Picking Sides: An Ode to NYC Pizza

PizzaSpeaks

It’s been a while since I posted, but not without good reason(s). First, I had a friend come from out of state for a 10-day visit, so there was getting ready (and then recovering from) that.  Having her here was such a great excuse to try out so many new places! We jokingly called her visit the “Eastern European Tour of NYC” because somehow we ended up eating out for Czech food (Koliba, Astoria), Ukrainian (Veselka, East Village), and Russian (Mari Vanna, Flatiron District). Sprinkled in with the infamous Rainbow Bagels, rooftop bars, more bagels, pies, pizza, and few extra pounds! I know this is the ultimate First World Problem, but I feel like every time I cross something off the bucket list, two more things get added! I don’t think I will ever be done exploring New York City (that’s okay).

The second reason is that this post actually took a bit of “research” – the best kind, because I think I’ve finally sampled enough pizzas to be able to accurately rate some of NYC’s famous (and not-so-famous) pizzerias.  Now, I know that I’ve only been in New York for 7 months and that pizza to a New Yorker is kind of a sacred topic, so I could never presume to say that I know THE best (and worst) pizzerias in NYC.  HOWEVER….I did live in Italy for nearly four years, and pizza was at least a once-a-week occurrence…not just because a simple margherita cost 4 euros and I was on a student budget, but also because I truly believe pizza is a gift from the gods, a modern day ambrosia; and New York is the Mount Olympus of pizza cities in the US (too much?).  I’m hard to please and a tough critic, so I’m pretty confident in my analyses…

Before I start, I want to make 2 (TWO!) disclaimers:

  • 1 – I have yet to go to Di Fara’s in Brooklyn. Somehow the 1 hour 15 minute trek and the $5/slice price tag are kind of a turn off for me, but I will make it to this (in)famous spot at some point. Additionally, I still need to check out Julianna’s and Roberta’s. Please refer to above point about exponential growth of bucket list.
  • 2-NEW YORK STYLE PIZZA IS NOT THE SAME AS ITALIAN STYLE PIZZA. And that’s okay.  They are two totally different animals, I like them equally and at different times.  You really can’t compare the two, and this list will include both. It will also include pizza by the slice and whole pizzas.

And now, without further ado, ranked in descending order:

12. Grimaldi’s (1 Front Street, Brooklyn)

I’m going to start out by (probably) angering a lot of people. I’d heard about Grimaldi’s before I even moved to NYC; about how it’s a New York tradition to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, then grab some pizza at either Grimaldi’s or Julianna’s – two competing pizza shops, right next to each other, boasting outrageously long lines but “totally worth it” pizza.  Usually people are die-hard fans of one or the other. Maybe I’ll be a fan of Julianna’s, but I have to say that I was extremely disappointed when I went to Grimaldi’s. Maybe it was because of the hype, but I thought that it was a less-than-average slice of pizza.  It came out kind of cold, and the bottom of the pizza had that non-stick cornmeal on the crust that’s usually reserved for places like Domino’s.  For a pizza joint that tries to bank off of its “Italian” heritage, I was less than thrilled-I’ve never seen pizza like that in Italy, and there are definitely better pies in NYC.

11. Lombardi’s (32 Spring Street, SoHo)

Lombardi’s is one of those NYC institutions – it claims to be the first pizzeria in the city and they supposedly have imported water from Napoli.  They also have notoriously long lines and a ridiculous wait, all of which add to the hype.  The first time I came here was on a college trip for Model UN, and I was with a big group of Pepperdine students. It was my first time in NYC, a fun trip with a bunch of college friends, and I hadn’t yet been to Italy – so I thought it was great! Frankly, I didn’t know any better. Fast forward a few years, to when I returned to the city with my family and took them to Lombardi’s, and I have to say I’ve definitely re-evaluated the famous pizza joint. Maybe it was the hour long wait to get inside, followed by the wait to order, the even longer wait for our ONE pizza (for four very hungry people), or the cramped seating, but it was a headache-inducing experience for a pizza that was meh at best and overcooked (read: burnt) at worst.  Not worth the hype, the taxi ride there, or fighting the crowds in line. I’d skip Lombardi’s and try something off the beaten path if I were looking for an authentic NYC pizza.

10. Prince Street Pizza (27 Prince Street, SoHo)

I came here with a friend when we decided to do pizza and a movie night at her nearby apartment.  We’d both had a crappy day and Prince Street Pizza was the perfect pick me up! It’s a hole-in-the-while, divey kind of place, nothing special on the inside.  They are decently priced for the area and have a nice range of different options, including pesto pizza! The reason this isn’t ranked higher is because I think I chose the wrong slices. I got a thin-crust slice of plain cheese and one with pesto, while my friend got two of the thicker square Sicilian slices. I think she made the better choice, as hers looked fresher, chewier, and just…better. Mine were okay, but the pesto pizza was topped with ricotta (not my favorite) and it was a little cold by the time I got to it.  Still had a nice taste, so I would give this place another shot, but would either choose differently, eat in the restaurant, or heat it up at home before enjoying.

