Ravi Bangaroo and Arthur Bovino
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. This is that list.
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).
"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!
Pizzetteria Brunetti was started by father-and-son team Michael (“Pop”) and Jason (“Sonny”) Brunetti who dove into the pizza game together, learning the trade with San Francisco’s Tony Gemignani and honing it with Mathieu Palombino at New York’s East Village Neapolitan pizza icon Motorino. They started in Westhampton Beach on Long Island where their 12 different high-crust pies gained a cult following, but New Yorkers no longer have to trek for a taste. There’s now also a West Village Pizzetteria Brunetti location that serves three additional pizzas and an extended menu including house specialty dishes like eggplant parm, meatballs, and mozzarella in carrozza among others. At both locations, the signature pie is the move: local fresh-shucked and chopped Long Island clams on top of a garlic and herb butter sauce, with a fresh parsley finish.
New Yorkers understand thin-crust as part of their pizza knowledge birthright. Still, few truly know the ultra-thin style represented at the country’s famed bar pie specialists; think Lee’s Tavern, Eddie’s, and yes, Gruppo and its sister pizzerias Posto and Vezzo in the East Village and Murray Hill. So Jimmy Fallon got thrown out one night and claimed the staff was rude. Yes, they refuse to do things that most other pizzerias would never think twice about, like sell you a round of dough to take home to make your own pizza with. So what? That’s their prerogative, right? These are unique pies with a super-thin crust right up to the very last part of the barely-thicker-than-matzo, crunchy edge. There’s an almost equal ratio of cheese to crust, just slightly less cheese, a delicious if minimalist canvas for their 12 topping combinations. Standouts include the Shroomtown (marinara, mozzarella, Portobello, shitake, button mushrooms, and white truffle oil) and if you dig heat, the custom jalapeño pie: thin slices of pepper evenly distributed for a spicy effect.
The original Nunzio’s started out in 1942 in South Beach at the corner of Sand Lane and Father Capodanno Boulevard, but was moved in 1960 to its current spot on the corner of Midland and Hylan. Its current owner Robert Whiteaker, whose grandfather bought it from Nunzio, has kept the tradition alive even through the trials of the last year, where most of whatever physical remnants of those traditions were swept away by Hurricane Sandy, when saltwater mixed with sewage "rushed in over Nunzio’s countertops, flooded the large kitchen, heavily damaged the 75-seat dining room, and ripped off part of the roof." All told, Sandy destroyed four pizza ovens, six refrigerators, four freezers, stoves and deep-fryers, stainless-steel tables, computers, and $18,000 of fully stocked food and supplies. SILive.com reported that Nunzio’s lost at least $150,000. But back it is, just as it should be, serving its some 20 pies. Ask any native Staten Islander and they’ll tell you Nunzio’s has a great square slice, "Like, beyond great," but they also serve a fantastic classic slice with a dead-on mozzarella-to-sauce ratio. But there’s also a great jalapeño pie, a vodka sauce pizza, Buffalo chicken with blue cheese, and both a white clam and red clam pizza. If all this sounds too much, start with the classic Polly-O pie with fresh mozzarella.
Speedy Romeo has been steadily building a reputation since opening in a former auto-parts shop in Clinton Hill in 2012. The brainchild of friends Todd Feldman (a casting director) and Justin Bazdarich (a former chef for Jean-Georges), Speedy Romeo was named for Todd's family's Meadowlands racehorse and has been off and running like a culinary thoroughbred ever since. There are eight varieties of thin-crust pies fired in a wood-burning oven.
The menu features fun pie names with enticing combinations to match. Consider The Dangerfield (pork and veal meatballs, ricotta, béchamel, and garlic chips), The White Album (roast garlic, ricotta, Pecorino, béchamel, and Provel), and the speck, pineapple, Provel, and grilled scallion pie named for American surf rock guitarist Dick Dale.
Speaking of Provel, the white, processed combination of Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone so beloved in St. Louis makes several appearances, none less prominent than on an homage to The Lou, “The Saint Louie,” where it’s accompanied by Italian sausage, pepperoni, and pickled chilis. Crazy creamy with bites of meaty respite from the cheese and a healthy degree of heat, The Saint Louie isn’t a sideshow, but the reason to visit, a New York-ified version of a St. Louis classic that more of the city’s residents need to discover.
By now, most pizza lovers know what a grandma pie is, or have at least heard of what you could argue was one of the modern era’s first secret menu options. But just because it has become more well-known doesn’t mean everyone knows how to make a great grandma pie. Those looking to establish a baseline with the genuine article will still want to visit Long Island. For the uninitiated, the well-known report by Erica Marcus is the best primer. The short version goes thusly. In the 1970s, a home-style pan pizza surfaced at Umberto’s of New Hyde Park, where Umberto Corteo (from Monte di Procida near Naples) and his brother Carlo would make the pizza "Mama used to make" for themselves. They served it to friends but didn’t put it on the menu. The brothers opened satellite pizzeria King Umberto with another Corteo brother, which upon his retirement was sold to two Umberto’s employees. Two pizza makers that they hired who’d gotten their start at the original Umberto’s saw the potential of the grandma pie and put it on the menu. You have them to thank for this light, thin, crispy-chewy pie with light crushed tomato sauce and a scattering of mozzarella, that every pizza-proud Long Islander knows is better than Sicilian, better than deep-dish, heck, better than many pizzas you’ll find in Manhattan.
