A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC’s Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - The Pizza Belt - Understanding NYC's Pizza Regions
New York City is a pizza lover's paradise, with over 1000 pizzerias spread across the five boroughs. But not all NYC pizza is created equal. The style and quality varies widely based on the region and pizzeria. Understanding the nuances of NYC’s “pizza belt” is key to finding your perfect slice.
The pizza belt refers to the areas of NYC that are renowned for their signature pies. It comprises four main regions: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Connecticut. Each area has developed its own distinct pizza style over decades.
In Manhattan, pizza is thin and crispy. The crust is hand-tossed, light and foldable. Toppings are applied sparingly so they don’t weigh down the delicate crust. This style emerged in the early 1900s when Italian immigrants perfected their recipes using coal-fired ovens. Places like John’s of Bleecker Street still use these ovens today to recreate the quintessential Manhattan slice.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn boasts pies with chewier, puffier crusts. The dough contains more water and is kneaded less, creating an airier texture. Traditional toppings like pepperoni and mushrooms are piled high. Two pizza institutions define this style: Totonno’s, which claims to be NYC’s oldest pizzeria, and Di Fara, often named the city’s best slice.
If you prefer ultra-thin crust, head to Staten Island. Local pizzerias use high-gluten flour to create a cracker-like foundation. The thinner crust allows the zesty tomato sauce and thick layer of mozzarella to shine. Denino’s in Port Richmond claims to have pioneered this technique.
Finally, Connecticut offers its own spin with apizza (pronounced ah-BEETS). This variety has a chewy, charred crust and is cooked at ultra-high temperatures. Toppings incorporate unconventional flavors like clams, bacon and arugula. The super-hot ovens yield complex char flavors in the crust. Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven is the place to sample authentic apizza.
What else is in this post?
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - The Pizza Belt - Understanding NYC's Pizza Regions
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Focus on the Slice - Why a Single Slice Matters
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Neapolitan vs. New York Style - A Crust and Topping Breakdown
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Coal Ovens and Brick Ovens - How Heat Sources Affect Flavor
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - The Original Pizzerias - Visiting the NYC Classics
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - The New Kids on the Block - Trendy Spots Reinventing Pizza
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Top Pizza Streets and Neighborhoods to Explore
- A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Beyond the Pie - Where to Find Top Pizza-Adjacent Dishes
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Focus on the Slice - Why a Single Slice Matters
In the fast-paced world of New York City, pizza by the slice provides a convenient, affordable, and delicious meal on the go. More than just a snack, the humble slice encapsulates the very essence of New York’s pizza culture. Focusing on the slice reveals why pizza holds such importance in the social fabric of the city.
The individual slice emerged in the 1930s when pizzerias began selling their pies pre-cut to cater to busy New Yorkers. What began as a practical solution quickly became an iconic part of the urban landscape. Walk into any NYC pizzeria today and you’ll be greeted by pizza slices on display, kept warm under heat lamps. This simple set-up enables the theater of watching your slice get sliced, weighed, heated and wrapped before heading out the door.
For many New Yorkers, eating pizza by the slice is a daily ritual. Office workers stop in for a quick lunchtime bite. Night owls grab a late-night slice after a night on the town. Families share a pie while running errands. The pizza slice integrates seamlessly into New Yorkers’ everyday lives.
Slice joints also serve as gathering places, fostering a sense of community. Pictures of local sports teams adorn the walls, adding to the neighborhood vibe. Regulars chat with the staff and each other while waiting in line. Sharing a slice with friends or overhearing others’ pizza opinions connects you to the larger city.
When eating a slice, focus on the interplay between the thin, foldable crust and the sweet, herby tomato sauce. The crust strikes a delicate balance between crisp and chewy. No fork and knife needed here - true New Yorkers fold their slices and eat them by hand. This ritual enables maximum enjoyment of the pizza’s contrasting textures.
Pizza purveyors take pride in their slices, obsessing over perfecting ingredients and technique. Scott Weiner of Scott’s Pizza Tours attests “the slice is very personal and emotional to New Yorkers. Their slice is their slice.” From family recipes perfected over generations to friendly pizza debates, the slice forms the core of the city’s pizza tradition.
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Neapolitan vs. New York Style - A Crust and Topping Breakdown
Among pizza aficionados, the rivalry between Neapolitan and New York style pies sparks intense debate. While both share Italian roots, they diverge significantly in ingredients, preparation and flavor profile. Understanding how these pizza heavyweights stack up reveals nuances that enrich any pizza experience.
