The Pizza Chase: Mon Valley Red Top at Armando’s, Charleroi

whole Mon Valley red top pizza on pizza pan
It’s Christmas any day you’re lucky enough to dine on Mon Valley red top pizza

We haven’t even gotten to Halloween, but the yuletide season is in full swing … if you’re in the right place.

A giant red bauble, sparkling in a gleaming silver halo, is cast against a field of deep kelly green. With the holiday season’s most repulsive color scheme thrust upon us–even on this warm, glorious, early autumn afternoon–one can almost hear bells a-jinglin’, cash registers a-beepin’, and maids a-milkin’. You’d expect a lunch this special to be hand-delivered only to The Nice by ol’ Saint Nick himself, rewarding a full year’s-worth of good deeds. The Naughty get a lump of coal … or maybe Papa John’s.

exterior of Armando's Pizza in Charleroi, PA
Armando’s Pizza, Charleroi

But! Nerves need not be a-tanglin’ nor moods a-swingin’, uncles a-drinkin’, or temperatures a-sinkin’ because Christmas exists this time of year only in the mind of the lucky diner who finds him-, her-, or they-self in that Valhalla of American regional pizza, the mid-Mon Valley.

Why, it is here that Santa’s elves train year round in flour-dusted workshops on knife-scarred cutting boards. Classic rock will have to substitute for caroling and mountains of grated mozzarella are as close as we’ll get to the ice floes of the North Pole–but that’s all just window dressing to the main event.

image of cartoon pizza maker on box top for Armando's Pizza
Armando’s Pizza box

Mon Valley red top pizza is it’s own thing. We went on and on about the greatness of the double-decker red top at Anthony’s Italiano, so we’ll not bore faithful “red heads” with another recitation of this unique style’s it’s-a-pizza and it’s-a-way-of-life transformative powers. No, we’re here today in Charleroi, at Armando’s Pizza, to once again chase the dragon, fly through the eye of the needle, and capture a moonbeam right in the palm of our collective hand. That’s what you get with a red top.

The pizza is all we could ever want: sustenance and gathering point, sure, but also good friend, consoling advisor, and life of the party. There’s a crusty dough on the edges where it’s been exposed to direct heat and a gloppy center as the red sauce ceiling has inevitably caved-in on the cheese and “toppings” innards.

serving of pizza being lifted from pizza pan
We hope you do that goo do that they do so well.

Red top purists will tell you there are no additions to this pie. It’s pizza simple, they say: dough, cheese, and the eponymous red sauce. Yeah, that’s great if you’re a monk, but when Armando’s is giving away four toppings for an extra dollar-fifty, we’ll take that deal all day long. [Note: Armando’s online menu shows the price difference between the Original Red Top and Red Top Supreme at an absurd 50 CENTS!?!]

Like Anthony’s, the Armando’s in Charleroi isn’t fancy. (The pizzeria also has a sister location across the river in Monessen.) You order from a counter up front and grab a drink from one of many mostly-empty coolers. The dining room appears to have last been updated in the ferns-and-stained-glass 1970s and feels like it’s lived a number of lives since then. At this point, with its dark wood and pendant lighting, one might call the style P.J. O’Pootertoot-retro.

two men holding slices of pizza in front of a stained-glass window
Whatever you order on (or in) your pizza, it comes with a double order of ham when you travel with these two. The Pizza Twins.

But you’re not at Armando’s to impress a boss, or parents, or your budding Internet romance. No, the hot date here is with a sublime style of pizza pie that one can only find in the towns along the banks of the Monongahela, where Santa decided to center all of his pizza-making divinity … OK, maybe God did that, not Santa–but you get the idea.

We’ll be back again … and again. There are other red tops to try and more of the gospel to spread. Just don’t tell Anthony we cheated on him.


Getting there: Armando’s is located at 583 Fallowfield Ave. in Charleroi and 201 Tyrol Blvd. in Monessen. It takes most of an hour to drive there from Pittsburgh.

The Pizza Chase: Mon Valley Red Top at Anthony’s Italiano

pizza cooked Mon Valley red top style from Anthony's Italiano, Donora, PA

Mon Valley Red Top: an Extraordinary pizza from Anthony’s Italiano in Donora

Yes, it’s that good. A good enough excuse to prompt the hour-or-so scenic drive down Route 837. Good enough for the inevitable extra miles you’ll need to walk it off when you’re through. Good enough for this food-fancier to say, if you love pizza, you need to try one of these.