In 2000, Jim Lahey built the Sullivan Street Bakery headquarters in Hell’s Kitchen, where he became known not just for his bread, but for his Roman-style pizza. To most pizza-loving Americans, Sullivan St.'s pizza will really seem like more of a focaccia than a pizza. Consider the Pizza Bianca, a 6-foot-long light, airy, hand-formed flatbread that’s porous, bubbly, and accented with olive oil, coarse sea salt, and rosemary. But if you dig dough over the sauce and cheese with olive oil and your full daily requirement of fresh rosemary, then this is the "pizza" for you. If you’re looking for a bit more of a flavor profile, Sullivan St. does also fold in 13-month-old Sardinian sheep's milk cheese in its Bianca con Pecorino, serve a Pizza Funghi with cremini, a Pizza Patate with thin-sliced potato and onion, a zucchini and Gruyère pie, and a thin-crust Pizza Pomodoro with tomato, olive oil, and salt with slightly burned edges.
Sometimes it’s better to let a place speak for itself. So consider what could easily be described as a pizza mission statement as posted by pizzaiolo Nino Coniglio and the rest of the team behind Williamsburg Pizza: “We consider pizza one of the most important foods on earth. The soul of a true Brooklyn-style pizza doesn't reside in fancy gimmicks or a host of bizarre toppings. The key to an authentic New York City pie is an obsessive devotion to ingredients of the highest quality and consummate freshness. Our delicious pizza is handcrafted using only the finest and freshest ingredients beginning with our old school Brooklyn thin crust; to our homemade San Marzano tomato sauce; to our Grande Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese — made fresh daily or imported directly from Italy. And when tossed together, the result is absolutely delicious.”
You don’t head out to Gravesend, Brooklyn, and just to go to L&B Spumoni. Well, maybe you do if you’re filming a scene in a movie there — it’s that kind of New York City institution. It’s just that at that point, if you’re a pizza fanatic, you’re so close to both Di Fara and Totonno’s that it just wouldn’t be right not to visit them, too (say nothing of the roast beef pit stops at Brennan & Carr and Roll-N-Roaster that you’ll have to ignore). Started in 1938 by Ludovico Barbati, an immigrant from Torella Di Lombardi (about an hour east of Naples), the L&B Spumoni tradition began with Barbati learning how to make pizza in a garage, then peddling it in a horse and wagon until setting up at its current spot on 86th Street in Brooklyn. L&B Spumoni Gardens is now in its fourth generation, still serving its signature thin-crust Sicilian-style square pies with just a light coating of mozzarella paired with its tomato sauce. Some would argue that L& B should be renamed I&O for "Inside Out" pizza — square thin slices of tomato pies with a dusting of Parmesan cheese on top. What can’t be argued is that you have to take your slices and eat them outside, and that you shouldn’t leave without having some spumoni for dessert. Some would say it’s better than the pizza.
When you talk classic New York City slices it doesn’t get much better than New York Pizza Suprema. Located in what many consider to be Gotham’s pizza wasteland (Midtown), New York Pizza Suprema offers what can only be called the one true solution to the nearly half-million hungry commuters and intercity passengers who pass through the nearby pizza-poor Penn Station, which it preceded, by the way. Suprema was a plain cheese slice-only joint since its founding by Italian immigrant Salvatore Riggio in 1964, whose rallying cry was, “We don’t have to disguise our pizza with toppings!” That changed in 1988, when his son Joe Riggio convinced him that they “needed to stop acting like a pizza school and give people pizza the way they wanted it,” which, to be clear, was under a variety of toppings. With that, “The Shelf” was born: a place where pizzas with toppings, calzones, and rolls are displayed. Still, even Joe admits that the plain cheese slice is the move; that is, unless you go with the Suprema Special (sausage), or their other two classics: the UpSide Down or the fresh mozzarella with basil.
Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich opened Otto in the Art Deco hotel-turned-condo One Fifth Avenue in the West Village in 2003 with what has to be considered a magic touch. The place is always packed, which makes sense given that it’s one of these restaurant moguls’ most accessible restaurants, and that the pizza they serve is regarded by some as among the best in the city. An enoteca with decor echoing an Italian train station, this wine-bar-cum-pizzeria offers 17 different pie combinations (and a kids’ pie) featuring toppings that go beyond the traditional mushrooms and pepperoni to include hand-cured salami, lardo, Swiss chard, goat cheese, egg, bottarga, and pepperoncino. Some clam pie-lovers not afraid of defying the New Haven clam pizza purists have even declared the Vongole at Otto as the city’s best. You’ll want to start with the Margherita D.O.P. (tomato, mozzarella bufala, and basil) to establish your baseline, but be sure to also check out the daily special which includes pies made with meatballs, salami, guanciale, broccoli, prosciutto, and cauliflower.
For many New Yorkers, Arthur Avenue is a storied pilgrimage to the Bronx they’ve heard of where supposedly they can get the "authentic" Italian food no longer prevalent at the oft-maligned Chinatown-encroached tourist spots of Little Italy. Whether or not you agree that Italian Shangri-La matches the perception, Salerno native chef Roberto Paciullo is one of the driving forces behind it. The success of his first spot Roberto’s led to the pizzeria Zero Otto Nove ("0-8-9"), which was named for Salerno’s area code (Salerno being the port city about a 45-minute drive south of Naples), and a second location in New York’s Flatiron District (just around the corner from The Daily Meal’s office… stop by around 6 p.m. for a drink and ask for Freddy). The Neapolitan wood-fired pies cook under 900-degree heat for about 45 seconds, and they are exemplary (we can vouch for almost the entire menu, which includes pies with gorgonzola and tomatoes, sliced potatoes and sausage, and the more adventurous Cirilo with butternut squash purée and cream of truffles, but once again The Daily Meal’s panel of experts singled out the Margherita, which features a tangy, balanced sauce, and crust that’s light and a little chewy, too good to leave behind as pizza bones.
