Top Spots for Pizza in New York City
A Brief History of Pizza in New York City
New York City has a long and storied history when it comes to pizza. Many credit Lombardi’s in Little Italy as being America’s first pizzeria, opening its doors in 1905. Since then, New York-style pizza, with its thin, foldable crust and generous cheese and tomato sauce toppings, has become an icon of both the city and Italian-American culture.
In the early 1900s, Italian immigrants brought pizza recipes and cooking traditions from Naples to New York City. The classic Neapolitan style, with its soft and chewy crust, was adapted to local tastes and ingredients, resulting in New York-style pizza. Coal-fired brick ovens were an essential part of pizzerias at the time, lending a smoky flavor and crispness to the crust.
After World War II, many veterans returning from Italy longed for the pizza they had abroad and fueled a boom in pizzerias across the five boroughs. Legends like Patsy’s in East Harlem, John’s of Bleecker Street, and Totonno’s in Coney Island opened and became neighborhood staples. The 1950s and 60s saw pizza become popular citywide, with Ray’s, DeLorenzo’s, and Grimaldi’s all entering the scene.
Over the decades, New York-style pizza has continued to evolve, with new waves of immigration adding toppings like artichokes, fresh mozzarella, and ricotta to pies. Famous families like the Lombardis and Grimaldis have passed their recipes down through generations. Pizza in New York City has truly become an integral part of the city’s culture and identity.
Why New York Pizza is Unique
There are several key factors that make New York pizza distinct from other styles:
- Thin, foldable crust – New York pizza crust is thin and pliable enough to fold in half to eat.
- Large, hand-tossed dough – Stretched by hand, not rolled, which creates bubbles and charring.
- Minimal sauce – Just enough for flavor so the crust remains crisp.
- Cheese before toppings – Cheese is added first so it melts right on top of the crust.
- High-heat ovens – New York pizzerias use coal or gas ovens at 600°F or hotter.
- Regional ingredients – Flour, tomatoes, and cheese from New York/New Jersey suppliers.
In addition, New York City’s unique tap water has minerals that affect the dough’s fermentation and rise. The city’s hustle and bustle also mean pizza is made for eating on the go. All these factors combine to create an authentic, only-in-NY pizza experience.
The Criteria for the Best Pizza in NYC
Ingredients & Freshness
When judging New York pizza, the quality of ingredients is paramount. The crust must be made from good pizza flour, ideally Caputo or other Italian brands, with a bit of semolina for texture. Fresh, flavorful tomatoes – either canned San Marzanos or fresh Jersey tomatoes in summer – make all the difference in the sauce. The mozzarella should be fresh – low-moisture, part-skim mozz is traditional. Toppings like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, etc. should taste high-quality as well.
In addition to ingredients, freshness is key. The dough should be made daily and allowed to proof properly. The toppings should be prepped and sliced to order. A hot oven and fast baking ensures every slice comes out crisp, not soggy. Attention to ingredients and fresh preparation is what separates the city’s best pizzerias from the mediocre.
Authenticity & Tradition
To be considered among the best, a New York pizzeria must adhere to tradition and serve authentic, classic pizza. This means minimal toppings – just cheese and tomato sauce on a plain pie. No thick, bready crusts or exotic toppings. The pies should be baked in a coal or wood-fired oven at very high heat. The place should have a clear connection to New York pizza history and culture. Family recipes and legacy establishments carry a lot of weight.
That said, some new places can join the ranks by following the traditional methods closely and not trying fancy fusion pies. The classics like a pepperoni or margherita pizza should be done right. While creativity has its place, the iconic New York slice is all about perfecting the fundamentals, not reinventing the wheel.
Atmosphere & Location
Part of what makes New York pizza an experience is the atmosphere and location. A great NY pizza joint should have that classic, old-school pizzeria vibe. Checkerboard tiles, vintage signs, and a well-worn counter give authenticity. The pace should be fast, but friendly. And location matters – to really soak in the culture, you have to hit the legendary spots in Little Italy, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.
