America’s 35 Favorite Pizzerias
America’s 35 Favorite Pizzerias
Arthur Bovino and Ravi Bangaroo
As the founder of The Daily Meal's annual ranking of the 101 Best Pizzas in Ameica and author of some of the most extensive pizzas lists ever published, I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve received from pizza lovers (my all-time favorite ends with the kicker, “Just a Clown Without a Clue”). Unlike many arbitrary lists, we approach rankings methodically, starting with our definition of the perfect pizza; considering 800 spots in every corner of America; eating at as many as we can; consulting in-house experts; and calling upon a blue-chip, geographically diverse list of pizza panelists — chefs, critics, writers, and pizza authorities — to vote only for places where they’ve eaten. Responses are as proportionately passionate as our work is diligent. Some curse, others graciously disagree, many needle with a wink, and at least one took it upon himself to personally tour me through Queens (thanks, Lou). These comments have strengthened the lists with nominations and even helped to add experts to vote. But this powerful pizza zeitgeist has always made us curious about what a list would look like as voted by the public. Think you can do better? We’d like to see you try. No, really! So this year, we opened up voting to discover America’s 35 favorite pizza places, according to you.
#35 Two Boots Pizza, New York
Opened in Alphabet City in 1987, back when the East Village was the East Village, Two Boots Pizza was named for the geographical shapes of Italy and Louisiana by indie filmmakers and partners Doris Kornish and Phil Hartman. Both had a passion for Cajun food and culture (Hartman opened his Creole roadhouse Great Jones Café in NoHo four years earlier), which resulted in toppings that include Creole chicken, crawfish, andouille, Cajun meatballs, crab, Hattie B's hot chicken, jalapeños, chorizo, pestos, and tasso ham on signature cornmeal crusts.
These days, Kornish isn’t involved in the restaurant (the couple divorced in 2008), but there’s still a dizzying rotation of pies including daily specials, wild cards, holiday pizzas, and tribute slices whose slice availability varies and can depend on the neighborhood you find a Two Boots (it has expanded in New York City as well as to New Jersey, Nashville, Baltimore, and Los Angeles).
#34 Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza
What can you say about Al Santillo? Santillo may be the least well-known great pizza tradition curator in America, the gatekeeper to three generations of pizza-making and one of the most unique pizzerias in America. The man has tomato sauce running through his veins. Al Santillo’s grandfather, who had long made focaccia for his family at home, decided to try it as a business in 1950. "He wanted to keep the place open in the evening and make a little more money, so he started making pizza," his grandson Al has noted. "In 1957, he bought the brick oven I use now." It’s an oven Al says is called a low-arch, one whose every brick was cut by hand, and which he insists, "permits infinite possibilities in temperature and character."
Pizza infinity is difficult to conceive, but Santillo’s is something you just have to experience for yourself. You can only do takeout from Al's living room — it houses the massive cathedral-like oven that requires a 20-foot-long peel to retrieve the pizzas. And be prepared to order by the year — Al preserves every pizza style he can for posterity. They range from the 1940 Genuine Tomato Pie (no cheese) to the 2011 San Marzano "Tomatoes Over the Cheese" Pizza. But there are other intriguing options like Lasagna Pizza, thin-pan, Roman-style, Italian bread, and an off-the-menu grandpa pie as well. Start out with a 1957 Style Pizza Extra Thin (14-Inch Round), or the popular Sicilian pizza, or just ask this quirky, pizza-possessed master make you his own spontaneous creation.
#33 Motorino, New York
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th Street, left New York City, and headed west, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease and 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 one with cremini mushrooms, 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 (on which that oft-maligned vegetable is joined by fior di latte, garlic, pecorino, smoked pancetta, and olive oil), something Hong Kong, Singapore, and Manila natives and Brooklynites can now attest to since Palombino opened (and moved and reopened) his Asian and Williamsburg outposts in 2013. Unless it’s late spring, when you’ll want to order the special seasonal ramp pie.
