The Pizza Spots You Must Try for an Authentic NYC Slice
July 26, 2019
New York City is blessed with enough signature dishes and foods to stand alone as an international culinary destination. From hot dogs and bagels to pastrami and cheesecake, it’s one delicious treat after another. Standing astride the landscape like a Colossus is New York City pizza, the food you can grab on the go, snack on in the subway, or unbox on the stoop. New York City boasts more than 75,000 pizzerias, and that’s probably not even enough. Not all slices are created equal, however. Here’s where to find the genuine, authentic pizza.
Anatomy of an Authentic NYC Pizza
For all the local pride and global reputation, the NYC pizza is actually surprisingly ordinary. Take a large, thin base, and top it with just tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. No pineapple, no jalapeño, no goat’s cheese required. Behind the simplicity, however, is some serious quality. In style, it’s close to a Neapolitan pizza, but with a unique ingredient: Connoisseurs swear that NYC tap water gives the pizza its distinctive dough, so thin it is usually folded in half. Other factors include the use of traditional, 800-degree, coal-fired ovens, and the technique of hand-stretching rather than rolling the dough.
Lombardi’s–NYC’s Oldest Pizzeria
The Founding Fathers of NYC pizza (not to mention the first pizzeria in the United States) are still in business, working out of a surprisingly modest location in Little Italy. Lombardi’s dates back to 1905, when it was founded by Neapolitan pizza chef Gennaro Lombardi. The original coal-fired oven is the secret to impeccably smoky pizzas, served in the obligatory 16”-size with eight slices.
Totonno’s, Coney Island (Brooklyn)
The influence of Lombardi’s in NYC is the signature of the pizza landscape. Totonno’s in Coney Island was the brainchild of former Lombardi’s chef Anthony Pero, who branched out on his own in 1924. The tomatoes come from Italy, but the awards come from all over, with the New York Times and Zagat touting this as the best pizza in NYC.
John’s, West Village
There’s somewhat of a template to authentic NYC pizza, and the pies at John’s on Bleecker Street are no exception. Founded in 1929, this pizzeria has the same coal-fired oven churning out hundreds of pizzas a day. The lines can be long–they don’t sell pizza by the slice here–but the reward is a traditional Italian pizzeria with wooden booths and Art Deco flourishes. Not surprisingly, the list of regular celebrity clientele is formidable.
Patsy’s, Spanish Harlem
After opening in 1933, Patsy’s has established itself as an East Harlem landmark. Despite a steady stream of entertainers, politicians, and New York Yankees dropping by for a Margherita, Patsy’s has never lost its neighborhood restaurant atmosphere. This was the first authentic pizzeria to sell pizza by the slice. It worked. After all, Frank Sinatra picked Patsy’s as his favorite spot to grab a slice.
Di Fara’s, Brooklyn
Dom De Marco opened Di Fara’s in 1965, making the pizzeria on Avenue J a relative newcomer. Like many of NYC’s authentic pizzerias, you could walk past without knowing you were in the presence of greatness. Chef Anthony Bourdain was one of the many chefs and food critics to pick out Di Fara’s as a personal favorite. The secret is in fresh basil, plenty of olive oil, and a three-cheese topping of mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fior di latte, a type of mozzarella made from cow’s milk.
Sal & Carmine, Broadway (Upper West Side)
Another characteristic of the authentic NYC pizzeria is that pizza is the only thing on the menu. That’s true of Sal & Carmine on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood landmark that combines a splash of theater behind the counter with some outstanding pies. The slices have a soft, tender crust and a perfectly seasoned topping that will linger long in the memory.
Joe’s, Carmine St.
New York Magazine has called Joe’s the “Best of New York,” and you can pick up a slice at five locations across the city. The original, opened in 1975, is in Greenwich Village. Choose from the traditional Neapolitan-style eight-slice pie or try the distinctive Sicilian-style square pie. It’s unashamedly no-nonsense, which ironically guarantees that the list of patrons drawn from showbiz and the A-list is astonishing.
Best Pizza, Williamsburg
This ambitiously named venue backs up the claims to greatness with superlative 20-inch pies cooked in a wood-fired oven and given a Brooklyn twist. Best Pizza might draw its inspiration from traditional Brooklyn slice joints and the owner’s Sicilian “nona,” but the fact that it’s the brainchild of Culinary Institute of America graduate Frank Pinello shows the extent to which pizza has gone gourmet. The pizzeria only opened in 2010, but each slice evokes a rich local pizza heritage.
Pizza is arguably America’s favorite dish, and NYC-style pizza the standard-bearer. That a single pizzeria could spawn a national and international obsession is one of the great American success stories, but none of the backstory matters once you’ve got a slice in your hand. The next time you’re hungry for some pizza, skip the tourist traps and the generic outlets and make a pilgrimage to these iconic restaurants.
Written by Nick Marshall for Knockaround.