While some new places around the city offer gourmet ingredients and innovative pies, they often lack the soul and essence of a true New York pizzeria. The energy and community around a favorite neighborhood shop makes the pizza taste even better. That perfect slice needs the perfect setting to transport you to an iconic New York moment.
Top Neighborhoods for Pizza in New York City
As the historic home of New York City’s Italian immigrants, Little Italy is naturally the first neighborhood that comes to mind when seeking out quintessential New York pizza. The area’s narrow streets today contain several of the city’s oldest and most famous pizzerias.
Lombardi’s on Spring Street, established in 1905, has a claim as the first pizzeria in the United States. John’s of Bleecker Street opened in 1929 and is a classic coal oven spot. Other Little Italy favorites include Rubirosa, Patsy’s, and The Sullivan Street Bakery. You can’t walk a block without passing a legendary pizza name.
The area has become quite touristy, but still offers that authentic atmosphere and NYC pizza history. Grab a slice and stroll the neighborhood for the full experience of Italian heritage and pizza perfection.
While Manhattan may come first to mind for New York pizza, Brooklyn has developed into a destination in its own right. Pizza legends like Di Fara, Grimaldi’s, L&B Spumoni Gardens, and Totonno’s have been serving perfect pies for decades.
New hot spots like Lucali, Roberta’s, and Paulie Gee’s offer gourmet takes on classics. And neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick are spawning inventive new pizza restaurants on a regular basis.
Whether you stick to the classics or try something novel, Brooklyn pizzer
While Brooklyn is ascendant, Manhattan still boasts an incredible pizza landscape all its own. From the East Village to the Upper West Side, you’ll find iconic spots in almost every neighborhood.
John’s on Bleecker, Patsy’s in Harlem, and Joe’s on Carmine Street offer classic New York slices. Artichoke Basille’s is famous for its signature artichoke pie. Juliana’s, Rubirosa, and Prince Street Pizza are perpetually packed for their perfect pies.
Whatever style you prefer, you can find it being made to perfection somewhere in Manhattan. The borough offers convenience to tourists, but also boasts storied institutions at the top of every pizza lover’s NYC wish list.
Last but not least in the pizza scene is Staten Island. Denino’s is most famous, with its trademark charred, thin crust. Nunzio’s and Joe & Pat’s are also neighborhood legends that have been serving excellent pies for over 50 years.
Staten Island pizza tends to be thinner, crispier, and full of nostalgic charm. The borough may be skipped by tourists, but has some of the city’s oldest and most authentic establishments. For an off-the-beaten-path pizza adventure, take the ferry to Staten Island and sample some slices steeped in history.
Famous Pizzerias to Visit in NYC
Slice-by-Slice Breakdown of New York’s Famous Pizzerias
Lombardi’s in NoHo claims to be the first pizzeria in America, opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi. The thin crust is baked to perfection in coal-fired ovens. Their classic tomato and mozz pie is simple and flawless. The brick walls, checkered tiles, and family history make this a must-visit.
Grimaldi’s has served classic Neapolitan-style pies under the Brooklyn Bridge since 1990. Expect long lines for the famous coal-oven pies like the Margherita and signature mozzarella & basil. Their crispy-chewy crust and housemade mozzarella are hard to beat.
Di Fara Pizza
Di Fara’s in Brooklyn is often named the best pizza in NYC, thanks to Dom DeMarco’s meticulous attention. He hand-stretches and tops each pie with premium olive oil, cheese, and produce. Be prepared to wait hours for a bite of heaven.
Roberta’s in Bushwick pioneered artisanal pizza with high-end toppings like Berkshire pork sausage and caramelized onions. Their classic margherita remains a go-to. The lively warehouse location matches the innovative energy.
Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Spots for Amazing Pizza
Off-the-Beaten-Path Pizzerias Worth Checking Out
While legendary spots like Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s should be on any NYC pizza tour, there are also some hidden gems to discover:
- Fornino – This Brooklyn pizzeria uses a wood-fired oven and seasonal toppings like figs, pistachios, and rapini.