Residents of the Forgotten Borough have long known what the rest of the city, and more recently the country, are just beginning to understand: when it comes to pizza, Staten Island doesn’t play around. And Denino’s has led the charge since 1951, when Carlo Denino took over the tavern his Sicilian father John Giovanni opened in 1937. After his father passed away Carlo introduced pizza at the tavern, and locals have been ordering bar pies and downing them with pitchers of beer ever since. A third generation of Denino’s runs the operation these days (and opened a second spot, in New Jersey), and they keep pulling regulars in for their sweet Italian sausage pie, tossed in crumbles over a light, pliant crust.
Tarry Lodge has quite the Batali pedigree. Its chef, Andy Nusser, cooked with Mario at his first big hit, Pó in Greenwich Village, and then at Babbo which he helped earn three stars from The New York Times. So it’s no surprise that Nusser has been making noise for his food (and pizza) at the Batali-Bastianich outerborough spot in Port Chester, N.Y. There are 12 great pizzas are on the menu, but the signature suggested by the restaurant and voted on by this year’s panel was the goat cheese pie, studded with pistachios and truffle honey. With just a slight crunch and just enough, but not too many, accents of earth and sweetness from the truffle honey, this pie well represents the pizza heights to which Tarry Lodge will carry you.
Where is Pelham Pizza? In Pelham, of course, a town in Westchester not far from Mount Vernon where you’ll find another local pizzeria that local experts obsess over: Lincoln Lounge. Pelham Pizza was opened in 1978 by two brothers from Italy, Luigi "Gino" and Ettore "John" Ruffolo. Gino ran the pizzeria after John passed away in 1988 until his own death just a few years ago. Since 2009, Gino's son John and son-in-law Pino Mancini have kept up the tradition of soul-satisfying, thin-crust, family-pleasing New York-style pies that deliver without the fuss.
There have been some beautiful things written about Lee’s Tavern, which is impressive considering how seldom clams and garlic have been called “beautiful.” But they are beautiful and the words are true nonetheless. Consider Connor Kilpatrick’s New York Magazine description: “Host to hundreds of firemen/police retirement parties, softball-team postgame blowouts, and local civic groups, Lee’s Tavern is something of a community hub with the Palemine family acting as live-in landlords (they reside upstairs) since 1969,” and also Brooks of Sheffield’s track suit riff that ends with him declaring, “If I could call Lee's my local pizzeria, I'd be kinda proud too.” Need further elaboration? Try this pizza haiku: Staten Island ‘za, Flat and unsauced at its edge. Crunch, beer, laughs, one more.
Ah, the bar pie. Along with grandma pizza, it may be one of the most unappreciated styles of pizza in the Northeast. And Eddie’s in New Hyde Park is a master of the genre. Established in 1941, Eddie’s doesn’t go overboard on décor or service. This is a bar, and a very unimpressive-looking one from out front at that — you know, the kind at which you really intend to go drink. Not have a drink, but drink. Bar up front, tables in back, pies sent to tables fairly quickly because they’re so thin, moon-crater speckled cheese and grease and meat toppings scattered out to the very edge of a crust barely wide enough for you to get a non-cheese finger-grip. Cracker-thin without being crackery is a cliché when it comes to discussing bar pies — suffice it to say that Eddie’s serves a supremely satisfying thin slice of pizza heaven, especially when laden with more ingredients than it should ever be able to support, as is the case with the Eddie’s Special: sausage, meatball, pepperoni, pepper, mushroom, and onion
It’s tough to explain Gino’s better than Esca chef Dave Pasternack did to Ed Levine in his book Slice of Heaven when he gave the following advice: "Buy a round-trip ticket to Long Beach. The ticket includes a beach pass, so it’s a really good deal. Get off the train, and walk across the street to Gino’s for a slice. Nice, crisp crust, not too thick and not too much cheese." This is a place with amazing murals inside, a place that still packs during the winter, a pizzeria that families come into from the beach during the summer that serves something for everyone, and has been for some 50 years, but most singularly pizza. There’s the Special with sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, onion, mozzarella, and tomato sauce, but the grandma is exemplary, and the Crostino, a thin-crust pan pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and basil drizzled with balsamic glaze isn’t a pizza you’ve likely experienced anywhere else.
For some New Yorkers, the Frank Pepe's Yonkers location may be a controversial pick. After all, we're talking about a New Haven interloper being discussed among New York's best pizzas. Frank Pepe's expansion brings questions about quality consistency to the forefront of any conversation about spreading the New Haven pizza gospel, but serious pizza lovers can't ignore can't ignore its presence as a New York pizza bastion just because it didn't start in New York, or because it's not necessarily easy to get to. It's not serving pies that are quite as amazing as the pies in New Haven, but they're pretty damned good, and pretty damned close to great.
What should you order? Just as in New Haven, that comes down to two words: Clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmesan atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon.
Sal’s has been around for 50 years, it has a line out the door, and while the round pies are some of the most exemplary you may have ever had, they’re not the point. You’re here for the Sicilian — a thick and heavy, cheesy mess with a significant crunch outside, a touch of grease, and a delicate, pillowy bite. According to The Journal News, this is where Joe Torre would stop by after home games to pick up a pie on the way home — and he’s supposedly lactose-intolerant. What else could you possibly want to know if you haven’t been there other than the directions? Sal DeRose opened on Mamaroneck Avenue in 1964. There have been lines ever since. Now go! Can't get there anytime soon? Pizza delivery is never a fair way to judge a place, but you can order their pizzas from across the country.
