Sometimes a place is so real, so pure, so honest, you can’t help but love it.
That’s Bufalina. Novice restaurateur/chef Steven Dilley runs the place. Before that, he was a corporate money manager or something. But it really doesn’t matter. What he does now is his true calling: He makes pizza. Damn good pizza. The kind like they make in Naples, Italy, pizza’s birthplace. Like they make in acclaimed US spots like Kesté in NYC, Tony’s in San Francisco, Pomo in Phoenix, and Dough in San Antonio. Bufalina ranks with the best of them.
Dilley spent time in Naples studying pizza and it shows. His pies are the real deal: light, chewy dough with a crispy, blistered crust. His Marinara—the benchmark for true Neapolitan pizza—is as good as I’ve had in Naples. Bufalina’s is simplistic perfection: tomatoes, garlic and oregano. That’s all. No cheese. No meat. No bells and whistles. Just pure, clean flavors. The Margherita is equally good, topped with excellent hand-pulled mozzarella. A half-dozen other rotating choices include the Calabrese with spicy salami, the Fresca with prosciutto and arugula, and the Nduja with tomatoes and caramelized onions.
Besides pizza, there are only a handful of other menu items, yet all are brilliantly executed. Salads are miniature works of art. Simple and sublime, they’re made with the freshest local ingredients and studded with surprising additions like fresh tarragon or marigold petals. Meat and cheese plates are lovingly sliced and composed, accompanied by delicious chewy-crisp Easy Tiger baguettes. For dessert, Dilley’s girlfriend makes treats like homemade ice cream and classic cakes.
The wine list is a delightful romp through Italy, offering tasty selections rarely found on other wine lists. The fantastic Occhipinti from Sicily is available in both white and red and offered by the glass or bottle (you’ll want a bottle). Conversely, there are no Italian options on beer list—which leans towards local craft brews—but the Austin Beer Works Peacemaker Ale paired perfectly with my meal.
At Bufalina, food is the focus and scenery is an afterthought. Although spartan, the environment feels warm and inviting and the genial staff makes you feel welcome. Communal picnic tables take up most of the tiny space, with a smattering of tables along the unadorned walls and a half-dozen seats at the compact bar. At center stage is the pizza oven, a hulking, white-tiled dome imported from Naples where Dilley constantly slides pies into its wood-burning furnace. There’s usually a line out the door, with no place to wait inside, but no one seems to mind. They know the deliciousness that awaits them.
If I’m gushing about Bufalina, I don’t apologize. But I do have two gripes: It doesn’t serve coffee (yet), and it’s not open seven nights a week (yet). I can live without my after-dinner espresso, but I need more than five nights a week of pizza this good.