#32 Bleecker Street Pizza, New York
“Food Network just named the best pizza in New York,” two signs in the window of Bleecker Street Pizza shout on the corner of Seventh Avenue South and Bleecker, “Guess who won?” Care to hazard a guess it’s some other pizza place nearby like John’s of Bleecker or Joe’s? Bleecker Street Pizza’s website tries to convince you otherwise, touting it as “THE BEST PIZZA IN NEW YORK.” and claiming former New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton once included it as one of the top five places in New York City where you “must definitely eat.”
Technically, after recommending one of New York City’s most expensive restaurants (Per Se), Sifton advised out-of-towners that they’ll need to eat cheap, and along with a hot dog from a nameless hot dog cart in front of the Met, seemed to suggest a few Bleecker Street slices more as an exercise in Dadaism, but far be it from us to poo-poo what has become a favorite of celebrities and many NYU students in need of a slice after wandering out of the nearby Jekyll and Hyde Club or the Blind Tiger. You can’t argue that this isn’t a quintessential New York City slice, and you probably don’t want to mess with an ex-cop if you don’t agree. Co-owner and Long Island pizza veteran Douglas Greenwood aspires to make pizza “the old-fashioned way,” using his grandmother’s recipes for dough and marinara.
Your move is either a slice of the Sicilian, whose well-browned cheese on top gets a satisfying chew, or the Nonna Maria: fresh mozzarella, homemade marinara sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, and fresh basil.
#31 Regina Pizzeria, Boston
Opening in Boston’s North End in 1926, just a year after the famed Frank Pepe in New Haven, Connecticut, Regina Pizzeria has some serious cred. But where Frank Pepe’s expansion over recent years denotes a business on rise, you have to wonder at Regina’s business plan. Consider: it once sported some 20 locations, but filed for bankruptcy earlier this year with the intention of getting out of bad leases (there are currently 16).
The pizza? Made using dough from an 80-year-old family recipe, sauce, whole-milk mozz, and natural toppings with no preservatives or additives, and all cooked in a brick oven. There are nearly 20 different pies, some made traditionally, while others — like the St. Anthony’s, a white pie with Regina sausage, sausage links, roasted peppers, and garlic sauce — are unique.
But the pie singled out by Regina as their most popular is the Melanzane, which features homemade ricotta, a light yet spicy marinara (seasoned with a hint of aged Romano), red onions, basil, pecorino Romano, eggplant, oregano, and their aged whole-milk mozzarella, which Regina’s claims gives their cheese factor distinctive flair.
#30 Sal’s Pizza, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Sal’s has been around for 50 years, it has a line out the door, and while the round pies are may be the most exemplary you’ve 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 former Yankee manager Joe Torre would stop 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, other than directions? Sal DeRose opened on Mamaroneck Avenue in 1964. There have been lines ever since. Now go! Can't get there soon? Delivery is never a fair way to judge a place, but you can order their pizzas from across the country.
#29 Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, Chicago
What else do you need besides quality ingredients that are served with integrity? That’s what you get at Quartino, chef and partner John Coletta’s River North favorite in Chicago. Housemade pastas, house-cured salumi, and lots of great small plates for sharing. But one of the biggest draws is the pizza.
Check your knee-jerk opinions about Chicago deep-dish at the door; you don’t need them here. Coletta’s pies are thin, cheesy, and sport slightly sourdoughy, poofed-out crusts with a crisped exterior. There are 18 pies, mostly standard. Three outliers are the Manza (braised short rib and gorgonzola), Soprano (veal meatballs, giardiniera, and red chiles), and the D’Anitra (duck prosciutto and onion). And that’s OK. You don’t need crazy toppings to serve a great pizza. Like we said: quality and integrity. At Quartino, you’ll find both. Mangia.
#28 Joe’s, New York
Since 1975, Joe’s Pizza has served fresh, hot, cheesy slices to tourists and residents alike, making it a truly iconic New York City landmark. It’s as synonymous with New York City as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Everyone has a favorite slice joint, but if the city were to have just one, this would be it. It’s made every conceivable best-of list (many of them tacked on the walls and in the windows), and for good reason. 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).
It took about 38 years for Joe’s to try to capitalize on its West Village success, opening an East Village location on 14th Street a few years ago that turns out a similar-quality product — if with slightly less demand (consider this side-by-side comparison), and just this past summer they opened their first Brooklyn location in Williamsburg, where they’ve promised not to lose sight of their blue-collar virtues — they’re still selling pizza for $2.75 a slice.
