//Dave Eats: Hot rod willy’s pizza

Dave Eats: Hot rod willy’s pizza

337 E Shaw Ave #101 IG: @hotrodwillyspizza

 By Dave Fountinelle | dave@fresnoflyer.com

hen it comes to pizza places, there’s an unspoken rule of thumb: If you want cheap pizza, don’t expect it to be good. If you want good pizza, don’t expect it to be cheap. So, when I heard a shop in Fresno was using fresh, quality ingredients to make delicious pizzas on four different types of crust, plus wings and calzones, all at a lower price than the cheapest national chains, I had to check it out myself.

Hot Rod Willy’s is a small, family-run spot that is easy to miss. It is located in the shopping center on the southwest corner of Shaw and Fresno Street, behind the CVS Pharmacy. Hot Rod Willy’s is take-out only. They have two small tables with chairs inside, but they are solely used by people waiting for their orders. (In case anyone was wondering whether this is a ‘take-the-gang-for-pizza’ kind of place.) 

As I walked through the door, owner Eric Fick warmly greeted me. He greets every customer with a smile before asking if this is their first visit. For newbies like myself, Fick is happy to describe the types of pizza they make and the special extras that take them over the top. Pro tip: ask for “Da Cheese.” You’ll thank me later.

Hot Rod Willy’s serves four styles of pizza. “California style” is a medium-thin, hand-tossed dough common in any good mom ‘n pop spot in the state. “Sicilian style,” also known as “Grandma pizza,” comes on a thicker, square-shaped dough that cooks up crispy on the outside and soft and bready on the inside. “Detroit style” is also square-shaped but deep-dish, with the cheese and toppings going on first, then “racing stripes” of sauce ladled on top. It also cooks up crisp and light, with a slightly burnt cheese edge. Lastly, the “Chicago style” is a round, deep-dish pizza made famous by its Windy City namesake. A buttery crust lines the pan, followed by a generous helping of cheese, followed by the toppings, and finally, a thick layer of sauce over the top. It’s less of a pizza and more of a casserole you can eat by hand. And if you want an Insta-worthy cheese pull, you must order the “da cheese” option mentioned earlier (trust me on this). Hot Rod Willy’s also serves calzones, garlic/cheesy bread, and four flavors of wings.

Moreover, the prices are almost as noteworthy as the pizzas. A 10-inch “personal” California-style pizza starts at $5.99! It’s $6.99 for the Sicilian, $7.99 for the Detroit style, and the personal size Chicago style starts at $8.99. The full-size versions of each style are only 10 dollars more. Now, I’ve eaten a few Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas at some fantastic parlors around the state, and I’ve never found a 10-inch for under $20, let alone a 16-inch large. These are the kinds of prices you might expect to see at a chain restaurant, and you certainly wouldn’t expect high-quality ingredients, generous toppings, or anything better than mediocre flavor. 

At this point, I was prepared to forgive the flavor simply because the price was so incredibly low. But I am here to tell you Hot Rod Willy’s is absolutely superb. I ordered a personal size in all four styles, with two toppings each, plus I got “da cheese” with the Chicago style. The entire order was around $45. 


When I took my first bite of the Sicilian style, I was rocked by an explosion of flavors. The sauce was bright, herbaceous, and savory, with a sweet tomato and basil finish. The mozzarella was gooey, chewy, and fresh. For toppings, pepperoni and sausage are my go-to order whenever I try a new pizza place. To my pleasant surprise, the pepperonis were crispy and didn’t leave the pizza saturated with oil, while the sausage was robust and surprisingly moist. I’m so used to rubbery, overcooked, sausage-flavored nuggets on my pizzas that it genuinely impressed me when I bit into the meat and received a burst of juiciness rather than an elastic texture.

Rating: 8.5/10


I ordered the California-style with the chicken bacon ranch option because California pizzas were made to break the rules. The chicken tasted like it was pulled right off the rotisserie, dripping with a bevy of seasonings kissed by heat. The bacon’s smoky saltiness, garlicky ranch, and savory chicken enhanced the buttery, yeasty notes in the crust. The crust’s texture was firm, light, and slightly chewy like only hand-tossing the dough could accomplish. I should mention that I ordered sides of ranch to dip my pizza in but never opened them because the pizza packed its own punch without the need for an assist – I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the outstanding flavors.

Rating: 8.2/10


For the Detroit-style, I went back to pepperoni and sausage. Once again, the toppings were delectable, and the crispy burnt cheese edge gave a satisfying crunch with every bite. A great Detroit-style pizza should have a crust that crunches when you first bite into it, like the Sicilian, but with a softer, lighter texture in the middle. This Detroit-style nailed the “looks heavy but eats light” crust. However, when it comes to the sauce, I’m not as big of a fan of the “racing stripes” on top as I am of having it under the toppings. That being said, the flavor of Hot Rod Willy’s pizza sauce is so irresistible that you could probably put it on an old boot, and I’d still eat it.

Rating: 8/10


Last but certainly not least is the Chicago style. I ordered it with “da cheese,” which adds an extra, outrageously thick layer of cheese on the bottom for a picture-perfect cheese pull. I would put this pizza alongside the best Chicago-style pizzas I have eaten everywhere, from San Francisco to Los Angeles—however, this one cost about one-quarter of what those other ones did. You simply will not find a more generously topped Chicago-style pizza anywhere for this price. Even if you don’t like Chicago-style pizza, I’m telling you, you have to try this one. The crust is crisp, flaky, and beyond buttery. “Da cheese” is just so over the top it’s sinful. Apologies to all the lactose-intolerant readers out there; this one definitely isn’t for you (or is it?). This pie is thick, heavy, and stuffed to the gills.

Rating: 9.1/10

Overall, I don’t think you will find a better-tasting, better-made pizza for this price anywhere in the Valley, maybe even the entire state. Additionally, the customer service at Hot Rod Willy’s is some of the best I’ve ever received. Fick and his family are friendly and helpful and radiate positive vibes you can feel when you walk through the door. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. If you live anywhere in Fresno, near Fresno, or even not that near Fresno, it is worth the drive to try this pizza. Seriously, put this paper down and get this pizza right now. 

Hot Rod Willy’s Pizza is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. Follow their IG to keep up with their special offers and promotions.