The menu at Rizzo’s Fine Pizza has undergone quite an extensive evolution considering that when brothers Joseph and Salvatore Rizzo and their brother-in-law Hugo Lupi opened the small pizza shop in Astoria, Queens, in 1959, they made only one type of pie: their square rendition, no toppings allowed. While there are now three locations (two in Manhattan) and they’ve considerably expanded the options (there are now more than 30 pie options), their commitment to the thin, crisp, sauced slices that made them famous has not flagged (their Twitter hashtag is #thinisin). Out of all the different pies offered, consider the classic pepperoni, which has served Rizzo’s and all its fans well for a long time.
Milkflower’s story has yet to be written, but its owners, New Jersey-raised brothers Peter and Danny Aggelatos, are off to a strong start. Their wood-fired Neapolitan-style pies with homemade mozzarella are so good that Astoria residents have been promoting Milkflower as the place their Manhattanite friends have to come visit to finally prove how cool they are to live there. Though at this point, they’d probably rather their friends stayed home so it’s easier to snag a pie. The Aggelatos brothers (who have said they most admire Motorino) haven’t been around long, but the 11 pizzas on their menu, including the Queen (their Margherita) have made a strong case for quick consideration as one of the country’s best pies.
In 2008, sing what they learned while working at their family’s restaurant Basille’s in Staten Island, pizzaiolos, cousins, and best friends Francis Garcia and Sal Basille took a party dip, put it on a pizza, and turned a sliver of a shop on New York City’s 14th Street into a pizza icon and cash cow. They now have five other locations (two others in Manhattan, two in Queens, and one in Berkeley, Calif.), and there is still a line out the door, pizza fiends standing outside trying (unsuccessfully) not to burn the roof of their mouths on the creamy, cheesy signature artichoke slice (artichoke hearts, spinach, cream sauce, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano, to be precise).
They’ve made it to The Tonight Show and even landed their own show on Food Network’s Cooking Channel. Not bad at all. There are some who might argue that the artichoke slice has lost a step and that the crust isn’t what it used to be, but you can’t argue it’s not a major landmark of New York City’s pizza scene.
Dave Sclarow hasn’t gotten nearly the recognition he deserves since he first welded together a portable pizza oven able to withstand New York’s unforgiving asphalt and went into business for himself in 2008. But if you’ve attended one of the many events where he’s served his signature slightly-smaller than average Neapolitan pies, you’ve seen the lines of people who have gleaned this truth: he’s serving one of New York City’s most underrated pizzas. The made-to-order, wood-fired pies have always had a very personal touch — like your best friend happened to be a pizzaiolo and was making a mini-pizza just for you. There are now four mobile ovens, which can be found all over Brooklyn and Manhattan between April and November, but this fall he and partner Anna Viertel may make it much easier for New Yorkers to pin the accolades on what has thus far been a moving target. There are plans for the first Pizza Moto restaurant to open soon on Hamilton Avenue in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The team is restoring a turn—of-the-century oven found in an abandoned South Brooklyn storefront, and will be firing up gas deck ovens in Berg’n Beer Hall to serve their version of a “classic New York slice shop”
If you’re not a fan of romantic movie plots, keep in mind that this one ends with you eating pizza. What are we talking about? Probably one of the cutest pizza love stories ever. Boy and girl's first meal together was pizza. Girl looks across pie and knows she will marry boy. Girl and boy's first date is at grilled-pizza icon Al Forno in Providence. Boy goes to culinary school, is invited to help open Brooklyn pizzeria, finds pizza calling, collaborates on successful pizza restaurant, then sets out with girl to launch own Kickstarter-funded, family-run successful pizza spot — which über-pizza blogger Adam Kuban promptly honors by opening a bar-pie pop-up, Margot’s, within. Everyone lives happily pizza after. Oh, and it all happens in Brooklyn. See? You almost can’t take the good vibes. Well, tough tomato sauce, because Clinton Hill pizzeria Emily and its co-owners Emily and Matt Hyland produce some of New York City’s best new pies, and if you haven’t been yet, you should hightail it over to taste the bubble-and-char-blistered “Classic” (puréed Jersey tomatoes, mozz, and basil).
Franny’s isn’t just a Brooklyn pizza spot that opened in 2004, it’s one of the Brooklyn restaurants that helped generate the critical mass of passion that was necessary to create the Brooklyn versus Manhattan restaurants debate. This local spot run by husband-and-wife owners Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens (veterans of Savoy), who New York Magazine once called "as committed to the Chez Panissean tenets of local, sustainable agriculture as they are to the venerable tradition of artisanal pizza-making," is the restaurant darling of Brooklyn (it was also just named by The New York Times as one of the 12 best restaurants in New York for wine). And even though they’ve moved across the street, expanded from 32 seats to more than 100, and opened another restaurant (Marco’s), Franny’s quality and passion for food — and pizza — hasn’t waned a bit. Want to have some fun? Start a conversation at the restaurant about which of the 12 pizzas on the menu is best. It will be a heated debate. What’s certain is that the clam pie, not a style New York is known for mind you, with chiles and parsley, is one of New York City and America’s best.