#27 Roseland Apizza, Derby, Conn.
Is Roseland Apizza the greatest pizzeria you’ve never heard of? At the very least, it’s one of Connecticut’s most underrated pizzerias — and this in a state known for famous pies. Imagine the good will of a pizzeria that starts you off with a bread basket! Now hear the words “shrimp pizza” and understand that this neighborhood parlor has been slinging pies since 1935. New Haven pizza intransigents may feel right at home at Roseland — the décor has a Formica-counter-and-crowded-booth feeling that echoes the one at the more-pilgrimaged Sally’s of Wooster Street. In point of fact, Frank Pepe opened just eight years before Roseland and Sally’s opened just three years later.
The point is that if this is your first time, you’re in the right place. Start with a plain tomato pie (no cheese). You’ll want the Roseland Special (sausage and mushrooms), the fresh-shucked clam pie (white), and one of the special shrimp pizzas (it’s said to include two pounds of shrimp — no joke). And if you really feel like splashing out, there’s Roseland’s “most elite pie,” the Ponsinella, which is loaded with lobster, shrimp, and scallops and has been known to cost $65 at market price.
#26 Zuppardi’s, West Haven, Conn.
Frank Pepe, Sally's Apizza, Modern Apizza, and Bar and the Bru Room round out New Haven’s big four pizza names, but there are great, lesser-known pizzerias, one on the other side of I-95 in West Haven that has been around almost as long: Zuppardi's, open since 1934 (though they may be ahead of the others in terms of entering the twenty-first century in one way at least: they launched a food truck this year). The origins? Domenico and Angelina Zuppardi’s bakery, which was passed down to Tony and Frances Zuppardi, and in the 1940s was turned into a pizzeria by Tony (who was a baker in the Navy) when Domenico became ill.
Zuppardi's has its own take on Connecticut's renowned thin-crust style (they call it “a Napolitano-style pie”) and a philosophy handed down to co-owner Lori Zuppardi (read the full interview) from her father that goes like this: “The last bite has to be as good as the first when people eat our pizza." It’s as thin as, but less crisp than, New Haven's other pies, with a New York City crust that's lighter and airier than the ones you'll find in Gotham. The difference is in the edge, which is charred in places, and is thicker all around.
The signature is the Special: mozzarella, mushroom, sausage, and marinara. But there are two other pies worth noting: the market price, freshly shucked littleneck clam pie (there’s a cheaper and quicker clam pie, but why would you want that?) and a wet and juicy escarole and bean white pie, with garlic and bites of crisp and wet escarole and soft bean interspersed. All good Italians know that escarole and bean soup is a great winter savior. Here, you’ll find it on a pie. Prego!
#25 Coccia House, Wooster, Ohio
You don’t expect to find amazing pizza in a place where you can also see traditional Amish farmers arriving by horse-and-buggy, but Coccia House in Wooster, Ohio, has been drawing lines on Friday nights going back through the decades. Coccia House, which looks more like a suburban grandmother’s vinyl-sided house, was founded in 1958 by Domenica “Minnie" Coccia after the death of her husband. Minnie, her daughter Jeannette and son-in-law Joseph Calabria, started serving what they call Italian pizza “Abruzzi style.”
Sadly, Minnie and Jeannette have passed, but Joseph, Karen, and Steve Calabria proudly carry on the Coccia House tradition, which begins with you having to allow for a 20 minute wait. New Haven-style pizza lovers see Wooster and get excited about the storied pies from the beloved pizza street of the same name, but the thick cheese and heavy toppings (pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, hot peppers, charcoal peppers, green peppers, onion, black olives, and anchovies) on this Ohio stalwart pile high toward the center.
Coccia’s philosophy is “lots of dough, lots of toppings, lots of cheese,” which in this case is a provolone “made especially for pizza.” It’s a garlicky-sauced pie with a thick crust that more resembles cracked, proofed bread than cornicione. It’s glossy, generously added (you get double cheese for free if you order the works), and pulls away in long, stretchy strings.
