You can talk about pizza across America, the neo-Neapolitan movement, the styles of this great national passion from Chicago’s deep dish and thin crust, the well-loved versions in Detroit and St. Louis — that’s all well and good. But as New York’s casual and hardcore pizza lovers alike will point out, there’s really only one place that matters. Hey, it’s hard to argue with New York when it can lay claim to America’s pizza birthplace: Lombardi’s, opened in 1905 as the nation's first pizzeria. So while determining America’s best pizza may be a worthwhile pursuit, one The Daily Meal has tackled the past three years, the only list of pizzas real New Yorkers will ever trust is one featuring their favorite joints.
View List: 50 Best Pizzas in New York
It’s a complicated thing though, discussing New York’s best pizza. If there’s a diversity of styles across the country that Americans outside New York think deserve attention, consider that even in the Big Apple, a variety of styles vie for supremacy: Neapolitan, neo-Neapolitan, New York-Neapolitan, Sicilian, Grandma, and dare anyone say it, the $1 slice. Then there’s the matter of the ovens they’re cooked in; gas, coal, or wood? There’s something to the slice thing too, no? How do you feel about places that do slices versus whole pies? Are you averse to the reheat? Does it offend your sensibilities? If you answered “yes” to those questions, you’re probably in the pizza elite.
Savvy New York devotees have a pretty nuanced approach to pizza selection. There are the places they go when they want a great pie, places they’ll go out of their way for a great slice, places they’ll settle for a grab-and-fold reheat, places they’ll take their girls (or guys), places they’ll roll their eyes about when their out-of-town friends, who once lived in the city for two seconds, think is a great slice spot because it was on their corner, and even places they’ll take Italians."Savvy New York devotees have a pretty nuanced approach to pizza selection. There are the places they go when they want a great pie, places they’ll go out of their way for a great slice, places they’ll settle for a grab-and-fold reheat, places they’ll take their girls (or guys), places they’ll roll their eyes about when their out-of-town friends, who once lived in the city for two seconds, think is a great slice spot because it was on their corner, and even places they’ll take Italians."
With so many factors to consider, how does one approach a comprehensive list of New York’s best pizza? First, New York’s true pizza connoisseurs will readily cop to the fact that some of the state’s best pizzas can’t claim Manhattan as home. Candidates from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester, and places upstate rightly deserve to storm the great New York pizza debate. So we reached out to experts and advocates from the city, its boroughs, Long Island, and outlying areas to determine this list of New York’s best pizzas.
As part of the search for the 101 best pizzas in America, this year, some 112 pizzas in New York were considered by 78 panelists; more than ever in the history of our ranking. In addition to The Daily Meal’s in-house New York City pizza experts and city editors, a number of restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and pizza authorities weighed in. Count among them Esquire and Bloomberg News columnist John Mariani, Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours, Jason Feirman of the blog I Dream of Pizza, and food writer Joe DiStefano of Chopsticks & Marrow, among others. Click here to view the full list (minus those who asked to remain anonymous), which even includes members of The Pizza Underground, the pizza-centric band featuring actor Macaulay Culkin.
There were some 25 places evaluated in Brooklyn, from stalwarts like Di Fara, Grimaldi’s, and Totonno’s to bar-raising newcomers like Paulie Gee’s, Roberta’s, and Emily. Nominees included 17 from Long Island, 32 from Manhattan, 12 from Queens, and 14 from the Bronx and outerborough pizza outliers. The final 50 on this list slice out unnecessary toppings and sub-par cheese, leaving the 50 essential pizzas that every New Yorker can at least consider in the debate for the title of the city, and the state’s best pies.
You’ll find Manhattan’s Motorino noted as the city’s best Neapolitan pizza, and Totonno’s as New York’s best coal-fired pie. Few will be able to dispute Joe’s as New York’s best slice, or Denino’s as the best of Staten Island (a pizza lover’s under-the-radar treasure trove). There are storied slices from long-standing joints like L&B Spumoni, mobile upstarts like Pizza Moto, Long Island originals like Little Vincent’s (home of the cold cheese slice), as well as Westchester favorites like Pelham Pizza.
Are there other New York pizzas worth discussing? Absolutely. Are there topping combinations not on this list that deserve to be counted among New York’s best? You bet. But consider this a great pizza roadmap, a starting point for any authoritative discussion about New York’s best pizzas. If you think we missed some great ones, weigh in with suggestions. And hey, if you think you have the chops to be considered a New York pizza expert worthy of voting on next year’s list, send us a note including your pizza bona fides and explaining why you should be considered to join our expert panel.
#50 Forcella, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Montanara: Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Parmesan, and Basil)
Pizzaiolo Giulio Adriani first opened Forcella in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and has since gone on to open two other locations (both in Manhattan). No matter which one you visit, you'll have a stellar Neapolitan experience. Truth be told, if he'd opened in New York City just five years earlier, he'd probably be as touted as Neapolitan pizza proselytizer Roberto Caporuscio of Kesté in the West Village. Adriani seems to be doing just fine though, serving some deliciously chewy crusts and saucy pies that you wouldn't be ashamed to show off to your out-of-town friend from Naples (because come on, they wouldn't let you just be proud of them).
#49 La Piazza, Merrick, N.Y. (Grandma Pie: Mozzarella and Marinara)
"La who? La Piazza as in the Mario Batali enoteca in Eataly?" Manhattanites may ask, confused about something Strong Islanders already know well. Nope. Look east to the neighborhood Italian-American restaurant chain with three locations (Plainview, Melville, and Merrick). Notes Newsday, "If there's any eatery that defines family dining on Long Island, it's the neighborhood destination for Italian-American favorites, including pizza, pasta, panini, and here, a category devoted exclusively to 'Parmigiana.' La Piazza knows what it's doing — and does it well." It’s true. It’s become trendy to upscale Italian-American menus, but there’s something to be said for the unadulterated original when it’s done well, and when it comes to La Piazza’s grandma pie, that’s the case. Pizza snobs may sneer, but they will likely do so without having visited most of the curators of Long Island’s great unheralded pizza style. Yes, Carlino's, Ancona, and Cugini, deserve shout-outs, and almost made the cut, but La Piazza deserves a round of applause for their version of grandma pie — a heavily sauced crispy-crunch brown pan-cooked short crust with an almost equal ratio of shredded mozzarella. Now that’s Italian-American!
View Gallery: 50 Best Pizzas in New York (#48 - #1)
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. He has eaten at 42 of the 50 spots on this year's list. Read more articles by Arthur, reach him by email, or click here to follow Arthur on Twitter.