9. Ben’s Pizzeria (123 Macdougal Street, Greenwich Village)

Ben's Pizzeria

Ben’s Pizzeria has been around NYC for quite some time now.  They sell pizza by the slice, and have a MILLION different options.  Probably the best thing about Ben’s is its location (in the heart of Greenwich village, just off Washington Square Park near West 3rd St), their late night hours, and their cheap cost (something like $2.50 for a plain slice). Also, check out that beautiful Freedom Tower photobombing the background.  That’s one of the things I love about New York – you’ll be walking around and then BAM! – round the corner and something amazing pops into view. But I digress… Ben’s is basically on this list because it’s connected to a really fantastic personal memory of mine. Honestly, the pizza itself is just okay – sometimes it seems like the pies have been sitting there for a while – but I will continue to go there regardless. Fun fact: It’s also the pizzeria where Louis C.K. shoots the opening scene of his dramedy Louie (one of my favorite shows). Bottom line: Decent slice for a great price.

Pizza from Ben's

8. Emporio (231 Mott Street, SoHo)

I first had Emporio at my company’s “Group Lunch Friday” (incidentally both my first and the company’s last).  For takeout pizza it was pretty good, a little too thin for my taste (I don’t like it when the crust gets air pockets/crisped/charred) but it has a nice smoky, wood-fired taste.  While this is Italian-style pizza, I would say there is definitely better Italian-style pizza in the city, although I would really like to try the pizza at the restaurant itself, as I think the quality of takeout versus eat-in is vastly different.  Bonus points to Emporio for having an awesome happy hour wine special with finger foods that make you feel like you’re having an aperitivo in Italy!

7. Tufino Pizzeria (36-08 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria)

I discovered this pizzeria right before I went home for Christmas, and was SO excited to see that an authentic, wood-fired Italian pizzeria was only a 10-minute walk from my house! I dragged my brother here on his first night visiting me in the city and we weren’t disappointed.  The place is small and has a very Italian feel, and I could hear the owners speaking Italian (always a plus in my book). My first time in any pizza shop I ALWAYS order a plain margherita (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil). This no-frills pizza has always been my favorite, and I think it’s a good standard of measurement for judging any pizza place. While Tufino’s margherita was just okay (not bad, but nothing special), they had an out-of-this-world pizza topped with prosciutto, arugula, parmesan cheese shavings, lemon juice, and truffle oil.  It was as delicious as it sounds, and really surprised your taste buds with all of the unique flavor combinations.  I don’t know how authentically Italian this particular pizza was (I’ve never seen it on any menu in Italy), but I don’t care: it was DELICIOUS.

6. John’s of Bleecker Street (278 Bleecker Street, West Village)

John's of Bleecker

I stumbled across this pizza place on one of my Sunday afternoon West Village wanderings.  It had this really great 1930s old school NY vibe, old black and white photographs, a simple (and inexpensive) menu, and rave reviews from natives, tourists, and celebs alike. Since I usually try to come to the village (my favorite part of the city!) once a week, I figured the next time I came by during the evening, I’d stop and grab a slice.  Problem is – they are strictly “no slices” and only sell whole pies.  And while I probably *could* eat a whole pie, I definitely shouldn’t, so I put it on my future bucket list.  Last week, I went out with some friends and we were craving pizza, so we decided to go to John’s.  In addition to being a great girl’s night out, it was also a great pizza.  For $11 each, we got a large pizza (half cheese, half roasted tomatoes, onion and basil) and cream sodas. Fast and friendly service, fun and simple atmosphere filled with signed celebrity photos and famously-scratchitti’ed tables, and delicious pizza.  Next time I’d probably go with different toppings (I’m more of a meat-lover myself), but I’ll definitely be returning.

John's of Bleecker 3.jpg

5. Ribalta (48 E. 12th St., Union Square)

After I told one of my Italian coworkers what my favorite pizzeria is (TBA), she promptly responded by telling me hers.  I’m never one to question a native Italian’s judgment on pizza, so we decided to head to Ribalta near Union Square after work one Friday night.  We started with some fried calamari, which in my opinion were just okay (not crispy enough), but the thing to come here for is an authentic wood-fired Italian pizza. The best thing about Italian pizza is that you both can AND should eat your own pizza, which we promptly did. I stuck with my margherita, and it was fabulous! The sauce was slightly on the sweeter side, which I like, and the crust was Neapolitan style (thicker), which I also prefer.  Perfect cheese-to-sauce ratio, and you can really enjoy the individual flavors of everything. They have a really interesting cocktail menu and fantastic pizzas, if slightly cramped seating and a rather uninteresting atmosphere. Would definitely return!