#24 Kesté Pizza & Vino, New York
"This is it. New York’s #1," notes Kesté’s website. And in fact, that’s what the restaurant’s name means in Neapolitan dialect: "This is it." Six years after opening in 2009, it’s hard to argue that Kesté doesn’t belong in the conversation. This is the place you take Italians — better yet, Neapolitans — or anyone who has experienced Italy’s pizza culture, when they ask for demonstrations of New York’s Neapolitan pizza IQ.
It’s the same old scene: They sidle in skeptically, protest, complain, critique the menu, décor, you, and then they taste Roberto Caporuscio’s pizza. They catch themselves, begrudgingly and not out of politeness, noting it is close to the real thing — fine, at least better than they could’ve imagined. It’s as good a compliment as Italians can give.
It elicits that reaction for a reason; Caporuscio was born and raised on a dairy farm in Pontinia, Italy, an hour from 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.
Kesté has that signature chewy crust, the soft, slightly soupy middle, the balance of quality ingredients. Close your eyes and you’re transported to the back alleys of Naples. 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, and Gran Cru olive oil takes the restaurant’s name proudly, and doesn’t let it down.
#23 Roberta’s, Brooklyn
With all the development and gentrification along the L line in Brooklyn that has happened since Roberta’s opened in January 2008, the great Brooklyn vs. Manhattan restaurant debate seems quaint, and it’s almost difficult to remember there was a time when this great joint was considered a trek.
OK, so Bushwick may not be on the average New Yorker’s rotation, and the pizzeria’s owners have been in the news as part of a few legal disputes, but if not part of the city’s pizza old guard, Roberta’s is without question a member of New York’s pizza icons, one that has inspired other great pizzerias..
The appellations of Carlo Mirarchi’s pizzas have ranged from echoing schoolyard slang to literary references and clever puns. No matter whether you choose the Cheesus Christ (mozzarella, Taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper, and cream), the Scrivener (buttery Melville cheese — Herman Melville, after all, wrote "Bartleby, the Scrivener" — along with chevrotin, spinach, double garlic, and Calabrian chiles), the classic Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, and basil), or the Famous Original (tomato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, oregano, and chiles), you’re guaranteed a chewy cornicione and an exemplary neo-Neapolitan pie.
#22 Bru Room at Bar, New Haven, Conn.
Bru Room is much younger than its New Haven cousins — it started kicking out brick-oven pizzas in 1996 when it was added to BAR. But you can make the argument that its pies are just as good if not better than Modern. They do the red, white, and red “with mozz” pies, same as the others, and a clam pie that's very respectable. But the thing to have is the mashed potato pizza with bacon (no sauce). The pie sounds ridiculous, and looking a bit like it’s covered with thick béchamel, it kind of is. But the mashed potatoes are well seasoned and fairly creamy for having just baked in an oven, and there’s lots of garlic. That all results in a definite check-it-off-your-list item.
#21 Adoro Lei, New York
It’s somehow mostly stayed under the radar, but one of New York City’s newest pizzerias, Adoro Lei, may be one of the better new pizzerias to open in Gotham all year. Friends Rick Froio, Joseph Primiano, and Michael DiBugnara opened Adoro Lei (“I adore her”) in SoHo (the gradually emerging neighborhood Hudson Square), taking over (and completely reworking) the space that used to be inhabited by the much-beloved, and frequently-unpacked dive bar Antarctica.
The partners’ idea was to launch an “upscale pizza party” around the theme of adoration (after all, who doesn’t adore pizza?), and they’ve achieved a hip and comfortable vibe. There’s a trendy cocktail menu and a “Silent Assassin Punch” made with Don Julio Reposado and absinthe, and vital black and white artwork featuring sensual imagery and splashes of color (done by artist Dessie Jackson, who was doggedly pursued by DiBugnara). But all of this wouldn’t matter if the pizza wasn’t any good.
And it is! Staten Island-based chef Mario Gentile sends out 16 beautifully leopard-spotted, lovingly-tugged Neapolitan red and white pies. Variations on the standard cheese pie are excellent, and you’ll find toppings like veal and pork meatballs, spicy sausage, calamari, raisins, and kale, as well as the Lucrezia, a fried pizza (a growing trend) with capers and tomato.
But the pie you have to try is the one that came from Gentile having an epiphany during Adoro Lei’s friends and family night (and sounds the most like it wouldn’t work). The Tullia features fresh mozzarella, ground sausage, and, wait for it: mussels and Sambuca. The mussels are fresh and plump, there’s a vague anise flavor -- whoever said that cheese and seafood doesn’t work thing may have just needed a little more love. And you can find that at Adoro Lei.
#20 Mulberry Street Pizza, Manchester, Conn.
Over the years, Connecticut has been no stranger to The Daily Meal’s lists of best pizzas (in fact, someone really needs to do an in-depth, reliable list of Connecticut’s 35 best pies, lord knows the state could quickly fill that list out). Indeed, this year’s list of America’s 35 best pizzerias as voted on by Americans, features no fewer than eight spots from the state. Eight! More than a quarter of the pizzerias are from one state that’s not New York (which, for the record scored 19).
But this is the first time Manchester, Conn. favorite, Mulberry Street Pizza, has made the list. This golden-edged, thin-crust haven was opened in 2004 by Bob and Danita Sulick. The couple, who met at a restaurant where Bob worked, never thought they’d open their own place, but their cozy original joint became so hoppin’ they had to expand to Main Street four years later.
There are some 20 “Blockbuster” pies on the menu at “The Mulb” named for flicks like The Italian Job (a white pizza with lemon cream sauce, prosciutto, caramelized onions, fresh basil, and Romano), Jaws (clams and garlic), and Blazing Saddles (crushed nachos and, yes… taco meat), but if you’re looking for a second pie after you finish The Italian Job, the couple notes the plain cheese as the biggest seller.
#19 Totonno’s, Brooklyn
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t exist. Consider that it was opened in Coney Island in 1924 (by Antonio "Totonno" Pero, a Lombardi’s alum). Factor in the coal storage area fire that ravaged it in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction and subsequent rebuilding costs (the Daily News 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 agree that Brooklyn (and the country) should count its lucky stars Totonno’s is around. Yet Totonno’s 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. 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.
#18 Gino’s East, Chicago
Gino’s may be the ultimate in Chicago deep dish pizza, with a history dating back nearly half a century (2016 will mark 50 years). The story starts with two taxi drivers and their friend who became frustrated with rush hour traffic and decided to open up their own pizza place just off the famed Michigan Avenue strip in downtown Chicago. The restaurant, and the graffiti on its walls (it’s a Gino’s tradition to carve your name on the wall if you’re a regular), have been considered a city mainstay since its conception.
Pies begin with a buttery crust that crumbles as soon as you take a bite; it's stuffed with a layer of fillings (ranging from sweet Italian sausage to pineapple), then topped with a more-than-healthy serving of mozzarella and finished with crushed vine-ripened tomatoes. Their success has led them to open 16 locations, even expanding into neighboring Wisconsin for all those cheese lovers, and to Texas of all places, where the cornicione gods know there’s a need for more good pizza.
#17 Louie and Ernie's, Bronx, N.Y.
You hear plenty of people tell tales of their outerborough 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. Kuban noted that the sausage comes from the S&D Pork Store just up a few blocks from Crosby Avenue, and is applied “in large, juicy, fennel-spiked chunks just barely held in place by the melted cheese around them.” Of course, if you’re there, after you try the sausage pie (sausage, tomato sauce, and mozzarella) you need to taste the white pie, a wet-hot, messy creamy ricotta-ripping masterpiece that is the Louie & Ernie’s white pie.
#16 Giordano's Pizza, Chicago
It wasn’t enough for Chicago to invent its own deep-dish pizza style — no, they had to invent two. The recipe for Giordano's stuffed pizza is one that the restaurant claims has evolved over more than 200 years, beginning outside Turin where Mama Giordano, "famous around town for her exquisite cooking," was most well-known for her most beloved meal.
Her "Italian Easter Pie" became a double-crusted, ricotta-stuffed tradition in the Giordano family, one Italian immigrants Efren and Joseph Boglio, the original owners of Giordano’s, used in 1974, on Chicago’s historic South Side, when they opened their first pizzeria. The stuffed pie features a thin bottom crust topped with nearly an inch of cheese and toppings then topped by an even thinner crust layer then topped with a slightly chunky tomato sauce. Whether or not you believe anything this thick is served in Italy and claimed there to be Italian, there are now some 40 Chicago locations (and three in Florida) serving this version of stuffed pizza.
