I think it was Albert Einstein who gave us that universal equation: New York = Pmc2. Where P is pizza and mc is “my chin.”
I spent 5 months spanning the Island and beyond, chasing leads for the Best New York Pizza. Whether the pizza was square or round, flat or thick, coal oven or brick, San Marzano tomatoes or not, I tried it. And now, thanks to Einstein’s theory, I will travel back in time and advise my uninitiated (and slightly less bloated) self which pizzas were worth our while.
Classic New York Pizza
Lombardi’s – NoLita, Manhattan
Say what you will about Lombardi’s. No New York pizza tour is complete without a visit to the very first purveyor of pizza in the United States.
Though the original shop was somewhere down the block, they’ve taken some care to present you with a 1920’s inspired replica. You’re greeted by a hostess with a headset. She radios traffic control to locate your table in the labyrinth of nearby storefronts, alleys and crawlspaces the restaurant has expanded into. On my first visit, we were ushered to a dark storefront halfway down the block. The second time, I was seated in a tiny hallway behind the restaurant near the bathrooms.
It’s a dine-in restaurant serving relatively expensive whole pies. I very strongly recommend adding extra cheese and extra sauce. The worst thing about Lombardi’s is they skimp on the pepperoni (read: two pepperoni slices for $4).
Grimaldi’s – DUMBO, Brooklyn
The line at Grimaldi’s is as infamous as the pizza itself. During normal dining hours (including lunch and dinner), any given night of the week, expect to wait in line for an hour or more—even if you’re ordering takeout. We lived blocks away and would regularly see a line of people stretching around the building.
The best photo I could get of our pizza is a blurred mess because we avoided the long lines by eating at 10 pm, biding our time drinking wine at home. I was so tipsy, I couldn’t hold the camera still.
I’m not sure if it’s the booze talkin’ (and all these people waiting in line can’t be wrong), but Grimaldi’s pepperoni pizza is just what a NY pizza should be: a crisp wheaty crust fragrant with olive oil and slathered in tangy tomatoes, melty cheese and greasy pepperoni. We were in heaven.
If the weather’s decent, you simply MUST order a pizza to go and walk a few blocks to Brooklyn Bridge Park for a picnic-style eat (picnic blanket optional). You’ll sit among insanely Instagram-worthy views of a lovingly restored carousel, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhatttan skyline (and the pizza ain’t ugly either).
Totonno’s – Coney Island, Brooklyn
Totonno’s is so authentic that while we were there, Super Mario and Christopher Columbus walked in with arms locked, singing “That’s Amore.” An excellent Brooklynese Italian experience—I felt like the only tourist there. The pizza itself is great. Imagine a drier version of Lombardi’s—firmer crust, crispy and substantial, with less “squish.”
On a side note, I applaud Totonno’s for not burning their pizza. For some reason, burnt crust is a big trend among Manhattanites. They call it a “charred crust,” but I think the black cancer pustules covering those hip overpriced pizzas are disgusting.
…And a Few More
Other classics I visited include coal oven Arturo’s and John’s of Bleecker Street. Locals will advise you to go, and they’re both solid picks, but if you’re a diehard pizza connoisseur with limited pizza-consuming time, I’d say skip ’em, or go to Arturo’s for a fun dinner with friends: it has great live music and atmosphere.
…On the Waiting List…
Weird New York Pizza
PeteZaaz – Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Willing to step into the unusual? Adventurous eaters will be rewarded at PeteZazz. Start with the baked potato pizza. Its white cheese, red onion and copious slices of purple potato make for a tasty surprise.
We recommend pairing PeteZaaz with a visual dessert: a walk through Brooklyn’s stunning Prospect Park and Botanical Gardens (Prospect ain’t no ordinary park. It was designed by Frederick Olmstead, the same man who created Central Park).
Max Brenner – Union Square, Manhattan
Max Brenner’s is a chocolate-obsessed restaurant founded by a guy who clearly loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a Chocolate Factory dream come true: killer hot chocolate, frozen chocolate cocktails, and chocolate pizza that radiates pure decadence.
Vinnie’s Pizzeria – Williamsburg, Brooklyn
I got a black bean slice at this Williamsburg pizza-slinger one night, and digested it sometime the next morning. I later returned for another black bean colon cleanse, but they were sold out. So I made the next obvious choice: Macaroni and Cheese and Bacon. I like the creativity at Vinnie’s, but both pizzas were old and chewy.