The most striking difference lies in the crust. Neapolitan pizza crust is soft, chewy andcharred, with a pronounced cornicione (the puffy outer rim). It uses double-zero flour, which is finely ground from soft wheat and has low gluten content. The dough must be hand-kneaded and stretched, not rolled, to avoid toughening the crust. Rapid cooking at 900+ degree wood-fired ovens gives the crust its signature puffy char.
New York pizza crust is crisper and denser. Bread flour or high-gluten flour lends structure to the dough so it can be rolled thinly and maintain integrity under heavy toppings. The crust is baked at lower temperatures, around 550 degrees. This yields a firm, cracker-like foundation cut into broad triangles or “slices.”
Toppings also diverge. Neapolitan pizza allows only specific ingredients like crushed San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil and a sprinkling of parmesan or pecorino cheese. Minimal toppings highlight the fresh, simple flavors of quality ingredients. There are strict rules - if it doesn’t follow tradition, it’s not true Neapolitan pizza.
New York pizzas pile on bold, plentiful toppings like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions and extra cheese. The laundry list of options reflects the city’s cultural melting pot. Creativity and abundance are key. Folding a bulging, dripping slice is a badge of honor.
These styles cater to different tastes and experiences. Neapolitan pizza provides a purist, sensory experience focused on the crust and restrained, bright flavors. Every component works in harmony. New York pizza delivers hearty abundance loaded with texture and intensity. It fuels New Yorkers and stands up to all-night partying.
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Coal Ovens and Brick Ovens - How Heat Sources Affect Flavor
The heat source used to bake pizza impacts far more than just the temperature - it imparts profound flavor effects that differentiate NYC’s iconic pizza styles. Mastering coal and brick ovens enabled pizzerias to perfect their signature pies over generations.
Coal ovens burn at 800-1000°F and imbue the crust with distinctive smokiness. The intense heat from anthracite coal quickly chars the crust, yielding a thin, crispy, blackened foundation. This adds textural contrast and deep, earthy notes that complement the sweet tomato sauce.
According to Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours, coal ovens enabled the initial spread of pizza across NYC over a century ago. “Coal ovens were commonplace items that were affordable, consistent, and could generate the high heat pizza requires.” Baking quickly at coal oven temperatures also created a fast-paced workflow to serve massive crowds.
John’s of Bleecker Street still uses its original 1929 coal oven, fed by shoveling coal every 20 minutes. The decades of soot baked into the brick lining add to the unique flavor profile. To experience authentic coal oven pizza in a historical setting, join the line snaking out their door. Just don’t ask for a slice with too many toppings, as the thin crust can’t handle the weight.
Brick ovens allow more control over temperature, ranging from 550°F for New York-style to over 1000°F for Neapolitan pies. Firebricks absorb and distribute heat evenly across the floor and domed ceiling to encircle the pizza. Modern gas-fired brick ovens enable chefs to precisely hit the ideal temp for their desired crust style.
For Neapolitan pies, the blistering heat of the brick oven floor instantly scorches the bottom of the dough, imparting complex char notes while leaving the cornicione puffy and chewy. Lucali in Brooklyn faithfully recreates this with an imported 900°F Stefano Ferrara oven crafted in Naples.
Lower brick oven temps around 500-600°F suit New York-style doughs. The longer bake time crisps the bottom and dehydrates the crust without burning. Ops in Bushwick uses a Marra Forni rotating brick deck oven to exactly nail the perfect bake for its inventive pies like vodka sauce and potato.
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - The Original Pizzerias - Visiting the NYC Classics
The legends never die, especially when it comes to New York pizza. While trendy spots come and go, the OG pizzerias that laid the genre’s foundation continue defining America’s favorite food. Making a pilgrimage to these shrines connects you to decades of pizza history one sublime slice at a time.
No NYC pizza quest is complete without paying homage at Lombardi’s, widely hailed as the first pizzeria in the United States. Gennaro Lombardi brought over his recipes from Naples in 1897 and sold pies out of his Spring Street grocery store. The founders might never recognize the crowds swarming for selfies today, but Lombardi’s retains touches of old-world charm like the original coal ovens. Their crisp, smoky pies keep tradition alive.
Totonno’s in Coney Island stands as the city’s oldest continuously operating pizzeria. Celebrating its centennial in 2024, Totonno’s has persevered through devastating setbacks like fire and flooding. Their fanatical followers flock for the signature charred, puffy crust baked at 800°F in the original coal oven. Customizing your pie is heresy here; the no-frills menu stays true to NYC’s pizza roots.
