Travel

The Absolute Best Pizza in NYC, According to a Chef

Our test kitchen chef Josh's favorite spots in New York.

July  3, 2019

Welcome to Your Friendly Neighborhood Guide, a series of travel itineraries from locals who love their hometown haunts, nooks, and crannies so much, they're inviting us over for the inside scoop.


The average slice of pizza in New York City is better than the average slice of pizza anywhere in the world. That’s just a fact. Don’t mention Italy to me, because I’m not talking about wood-fired whole pies from Naples. I’m talking about walking into a humble pizzeria, saying “Hey, lemme get a slice,” and receiving one of life’s true pleasures.

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Quintessential

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The quintessential New York slice is thin, but pliable enough that you can fold your slice to eat it. The crust is crispy but with a touch of springiness, the cheese is browned in spots from bubbling inside the hot oven, and the slice itself is large and wide. I’m a lifelong New Yorker, and when I conjure a picture of home, I see a folded slice of pizza, resting on a white paper plate that’s dotted with a few drops of orange pizza grease. It’s a beautiful thing.

There are hundreds of pizzerias in N.Y.C., and most of them share certain essential traits: Huge plastic shakers of dried oregano, granulated garlic, and chili flakes, dispersed unevenly among formica tables and booths. A faded poster in the window for Gino’s Italian Ices. A large pile of oily garlic knots under a glass display case. Bright red fruit punch and some kind of purple drink, forever cascading in an endless waterfall inside rectangular drink dispensers. These details are comforting signs that tradition is being adhered to. They represent trustworthiness.

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“But let’s face it: New York has some incredible pizza! Great article, though. ”
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While the average pizzeria in New York is excellent, there are still some duds out there. There should be high turnover in a pizzeria, so if the slices look like they’ve been sitting out for more than a couple hours, just walk away. I’m also skeptical of a pale crust or cheese that looks too white. If the crust and cheese aren’t brown and caramelized, then that slice is probably not worth your time.

Most basic pizzerias in New York will leave you feeling satisfied and joyful. These reliable institutions are sprinkled throughout all five boroughs of the city. If you walk a few blocks in any direction, you’ll likely see a respectable place to grab a slice. There are, however, a plethora of pizzerias that go above and beyond the call of duty, cranking out some of the best pies in the world. Those top-notch pizzerias can be broken down into a few different categories:

Coal Oven

The original New York City pizzas were made in coal-fired brick ovens. Although Lombardi’s, which opened in 1905, claims to be the first pizzeria in the history of the United States, it’s now known as more of a tourist destination than a must-visit restaurant. Ironically, one of the absolute best coal-oven pizzerias still operating in New York today was actually founded in 1924 by a former employee of Lombardi’s, a man named Totonno. Located near Coney Island, the pizza at Totonno’s features a deep dark crust, a bright tomato sauce, and high quality fresh mozzarella. They have gruff service and it’s cash only, but the pizza is some of the absolute best in the city. Two other venerable coal-oven pizzerias worth a visit are Patsy’s and John’s of Bleecker Street.

Gas Oven

The vast majority of New York City pizza is cooked in gas ovens. There are countless neighborhood gems, serving high-quality pizza cooked in gas ovens. Two of my absolute favorites are Di Fara and Joe’s Pizza.

Di Fara, located in Midwood, Brooklyn, has been owned and operated by Domenic DeMarco since 1964. Domenic has earned the title of “best pizza in New York” numerous times over the years from a variety of publications. The love that he puts into each pizza is evident, from the extra sprinkling of grana padano atop each pie to the drizzle of olive oil that he pours from a small metal can, to the fresh basil that he cuts over using a pair of scissors. There are some Di Fara detractors who claim the pizza has gotten too expensive compared to other slice joints, or the line can get too long because Dominic insists on carefully making literally every pizza himself. He’s also had a few unfortunate run-ins with the New York City Department of Health. Nonetheless, for special occasions, there is no better gas oven pizza in New York City. He is one of the true pizza kings of New York.

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Pizza from God

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Joe’s Pizza, meanwhile, is exactly what a great New York slice should be. Located in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, they are rapidly slinging slices from 10 a.m. until around 4 or 5 a.m. Joe’s is reliable, fast, and delicious. There are plenty of pizzerias in New York that are equal to Joe’s in terms of flavor and reliability. But, if you had to show someone visiting New York what a typical slice should look and taste like, then Joe’s is the perfect place to go.

Square Slices

In New York, the alternative to a plain slice is the square slice, also known as a Sicilian. It’s a long-lost descendant of sfincione, a traditional Sicilian food that’s like a cross between focaccia and pizza. The best square slices in New York are about an inch thick, with a light, airy texture on the inside and a crispy oil-slicked exterior. Prince Street Pizza is widely considered to have the best square slice in the city, iconic with slightly charred pepperoni circles on top.

Mama’s Too is another exemplary square slice. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, their slices sit atop a wire resting rack, so that the edges remain free of any condensation and remain as crispy as possible. Their slices are reminiscent of Detroit-style pizza; as the mozzarella bubbles to the edge and mixes with the crust, it creates a delightfully crispy, cheesy final bite.

Another landmark pizzeria is L&B Spumoni Gardens. Located in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, they have a large outdoor seating space that’s ideal for warm weather. Their square slice features the sauce on top of the cheese, resulting in a pie that tastes delicate, fresh, and deeply savory. Paired with their tri-flavor spumoni gelato (chocolate, vanilla, pistachio), there's nothing better on a warm summer evening.