 

Ribalta

4. Kesté (271 Bleecker Street, West Village)

Kesté is very well-known as one of the best pizzerias in the city, and the critics are right. Deliciously cooked in a wood-fired oven, this Neapolitan pizzeria doesn’t mess around.  The dough is the perfect consistency of chewy yet light, and they have an amazing selection.  I went here on a fabulous second date with a seemingly-awesome guy who, unfortunately, turned out to be not-so-fabulous, and sadly this has kind of tainted my opinion of Kesté (well, that and the ridiculously-expensive price for the crowded and dingy atmosphere). I hate how memories can also work in the reverse, and turn beautiful (or delicious!) things into their opposites.  To be fair, I would like to return and give it another shot, and hopefully get over those negative associations!

3. Serafina (1022 Madison Ave, Upper East Side)

Serafina’s is another one of those places that’s connected to me personally, and therefore holds a special place in my heart. I came here at the recommendation of my beloved mentor and college professor – a native New Yorker – while I was vacationing with my family over the holidays.  After a day spent at the Met admiring art, Ladurée admiring macarons, and Madison Avenue admiring the shops, we went to nearby Serafina’s on the posh Upper East Side. This was the first time that I ever tasted pizza that was comparable to the pizza in Italy.  I was ecstatic! We all got different kinds of pizza and shared, and it was a really great night.  I’ve been back to Serafina’s (their Meatpacking location) and ordered other things off of the menu that were equally delicious, so I hope to return soon!

2. Joe’s Pizza (Carmine Street, Greenwich Village)

Joe's1

This pizza place is one that I actually sought out after reading about it on some listicle somewhere ranking the best pizzas of NYC.  I read up on it (I take my pizza research very seriously), and when I saw that it was in my favorite area, AND that Matt Damon/Ben Affleck both said it was the “best slice in NY,” I knew I had to check it out. It did NOT disappoint.  They only offer two types of pizza – cheese or pepperoni – but they are always piping hot and fresh slices.  And the slices are HUGE. Top them with some red pepper flakes and it’s absolute perfection.  The super thin crust is just the right balance between chewy and crispy, the sauce is sweet (but not overbearingly) and again, it’s extremely cost-friendly. One of my coworkers said that “a great slice of NY pizza should cost the same as a metro swipe,” and I think he’s on to something. Joe’s is definitely going to become a staple.

Joe's2

1. Don Antonio (209 W. 50th Street, Hell’s Kitchen)

DonAntonio

Hands-down the best pizza I’ve ever had outside of Italy.  With one pizzeria in New York and a sister pizzeria in Napoli, Don Antonio’s has perfected the art of Italian pizza making in NYC.  Cooked in an imported wood-fired oven at 1000 degrees Fahrenheit for less than 90 seconds, the pizzas at Don Antonios come out quick and piping hot. The consistency of the dough is nothing short of perfection – chewy without being gummy, crusty without being overly crispy. The sauce is perfectly seasoned, the cheese is melted and fresh but not watery, and the range of flavor options is phenomenal. I would highly recommend the margherita, the spicy salame, the ‘nduja sausage, or the Kesté.  Incidentally, the same people that own Kesté also own Don Antonio’s, and the menus are identical.  The atmosphere at Don Antonio’s is nicer, in my opinion, and the service is very attentive. I try to bring everyone who visits me (and loves pizza) to Don Antonio’s, and it’s never failed to please – even my Italian and Italophile friends!

Don Antonio's 2

All that being said, I’d like to end this post with a quote from another coworker, who famously said “Pizza is like sex; even when it’s bad, it’s good.”

 

5 Comments

  1. New York Cliche

    This is a truly impressive list! I’m in awe of your pizza research and dedication! I’ve never had a great answer to “Where’s NYC’s best pizza?” but people SO often ask! Now I can just lead them to this post. Haha, although I’m not sure we have the same pizza taste. I tried #2 Joe’s and was super disappointed! I thought a dollar slice place down the street had better pizza! But hey, maybe I just got an off slice…. Those Don Antonio pies look fantastic. I will have to give them a try!

    Like

    1. girlingothamcity

      Haha thank you! I was happy to take one for the team in the name of research, though my skinny jeans probably weren’t 😉 I would definitely recommend Don Antonio – or if you’re looking for a great date spot, the most recent one I tried and loved and wrote about in my last post was La Lanterna di Vittorio – suuuuper cute and they have live jazz on some nights! I will have to check out the dollar slice place next to Joe’s and see how it compares – and you will have to let me know how you like Don Antonio/La Lanterna if you end up trying!

      Like

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