New York is the king of pizza cities. Oh, yes, there are other pretenders to the pizza crown. Naples has its adherents, those who champion that beautiful city's high-lipped, slightly wet pies made in gorgeous wood-burning ovens. Chicagoans love their deep-dish pizza, and it is in fact a mighty tasty casserole, but one kind of pizza does not make a strong enough case for designating a city pizza royalty. New Havenites proudly point to the gorgeous, asymmetrical pies that come out of the coal-fired ovens of Sally's and Pepe's. Those are righteous pies indeed, but, again, you have to be able to show some pizza breadth. Pizza variety is why New York City sits comfortably on its pizza throne.
Let's start with classic Neapolitan-American pies, made in coal-fired brick ovens with fresh mozzarella. New York has Lombardi's, which opened the first licensed pizzeria in America, in 1905. Lombardi's pie man Anthony (Totonno) Pero opened his own shop, Totonno's, in Coney Island, Brooklyn, in 1924, and his descendants are still turning out masterful pies there today. Patsy Lancieri opened a similar place, Patsy's, using the same kind of oven in 1933 in East Harlem, and it, too, is still around. Other whole-pie places utilizing coal-fired brick ovens include the Patsy's minichain, Grimaldi's, Arturo's, Angelo's, and Bella Via. The array of New York pizzerias named Patsy's, Grimaldi's, Totonno's, John's, Nick's, and Angelo's is confusing even to the most esteemed pizzaologists among us. To our rescue comes Eric Asimov of the New York Times, who follows each of the twisted branches of the New York pizza family tree.
Then there's the New York City whole-pie culture that utilizes gas ovens. Estimable pies come our of the ovens of Denino's in Staten Island, Mario's in the Bronx, and Nick's Pizza in Forest Hills, Queens, and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In fact, Nick Angelis makes a pie with so much char and chew and pliancy in his high-tech gas ovens that he has me rethinking my allegiance to coal- and wood-fired pizzas.
Interested in individually sized, Neapolitan-inspired pies that come out of a wood-buming oven? New York has those, too, starting with La Pizza Fresca in the Flatiron district, Celeste on the Upper West Side, Naples 45 in Grand Central for commuters in need of a good pizza fix, and Caserta Vecchia and Franny's in Brooklyn, just a tunnel or bridge away from lower Manhattan.
Sicilian pizza aficionados who crave a square, slightly oily slice baked in a pan can head to L & B Spumoni Gardens (right) in Brooklyn, or Rizzo's or Rose and Joe's Italian Bakery in Astoria, or even the grandma pie at Maffei at 22nd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.
Or maybe, just maybe, you want a designer pie. New York has those, too. Try the focaccia stuffed with robiola cheese and truffle oil at Thirty One in Queens [Sadly, Thirty One burned down in August 2005 Ed.] or Da Ciro in Manhattan, or the pie topped with Manila clams at Otto, or the fontina cheese, pancetta, and egg pie at Franny's, or one of Todd English's oddly shaped but addictive pies at Olives. If you've got a hankering for grilled pizza, you can't do much better than Vinnie Scotto's pies at Gonzo. And if you're one of those Roman snobs who wants your pizza by the meter, the aforementioned Thirty One has that as well [Again, Thirty One did have those. Ed.].
If you want multicultural pizza, go to Flushing, where, Tony Sala turns out a mean pie topped with kimchi. If kimchi isn't your ideal pizza topping, perhaps you want to have an Indian-style pie made with curry powder and coriander at Famous Pizza in Jackson Heights. There's a reason that every other city has pizza restaurants with names like Escape from New York, Big Apple Pizza, and Manhattan Slice. They want to offer their customers a slice of the real thing. But it's just a come-on. To enjoy New York pizza in all its forms, you've got to come to New York.
Ed Levine is a regular contributor to the New York Times Dining section and is author of New York Eats and New York Eats More. He also maintains a blog: Ed Levine Eats. This entry is an excerpt from his book Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, published on Slice through special arrangement.
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