#15 Artichoke Basille, New York
Using what they learned while working at their family’s restaurant Basille’s in Staten Island, in 2008, 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 the West part of New York City’s 14th Street into a pizza icon and cash cow. To this day, when they have four other locations (two others in Manhattan), there’s a line out the door, and pizza fiends standing outside try 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).
#14 L&B Spumoni Gardens, Brooklyn
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.
#13 Patsy’s, New York
Some would say 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 favorites.
Still, the original is one of the most underrated and under-hyped pizza classics in the city. It’s a curious thing given the history and quality, though there are some caveats. Patsy’s pizza is so thin, and relatively short, that you can scarf down six slices at the counter. That’s what you’ll want to do, anyway — there’s something about this pizza that makes it miraculous just from the oven, but as exponentially unimpressive if you let it wait.
The move is to order the plain cheese, eat, and repeat — don’t order a reheat.
#12 Grimaldi’s Brooklyn
Being able to do the mental gymnastics intrinsic to understanding the history behind one of New York City's — 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.
Gennaro Lombardi opened what’s generally regarded as America’s first pizzeria (Lombardi's). He supposedly trained Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri, who opened the first Patsy’s in East Harlem. His nephew Patsy Grimaldi opened a place, also called Patsy’s, in Brooklyn’s DUMBO in 1990 (he’s said to have also learned his craft from Jerry Pero, son of Anthony Totonno Pero, who founded Totonno’s — another story), but had to change the name to Grimaldi’s after his uncle died and his aunt sold the Patsy’s name.
Three years later, Patsy sold the Grimaldi’s at 19 Old Fulton Street to Frank Ciolli, whose two children expanded the Grimaldi’s brand to nearly 46 restaurants across the country. But Ciolli lost the lease to the original space and had to move into a larger former bank building next door on 1 Front Street. That’s when Patsy swooped out of retirement into the original Grimaldi’s space to open Juliana’s.
It comes down to this: Patsy Grimaldi, whose pizza lineage goes back to family members trained by Gennaro Lombardi, is making pies at a restaurant called Juliana’s in the original Grimaldi’s, and Grimaldi’s is right next door.
With that all said, you’re just about at the front of the line (remember: no credit cards, no reservations, no slices, and no delivery!). So sit down and order something simple: a Margherita 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.
#11 Ribalta, New York
When Ribalta first opened in New York City in 2012, you kind of felt it was another poorly-timed pizza joint trying to cash in on the Neapolitan trend a few years too late, this one wincingly oversized, and (it seemed) struggling to fill tables. The pies weren’t bad, just maybe not as good as some of the other New York City temples of the Neapolitan style like Motorino and Kesté.
Speaking of which, things changed considerably since Kesté’s former co-owner Rosario Procino and former Pizzarte pizzaiolo Pasquale Cozzolino became operating partners about a year later. The pies are delicious. They just seem more, well, relaxed. Gone is the floury residue that once lingered from the crust. Instead, pies are stretched out delicately and feature a thin and chewy cornicione lip that would make many bread baskets cry with envy.
And while the folks at Ribalta are traditionalists as far as dough goes — both operating partners are Naples born, and their dough is a mixture of flours for pizza certified by the Italian flour mill “Le 5 Stagioni” and a natural yeast from Italy — unlike most Neapolitans, they’re not sticklers when it comes to toppings. You’ll find toppings like anchovies, truffle sauce, goat cheese, hot dogs, boiled eggs, and even French fries. Though they will hold you to three total per pie
#10 John’s Pizzeria, New York
Yelp/Brandon Mumco, DrT, Richard Garcia
No, not that John’s. Yes, once upon a time, the Times Square John’s and John’s of Bleecker Street were famiglia, but in 2012, things became more contentious than trying to buy a slice (pies only!). Madeline Castelotti, the estranged wife of Peter Castelotti Sr. (of the storied John’s of Bleecker), passed away in 2004, leaving her daughter Lisa Free as sole beneficiary and cutting her son Peter Castelotti Jr. out of her will. It led to a $25 million lawsuit.