For many, no discussion of classic NYC pizza is complete without Di Fara. Since 1965, Dom DeMarco has meticulously crafted each pie to order at this Brooklyn storefront. At 94 years old, he still sprinkles cheese and olive oil with an artist’s reverent hands. Be prepared to wait hours for a seat and pay cash only. One sublime, sauce-laden bite makes true believers understand why many call Di Fara the city’s best slice.
Experiencing the old-world pizza portal at John’s of Bleecker feels like time travel. A relic of the Prohibition era, this dimly lit, brick-walled pizzeria relies on its original 1929 coal oven. Their crisp, well-done slices remain a Greenwich Village institution. Despite the no-frills atmosphere, tourists and locals alike happily weather the crowds and cash-only policy for these famous bites.
For the classic apizza taste, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven Connecticut continually seduces pizza scholars. Since 1925, their coal oven and "tomato pie" (no mozzarella) represent American pizza’s evolution from strict Italian tradition. The crisp exterior crust gives way to chewy, char-spotted interior that epitomizes the art of apizza. This Michelin-rated darling draws epic lines, so call ahead for takeout to skip the wait.
Revel in pizza nostalgia at Arturo's in Greenwich Village. The cozy, old-school ambience matches the handwritten menu and cash-only policy. Exposed brick walls, Sinatra on the speakers and B&W photos of football heroes evoke NYC institutions like the original Yankee Stadium. Their juicy coal oven pies, table wine and garlic bread define Big Apple comfort food.
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - The New Kids on the Block - Trendy Spots Reinventing Pizza
While reverence for the classics never fades, innovation propels New York’s pizza scene ever forward. A new generation of pizzerias experiments with novel styles, ingredients and techniques - yet still shows deference to tradition when it matters most. These trendsetters freshen familiar flavors or challenge orthodoxy entirely, expanding our pizza horizons.
Roberta’s in Bushwick epitomizes the innovative spirit. Launched out of a gritty, graffiti-adorned garage in 2008, Roberta’s sends Italian purists running with "new school" pies like the Bee Sting (spicy soppressata, honey) and Carlo (mashed potatoes, pancetta, caramelized onions). Their global fusion pizzas incorporate Korean pork belly, Japanese yuzu kosho and Mexican chorizo. However, Roberta’s still respects the classics by using high quality ingredients and baking pies in a wood-fired oven. The laid-back warehouse ambience matches the innovative offerings.
For a thoroughly modern pizza experience, hit up Ops in Bushwick. This hip, minimalist pizzeria obsesses over perfecting every component - from the naturally leavened dough to imaginative veggie-forward toppings. Their signature square Grandma pie’s crispy-chewy crust proves a hearty base for novel creations like lemon confit with pistachios. Ops constantly experiments with new flavors while honoring traditional technique. The casual counter-service vibe and chill courtyard make sampling their latest combinations a pleasure.
On the burgeoning Brooklyn pizza scene, Emily has earned a cult following for its Detroit-style pies. These rectangular pizzas get loaded edge-to-edge with toppings, then brick-oven baked until the Wisconsin brick cheese lining caramelizes. The result is a crispy-crunchy crust enveloping decadent ingredients like the Emmy Burger (pork roll, bacon, cheddar) or the gritty Roni Cup Pepperoni deep dish. Emily brings Motor City soul to New York pizza while retaining the spirit of bold American abundance we love.
For a thoroughly modern experience, hit up Pizza Loves Emily’s gorgeous bi-level space in Crown Heights. White marble tables, hanging plants and ornate tilework emit elegance almost as intoxicating as their famed Basque Cheesecake pizza. Their menu cycles through creative seasonal options alongside riffs on classics like the pepperoni-packed Suprema. It's an ideal date night spot to split both Detroit and Neapolitan-style pies paired with natural wines.
Paulie Gee's makes Greenpoint home to artisanal pizza with an punk rock ethos. Owner Paul Giannone spent decades perfecting his craft before launching his eponymous pizzeria at age 60. Now he slings pies like the Hellboy (spicy soppressata, honey) alongside craft brews while blasting the Ramones. The party-ready vibe continues on their back patio. With top-tier ingredients and obsessive technique, Paulie Gee’s pleases purists yet still pushes boundaries. Their epic ‘Lord of the Pies’ pizza challenges hungry competitors with 60 toppings!
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Top Pizza Streets and Neighborhoods to Explore
The beauty of pizza in New York City lies in its hyper-local essence. Just blocks apart, pizzerias adopt distinct styles and loyalties defined by their neighborhood. When exploring NYC’s pizza scene, narrowing your search area is key. Pizza epicenters emerge in pockets around the boroughs, offering culinary tours where you can sample several renowned spots without traveling far. Here are prime pizza neighborhoods and streets to target for efficiently tasting the range of NYC’s pies.