- Paulie Gee’s – With creative pies like the Hellboy (spicy honey) and Anise & the Hog (fennel sausage), this Greenpoint joint never disappoints.
- Prince Street Pizza – Their Spicy Spring pie with fra diavolo sauce and creamy mozzarella always draws lines out the door
- L’Industrie – Located in Williamsburg, they serve a thin-crust pizza with unique toppings like mussels, pancetta, and spicy tomato sauce.
- Song’ E Napule – This small Manhattan spot focuses on authentic Neapolitan pies baked in a wood-fired oven. Their marinara pie hits all the right notes.
- Emily – With locations in Brooklyn and the West Village, they use seasonal and local ingredients to create flavorful pies like the Colony with pepperoni and honey.
- Lucali – This tucked-away Brooklyn restaurant is notoriously hard to get into, but worth it for their perfect crusts charred in a wood-fired oven.
- Joe’s Pizza – A classic NYC slice shop, Joe’s has several locations serving consistent, delicious pizza since 1975.
The city’s famous pizza meccas are just the tip of the iceberg. Exploring up-and-coming or under-the-radar pizzerias will let you discover new favorites and get a taste of New York City’s diverse, dynamic pizza scene.
Tips for a Great NYC Pizza Experience
How to Order Pizza Like a Local
To order pizza like a true New Yorker:
- Stick to the basics – cheese, pepperoni, sausage, etc. No need to get fancy.
- Know the size you want – slice, small, medium, large, or extra large.
- Be prepared to pay cash – many old-school spots are still cash-only.
- Specify toppings on half – the perfect way to please picky eaters.
- Ask for triangles, not squares – triangles are the classic NYC way to slice a pie.
- Don’t be afraid to customize – add or hold ingredients to suit your tastes.
- Tip the counter staff – a buck or two is appreciated.
Order like a local and you’ll blend right in with true New York pizza lovers.
When to Go for the Best Pizza Experience
To avoid long waits and get the freshest slices, aim for these off-peak times:
- Weekday lunches before 1 pm
- Late night on weekdays after 10 pm
- Dinner time between 5-7 pm on weeknights
- Right at opening hours on weekends
- During bad weather when crowds stay home
Peak times with long lines are Friday and Saturday nights, weekend afternoons, and of course, right before closing time.
Timing your visit strategically will set you up for the optimal New York City pizza experience.
Why Pizza is a Must-Have Experience in NYC
Pizza is deeply ingrained in New York City’s culture and identity. A slice is more than just a quick, tasty meal – it’s an essential part of the New York experience.
The classic New York-style pizza reflects the city’s Italian immigrant roots. Generations of family recipes and traditions live on in every delicious bite. The famous pizzerias are culinary landmarks that tie back to local history and lore.
Beyond nostalgia, pizza is the ideal fast food for New York’s busy pace. A hot, fresh slice on the go fuels residents and visitors alike. Whether you’re taking a lunch break, grabbing a post-night out bite, or huddling over the perfect pie – pizza is always there for you.
Pizza in New York City is more than a meal – it’s a taste of authentic culture and local flavor. No visit to NYC is complete without sampling a slice from one of the city’s famous pizza institutions.
Final Thoughts on the NYC Pizza Scene
New York City’s pizza landscape offers an incredible diversity of options. From the classic coal-oven spots of Little Italy and Brooklyn to gourmet pies with farm-fresh toppings, there is something for every palate. While debates over the “best” slice will rage eternally, the city’s pizza prowess is undisputed. The iconic New York slice persists, even as creative new pizzerias push boundaries. Pizza in New York manages to be nostalgic yet innovative, timeless yet trendsetting. Beyond taste, enjoying pizza here is a cultural experience tied to local history and atmosphere. Whether you prefer a classic cheese or an artisanal creation, sinking your teeth into a piping hot New York City slice is a joyful experience not to be missed. The next time you’re craving pizza, don’t just default to delivery. Head out and sample some of the city’s famous pies in their natural habitats. You’ll take away more than a full stomach – you’ll leave with an authentic taste of New York City.