But you’re just here for the pizza, right? Good call because this is a pizza church. No, really. The Times Square John’s Pizzeria founded in 1997, is in what was once the nineteenth century Gospel Tabernacle Church, a cavernous space with a high ceiling whose centerpiece is stained glass. And while it supposedly seats about 500 people and is said to be the country’s largest pizzeria, the pre- and post-theater crowds visiting Times Square often means waiting to score a pie.
When you do, you’ll want the bruschetta pizza with mozzarella, diced olive oil-marinated Roma tomatoes, garlic, and basil. These are thin-crust pies blistered in a coal-fired brick oven whose style echoes the classic pies at New York City stalwarts like Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s.
#9 Lombardi’s, New York
Anybody interested in tracing America’s love affair with pizza to its origins will find the way to Lombardi’s. Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1897, and in 1905 he started selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string to workers of Italian descent who took them to work (because most couldn’t afford a pie, it was sold by the piece). The pizzeria was run by the Lombardi family — first by Gennaro’s son, John, then his grandson, Jerry — until it closed in 1984, and was reopened 10 years later a block from the original location by Jerry and John Brescio, a childhood friend.
These days, Lombardi’s is almost always packed (their 110th anniversary, 5-cent pizza celebration queued a line around the block). There’s a thin crust, a cornicione without much bubble, and a thorough sauce layering that’s tangy and not overly sweet or salty.
There’s no shredded mozz layering but the fresh stuff, 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 (sometimes, it's worth re-establishing your baseline). 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.
#8 Di Fara, Brooklyn
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 Saturday (noon to 8 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 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 when 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, Parmigiano-Reggiano, plum tomato sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and of course, a drizzle of olive oil by Dom. If you want to shake things up, try the recently-launched, 50th anniversary “chaos” pie: sausage, wild onions, semi-dried cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic, and meatballs.
#7 Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Chicago
The first Lou Malnati's Pizzeria opened in 1971 to much acclaim, and it’s now a Chicago — and national — institution. Lou died of cancer just seven years later, but his family kept his dream alive, expanding his chain to 42 locations at last count.
The Lou Malnati’s deep-dish experience comes in four sizes: six-inch individual (serves one), nine-inch small (serves two), 12-inch medium (serves three), and 14-inch large (serves four). So you most likely will just be ordering one or two if you plan to finish them, even with a few friends (unless you’re not planning to eat anything else that day).
They do actually make a thin-crust pie, but what’s the matter with you? You’re not visiting for thin-crust, so make sure one of those picks is the Malnati Chicago Classic: a casserole (remember, deep dish isn’t technically pizza) made with Lou's lean sausage, some extra mozzarella, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on buttercrust. "It's authentic Chicago!"
#6 Sally’s Apizza, New Haven, Conn.
Sally's Apizza is New Haven royalty, operating from the same location where they opened in the late 1930s in New Haven's Wooster Square. In truth, if it weren’t for nearby Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Sally’s would probably be talked about with similar reverence. Their pizza is traditionally thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and "mozz." Of course, the pies at Sally’s look pretty similar to what you'll find down the street at Frank Pepe, because the man who opened Sally's (Salvatore Consiglio) was Pepe's nephew.
Sal passed in 1989, and his wife Flo followed in 2012, but their children Bob and Rick carry on the tradition of terrific pies (cash only and no reservations) Wednesday through Sunday (starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and at 3 p.m. on weekends). Since then, there have been reports that Sally's is for sale, but New Havenites need not panic, New Haven Register's Mark Zaretsky informs us that Bob and Rick have "made it clear that any deal, if it comes, would likely involve them staying on."
Sally's staff have been known to admit that Pepe’s clam pie is better, but the tomato pie here (tomato sauce, no cheese), has the original beat.
#5 Tarry Lodge, Port Chester, N.Y.
Tarry Lodge has quite the pedigree. Its chef, Andy Nusser, cooked with Mario Batali at his first big hit, Pó in Greenwich Village, and then at Babbo, where he helped the place earn three stars from The New York Times. So it’s no surprise that Nusser has garnered acclaim with his food (and pizza) at the Batali-Bastianich outerborough spot in a century-old former speakeasy in Port Chester.
