One of Portland’s finest Italian restaurants quietly opened a new pizzeria downtown. It’s great

Editor’s note: This week, we’re celebrating the pizza in all its modern glory, highlighting everything from a refined Neapolitan spot downtown to new pizzas with globe-trotting toppings, leading up to our guide to Portland’s best new pizzerias of 2023. Stay tuned to

For the past 12 years, Mucca Osteria has held it down in downtown Portland, serving burrata-filled prosciutto roses, leaning towers of caprese and other refined Italian fare on a Southwest Morrison Street block better known for affordable Mexican and Indian (and the many rumbling MAX trains).

About three months ago, Rome-born chef Simone Savaiano and wife Katherine Chaya quietly opened a new restaurant with a familiar name in the former Persian House space next door to Mucca. The new restaurant — Mucca Pizzeria — specializes in Savaiano’s take on Neapolitan pizza, as well as house-made gelato and supplì al telefono, the Roman-style rice croquettes known for the “telephone wires” of melted cheese formed when you break them apart.

Inside, the space is all mirrors and marble, with fresh-cut flowers at the host stand and a Kramer-esque painting of a chef holding a wicker basket of produce in one hand, his face in the other. (We found it on the Amalfi coast,” Savaiano says. “I feel that it describes the life of a cook, so much beauty that comes only with hard work and sometimes struggles.”)

A painting of a chef holding vegetables in one hand and his face in the other hangs on the wall at Mucca Pizzeria, a new Neapolitan pizza spot downtown.

A painting of a chef holding vegetables in one hand and his face in the other hangs on the wall at Mucca Pizzeria, a new Neapolitan pizza spot downtown.Courtesy of Mucca Pizzeria

Like many Portland pizzerias, including Apizza Scholls, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, Pan Con Queso, Mucca uses an electric PizzaMaster oven, a brand prized for its efficiency and high heat. Savaiano and his team — including sous chefs Susan Yang and Nikolas Lula and maître d’ Monika Deliova — have played around with Shepherd’s Grain flour from Washington State and other local ingredients, and lean on a poolish to kick-start the fermentation process.

That rules out being named a “true” Neapolitan pizzeria by the major certification organizations, which require the use of wood-fired ovens, Italian ingredients and more. But in most other respects, Mucca sticks fairly close to the Neapolitan style. The margherita is classically topped with tomato sauce, good mozzarella and wispy basil, the green-white-red color scheme created to resemble the Italian flag. And there’s a mortadella pie with plush pink folds of meat, pistachios and a pesto that — nitpick alert — I wished were a little less processed (a fresher salsa verde with a little more lemon kick would better offset the salty meat). We still enjoyed it.

Even in these early days, Mucca belongs in the top tier of Neapolitan-style pizzerias in Portland, including Otto, Reeva, Vancouver’s La Sorrentina and of course Ken’s. It’s significantly better than the pizza I had at Nostrana in May. Our service at Mucca was friendly and attentive.

Compared to fellow newcomers Hapa and Pan Con Queso, Mucca Pizzeria is more traditional when it comes to toppings. But that doesn’t mean there’s no experimentation. On a recent visit, one pizza was inspired by amatriciana pasta, with guanciale, red sauce and pecorino romano. The plain tomato-cheese supplì was joined by a pepper-spiked cacio e pepe version, while a third was stuffed with nduja, the spreadable Calabrian sausage.

A mortadella, pistachio and pesto pizza from Mucca Pizzeria opened a Neapolitan pizzeria in the space next door.

Downtown Portland’s Mucca Osteria quietly opened a Neapolitan pizzeria in the space next door.Michael Russell | The Oregonian

Savaiano and his team are also making their own gelato, with an impressive lineup of flavors such as chocolate-hazelnut, amaretto folded with amaretti cookies and a classic fior di latte available with strawberry compote or lemon curd served in squat martini glasses. The flavors aren’t quite as distinct as Southeast Division Street’s great Pinolo Gelato yet, but the texture is right.

Given its location two blocks from the central library, you might not be surprised to learn that Mucca has spent the past three years dealing with broken windows (and worse). We were curious, then, why Savaiano and Chaya chose to double down on downtown, rather than pulling up stakes and moving to the suburbs, where Mucca and its new pizzeria would surely be met with open arms.

“Don’t remind me,” Savaiano says with a laugh. “When all these crazy things happened, I was thinking, ‘This is the time, I’m going, I’m leaving, I’m just going to close everything.’ But then something clicked. I put my head down again, and I saw the reaction of my regulars: ‘Please don’t give up.’ And then I realized, this is my passion, this is my business, this is my place in the world.”

According to Savaiano, that commitment has paid off.

“You know how many restaurants have closed,” Savaiano said. “We’re busier now than we were before. And I used that momentum to open this new place, which I hope helps the area in a way. It is sad, but I’m optimistic. I can see that we are getting out of the dark side, little by little.”

Next up? Savaiano is scouting for a location for a stand-alone gelateria.

He’s looking downtown.

Visit Mucca Pizzeria from 5 to 9 p.m. (or slightly later) Wednesday-Saturday at 1026 S.W. Morrison St., 503-841-5062,

— Michael Russell;

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