What: A "plain" New York-style pizza slice is cut from a large, perfectly round tomato-sauce-and-shredded-mozzarella pie that has, most important, a thin, wide, crisp yet supple crust that begs to be folded (and it is the water, of course, that really makes the dough). Gas ovens are the norm in New York City slice joints, and it’s no surprise the tastiest slices are those that are freshly cooked, piping-hot, and glistening with grease. A great slice has just the right ratio of sweet-ish sauce to bubbling cheese to chewy dough to hot oil — and you can eat it standing up. This is quick, cheap, unpretentious fast food that happens to be the subject of many a book, blog, and smartphone app. (See also: pizza, coal-oven.)
Where: Our classic slice comes courtesy of Joe’s Pizza, a West Village stalwart doing quintessential New York pies and slices since 1975. It’s an iconic place, which translates to a steady crowd — even in the middle of the night — and, happily, a constant flow of fresh hot pizzas outta the oven.
When: Daily, 9 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Order: A plain slice ($3.50), aka a "regular" or "cheese" slice — you don’t want to overload that thin crispy crust with toppings. Elbow your way through the small space for a spot to stand, fold, and scarf it down. Crushed red pepper is optional, of course.
Alternatively: Let’s get something straight: New York has a lot of good slice joints. And New Yorkers have a lot of different "favorite" slice joints (likely it’s the one that’s in their neighborhood). Joe’s is a great representation of what a New York slice is, but you certainly don’t have to go terribly out of your way to find a tasty slice elsewhere (just avoid the big chains and delis, and look for what’s coming fresh out of the oven). Ask around wherever you are, and consider these other terrific slice purveyors:
• In Midtown (across the street from Penn Station/MSG): Established in 1964, New York Pizza Suprema does an excellent slice with some tang (and a great sweet-sauced square "upside-down" slice).
• In the East Village: Nino’s Pizza for plain or Stromboli Pizza for a plain or margherita slice — though admittedly both are best after a long night of drinking in that ’hood. Piping hot, greasy, eminently satisfying. Have fun.
• In downtown Brooklyn: My Little Pizzeria (718-643-6120; 114 Court St., map) our own (former) neighborhood favorite, has delicious plain slices and excellent crispy fresh-mozzarella slices.
• In Queens: We like the $1.75 slices at Louie’s Pizzeria & Restaurant (718-440-9346; 81-34 Baxter Ave., Elmhurst, map), a father-and-son operation for which "Pops" makes fresh pasta as well; and the old-school John’s Pizzeria of Elmhurst (85-2 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, map), a mother-and-daughter-run shop with 1960s diner décor and excellent thin-crust plain and Sicilian slices (plus light, tasty chicken rolls to boot). We’re also fans of the super-thin, saucy slices at Lucia Pizza (718-445-1313; 136-55B Roosevelt Ave., map) in Flushing, a neighborhood best known for its Asian food these days.
• In the Bronx: Cozy Louie & Ernie’s Pizza (718-829-6230; 1300 Crosby Ave., map) gets top nods for its thin plain slice and sausage pizza, for which the meat is locally supplied; while in Staten Island, you’d be wise to give Joe & Pat’s Pizzeria (718-981-0887; 1758 Victory Blvd., map) a shot if you like your slices extra thin and crunchy.
Note: The rightfully famous, totally old-school Di Fara (1424 Ave. J, map) in the Midwood section of Brooklyn also serves slices and employs a gas, rather than coal, oven. But the thin-crust pizzas’ meticulous preparation (by septuagenarian pizzaiolo Domenico DeMarco), higher-quality cheese mix, homemade sauce, pile of fresh basil, and generous drizzles of olive oil put it in a league of its own — a more Neapolitan pie that still uses New York methods. If you trek out there, expect a long wait and a high price tag (slices are $5, so it’s better value to just order a $28 whole pie), but truly exceptional hand-crafted pizza — and a great New York experience.