There are 12 great pizzas on the menu, but the signature is the goat cheese pie, studded with pistachios and drizzled with truffle honey. With 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. The restaurant’s own success has carried it and its clams, garlic, chiles, and oregano into Frank Pepe country, where it’s opened in Westport and New Haven.
#4 Modern Apizza, New Haven, Conn.
Established in 1934 as State Street Pizza, Modern is known for its coal-fired brick oven that still puts out pizza in the same thin-crust style. You'll likely hear it described as the place "locals go instead of Pepe and Sally's." Perhaps. The atmosphere is great — wood paneling, friendly servers, a clean feeling — but it doesn't play third-string because it's not on Wooster. Modern's pies are slightly topping-heavy with weak structural integrity. Given the topping focus, the Italian Bomb is the pie to try: it’s topped with bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion, and pepper.
#3 Colony Pizza, Stamford, Conn.
This thin-crust bar pie institution in Stamford, Connecticut, is notorious for its no-frills demeanor, no-special-options policy, and for not making exceptions (which Colony’s website admirably calls “classic American charm”). There are signs, though, that this reputation may be thawing. Consider the special corned beef and cabbage pizza for St. Patrick's Day, which makes sense when you consider "Colony" was the nickname of the Irish neighborhood in Stamford where Colony Grill was established by Irish owners in 1935. But now there are three locations (two more in Fairfield and Milford and one to come in Norwalk), and they’ve recently added a salad pizza to the menus. Go figure.
What you’re going to want to do is order the sausage pie with hot oil (chile-pepper-infused oil) and a “stinger” pie (they’re thin so you’re going to need two). That signature hot oil is a must — if you don’t do it, don’t bother going. There’s almost the same amount of tasty sauce and cheese as there is crisp cracker crust.
There’s something special about the equal amounts of ingredients you likely won’t have had before, the way the pockmarked surface resembles some crazy dream where cheese covers the surface of the moon (all melty like you remember from the orange-oil-covered slice at your childhood favorite pizza place), and how the sting of the oil brings you right back to the sip of beer you’ll want while savoring each bite.
#2 Star Tavern Pizzeria, Orange, N.J.
The bar pie. In the annals of all things pizza, it is perhaps one of the most underrated styles. The maligned proponents of the pile-it-on philosophy behind deep-dish get bent out of shape when Chicago’s signature style is besmirched, but there doesn’t seem to be a similar geographic identification attached to this more nuanced, reserved, and minimalist approach. It’s a shame, save that it makes bar pie bastions like Colony, Eddie’s, and Star Tavern in Orange, New Jersey, even easier to like, and, selfishly, to eat at without battling crowds.
Owned and operated by the Vayianos family since 1980, “The Star” is run by former attorney Gary Vayianos, whose kitchen turns out super thin, crispy, to-the-edges-with-the-sauce toppings, with a sauce-to-cheese ratio that delivers as much as you need and not more than the structural integrity can handle.
#1 Frank Pepe’s, New Haven, Conn.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana celebrated its 90th birthday in June and is enjoying its third consecutive year at the top of this list. And why shouldn’t it be named America’s best pizza? This is a checklist destination, one you’ll have to make a pilgrimage to if you want to discuss the topic of America's best pizza with any authority. The New Haven icon opened in Wooster Square in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza made by an Italian-American immigrant. After arriving in the United States in 1909 at the age of 16, Frank Pepe (watch him at work in this video) took odd jobs before opening his original restaurant (the location, now called "The Spot," is now an adjunct to the main Pepe's location).
There are now seven locations around Connecticut and one in New York State operated by Pepe’s 10 great-grandchildren (all of which use original recipes to make their coal-fired pizza), with a new Boston pizzeria scheduled to open soon (the sign is up!).
What’s the move? As if you didn’t know! Two words: Clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Of course, Pepe’s summer special, their seasonal “fresh tomato pie” made with locally grown tomatoes, is worth its own trip (and the addition of shrimp to a tomato pie is an under-hyped gem of a combination). No matter what you’re thinking of ordering, expect to wait in line if you get to Wooster Street after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.