Pizza in America started in New York City, slowly migrating to Boston, then eventually west to Chicago and beyond. But talk to any true pizza purist and he or she will tell you that if you want a slice of the real stuff, you'd best get yourself to the Big Apple. In recent years, New York's pizza scene has picked up another wave of momentum, bringing with it a rash of new takes on the classic pizza pie.
Relative newcomers like Keste, home of the best gluten-free pizza in the city, or Roberta's, serving up hungry hipsters in Bushwick, have made a name for themselves in the New York pizza scene with high-quality ingredients and creative toppings.
Still, unlike many cities where the places that made history have faltered and failed, New York's pizza institutions continue to stand strong. Places like Lombardi's - the first pizzeria in the United States, which opened in 1905 - still pack tables every night, and old standbys like John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street beckon crowds from all over the world.
Whether you're in the market for a glimpse into the old-world, or you're ready to be rocked by the 21st century, our list outlines something for every preference. Let's dish it up.
We're starting it off with an old-standby, but before you hop on the train you should know this: Lombardi's isn't technically the best slice in the city. It's good, yes. But the real charm and the reason we're including it on this list is because of its historical relevance in the pizza game. This Spring Street restaurant, located just north of Little Italy, was licensed by the city in 1905, officially making it the first pizzeria in America.
In fact, many of New York's top pizza makers learned their craft from Gennaro Lombardi and spun off to open some of the city's most famous pizzerias, including John's, another contender on this list. Over 100 years after it opened, Lombardi's slightly charred pies are still delicious and draw hefty crowds from near and far. (212-941-7994)
Another New York pizza all-star is West Village staple, John's of Bleecker Street. John's has been around since 1929, and the 100-year-plus brick oven at John's still turns out pies just like it did from its very first location on Sullivan Street. Much to the delight of pizza loving patrons, John's pies uphold the hallmark qualities that initially gave New York pizza its famous reputation. Wondering what makes them so great? Regulars say the secret lies in simplicity and balance – you won't find gouda and foie gras, topping these pizzas. Instead, John's ingredients include the basics like pepperoni, garlic, black olives and basil. (212-243-1680)
Right around the corner from John's you'll find another pizza institution, Joe's Pizza. An unassuming dive that serves up pizza by the slice, Joe's found its legs in 1975 when an Italian immigrant from Naples opened up shop on Carmine Street. Only a few doors down from its original location, Joe's continues to dish out thin-crust pizza to the masses, often in the wee hours of the morning. But while the joint is open until 4:30am, this is pizza you'll want to eat at any hour of the day, whether you're inebriated or not. Purists at John's often opt for the plain cheese, but the Sicilian slices and squares – loaded up with extra flavors – have more than a few loyal fans. (212-366-1182, 212-255-3946)
This charmingly dark and just a little bit ruckus pizza joint in Greenpoint, Brooklyn is the perfect old-world-meets-new pie combination. The interior is built from salvaged materials with the help of Build It Green NYC, and a wood-burning oven adds to the cheery ambiance. Craft beers pair well with cheekily named pies (Red, White and Greenberg, or the Ricotta Be Kiddin' Me), and creative toppings like dried sour cherries, fennel sausage, lemon juice and Mike's Hot Honey. During dining, friendly mastermind-owner Paul Giannone - hint: that's Paulie Gee - works the dining room, meandering from table-to-table chatting up delighted guests and divulging secrets on the art of New York pizza. ((347) 987-3747)
Co., pronounced "company" is all about the dough. Chef Jimmy Lahey honed his skills on the renowned Sullivan Street Bakery's bread pizza crust, producing revolutionary results when he moved on to his own endeavor. Toss on creative topping combinations, add a little time in a smoky wood-burning oven, and behold the magic. We're declaring that Neapolitan-style pizza will never be the same. From their slogan, "Our pies are not always round," to the communal table in the simply decorated white oak dining room, patrons quickly get the impression that Co. is not traditional pizza, but revamped, amplified pie ready to challenge the establishment. For the full New York experience, don't fail to pair your pie with a cold one from Bronx Brewery. ((212) 243-1105)
Now with locations in the East Village and Williamsburg, Motorino first made waves with their "white" Brussels sprout pie, topped with smoked pancetta, garlic, mozzarella, pecorino and sea salt. Regulars also rave about their fior di latte - a fancy name for yummy mozzarella -and the quickness of their delivery. If you're able, we'd recommend stopping in for a slower paced affair, though keep in mind that you'll battle some crowds during peak times. Start with the fennel salad, move on to a pie and don't forget the wine - the restaurant stocks a small selection of reserve bottles from Tuscany and Piedmont, along with a handful of reds and whites by the glass. (212-777-2644)
From their onsite gardening internships to their podcasts recorded at the Heritage Radio Network, pizza doesn't get any cooler than at Roberta's. But lest that dissuade you from trekking out to Bushwick for a nibble, let us ease your fears: while this hipster haven continually makes headlines with head-turning stories like the time they unrolled a weed-tasting menu, their drug-free food more than lives up its own hype. Wood tables and outdoor seating lend an air of casualness to the atmosphere here, and their wood-burning oven is prominently displayed. As for the pizzas? Carlo Mirarchi's pies feature produce grown onsite, and have cemented themselves as a must-eat on any New York pizza tour. (718-417-1118)
Lucali's Mark Iacono keeps things simple. Located in the sleepy neighborhood Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, Lucali's menu is written on a small chalkboard and is only two items: pizza and calzone. Choose your toppings, bring your own bottle of wine and watch as your meal is hand tossed and baked right in front of you. Candles and small wooden tables offset the exposed brick and high ceilings, creating a soft and romantic atmosphere. No wonder Lucali has become has become famous as a place to chill out and eat some of the best pizza New York has to offer. Rumor has it Beyonce and Jay-Z are frequent customers. No reservations for this cozy kitchen, so expect a wait. (718-858-4086)
Zero Otto Nove
Walk past the bar, down the long hallway and straight into an Italian street-side trattoria. While the ambiance at Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx's Little Italy neighborhood is lovely, it's the wood-fired pizzas that are the name of the game. And speaking of names, it's well-known in foodie circles that the name of the restaurant, which translates to 089, hails from chef-owner Roberto's Italian roots – 089 is the area code of his Salerno hometown. Along with harkening flavors from the old country, Roberto also draws on influences from his chef father to bring his authentic pies to life. Again, you'll find the classics here, though they're executed flawlessly with the help of fresh mozzarella from nearby Casa della Mozzarella and sauce from San Marzano tomatoes. (718-220-1027)
Oh, Keste. Let us sing your praise. As a relative newcomer to the New York pizza scene, Keste has carved out a space for itself in the center of the West Village's historic pizza row. Located on Bleecker Street across from John's, Keste's Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas have won over the neighborhood with their elevated toppings and ::gasp:: gluten-free offerings. Before you go running, know this: if someone hadn't told you these pies were gluten-free, you'd be none the wiser. Plus, for pizza aficionados, a non-gluten-free menu lists options like the Ricotta E Noci – a pie piled high with cream of walnut, fresh ricotta, homemade mozzarella, pecorino romano, basil and extra virgin olive oil. Seriously, you can't go wrong here. (212-243-1500)
About Andrea Duchon
Andrea Wien was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.
When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll likely find her eating tacos while throwing darts and watching the Cleveland Browns.
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