Artichoke Basille’s Pizza – East Village, Manhattan
Artichoke Basille’s Pizza is well-known for their signature slice: a weighty white slice of creamy spinach artichoke dip soaking into a thick doughy crust. Combine the concept of “pizza” with the concept of a clam chowder bread bowl from San Francisco’s famed Fisherman’s Wharf, and you’re getting close. Above, I’m eating their Margherita pizza, which I loved. The camera wasn’t fast enough for the artichoke dip slice—you’d have to X-ray me to find it.
Prince St. Pizza – NoLita, Manhattan
Prince St. Pizza a go-to for on-the-go folks. Prince St.’s thick Sicilian-style pepperoni pizza (dubbed “the SoHo Square”) has more pepperonis than a zit cream commercial. Situated near the borders of Little Italy, Chinatown, Washington Square Park, and SoHo, Prince St. Pizza it the perfect bite to keep you charged for a packed day of New York exploration. Ask them to cook your slice in the oven til it’s extra hot, and you won’t regret it.
L & B Spumoni Gardens – Gravesend, Brooklyn
Spumoni’s allure is legendary. Its square slices look amazing in photos, and it’s so far outside Manhattan that the bodies occupying its light-year-long line are strictly outer-borough locals. Even though I got back in line for a second slice, I’d only recommend Spumoni if you love doughy, heavy crust, a thin tomato sauce, and powdery cheese.
Whatever neighborhood you’re in, you can find an awesome slice that isn’t in the guidebooks.
Buca – Manhattan Valley, Manhattan
A teensy brick oven eatery with maybe 10 tables, Buca can be easily missed. We didn’t, though: it was next door to our building. Everything is fresh and the crust is a perfect blend of crunchy edges and chewy center. They introduced us to Soppreseta, a spicy Italian salami version of traditional pepperoni. They also have an insanely good lunch deal: pizza plus side salad for $9, folks!
Rizzo’s Fine Pizza – Astoria, Queens
Rizzo’s Fine Pizza is a well-known fixture in Astoria, a neighborhood of Queens. They’re regarded for their Margherita pizza which is enhanced with large slices of red onion. Though Rizzo’s was raved about, I was dissappointed by the lack of freshness, and even more disappointed by the presence of a hair on my slice. Tossed it and moved on.
High Concept New York Pizza
Ovest Pizzoteca by Luzzo’s – Chelsea, Manhattan
This bleeding-edge concept pizzeria in Chelsea is so cool, even the septuagenarian diners sport Skrillex haircuts. Don’t be dissuaded by the cool factor: The pizza is fantastic. The “Pizza Ovest” and “Brutta Ma Buona” with their spicy Italian meats and dollops of cool ricotta cheese brought us to our knees.
Trattoria Zero Otto Nove – Arthur Ave., Bronx
Arthur Avenue is known as the “Real Little Italy.” It’s in the Bronx and is less-trekked than its overdeveloped Manhattan counterpart. Even better, they have actual Italian people yelling at each other on the street, and a serene lack of close-the-deal folks hustling you to try their $8 lunch special.
Arthur Avenue’s most famous restaurant is home to a pancetta and smoked mozzarella pizza that uses pureed butternut squash as its base. It lends a sweetness to the pizza that is quite unique. Unfortuantely, they like to burn the pizza here too, so I only ate the half not covered in black scabs.
Healthy New York Pizza
One wishes that those things that are healthy for us could taste good and that things that taste good could be healthy. Sadly, this definitely ain’t true when it comes to pizza.
Two Boots – East Village, Manhattan
I love that Two Boots nicknames its pizzas after celebrities, and I love Beaches, but their Bette Midler “Earth Mother” vegan pizza on whole wheat was pretty much the worse thing I ever ate. But I loved their meat-laden pizza named after the “Newman” character on Seinfeld. Go figure. Didja Know: Two Boots gets its name from two boot-shaped geographies, Italy and Louisiana.
Sal’s Pizzeria – NoLita, Manhattan
Things were bustling at Sal’s, so I popped in and discovered the most gorgeous healthy-looking veggie pizza. I thought I found IT: healthy-meets-delicious. But if you come here, please know that healthy and delicious remain, at best, loose acquaintances.