Makino Pizza (at Niiiwa Kitchen in D&Department), Sapporo

The good news is, we have found what seems certain to be the best pizza in all of Sapporo. There is more to the story than that, but that is quite a victory, so let’s start there. Makino Pizza at Niiiwa Kitchen in Sapporo is… wow. But, this is not a typical pizza restaurant, and their pizza is usually only available one or two days per month (see below).

Makino Pizza is located in Niiiwa Kitchen, which is within a store in Sapporo called D&Department. If you’re trying to find it, you can take the Tozai line to Nishijuhachi station (from there, it’s a short two minute walk).

D&Department is not a restaurant. It is a very cool household goods store; maybe like Ikea, but smaller, more hip, more special. They sell everything from books to furniture, from wool sweaters to red plastic buckets. On the second floor is a very colorful kids sections, full of toys and a thousand things that make you want to pick them up, turn them over, and play with them.

We found Makino Pizza by accident. Sometimes it’s like that; you are out and about in your city (perhaps Sapporo, the best city in the world), and you stumble across a new restaurant, or a special place that makes a special dish. That is how we found the pizza at Niiiwa.

(It is also why local restaurant reviews are always the best. Anyone can bring you the obvious spots, but only a local can steer you to hidden gems on less common paths.)

I came to D&Department late one Saturday afternoon to look at their furniture, but it was the surprising smell of something warm and delicious that captured my attention. What is that smell? Yes; after a minute or two it the smell of fresh baked pizza made it hard to concentrate on anything else.

At the side of the shop there is a small cafe area – that is where they (sometimes, but clearly not often enough) make pizza.

The kitchen looks like one-part bookcase, one-part tree fort, and is nestled into the Niiiwa cafe, which takes up maybe 25% of the ground floor of the shop. In the picture above you can see Tadashi and Moe in their element, as they were on my first visit.

Niiiwa has an irregular schedule, and range of food, with different cooks depending on the day.

Makino Pizza is a production of Makino Farm, which is where Tadashi and Moe spend most of their time. As you can see from the pictures, there are vegetables everywhere. And they are beautiful. And at least part of why the pizza is so extraordinary (and I assure you it is), is that many of the ingredients come from that farm.

The pizza menu for Makino pizza in Niiiwa Kitchen changes often.

In November of 2023 (my second visit), there were four flavors to choose from: A “salad pizza” with a marinara sauce, a margarita pizza with olives and ricotta cheese, a “cherry shrimp” pizza with fontina, and a “six cheese” pizza with honey. There is a fifth choice of “half and half” where you can try a couple of flavors on one pizza.

On my second visit, I choose a half salad pizza, half cherry shrimp.

In this case, the shrimp-side of the pizza was excellent. There was a buttery note to those slices, and my uninformed guess is that the tiny shrimp may have quickly sautéed (???) in garlic and butter. It was a very good pizza. Better than almost any pizza elsewhere in Sapporo. But not as good as the other half.

The “salad pizza” side of the meal on that day was wild to look at; piled high with leafy greens, it was indeed salad-like. But as I took my first bite, it was the sauce that reminded me why I love Makino pizza the way I do. That sauce is so good, it makes me make a joyful noise just to write about (I am in the cafe now, as I type this). For the tomato-based pizzas they make, it’s a world-class tomato sauce that is completely exceptional. In contrast to the rich warm, sauce, the dry, bitter greens were amazing. An extraordinary pizza.

On a previous visit, the menu was similar, but there was Siciliana with fresh tomatoes, as well as a fresh tomato and gorgonzola combination.

On my third visit, I choose the Siciliana. There were a few capers, some black olives, some razor-thin sliced garlic, and of course that amazing sauce.

But the crust: each time, that crust is once again remarkable. It’s light and crispy. With the sweetness from the tomato sauce, it’s almost desert like. A pizza so good it crosses a line and becomes something close to a savory pastry.

If you know my reviews, I do like a pizza I can manage to pick up and eat why my hands. (And other than Pizza Joint Pike) Makino pizza is one of the only pizzas in Sapporo that almost passes that test, but probably only if you order the small pizza. I can in fact pick up each slice and eat it (without all the topping sliding off onto the plate), but if I ordered the larger pizza, that might not be possible.

And… I am a meat eater, and I will usually comment that I (still) cannot find a pizza in Sapporo that is “protein heavy,” even though I know (as an America) that such a pizza is possible. On the days that Makino pizza serves up their options at Niiiwa cafe, pepperoni is not one of the choices. They doesn’t do a meat-lovers pizza, and I will have to continue my search for that style of pizza here in Sapporo. And while I can’t get a big sausage and mushroom pizza here, I still manage to leave satisfied each time.

Since my first visit a month ago, I have been scheming (again and again) about coming back. I checked the calendar at Niiiwa Kitchen to be certain I would not miss it. I added the times to my personal calendar, so I could not forget. I mentioned I would go to some of my friends. And as I had that first taste of the sauce, I was rewarded, and knew my fixation on this “special day” was well worth it.

But here is the thing (and don’t miss this point): The pizza at D&Department is only available one (or possibly two) day(s) a month. If you want to taste the best pizza in Sapporo, you do not need to make a reservation (not yet, anyway), but you do need to get the day right. Check the calendar, and make a plan. It’s lunch and afternoon (or early dinner) only. And even then… just once or twice a month.

On one visit I also tried some desert: a strawberry sorbet. This is one of the strawberry deserts that goes past a vague flavor of strawberry, it is like drinking icy-cold strawberry juice. There was one small velvety leaf of mint, which (as I ate it) was bright and hot in comparison to the sweet berry taste. The little biscotti cookie (I haven’t had a biscotti in year) was fantastic.

On that second visit, a young father sat the counter next to me with his two school-aged children. The boy (his oldest) was doing some homework, with dad leaning in with comments and discussion. The girl (who was younger), was drawing, and laughing occasionally, in a contagious, beautiful way. The smell of slightly burnt pizza crust was drifting over my shoulder from the kitchen. A few light notes of classical music from overhead, added to the scene.

It’s a wholesome, and in a simple, but artful way, having a pizza at Makino Pizza is a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Very soon we should have our list of the best pizzas in Sapporo completed, but for now we can still offer some recommendations:

While we are convinced Makino Pizza is in fact the best pizza in this, the best city in the world, we do like several other Sapporo pizza restaurants.  For a nice, sit-down pizza experience, try Agora Italian restaurant (near Sosei Koen and Tanukikouji 1).   In the same neighborhood, we can recommend Dalsegno Pizza for a wood-fired, thin crust pizza.  For a fun, creative experience, try Smile Kitchen Pizza Diner.  And for a “NYC” inspired big slice you can pick up and eat with your hands, Pizza Joint Pike is a cool shop. For an excellent pizza a little farther away from the center of town, try Orso pizzeria and gelateria.

And as often as you can, keep Makino’s schedule on your calendar… it’s worth the effort.

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