Bringing more than 50 traditional and contemporary-style Neapolitan pizza pies crafted with homemade mozzarella, renowned Neapolitan pizza chefs Roberto Caporuscio and Antonio Starita have joined forces at Don Antonio by Starita on the west side of Midtown in New York City (there's now an Atlanta Don Antonio outpost too). There, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas are made with homemade mozzarella and a lesser-known style, the Montanara Starita, is made using a combination and technique that was created by Starita more than 10 years ago and has started being emulated by other pizza makers: the pizza dough is flash-fried. That’s right, it’s fried, then topped with Starita’s signature tomato sauce and smoked buffalo mozzarella, then fired in the oven.
If you’re looking for the first Ray’s pizza (not the Original Ray’s, Famous Ray’s, Original Famous Ray’s or any other iteration of Ray’s) on Prince between Elizabeth and Mott, don’t bother. The famed pizzeria of 27 Prince Street opened in 1959 by Ralph Cuomo, a member of the Luchese crime family, closed in 2011 after a dispute with the landlord. While losing a piece of New York City’s pizza history (Ray may have been in the mob, but the pies were perfection all the way up to his death in 2008), you can take comfort in the pizza continuity that has soldiered on in the space since Prince Street Pizza started serving their “SoHo Squares” in 2012. Owner Frank Morano, who grew up on slices at Ray’s and uses his family’s Sicilian recipes, installed a new gas-fired, brick-lined Marsal & Sons oven in the half of the space that used to be Ray’s take-out slice shop to fire up seven signature Neapolitan pies and five styles of square slices. There’s the thin-crust Mercer Margherita, the Spicy Spring featuring pepperoni, and the cheeseless Broadway Breadcrumb. But you’ll want to start with their simple mozz and sauce signature square. “No other square can compare.”
It can truly be tiring to explain the Grimaldi’s-Juliana’s thing, so the best tack anyone can really take when it comes to this deep-seated pizza saga is to just go to both places, preferably one after another on the same day, when there’s plenty of time to explain the New York pizza genealogy behind the two intertwined spots, and taste the history yourself. Following is the abbreviated version in one sentence: After learning from his uncle Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri, who in turn had learned from Gennaro Lombardi, Patsy Grimaldi opened a place called Patsy’s in DUMBO in 1990, whose name he changed to Grimaldi’s before selling it to a customer who lost the lease to the original space, which he then reopened as Juliana’s (named for his mother, Maria ”Juliana” Lancieri Grimaldi) serving the same pizza he started the place with. Sigh… ignorance, bliss, and all that. These days, the lines may be longer at Grimaldi’s (ranked higher on this year’s list), but ironically, those looking for the authentic Grimaldi’s experience really should be hitting up Juliana’s where the crust has gained a reputation among some for being more crisp and airy with more complex flavor.
If you don’t think there’s any good pizza on Long Island, you’re not looking in the right places. There are plenty of great pies — pilgrimage-worthy pies, in fact. And one of them is on the North Shore in one of the island’s best towns for food, heck, given the bustling restaurant scene, bookstore, and independent movie theater, one of its best towns, period. Little Vincent’s has been named to Long Island’s best of lists for years, but hasn’t gotten much love nationally… until recently.
The joint near the corner of Main Street and New York Avenue doesn’t suffer for business. It’s nearly impossible to score a booth around dinnertime during the week. Forget weekends. Be warned: Little Vincent’s is a tangy, saucy pie with a crispy bottom and a bit of a flop, but in a good way.
There’s a thin crust, a very light, puffy cornicione that has a strong crunch and gets beautiful bubbles, and they do not skimp on cheese. In fact, cheese is one of the reasons Little Vincent’s has started getting national attention. Little Vincent’s "Cold Cheese Slice," a fistful of cold cheese served on top of the hot piece of pizza, is a practice brought to Huntington by college students returning home to Long Island from school in Oneonta in upstate New York. It’s actually really good, and not a gimmick (read more for why), but don’t be distracted by novelty, the regular cheese pie (and the pepperoni for that matter) are reason enough to visit.
It was a tragedy when chef Joaquin Baca’s Brooklyn Star, a very promising restaurant, suffered a damaging fire. But the Star found another great spot, and when the Brooklyn Star space reopened as a new concept, it did so with what has become one of Brooklyn’s, one of New York City’s, and one of the country’s great slices. Seriously. In a city known for great slices, one where nostalgia can’t hide the fact that the state of the slice isn’t what it used to be, one where dollar-slices have perverted what was once an art form, this joint venture between Brooklyn Star and Bushwick pizza paradise Roberta’s reverses the tide. Pizza man Frank Pinello, a Culinary Institute of America graduate with proper bona fide slide experience, puts out super-thin crispy slices, the kinds that fire off synapses that at least make you believe this is how it always was everywhere. The white pizza is a great move, but so is the grandma slice, and so is the plain slice, and, and, and, and.... Seriously though, it’s just out of range of bar-pie thin, with an almost equal ratio of tangy sauce and cheese — a slice that, folded in a paper plate the way it’s supposed to be done, is the perfect New York en-route meal — you know, the way it always was done before the average New York slice tasted like cardboard. Thank you, Frank.
Anybody interested in tracing America’s love affair with pizza back to its beginning will inevitably be led to Lombardi’s. Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1897, and in 1905, started selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string to workers of Italian descent who took them to their jobs (because most couldn’t afford the entire pie, it was sold by the piece). The pizzeria was run by the Lombardi family, first by Gennaro’s son, John, and then his grandson, Jerry, until it closed in 1984, and was reopened 10 years later a block away from the original location by Jerry and John Brescio, a childhood friend.
