If you ask ten New Yorkers where to find the best New York-style pizza, you’re likely to get ten different answers. In the city that boasts the first pizzeria in America (that’s Lombardi’s, for the uninitiated) pizza isn’t a food: It’s a genre, a dietary staple, and a hot button question. Some call the buzzy DiFara’s the last word in pies, others swear by L&B Spumoni Gardens for its slices. Still others come to fisticuffs over the superiority of Joe & Pat’s over John’s of Bleeker Street.
Those are all excellent choices, and for many New Yorkers, the best slice is the closest one or the one they grew up eating. For me, a Queens-based Buffalo native, that makes Rosario’s across the street from my train stop the go-to and anywhere that serves a good cup-and-char pepperoni slice the runner-up.
Nobody can possibly eat all of the amazing pizza in the five boroughs in one visit, but if you’re looking for a great slice, here’s how to find one, where to look, and a few can’t-miss joints to add to your list.
What to Look for In a Slice Joint
In New York, there’s a pizzeria on almost every corner. But you can’t walk in just anywhere and expect a great pie. To help sleuth out the best, we asked experts to share their top warning signs.
Pizza expert, food writer, and founder of Best Pizza NYC Arthur Bovino suggests sticking to fresh pies and steering clear of anywhere that relies on reheats. “Most pizzerias that have 30 pies out with different toppings don’t do a single one right,” he says. “Zany toppings don’t cover up a bad pizza.” If a pizza place is simply layering fresh pepperoni on a reheated pie, get out. If you’re not allowed to wait for a fresh one, choose your own slice, or reheat it to your preferred crispiness, cut and run.
Scott Wiener, pizza guru, author, and creator of Scott’s Pizza Tours prefers unassuming, old-school pizza purveyors, preferably those with a person’s name behind them. He also looks for storefronts that focus more on what’s coming out of the oven than the storefront itself. Pies angled toward the window like edible advertisements, flashy décor, and digital signs may attempt to compensate for subpar pies. “If you’re trying too hard, it’s probably not good,” he says.
Lines out the door aren’t always a positive thing either. Instead, look for activity at odd hours. “A line could be that a tour group just got off a bus, but the fact that it’s buzzing all the time, [that’s how] you know it’s good,” says Wiener. “When a pizzeria is buzzing at 3 p.m. because that’s shift change for restaurant workers and that’s where they go to get a slice when they get off work, that’s a good sign.”
What Makes a Good NY-style Pizza
On the plate, we’ve all got our favorite toppings and types. I go for grease cup pepperoni and a slightly sweet sauce, extra bonus points for fresh red pepper flakes in the ubiquitous countertop shakers. Bovino likes to see crumbled sausage instead of slices or strips. Your topping choice is your business, but just about everyone agrees that good crust is key.
The crust should be lightly bronzed and dappled with char spots, while remaining pliable enough for the classic fold-and-bite. Cary and Lilian Steiner, creators of Passion 4 Pizza put it this way: “If the dough is good, it almost doesn’t matter what’s on it, and if the dough is bad, it almost doesn’t matter what you put on it.” The Steiners like broccoli rabe on half a pie if they can get it, but their preferred toppings depend on the location.
Photo credit: Scott Weiner
Bovino considers his “platonic ideal” a super-thin New York slice with “an undercarriage so thin that it’s an almost exact ratio of crust to cheese to sauce.”
For Wiener, that balance is not only delicious, but a clue to quality. “I like it when I can see the tomato poke through the cheese. There’s a rustic nature to it,” he says. “Cheese is the most expensive part of a pizza, but it’s also…the easiest way to cheat flavor. So if there’s less cheese, it’s usually more balanced.”
Unless your chosen destination has a specialty, always judge a slice joint on its plain slice. Once you establish it can do plain perfectly, then branch out to more unusual toppings—and feel free to grab two or three slices per trip.
Where to Go
So where do we find these “platonic ideal” slices? Every pizzeria has its fans, and every fan has his or her favorite. “It depends on the visitor, how much experience they’ve had with New York pizza, what level of commitment they have to seeking out the truly great spots, and how much time they have,” Bovino says.
“The place I always want people to go is Louie & Ernie’s,” says Bovino. “It’s just so far that it takes real dedication for someone to get there.” However, those who do make it out to the Bronx pizzeria are handsomely rewarded with what the Steiners call “the greatest sausage-and-onion pizza on earth.” They also love New Park Pizza in Howard Beach for a classic taste of home.
Best Pizza in Williamsburg makes an excellent slice that Buffalo Eats founder and pizza aficionado Donnie Burtless loves when he’s in town. “The ingredients are great and the wood oven that cooks the pizza gives it an amazing crust,” he says.
Burtless also swears by Prince Street Pizza; its square slices with my favorite “cup and char” pepperoni earn the place long lines and Instagram fans. While Prince Street strays from the iconic triangle, it’s worth a visit just to say (and gather photographic evidence) that you went.
Photo Credit: Donnie Burtless
Bottom Line: We’ve All Got Our Favorites
Scott’s Pizza Tours—or any food tour, for that matter—visit several locations for a reason: We all have our preferences and our rationales. For Wiener, finding the “best” slice isn’t as important as finding the best for you. “My taste buds are my taste buds. And I don’t expect everybody to have the same ones,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a single place in the entire city that has never made a good slice. And I don’t think there’s a single place in the city that doesn’t have a person out there who thinks it’s their favorite that they’ve ever had.”
Burtless recommends out of towners visit pizza joints with history, buzz, or a great backstory. “When I’m in another city, I want the place to have some significance,” he says. One of the biggest assets of a city like New York is its diversity. That comes across on the plate as much as on the subway, and even a category as seemingly narrow as pizza slices is no exception. “It’s offensive to tell someone that their tastes are wrong,” Wiener says. “How great is it that there can be something that I don’t like that somebody else loves?”
There’s nothing like strolling down an unfamiliar street in a new city, exploring what surprises lie around every corner. In New York, the best way to do that is with a slice in your hand. With such a wide selection of pizzerias, a satisfying option is never far away.
Lizz Schumer is a writer and editor living in Queens, New York. She’s written for The New York Times, Bon Appetit, VinePair, Edible Queens, Serious Eats, HuffPost Food + Drink, and lizzschumer.com.
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