We’ve been fuming since TripAdvisor’s bogus pizza rankings placed New York fourth in the country this summer. The list–a product of crowdsourcing gone awry–proved to be ultimately useless, but in our reactionary anger, it gave us reason to mull over the finest examples NYC has to offer. From light, chewy Neapolitan rounds to Sicilian squares, archetypal “New York” slices and novelty pies, these are booming times for the city that helped introduce pizza to the United States. Certainly, no city in this great land boasts as rich a history with the foodstuff. Our take? You can bet your bottom dollar slice joint, New York is the best pizza city in America. Here’s our top ten.
10. John’s of Bleecker Street, 278 Bleecker Street
Beyond the salty, greasy cheese and heavily charcoal-kissed crust, it’s the piquancy of John’s sauce that remains the most remarkable thing about the offerings at this standard-bearer in the NYC pizza pantheon. Opened in 1929, John’s famously eschews the trappings of traditional pizza parlors opting for table service over a slice counter. Selling pizza exclusively by the pie coupled with the restaurant’s storied history accounts for the lines, but once you’re inside, it’s well worth the price of admission for the pizza as much as for the atmosphere. With its faded murals and deeply worn wooden booths, the place is a museum.
9. Don Antonio by Starita, 309 West 50th Street
Keste’s Roberto Caporuscio tapped mentor and pizza demigod Antonio Starita to help create the menu at this love letter to all things doughy. Forcella may have devoted an entire failed concept restaurant to the montanara pizza, but Don Antonio’s version of the deep fried pie receives a topping of smoked buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes before being finished in the wood burning oven; the effect of smoky, milky cheese, fried dough and sweetly acidic tomatoes is transcendent, the crust superbly crisp. Together, both master and student have surpassed the majority of pizza places in New York.
8. Motorino, 139 Broadway, Brooklyn
Part of the Neapolitan pizza resurgence of the early ’00s, Mathieu Palombino’s international pizzeria (there’s an outpost in Hong Kong) puts out pizzas that are respected for their ample chew and exterior char. The flavor developed on the crust allows for the chef to play around with aggressive toppings, like Brussels sprouts with pancetta and broccolini with spicy sausage and shreds of eggy stracciatella. After a structural failure at the flagship’s location, Palombino’s return to Williamsburg this past spring has proven triumphant; the pizza is as bubbled and fragrant as ever.
7. Paulie Gee’s, 60 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn
Neapolitan gets thrashed around at this wicked, rustic pie parlor from pizza-obsessive-turned-professional-pizzaiolo Paul Giannone. Giannone and his staff are our heroes for their pun-filled menus, which reference everything from country music to Boardwalk Empire. The foundation for all this mischief is a dedication to quality ingredients that champion small brands like Mike’s Hot Honey in a pizza called the Hellboy with spicy Berkshire pork sopressata. Brunch pizza, like the cronut burger, is usually a sin against mankind. Giannone’s answer is to melt gouda and Canadian bacon and douse the whole affair in maple syrup. Provided we wore a disguise, it’s good enough that we might allow ourselves to be seen eating a meal that’s not exactly breakfast and not exactly lunch.
6. Speedy Romeo, 376 Classon Avenue, Brooklyn
On the surface, this neighborhood restaurant from Justin Bazdarich could have been a Roberta’s clone. Both serve excellent neo-Neapolitan pizza, and both do it in spaces that used to house cars (Roberta’s was a garage, Speedy Romeo an auto shop), but the pizzas here have a particular bent that channels Americana rather than the avant garde. Bazdarich’s secret weapon? Provel, a processed cheese created specifically to suit the demands of discerning St. Louis pizza fiends. It melts into a viscous cream, to which the kitchen adds sausage, pepperoni, and pickled chilies (The Saint Louie) or pineapple, speck, and grilled scallions (The Dick Dale). It also shows up with garlic and béchamel for a heady white pie. Don’t get us wrong, mozzarella is still king of the pizza cheeses, but Provel is a definite head-turner.
5. Roberta’s, 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn
Despite the hype, the hours-long waits that come with said hype, and visits from Bill Clinton and the crew of HBO’s Girls, we can’t help but love Roberta’s for their independent spirit and creative toppings (the traditional stuff is great, too). The pizzaiolos don’t just get funky with their meats and vegetables; you’ll find plenty of interesting domestic and imported cheeses blistered across the dough. Past pies have seen the likes of honey, kale, the dense sheep’s milk cheese caciocavallo, and even Mexican cotija cheese. A current favorite, the Barely Legal, features Lou Bergier, an aged, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from Piedmont. Buttery and a bit sour, the cheese adds a welcome funk to the mix of pork sausage, broccoli rabe, and bracing horseradish.
4. Joe & Pat’s, 1758 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island
Masterful thin crust pizza has been the calling card of this venerable Staten Island institution, in business for over 50 years. Maybe it’s the Staten Island terroir, but that crust has serious character: charred, thin yet sturdy, and sporting a yeasty tang. Perhaps because of the thinness, the cheese browns evenly and creates a chewy, stretchy exterior. You can find similar pies from Joe’s son AJ over at Rubirosa in Nolita, but nothing beats a pizza oven with history. What you also can’t get in Manhattan is Joe & Pat’s Sicilian pie, one of the greatest in the city.
3. Best Pizza, 33 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn
Frank Pinello is the pizza man to know at this triumph of a slice shop, a joint effort between The Brooklyn Star and Roberta’s. Pinello’s wood-fired pies acquire dark, crisp edges, displaying a balance of expert craftsmanship and scrappy individuality made famous at its parent restaurants. To wit: what may be the best white slice in New York, with broad dollops of ricotta, housemade mozzarella, pecorino, and caramelized onions. The outer rim gets a dusting of sesame seeds that rounds out the crust’s inherent nuttiness, and the onions punch through all that dairy with a rich sweetness.
2. Totonno’s, 1524 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn
A beloved slice of historic New York City, Totonno’s has risen from the ashes twice in the past five years; first from a 2009 fire and then from Hurricane Sandy. Then again, half a decade is a drop in the bucket for the Coney Island pizzeria, which opened in 1924. Thanks to one of the most seasoned coal-fired ovens in town, the pizzas all bear puffed, char-speckled crusts sturdy enough to support generous layers of sweet, herbal tomato sauce and melted fresh mozzarella. The pizzeria is as busy as ever post-storm reconstruction. With any luck, it’ll stay that way well into the future.
1. Di Fara, 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn
The Big Apple’s patron saint of basil sprinkling, Dom DeMarco has presided over this Midwood dough shrine since 1964 turning out gorgeous, imperfect rounds that are occasionally on the burnt side. No matter, even burnt this stuff is better than most. Whatever gruesome rituals had to be performed to achieve pizza this ethereal, we’ll gladly look the other way. Some folks will tell you to get there early, but we prefer to double down on delicious by placing an order at Di Fara and then walking around the corner to split one of the Italian comfort food dishes served at sister restaurant MD Kitchen. What’s better than a two-hour wait (most things)? A two-hour wait with shrimp parmigiana.