The Empire State Building is one of New York City’s defining symbols. So nearby it you might expect to find a fantastic slice of this great metropolis’ defining food. But as one local doorman advised, “I’m from the Bronx so I know, most of the pizza around here tastes like cardboard!”
Since the closing of Giuseppe’s we counted fourteen pizzerias within a two-block radius of the Empire State Building (36th to 32nd, north to south; and Park Ave to 7th Ave). That’s without venturing inside the Manhattan Mall, and including Rosa’s Pizza, which is actually in the Empire State Building. While technically Sbarro, Pizza Hut, and K! Pizzacone are pizza places, most self-respecting New Yorkers wouldn’t consider them representative slices (same goes for the California Pizza Kitchen, just outside the aforementioned boundaries).
This taste-off to find the best ‘Empire Slice’ involved eating conventional, plain slices in each pizzeria. Check out the top six slices below:
6) Pronto Pizza (1333 Broadway, corner 36th St)
Thin, but not crispy, and with a narrow crust edge. There’s a good ratio of thoroughly melted cheese to tangy sauce— enough of both to be a flavorful presence, but not so much of either so as to be distracting.
5) Café Rustico II (25 West 35th Street, b/n 5th & 6th Ave)
When fresh, a decent slice at $2.50. Rich sauce, thick cheese, crisp crust and crunchy outer crust. There’s a lunch crush, but slices can sit due to the location. The ‘cardboard’ label isn’t entirely justified, but it’s a dry slice that doesn’t reheat well.
4) Empire Pizza (314 5th Ave, b/n 32nd & 31st St)
You’d expect a place called Empire to live up to its name. The slice ($2.50) is representative of the City’s average. Cheese and sauce are evenly distributed with significant oil separation. It’s good enough to satisfy when you’re on the go, but nothing pops.
3) Sabina’s (150 West 36th St, b/n 7th & 6th Ave)
This quest’s shocking surprise, a slice from a place self-described as “Pakistani Indian Bangladeshi,” that’s also called Kabab & Grill Restaurant. Pencil-thick outer crust. Sweet, zesty sauce. And a pliable, crisp bottom crust that isn’t droopy, but seems barely thicker than the paper plate it’s sitting on. Also, at $1.35, the area’s cheapest slice.
2) Little Italy (333 5th Ave, corner 33rd St)
Light, thin, and at times the area’s best slice ($2.75). Snag one from the oven and you’re in for a treat— bubbling cheese and sauce on a crackling crust with an upskirt dotted by sharp cornmeal. Traffic from being catty-corner to the Empire State Building favors the odds of a fresh pie.
1) Squisito (64 East 34th St, b/n Madison & Park)
One of the most economical ($2.25) and consistent slices. Crust is thin, and the edge crust —about the width of a Uni-ball— has a firm crunch. The sauce tastes fresh, the cheese is light, and while it loses adherence to the crust, it’s balanced. There’s little on this block so you might not be inclined to saunter this way, but it’s worth it.