New York City is regarded by many as the country’s pizza capital with the oversized N.Y.-style thin crust pizza garnering the bulk of attention. However, NYC is large, and its pizza scene contains multitudes.
Here’s a breakdown of each NYC borough, its signature styles, and the pizzerias that you absolutely must try.
Manhattan is the birthplace of the American take on the Neapolitan pizza. Specifically, it was created by Gennaro Lombardi in 1905, who sold whole pies for a nickel and was the first known pizzaiolo to offer pizza by the slice, making it an affordable meal option for the city’s working class.
The pies churned out by Lombardi’s were similar to the ones in Naples in that they both had a thin crust, lots of tomato sauce, and a conservative amount of fresh mozzarella on top. However, in the American spirit, these pies were significantly larger with a crispier crust that is conducive to grab-and-go eating. In the city that never sleeps, few had the time to eat a soggier pie with a fork and knife as they do in Naples.
Today, similar pies can be found at Lombardi’s, as well as John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street and Patsy’s in Harlem, both of which trace their lineage to the original purveyor of Neapolitan-American pizza.
Over time, coal ovens became less and less commonplace in Manhattan thanks to regulations and other logistical roadblocks. This led to the creation of the beloved New York-style pizza, which typically measures at 18 inches and substitutes fresh mozzarella with the low-moisture shredded variety. The NY pie is far cheesier than the Neapolitan version, which explains why it has become America’s go-to.
There are countless places to find excellent supersized New York-style pizza in Manhattan, but Joe’s Pizza of Greenwich Village is championed by many as the best. There’s also Sal & Carmine Pizza on the Upper West Side, the venerable Scarr’s Pizza on the Lower East Side, and a zillion more quality options to be found in every neighborhood of Manhattan.
Is there a single variation of pizza that can be called “Brooklyn-style”? Despite what some fast food pizza chains may tell you, the answer is no.
However, Brooklyn is renowned for its plethora of pizza, including its “Neo-Neapolitan” pizza. Marrying the flavor of slightly charred Neapolitan crust and the abundance of cheese found on the N.Y. style pizza, the Neo-Neapolitan has found a massive following in Brooklyn.
The Neo-Neapolitan pizza pays tribute to the pizza’s roots but is not constrained by tradition. That’s why you’ll find incredibly delicious combinations like hot honey and soppressata, garlic and pancetta, and bresaola and kale at Brooklyn pizzerias serving up Neo-Neapolitan pies. Williamsburg’s Motorino is a favorite here at The Sauce, but Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint and Roberta’s in Bushwick have also earned their stripes in an increasingly competitive landscape for this pizza style.
Of course, no summary of Brooklyn pizza could be complete without a mention of the superb Sicilian squares found at L&B Spumoni Gardens. Located in Bensonhurst – a South Brooklyn haven for Italian fare – L&B has been serving thick and buttery slices since the late 1930s. L&B made it hip to be square in Brooklyn, and its imprints can be found at Nonno’s Pizza in Bay Ridge and many other parlors throughout BK.
Staten Island is an underrated food destination across the board, but the lack of publicity it gets for its pizza is particularly perplexing. It may be a schlep to get to from Manhattan, but it’s well worth it to sample some of Staten Island’s finest pies.
Nearly every style is well represented in Staten Island, but Lee’s Tavern may be the borough’s best known pizzeria for its crispy and addictive bar pies. Lee’s has won multiple awards for its bar-style clam pies, which can be shared but are best enjoyed at a ratio of one pie per person.
Staten Island is also keen on the blazing hot temperatures provided by the brick oven. Reggiano’s in Tottenville fires out its pizzas in a matter of minutes and does huge business with its titular pie that is topped with shaved parmesan cheese, fresh basil, and olive oil. And, for those who can’t decide on one single style, there’s Tony’s Brick Oven Pizza in Rosebank, which offers Neapolitan, Sicilian, and Margherita pan pies.
In this culturally diverse section of the city, you’ll find zero limitations on toppings.
Take Astoria’s Milkflower for example, which offers a fresh and hip take on the Neapolitan classic. Here, diners can choose between the standard Queen (tomato, mozzarella, basil, parmesan), the Chico Verde (kale, lemon, garlic, tomato, breadcrumbs, grana padano), the strange yet undeniably delicious Jimmy Snuka (pineapple, jalapeno, tomato, mozzarella, speck), and other wildly inventive options.
Pizza Garden in Flushing is another shining example of topping creativity. Popular picks here include the lasagna pizza, chicken and tomato pie, and the penne alla vodka pizza. When you can’t choose between a pizza and a different entree, Pizza Garden is the perfect solution.
While some pizzerias in the trendier parts of NYC have gravitated back towards smaller pizzas – similar to what you might find in Italy – the Bronx continues to do it big.
This is quickly evident at Arthur Ave.’s Full Moon Pizza, which churns out pizzas that eclipse most of the competition. One slice of the large pie requires two paper plates worth of support, but it still folds well thanks to its sturdy crust. The same goes for Sorrento Pizzeria in Morris Park, where one square is dense enough to constitute a meal, but diners find themselves ordering multiple slices anyway.
If you have time and belly room for only one pizza in the Bronx, locals may point you to Louie & Ernie’s Pizza, an institution which has been in operation since 1959. The signature pie here is topped with fennel-laced sausage, which is produced by the storied S&D Caterers a few blocks away.
What’s New York City’s best borough for pizza?
In an age where great pizza can be found all over the world, it’s no surprise that phenomenal pies are served in all five of New York’s boroughs.
Those in search of Neo-Neapolitan pies may want to focus on Brooklyn, and those who want a great 18-inch New York pie may want to zero in on Manhattan, but a stellar representation of every style can be found in every corner of the city.
Of course, we suggest canvassing every part of New York to find your personal favorite, so long as the MTA cooperates with your pizza plans.