These days, Lombardi’s almost always seems packed. There’s a thin crust, a cornicione that doesn’t have much bubble or puff, and a thorough layering of a sauce that’s tangy and not overly sweet or salty. There’s no shredded mozz layering but the fresh stuff, well-spread out. Even if you’re not a fan of this kind of cheese on your pie, you’ll probably like this. Is it New York City’s best pizza? No. Still, Lombardi's is a touchstone. And when looking out on New York's pizza landscape, the devotion to a pizza from a time when it didn't mean artful charring and contrived, golden-tiled ovens is comforting, even if that just means the pizza of 1994.
Some would say that this is the only existing place where you can get a proper and authentic coal-oven slice in the universe, given that its founder Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri supposedly opened Patsy's after working with the godfather of New York City pizza Gennaro Lombardi. True or not, this 1933 East Harlem original can claim pizza heritage most only dream of, and was reportedly one of Sinatra and DiMaggio’s favorite joints. Still, the original location is one of the most underrated and un-hyped pizza classics in the city. It’s a curious thing given the history and quality, though there are some caveats. The pizza at Patsy’s is so thin, and relatively short (in context with most other New York slices), that you can easily scarf down six slices while standing at the counter. That’s what you’ll want to do by the way — there’s something about the pizza at Patsy’s where it’s miraculous right out of the oven, but just as exponentially unimpressive if you let it wait. This move here is to order the plain cheese, eat, and repeat — do not reheat.
Joe & Pat's Pizzeria
The home of Staten Island’s thin crispy crust pizza has been family-owned-and-operated since it opened in 1960. “Thin crispy crust, huh?” you may ask. “What’s that all about?” Well, Joe & Pat’s has sweet sauce and pizza that is so thin you can eat seven slices without feeling stuffed. It’s got that airiness that spawns lighter-than-air adjectives, but still has a great crust and a weighty enough bottom that their slices don’t get floppy.
The folks at Joe & Pat’s note their vodka pie (vodka sauce, mozzarella, and basil) as one of the customer favorites, but they do killer veggie, pesto, and buffalo chicken pies (just accept it already and get over your bad old self), and are happy to accommodate you with everything from topping pies with beloved, but not necessarily omnipresent Italian-American ingredients like scungilli, clams, shrimp, artichoke hearts, and fried calamari to making your pizza 14-inch, 15-inch, Sicilian, grandma, gluten-free, individual-sized, or even heart-shaped (no, it’s not gimmicky when a place is this sincere: “We speak English and Italian.”)
And if you like what you taste at Joe & Pat’s, well, you’re going to want to check out the sister restaurant Ciro’s opened in 1997 by their brother Ciro Papparlardo, and Rubirosa on Mulberry Street in Manhattan, where the family’s thin-crust pizza recipe lives on thanks to Angelo (AJ) Pappalardo, who if you didn’t know, happens to be the son of Giuseppe Pappalardo, who Joe & Pat’s is partially named for. Man, pizza heritage in New York runs deep — and to a good degree that’s thanks to Staten Island. So give them a hand!
Being able to do the mental gymnastics intrinsic to understanding the history behind one of New York City — er, Brooklyn’s most storied pizzerias isn’t required for you to enjoy a slice of its famous pizza, but we have a few minutes while you wait in line anyway, so here it goes:
Gennaro Lombardi opened what’s generally regarded as America’s first pizzeria. He supposedly trained Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri who opened the first Patsy’s in East Harlem. His nephew Patsy Grimaldi opened his own place, also called Patsy’s, in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood in 1990 (he’s said to have also learned his craft from Jerry Pero, son of Anthony Totonno Pero, who founded Totonno’s —that’s another story), but was forced to change the name of it to Grimaldi’s after his uncle died and his aunt sold the Patsy’s name to a corporation. Three years later, Patsy sold the Grimaldi’s at 19 Old Fulton St. to Frank Ciolli, whose two children expanded the Grimaldi’s brand to nearly 40 restaurants in the Tri-State Area and Midwest. But Ciolli lost the lease to the original space and had to move into a larger former bank building right next door on 1 Front St. That’s when Patsy came out of retirement and swooped into the original Grimaldi’s space to open Juliana’s.
Here’s what it comes down to: Patsy Grimaldi, whose pizza lineage goes back to family members being trained by Gennaro Lombardi, is making pies at a restaurant called Juliana’s in the original Grimaldi’s space, and Grimaldi’s is right next door.
With that all said, you’re just about at the front of the line to get inside (remember: no credit cards, no reservations, no slices, and no delivery!). So sit down and order something simple: a Margherita pie made in a coal-fired oven that heats up to about 1,200 degrees and requires about 100 pounds of coal a day. It’s crispy, it’s smoky, it’s tangy, cheesy, and delicious, and when you’re done, you can go next door to Juliana’s, which just missed making this year’s list of 101 best pizzas in America. When you check it out, weigh in on whether Patsy was robbed.
Yes, John's of Bleecker is on the tourist rotation, but there's a reason this place has become an institution. Pizza is cooked in a coal-fired brick oven the same way it's been done there since 1929. You can choose from their available toppings (pepperoni, sausage, sliced meatball, garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms, ricotta, sliced tomato, anchovies, olives, and roasted tomatoes), and you can scratch your name into the walls like the droves before you, but what you can't do is order a slice. Pies only, bud. And in this case, you’re going with the Bruschetta: mozzarella, diced Roma tomatoes marinated in olive oil, fresh garlic, and basil (no sauce).
Louie and Ernie's
You hear plenty of people tell tales of their outer borough travels to Di Fara in Brooklyn, but the Bronx deserves its own pizza tales, and Louie and Ernie’s may just be up to the task of making this borough the pizza destination it deserves to be recognized for.
