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On August 7, TripAdvisor proclaimed New York City the fourth best city in the United States for pizza. That means that based on a survey of its members, the greatest city in the world lost supremacy of one of its iconic images to a beach town, a strip in the desert, and, worst of all, Boston.
According to TripAdvisor’s press release, “Top spots were determined based on the highest average rating by city for all restaurants that serve pizza.”
Seems pretty straightforward. San Diego and Las Vegas are fun, lovely cities. Why shouldn’t they have fun, lovely pizza? And Boston? Well it does have a lovely Italian section, and it’s been around for ages, so it’s about time it was recognized for its food scene, right? TripAdvisor claims to be “the world’s most trusted source of travel advice,” so it must be accurate. Yes, this all seems to make sense.
Except for the fact that I’m a New Yorker. Pizza (along with cheesecake and bagels) is sacred, and surveys are a mere formality when you know you’re on top. Announcing that New York City lost out to San Diego and Vegas for pizza is like stating Miami has the best New England clam chowder: It’s just not right. I’ve been stewing on this for the past couple of weeks, and now I’d like to explore why not.
Leaving aside for a second the fact that user reviews are inherently problematic (on TripAdvisor, personal vendetta user Ihatethispizzeria2013 holds the same weight as only-gives-five-stars voter SuperFoodieLOL), let’s examine the premise here. What exactly defines a great “restaurant that serves pizza?” Because that clearly failed to capture what makes New York City the undisputed leader when it comes to various combinations of bread, sauce, and mozzarella.
It clearly failed to account for the range of this town’s pies: New York has some kick-ass parlors, but it also has some shitty $1 slice joints–which love to compete with other shitty $1 slice joints for supremacy–beloved by drunk Big Apple residents but not exactly impressive to tourists. You can get your pizza fried at Forcella and coal-fired at the U.S.’s first pizzeria Lombardi’s. (If you want it microwaved, though, get out of town). And let’s not forget Sicilian pies (disclaimer: I am part Sicilian). We’re pushing boundaries and feeding the drunk masses that have spent the last of their cash on beer. But if you’re looking for a New York-style pizza that’s a better version of the pie served up in your suburban strip mall, it can be somewhat elusive, which means that travelers are likely taking their inability to do their research out on us. How does that factor into the algorithm, TripAdvisor?
I partially blame New Yorkers for voting like assholes. New Yorkers have extremely high standards. No one is a bigger critic of New York pizza than the city’s hometown residents, not to mention the pizza-makers themselves. Domeneco DeMarco, owner of Di Fara Pizza, won’t even open his shop unless he’s physically there to make the pies. He and he alone is the judge of whether his pizza is ready to be served because he knows his customers only want the best. He’s nearly 80 years old. Would that happen in any other city?
I also blame New Yorkers for being assholes. In fact, if TripAdvisor had a survey for assholes, I’m sure we’d come out on top. People visiting are put off by our attitudes. The cost of a slice, an hour wait, and curt service are natural to locals, but for sensitive travelers on a tight budget and even tighter schedule, these are major flaws. When the hyped pie they’ve been promised doesn’t overcompensate for our attitude problems, it’s off to the online review sites.
Compare that with an experience in San Diego, which is a beautiful, more forgiving town. It’s full of nice, polite people who stop at intersections and say hello to you while walking down the street. Vegas? It’s a city built on hedonistic pleasures. Travelers appreciate this, and perhaps that makes them forget that they’re eating substandard pizza. Also, in San Diego, you can eat your slice while you look out onto the Pacific Ocean rather than the Brooklyn – Queens Expressway.
But here’s the thing: Because we’re significantly more discerning than people in other cities, we set the slice bar, and this is reflected when people review pizza anywhere else. In fact, even the TripAdvisor press release announcing this whole catastrophe emphasized this point: “The pizza was just as good as being home in New York,” according to an unnamed TripAdvisor traveler.
Hell, the best pizzerias in other cities have roots in NYC. Let’s look at Bronx Pizza from no. 1 ranked San Diego. When you use one of the five boroughs to market your pizza, it’s likely a sign New York has a big influence on your craft. Grimaldi’s, one of Las Vegas’ top pizzerias and a national chain, owes its success to one of Gotham’s first family of pizzas. It’s practically expected that if you stumble upon a great pizzeria outside of New York’s tri-state area, someone there must have a New York connection. After all, New York City has history that others do not.
So how does that not make us number one?
I’ll conclude with this: Do you remember your relatives telling you about how good the pizza was on the streets of Las Vegas back when they were growing up? No, because it never happened.
Now go vote for our city’s establishments on TripAdvisor so we can right this egregious wrong next year.