviar, and caramelized shallots. The pizza is intricately linked with California cuisine and has been a staple at the glitzy Governors Ball Oscar's afterparty.


The smoked salmon pizza made it to Spago's menu in 1982 and it has been replicated many times over, which just shows how well smoked salmon works as a pizza topping. While Spago no longer has the pizza on the dinner menu, the option is available on their bar menu. Of course, you can also make this smoked salmon pizza at home.