No pizza trek is complete without traversing the pizza mecca of Williamsburg. With over 30 pizzerias in just over 2 square miles, options abound. Pizza veterans like L’imprimerie blend classic technique with playful wine pairings and a cozy wine cellar atmosphere. For huge coal oven pies, Pizza Party does fast casual right. Their loaded pepperoni slice encased in bubbly, char-flecked crust fuels all-night partying. Walk off the carbs strolling to dozen other excellent pizzerias within a few blocks.
Similarly, Bushwick anchors Brooklyn’s dynamic pizza innovation. Roberta’s rightly draws the crowds, but expanding your exploration uncovers gems like Ops and Emily. The secret speakeasy vibes at Mimi’s Pizza deliver a chilled-out escape for enjoying their organic pies. No matter how you slice it, Bushwick brings artistry and diversity to Brooklyn pizza.
Skip the subway and embrace the amble between Manhattan pizza landmarks by foot. A walking tour from John’s on Bleecker up to Lombardi’s on Spring Street offers classic coal-oven slices and NYC history along the way. Pit stops at spots like Arturo’s impart fuel and stories from centuries of pizza tradition. Meandering the Sidewalk route allows digestion while connecting the dots between the origins and evolution of New York’s signature pies.
Speaking of digesting, consuming an army’s share of pizza requires ample walking- it off. Greenpoint boasts over a dozen worthy pizza stops to bounce between, including mainstays like Paulie Gee’s to the new wave like Screamer’s Pizzeria dishing Detroit-style pies. The relaxed neighborhood vibe invites strolling off each slice before stepping into the next pizzeria. Tree-lined streets and waterfront parks provide breezy options for balancing pizza indulgence.
Staten Island earns honors for its collection of razor-thin bar pies. No foldable floppy slices here- these sturdy triangular wedges stay crunchy even under heaps of pepperoni. Legendary Joes, Denino’s, and Lee’s Tavern all slice up cracker-crusted pies to locals’ delight. Don’t just grab a quick ferry ride over for a token taste. Devote an afternoon to experiencing subtle differences between NYC’s thinnest crusts.
A Slice of Heaven: Navigating NYC's Pizza Paradise to Find the very Best Pies - Beyond the Pie - Where to Find Top Pizza-Adjacent Dishes
New Yorkers don’t live on pizza alone. While a heavenly slice probably tops the list of quintessential NYC foods, the restaurants crafting these pies often expand their menus to include other Italian-American specialties worth exploring. After all, purveyors striving for pizza perfection invariably master nuances of pasta, sauces, antipasti and more. Seeking out these pizza-adjacent dishes expands your experience of time-honored tastes beyond the humble pie.
For many aficionados, no pizza excursion feels complete without also indulging in the garlic knots at Don Antonio by Starita. Their puffy, oven-kissed knots come drizzled in olive oil and parmesan or the namesake Starita, a creamy garlic-parsley dip with anchovies. Alternating bites of pillowy knots and crisp-chewy pizza creates a textural and flavor symphony ideal for soaking up rich sauces. According to Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours, "these garlic knots are pillow-soft and intensely garlicky - the perfect pairing to cut the richness of Starita's pies."
At influential Roberta's, part of the appeal lies in experiencing the full breadth of their Italian-inflected menu. Beyond blistery wood-fired pizza, Roberta's builds craveable sandwiches overflowing with salami, soppressata and other cured meats. Their Bushwick outpost even hosts an on-site radio station called "Roberta's FM" broadcasting playlists and interviews to match the convivial vibe. Food writer Mimimette Sweeting recommends their meatball parm sub, noting "the tender meatballs and squishy bread soaked in rich red sauce capture the comforting side of Italian cuisine."
For an authentic taste of Sicily, a detour to cavernous neighborhood favorite Razza in Jersey City rewards with perfect pizza and sensational seasonal salads. Food critic Max Bernstein declares "Razza's Insalata Pantesca showcases what's peaking at New Jersey farms with veggies marinated in Meyer lemon, olive oil and herbs. It's the ideal light, bright foil to their blistered and puffy pies." Beyond world-class pie and salad, Razza’s experimentation shines through pastas like lumache with lamb sausage and rapini.
Even among the new guard, devotion to handmade pasta remains strong. At trendy Ops in Bushwick, their bucatini cacio e pepe combined with the Grandma pie indulges both noodle and crust cravings. Ops Chef Francisco Migoya told Eater NY "we start pasta production every morning by extruding the dough through our bronze dies to shape orecchiette, tagliatelle and other cuts by hand." Curing meats in house yields showstoppers like duck sausage atop creamy carbonara noodles.