This post originally appeared in the April 14, 2023, edition of Eater Travel, a biweekly dispatch from Eater’s staff about navigating places where food is the main attraction. Subscribe now.
From the turn of the century (not this one, the last one) to the 1950s, Hot Springs, Arkansas, was the place to go if you were a baseball player, among the country’s rich and famous looking for spa treatments, a president with the last name Roosevelt or Truman, or a wild gangster into illegal betting and bootlegging.
I came to town on a vacation expecting to experience nature and the thermal waters at bathhouse row, which I did. I did not expect to be blown away by pizza. But I was.
The most remarkable pizza was a last-minute find, not on our original travel agenda. After enjoying a 102-degree soak but before the best massage of our lives, my travel companion looked at the local magazines arranged in the waiting room of the Quapaw Bathhouse and saw a write-up naming Deluca’s Pizzeria as one of the best restaurants in town. As a visitor from Dallas, where I edit Eater Dallas, I made the rookie mistake of trying to reserve a table — it was unnecessary; they didn’t take table reservations. The staff did inform us, however, of the the reservation we needed to make: The restaurant makes a limited amount of dough in-house each day, and the restaurant closes once they’ve run out. Reserving our dough helped to ensure we got a pizza at all.
It was worth the reservation. The crust is light, New York-style and fired in a brick oven at high temperatures. Ours had those flecks of burnt crust that you want. We ordered a pie that was half Sarah Meadows, covered with garlic, chile flakes, oregano, and basil, and half seasonal produce, including arugula and peppadews peppers, and jalapenos. The proprietor, Anthony Valinoti, opened the place a decade ago after years of living in Brooklyn, where he fell in love with New York pizza, and then Vegas, Miami, and California, where he was unable to find a decent dupe. Upon moving to Hot Springs, he just made that dupe himself and started selling it in a restaurant named after his grandfather.
There’s a little something special in Deluca’s new-ish location (it moved to a larger space next door to its previous location earlier in the year): Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher’s bar. The maximalist piece creates a bar area in a corner of the restaurant where folks stop by to grab a beer, cocktail, and sometimes, a whole pie. It was a gift from James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence, and it adds a certain ambiance to an unexpectedly great pizzeria in a town with a lot of strangely glamorous history.
Before we left town, we stopped into SQZBX Brewery & Pizza, just up the street, in the home of a former piano repair shop. After that pizza goldmine, we wanted to see if lightning could strike twice, and it did. We split cheesy garlic knots made of fluffy, soft crust and covered in oven-baked cheese that was crispy on the outside, giving it a Detroit feel. The Greek salad hit all the right notes (look, the place is decorated with out-of-commission musical instruments, surely I can pun about it), and a veggie sub on a soft, house-made roll came with a golden ratio of filling to bread. A bottle of the local Mountain Valley Spring Water rounded things out for a heavenly Hot Springs lunch.