Consider that just a few years ago Adam Kuban wrote on the pizza blog Slice that the sausage and onion pie at Louie and Ernie’s is “the pizza to haunt your dreams.” Yes, it’s that good. The sausage comes from the S&D Pork Store just blocks from Crosby Avenue, and is applied in generous, juicy, fennel-spiked chunks barely held in place by copious amounts of melted cheese.
Of course, after you try the sausage pie (sausage, tomato sauce, and mozzarella) you need to taste the wet-hot, messy creamy ricotta-ripping masterpiece that is the Louie & Ernie’s white pie.
The same family that brought you Adrienne's Pizza Bar on Wall Street, Angelo's in Midtown, and all of the Patsy's licensees in Manhattan first conquered pizza in Queens. Owner Nick Angelis serves some of the freshest mozzarella around with a wide variety of other great toppings including scallions, feta, hot cherry peppers, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes (though they’ll tell you to go with the mushroom and sausage pie), on Neapolitan-style pizza that, from the look of the charred crust edges, you would not believe came out of a gas oven. Don't miss the calzones at Nick's either.
"This is it. New York’s #1," notes Kesté’s website. And yes, that’s actually what the restaurant’s name Kesté means in Neapolitan dialect: "This is it." Hard to argue it doesn’t belong in the conversation. See, this is the place you take Italians, better yet Neapolitans, or anyone who has lived in Italy and experienced its pizza culture, when they ask for demonstrations of New York’s Neapolitan pizza culture. It’s a recurring scene that has been played out time after time: They sidle in skeptically, protest, complain, critique the menu, décor, the oven, you, and then they see and taste Roberto Caporuscio’s pizza. They catch themselves, begrudgingly and not out of politeness, noting that it is quite close to the real thing — fine, at least better than they could have imagined it could be in America.
It elicits that reaction for a reason; Caporuscio was born and raised on a dairy farm in Pontinia, Italy, an hour outside Naples. He’s the U.S. president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (APN — Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers), the Italian governing body that teaches the 150-year-old art of Neapolitan pizza-making, and certiﬁes adherence to authentic procedures. Pizza at Kesté has that signature chewy crust, the soft, slightly soupy middle, the right balance of quality ingredients. Close your eyes and you’re almost transported to the back alleys of Naples that almost refuse to let go. And while you may not want to share it with your traditional-minded Italian friends, the eponymous pie with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, Gran Cru, and olive oil takes the restaurant’s name proudly, and doesn’t let it down.
Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Co. (pronounced Company) opened in 2009 in a competitive pizza market. With nearly a dozen different restaurants at every corner, Co. was up against stiff competition. But its quality pies had more than just staying power. Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery (which has previously been featured on this list), opened Co. to offer his spin on Roman-style pizza to Chelsea residents, while focusing on the communal dining experience. Co. serves traditional options but also pies with flare. Take for example the signature Popeye: Pecorino, Gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper, and garlic, which layers salt and chew, bite and green, and just a little edge. Perhaps the only thing better is when Lahey goes egg. In which case, order two.
Take a pinch of Di Fara’s Dom DeMarco, add a dash of the murals of Gino’s of Long Beach, stretch the amount of un-sauced classic Coney Island Totonno's crust a bit wider, add in a few intangibles, and you may just be getting close to the pizza experience that Mark Iacono has become famous for in his Carroll Gardens pizzeria Lucali since opening it in 2006. The crust has that classic New York thin-crust style with whispers and echoes of the old-school execution praised at the city’s most storied and beloved institutions past and present. Eating a pizza in the warm, softly lit environs of Lucali, you wonder how Iacono magically and mysteriously inherited from Gennaro Lombardi pizza primogeniture. Iacono, who survived a serious stabbing a few years ago that left him as late as last year with no feeling in about 50 percent of his body, hasn’t seemed to slow down, continuing to draw crowds and fans at the original Brooklyn spot, and is experiencing the same accolades in his much newer Miami location.
If you talk to anyone from Queens about pizza, you won’t be able to get away without talking about the 1956 brick-oven stalwart New Park PIzza. If you haven’t been, they’ll quickly lose all respect they might have had for you (God forbid that you have been and you didn’t like it). In fact, you might as well have just become invisible. The key to the perfect New Park slice may be a bit of ordering attention. Take the advice of the now-defunct Slice blog founder Adam Kuban and ask for your slice “well-done.” It will be set into New Park’s second set of ovens where the bottom will come close to being burnt. “It's not, though,” notes Kuban, “[it] just adds a bit more flavor. The cheese will brown and crisp in spots. The slice will have some serious pizza-burn potential — but you won't care. You will eat that slice and immediately order another.”
A few years ago, the buzz among the New York City pizza cognoscenti was around South Brooklyn Pizza, Motorino, Roberta’s, and Paulie Gee’s, among others. These days, Motorino, Roberta’s, and Paulie Gee’s make up the old guard of pizza newcomers who have set the standard, and South Brooklyn Pizza has gone to that big cardboard box in the sky. The checklist Manhattan pizzeria that has seemed to come up time and again in have-you-been yet conversations over the past few years is now Rubirosa in Nolita, a spot opened by former Esca cook Angelo (A.J.) Pappalardo who learned how to make a super-thin crust, and barely-there cornicione at the age of 12 at his father Giuseppe's Staten Island restaurant, Joe & Pat's (#33 on this year’s list). The slice at Rubirosa (which New York Magazine reported was named for a Florence, Italy restaurant whose owners named it after international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa) is the kind that inspires cross-section marveling and sets the stage for game-changing pizza paradigm shifts. Those who consider the city’s average thick crusts the New York baseline finally understand the nuance of pizza. This is one of the few places you can walk into and ask for a stracciatella pie , which is impressive enough, and there are 10 standards on the menu that you’ll want to rotate through including the classic, supreme, and "tie-dye" (vodka, tomato, pesto, fresh mozzarella), but the pie the restaurant singled out to us, and the one panelists voted up very high on this year’s list for the first time was the vodka pie with fresh mozzarella.