Wood Oven

High-end pizzerias in New York typically serve Naples-style whole pizzas. They don’t serve slices. Their crust is puffier and charred, and the mozzarella generally has a higher moisture content. Two of the best examples of this style of pizza can be found at Ops in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Una Pizza Napoletana on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The pizza at these two places is as good as any pizza in Italy. The crust is ethereal, and the sauce is so refreshing and tasty, you could eat it by the spoonful. Other notable Naples-style pizzerias in New York include Paulie Gee’s, Milkflower, Zero Otto Nove, and I’ll also include Razza—even though it’s located in Jersey City—because their pizza is truly excellent.

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Some wood fire pizzerias serve pizza that is more similar in style to a classic New York slice than a Naples pizza. Roberta’s and Lucali are two spots known for spectacular pizza. Although the wait times can be significant to get a table at either location, the quality and beauty of their pizza speaks for itself.

Honorable Mentions

Two more noteworthy pizzerias are hard to categorize: Joe & Pat’s makes thin slices that are almost too crispy to fold. Their vodka sauce pizza is so good, though, it’s even worth a trek out to Staten Island to visit their original location (although you could also visit their new location in Manhattan). Rizzo’s Fine Pizza is also an anomaly, as their crust is pinched into a thin wall (rather than the typical round crust). They’re famous for their square slice, which is thinner than most, with a delicate yet substantial texture.

Summary

Of course, it’s impossible to list every excellent pizzeria in New York City. There are simply too many. I’ve listed what I consider to be the city's "absolute best" (read: my favorites), but I know that this guide isn’t all-encompassing—just a handful of spots that stand out to me.

If you have a favorite local pizzeria in New York, then please tell me about it in the comments section below. I’d love to hear about your go-to neighborhood spots.

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Josh Cohen

Written by: Josh Cohen

Born and raised in Brooklyn, I'm perpetually inspired by the diversity of foods that exist in this city. I love shopping at the farmer's market, making ingredients taste like the best versions of themselves, and rolling fresh pasta.

19 Comments

Susanne B. July 8, 2019
Well done (from a Brooklyn native)! Really like the breakdown between types of ovens - adds something new and interesting to the usual N.Y. pizza lists. I’ve never come across anything in the world that can truly come close to Di Fara’s. Glad you recognized the magic that is Domenic DeMarco.
 
gailsal July 8, 2019
Pizza Suprema on 8th behind Penn Station. The upside down grandma slice is so good.
 
Eric K. July 6, 2019
I love getting an anchovy pie at John's.
 
Jack1313 July 5, 2019
Great article,
For those pizza lover over there,
 
Frank R. July 4, 2019
How is Patsy Grimaldi's "Juliana's" not on this list?
 
Eric K. July 6, 2019
Because there are endless pizza joints out there and these are Chef's favorites! But thanks for your recommendation.
 
Frank R. July 6, 2019
of course, but I don't think many would agree with grouping Patsy Grimaldi with the other "endless pizza joints". His original Grimaldi's was rated #1 pizza in NYC by Zagat multiple times, his Juliana's was recently rated #1 pizza in America by Trip Advisor, and Food Network listed it in the top 5 pizza places in USA. Even if not one of your personal favs i think it's worth mentioning.
 
Author Comment
Josh C. July 6, 2019
Hi Frank, I used to eat at the original Patsy Grimaldi's pizzeria under the Brooklyn Bridge. This was about 25 years ago, when I was a kid. I loved that pizza, it was one of my absolute favorite pizzerias in the world. Thin crust, fresh mozzarella, and a wonderful sauce. Over the years, their line has gotten extremely long, filled with tourists. And, although the quality is still very good, I think they've lost a small step, and so I left them off my list. Grimaldi's is now owned by different owners, and the original Patsy Grimaldi's owner runs Juliana's, which is nearby, also under the Brooklyn Bridge. I should revisit Juliana's to see how it stacks up. To be honest, I haven't been in a while, so I left it off the list. For what it's worth, I don't trust Trip Advisor rankings or Food Network rankings. That being said, I'm sure Juliana's is great pizza, they just didn't make my list.
 
greg T. July 4, 2019
If I don’t get to Di Fara or Lucali before I die.. we’ll, I’d be dead so I guess it doesn’t matter but I really need to fly out to Brooklyn soon. Great read, really enjoyed it.
 
Angela G. July 4, 2019
Great article!
 
Annabelle July 4, 2019
Wheated in Prospect Park South! Delicious sourdough crust.
 
Pizzatherapy July 3, 2019
Great list and great pizza lives in Brooklyn for example Nino Coniglio of Williamsburg pizza and Paulie G of of Paulie Gees come to mind.
I am not sure of the 1946 date for Dom DeMarco’s which may be a few decades off. But that’s a small typo.
I also love Roberto Caporuscio’s Keste’s as well as Don Antonio’s. But let’s face it: New York has some incredible pizza! Great article, though.
 
Author Comment
Josh C. July 3, 2019
You're right about the Di Fara typo - it should be 1964, not 1946, thanks for pointing that out. We will fix that error soon.
 
Vicki W. July 3, 2019
How could you leave out Rubirosa on Mulberry?
 
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Josh C. July 3, 2019
I love Rubirosa, their pizza is excellent. I couldn't add everything to the list though, and the last couple times I tried to eat at Rubirosa they had such a long wait time to get a table. If I had to add another pizzeria, they would be at the top of the list, they just missed the cut.
 
greg T. July 3, 2019
Excellent list!
 
Smaug July 3, 2019
" their crust is pinched into a thin wall..."- I give, what does that mean?
 
Author Comment
Josh C. July 3, 2019
Hi Smaug, the square slice at Rizzo’s in Astoria is unique, and delicious. It’s a square slice, but it’s thinner than a typical square slice, and the crust isn’t rounded, it’s like a little rectangular wall of crust, hard to describe but it’s crispy and airy.
 
Smaug July 3, 2019
Still not getting it, but as the odds of my ever going there are remote I suppose I can tolerate not knowing.