Crusty on the knotted edges, gooey in the thick multi-layer center, steaming hot, and managing to exist as both ultimate comfort food and a shock to the senses. It is red top pizza and unless you’ve spent some time in or around the mid-Mon Valley, you’ve probably never had anything like it.

pizza maker cinching top and bottom layers of a red top pizza

cinching top and bottom layers of a red top pizza

Google “red top pizza” and The Internet is going to point you north and west, to Detroit. That city’s native style is cooked in small rectangular deep-dish pans, super pillowy on the inside, crusty on the edges, and yes, finished with a post-bake ladling of tomato sauce across the top.

Detroit-style pizza must be “having a moment” (forgive me) as two different purveyors specializing in the (not our) regional style have popped up in Pittsburgh in the last year or two: Iron Born and Michigan & Trumbull. I can only attest to the latter, but it is spectacular–if a little precious and pricey.

Mon Valley red top is an entirely different thing. It also appears to be completely off the wider pizza map.

pizza chef pulling cooked pizza from oven

the eponymous Anthony, pulling our red top from the oven

On the one hand, a red top pizza has exactly the same stuff you’ve been eating all your life: risen white flour dough, spicy marinara sauce, grated mozzarella cheese, your choice of standard toppings. On the other, though, the script–and ingredients list–have quite literally flipped. That makes all the difference here.

There are two medium-thin crusts in a red top pizza. Between them, several handfuls of mozzarella cheese. The edges of the two layers are rolled up, curled around, and crimped together to seal the package like a giant ravioli. A hole is poked in the center–presumably so it doesn’t blow up in the oven–and red sauce is ladled out and spread across the domed surface.

In its purest form, the pizza has no additional toppings–Anthony says about half the time people get them this way–but it’s common to add pepperoni, sausage, or whatever you like.

excited customer watches as red top pizza is served from platter

red top: big hit

Doubters, whiners, and ye of little imagination will poo-poo the pie as just another pizza–but they’re wrong. We know how the thinking goes: the sauce is on top, the cheese in the middle, there’s a lot of bread–what’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal: with a red top, the delicate chemistry of the pizza has been inverted–up is down, day is night, and there’s a sauce party on the roof while the cheese is doing the grunt work in the basement.

handmade wooden sign for Anthony's Italiano restaurant in Donora, PA

Anthony’s Italiano: come for the pizza and air conditioning; don’t expect a salad bar.

Pizza is a lot cheaper than therapy, but you’ll leave Anthony’s Italiano both fulfilled in the belly and with a new perspective on existence. The realization that all our lives we’ve been lied to–told the marinara was but a minor flavor element in a melted cheese and risen crust world–may be a metaphorically tough pill to swallow, but it tastes great going down.

With the sauce brought up front and on top it’s allowed to sizzle under the direct heat of the oven, thickening and caramelizing. The cheese at the center of the pie is the exact opposite–a molten core that oozes and massages the overall flavor; it’s felt as much as tasted.

slice of red top pizza on plate

red on top, gooey in the middle, delicious all over

Anthony’s Italiano has been making pizza in Donora since 1977, but you don’t need to have the history to see that Anthony knows what he’s doing. The shop came to our attention from a tip by the guys at the Donora Smog Museum, just-down-the-block. As we said in that piece, the crust on Anthony’s basic pizza (i.e. not the red top) has a ciabatta-like crackle and chewiness that just totally knocked our socks off. Get one of each or come back–and bring your friends this time.

A final note to our readers in the Mon Valley: We are well aware that Anthony’s is not the only pizzeria that offers a red top. There are at least a couple others that make the same style (Marty’s in Donora and Armando’s in Charleroi/Monessen), but definitely let us know if there’s somewhere else we need to check out.

exterior of Anthony's Italiano, Donora, PA

Anthony’s Italiano on McKean Avenue in Donora since 1977

Getting there: Anthony’s Italiano is located at 557 McKean Ave. in Donora. It’s going to take you around an hour to get there from central Pittsburgh; slower if you stop for every roadside cross, loose limo, and objet d’dental artwork like we do.


The Pizza Chase is an occasional series where we document regional pizzerias that do something fundamentally different or extraordinary with ol’ cheesy.