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th St. and headed west, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease, renamed the space Motorino, and the East Village pizza scene hardly skipped a beat. Motorino offers a handful of spirited pies, including one with cherry stone clams; another with stracciatella, raw basil, and Gaeta olives; and the cremini mushroom with fior di latte, sweet sausage, and garlic. But contrary to every last fiber of childhood memory you hold dear, the move is the Brussels sprouts pie (fior di latte, garlic, Pecorino, smoked pancetta, and olive oil), something both Hong Kong natives and Brooklynites can now attest to since Palombino opened (and moved and reopened) his Asian and Williamsburg outposts in 2013.
Joe's Pizza is as synonymous with New York City as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. The infamous shop has placed in nearly every best pizzas list, including GQ's Top 25 Pizzas, Shecky's Best in New York, and New York Magazine's Best Pizza in New York. The key to Joe's success is their traditional New York City-style pizza with thin crust, great sauce, and just the right ratio of cheese, sauce, and crust (just a bit less of the first two). Since 1975, Joe's has served tourists and residents alike, making it a truly iconic New York landmark. Everyone has a favorite slice joint, but if the city were to have just one (though now there’s an East Village location, too), this would be it. (Read an interview with Salvatore Vitale of Joe’s as he talks red pepper flakes.)
With a love for pizza, little formal training, no high school diploma, a career he has characterized as having "masqueraded as a computer geek," and a fear of becoming Shelley Levene from Glengarry Glen Ross, Paulie Giannone struck out into the unknown, to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He ventured there before Girls, before the condos, in a time when the dream of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment a 10-minute walk from the subway to Manhattan on the Polish word-of-mouth, no-lease real estate wire still went for less than $2,000.
This backyard do-it-yourselfing pizza passionista put it all on the line and earned every kind word he’s gotten. Greenpoint still isn’t much to look at, but Paulie Gee’s is a pizza lover’s haven, a clean, rustic space that looks like a barn but puts out a pie to rival every Naples memory you’ve had or dreamed of having. There are some 19 pies to choose from, all great in their own right and featuring clever names and great topping combinations — In Ricotta Da Vita, Ricotta Be Kiddin’, and the Luca Brasi (no anchovies) — but when The Daily Meal checked in with the pizzeria, the Regina was the pie noted as their signature: mozzarella, tomatoes, Pecorino Romano, olive oil, and fresh basil. And panelists agreed that Paulie’s Regina well deserved a top spot among America’s 10 best pizzas.
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t exist anymore. Consider first that it was opened in Coney Island in 1924 (by Antonio "Totonno" Pero, a Lombardi’s alum). Then factor in the fire that broke out in the coal storage area and ravaged it in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction and subsequent rebuilding costs (some reported $150,000 in repairs) incurred in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy when four feet of water destroyed everything inside the family-owned institution. You’ll probably agree that Brooklyn (and the country) should be counting its lucky stars Totonno’s is still around.
And yet it does more than that. It doesn’t just keep a storied pizza name, or nostalgia for simpler times (and perhaps more authentic and consistent pies) alive. No. Owners Antoinette Balzano, Frank Balzano, and Louise "Cookie" Ciminieri don’t just bridge our modern era’s festishization of pizza to the days of its inception at Lombardi’s. The coal-fired blistered edges, the spotty mozzarella laced over that beautiful red sauce… ah, fuggedabout all the teary-eyed try-too-much words, this is Neptune Avenue! This is Brooklyn! This is Totonno’s. And this, is how you make pizza.
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city's rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you'd still be selling it short. Roberta's is in Bushwick, six stops out of Manhattan on the L, and it’s one of the city's best restaurants (it even serves one of the city’s hardest-to-score tasting menus). In Bushwick! Pizza may not be the only thing at Roberta’s, but its Neapolitan pies are at the high end of the debate about the city's best (and according to an interview with the blog Slice, inspired another great pizzeria on this list, Paulie Gee’s). Yes, some of them have names like "Family Jewels," "Barely Legal," and after disgraced New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Wiener, "Carlos Danger," but you can afford not to take yourself seriously in an environment where Brooklyn hipsters and everyone else tolerate each other when your pizza is this good. As much as the Amatriciana and the Bee Sting (when Roberta’s goes mobile) may tempt, the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is Roberta’s pizza Lothario.
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York and Sicilian-style pizza Wednesday through Sunday (noon to 4:30 p.m., and from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) for hungry New Yorkers and tourists willing to wait in long lines, and brave the free-for-all that is the Di Fara counter experience. Yes, you're better off getting a whole pie than shelling out for the $5 slice. Yes, it's a trek, and sure, Dom goes through periods where the underside of the pizza can tend toward overdone, but when he's on, Di Fara can make a very strong case for being America's best pizza. If you want to understand why before visiting, watch the great video about Di Fara called The Best Thing I Ever Done. You can’t go wrong with the classic round or square cheese pie (topped with oil-marinated hot peppers, which you can ladle on at the counter if you elbow in), but the menu’s signature is the Di Fara Classic Pie: mozzarella, Parmesan, plum tomato sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, mushroom, onion, and of course, a drizzle of olive oil by Dom.