Allow me to begin with some great words from a wise man:
Most Sicilian pizza is just too thick for me, but Rizzo's in Astoria is the home of the wondrous thin-crust Sicilian slice...homemade sauce (slightly sweet), full-cream mozzarella that lies ever so gently on top of the light—almost demure—crust, and just enough Romano cheese to give his pizza a little zing. —Ed Levine, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven
One of the first things you'll spot upon entering the small, bright interior of the new Lower East Side Rizzo's is a smattering of quotes on the wall. Yes, there's even one from Ed, pulled from the excerpt above. They're all glowing recommendations from respected magazines, newspapers, and food critics; they're also all written about the pizzeria's original location in Astoria, which has been around since the late '50s, and its sister joint on the Upper East Side.
Whenever I hear that an acclaimed pizzeria has expanded with a second (let alone third) branch, I can't help but let loose a skeptical eyebrow raise, a tilt of the head, a smirk of a shrug. Inconsistency can be the downfall of any restaurant, but the pizza industry has always struck me as especially vulnerable—great pizza is at once inherently simple and delicately balanced, meaning that errors in execution tend to be glaringly apparent.
Let's just say that while we placed our order with some trepidation, we needn't have worried. Rizzo's latest outpost is turning out pies that stand up to the original storefront's (and give them a run for their money, to boot).
Thin is indeed 'in' at Rizzo's. To the extent that when the Plain ($11) came out, my first thought was that it looked wan and sort of wimpy, the cheese disproportionately concentrated in the middle of the pie. But moments later, a string of that same cheese dangling from my lips, all was forgotten. The crust—buttery, crisp, and delightfully thin—gives way to sweet-tart tomato sauce and tangy aged mozzarella. The square pies are personal-size and made to order; you can buy 'em by the slice, but you'll probably regret it. This is the kind of pizza that's made for eating in volume, so light and flavorful that I could've easily plowed through two and then demanded a few more.
The Fantasia ($13) makes for a heftier pie, but it's no worse for the wear. The creamy base of ricotta is flecked with roasted red pepper, marinated mushrooms, and sliced olives. Shot through with pesto, it's a little milky-sweet and nutty; a little tart and grassy—the brightness of a salad, mingled with the warmth of comfort food.
Go for the pizza, but don't even think about walking out of Rizzo's without placing an order for the Garlic Knots ($1 for 3; $3 for 12). I'm not exaggerating when I say they're hands down the best I've ever had—fresh out of the oven, they're ethereally light and airy, with the tender, pull-apart chewiness of the best rolls. After a wait? I couldn't say, since nobody in their right mind would leave a crumb left over.
The diminutive knots come judiciously sprinkled with sea salt and shaved Parmesan, and even though the roasty garlic flavor is pretty pronounced, it didn't leave me talking with a hand over my mouth for the rest of the day. In fact, Max— longtime Queens resident and Rizzo's patron—will tell you that the Lower East Side garlic knots don't just rival those of the Astoria location—they crush the competition.
For those looking to make an afternoon or evening of it, you can get your hands on those same pies and sides—along with full wine and beer menus—at their sit-down establishment next door.
Oh, and one last thing: See that sign? See where it says 'Round Pies'? I have to close things out with a few more words from that same wise man.*
After years of maintaining Sicilian-only pizza purity, Rizzo's is now making conventional Neapolitan pizza. I can't tell you how it is, though, because I refuse to order it on general principle. I come here for the Sicilian slice only. —Ed Levine, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven
*If you really must know, though, we've got the write-up right here.
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry.