You can find primo pie all over, but these are the ten tastiest ’zas in town.
By James Oliver Cury, Gabriella Gershenson and Leslie Price.
1: Di Farri Pizza: 1424 Ave J at 15th St, Midwood, Brooklyn
The perfect pizza, in our opinion, is made in a one-room pizza shop by a man named Domenico DeMarco, who was born just outside Naples and has been making pies here for more than 40 years (he turns 70 on Tuesday 5). His movements are slow and deliberate: He stretches the dough into an irregular, oblong shape; dresses it with sauce he makes from both fresh and canned San Marzano tomatoes; carves his own slices of mozzarella over each pie; then eases the uncooked pizza onto a wooden paddle and into the heat. When it’s ready, DeMarco pulls the pie out with his bare hands. Then he shreds nuggets of fior de latte and grates grana padano on top, drizzles some olive oil and adds a few pinches of fresh herbs (basil and oregano). One bite reveals a harmony of textures and flavors atop a complex and nutty, charred, crisp crust. Prepare to wait for a slice: He’s been perfecting his art for decades, and he’s not about to rush things now.
2: Denino's Pizza & Tavern: 524 Port Richmond Ave between Hooker Pl and Walker St, Staten Island
At this unassuming white-brick tavern, owned by the Denino family since 1937, it’s all about the crust. The pizza here has the most unusual bottom we’ve ever seen—and we mean that in a good way. Bread crumbs are added to the crust, rather than cornmeal. A slice is just thin enough to be crunchy and just strong enough not to flop if you lift it with one hand. Baked in a brick oven, the pies showcase the kind of charred blisters that make pizza lovers swoon—and they have a perfect balance of tomato sauce and mozzarella, with a little oregano sprinkled on top. The company slogan: “In crust we trust.”
3: Sullivan Street Bakery: 533 W 47th St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves
Unlike at most pizzerias, the slices here are rectangular, don’t have a shred of mozzarella and taste best lukewarm. Baker Jim Lahey makes masterful half-pan, thin-crust pizzas, as well as doughier six-foot-long pizza biancas. He converts basic ingredients—durum wheat, water, sea salt and yeast—into crusts and dresses his Roman-style pizzas with simple toppings like razor-thin potato slices. The pizza bianca looks like bread to the naked eye, but one bite reveals an amazing depth of flavor, redolent with salt, olive oil and rosemary. It’s available to-go only—and it goes fast.
4: Una Pizza Napoletana: 349 E 12th St between First and Second Aves
Una Pizza doesn’t take reservations, but pizza fans happily line up outside for as long as an hour—in a neighborhood full of slice joints—for owner Anthony Mangieri’s pies. This purist uses only the best ingredients (dough made of stone-ground wheat berries mixed with Sicilian sea salt, tomatoes from San Marzano, extra-virgin olive oil from Southern Italy and buffalo mozzarella from Naples), cooked in a wood-burning brick oven. The resulting pizza is thin, slightly chewy, lightly charred and crunchy at the outer edge—with a bit of softness at the center of the pie. With each bite, you taste a perfectly balanced combination of nutty olive oil, sweetly acidic tomatoes, pungent basil and mild, creamy mozzarella. Come early; pies are served until 11pm, or until the dough runs out, whichever comes first.
5: Joe's: 7 Carmine St between Bleecker St and Sixth Ave
Most of the best old-school pizza joints sell by the pie only—no slices. Joe’s is that rare exception: It’s a haven for thin-crusted, crunchy slices, and it doesn’t load on too much cheese or serve reheated gunk (the kitchen goes through pizzas as fast as it makes them, anyway). Owner Pino Pozzuoli prepares sauce every six hours from fresh tomatoes, adds mozzarella (he’ll put fresh mozzarella on a slice if you want it) and bakes the pies in a 1960s oven that produces savory flavors only an oven that old can. Folks line up to get inside the cramped space—only a few stools and high tables—and often end up finishing their slices before they’ve had a chance to exit. Boozers, take note: It’s open until 4am (5am on weekends).
6: Totonno’s: 1524 Neptune Ave between W 15th and 16th Sts, Coney Island, Brooklyn
Prior to opening this modest little pizzeria in 1924, Anthony “Totonno” Pero worked at the original Lombardi’s (before it was sold and moved to its current location)—said to be the first pizza parlor in America. Today, pie makers here make the stuff the same way it has always been made—with fresh dough, Brooklyn-sourced mozzarella, imported Italian canned tomatoes, romano cheese and olive oil. You can watch the pizzaiolo constantly shift the pies inside the coal-fired brick oven, making sure none burn under a hot spot. This creates a consistently terrific char, a slightly fluffy, powdery bottom and a bready, airy rim. The current owners (Louise Ciminieri and Antoinette and Frank Balzano) have launched spin-offs in Kips Bay, on the Upper East Side and in Yonkers, but none compare to the original.
7: Nick's Pizza: 108-26 Ascan Ave between Austin and Burns Sts, Forest Hills, Queens
Both the pizza and the place are pristine and inviting. Diners sit in green booths under a pressed-tin ceiling, surrounded by black-and-white photos of old Forest Hills, waiting patiently until their salvation arrives—on a traditional silver platter. The pizzas are quaint: The small plain cheese pie, a perfect circle, is slathered with a deliciously zesty tomato sauce and covered with melted circles of locally sourced fresh mozzarella and torn basil. The pizza here has made owner Nick Angelis a local hero—at least as long he continues to balance his crusts’ char and soft, light interior.
8: Joe & Pat's: 1758 Victory Blvd at Manor Rd, Staten Island
For some pie makers, the goal is to keep the crust—and we mean the entire round dough base—as thin as possible without having it fall apart. The thinnest and crunchiest of all the pizzas we tried, a slice at Joe & Pat’s doesn’t fold or sag—it snaps. A lovely black-brown sear engulfs the entire outer edge, which has nary a lip at certain points along its circumference. The warm raw-milk mozzarella is strategically placed in cubes and caramelized in spots. The succulent sauce, lovingly made with imported Italian canned tomatoes and herbs (basil, oregano), is sweet but not too much so. Yes, you can order it by the slice (for $2). And yes, you will want a second.
9: Lazzara’s Pizza Café: 221 W 38th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves
If your grandma made pizzas—you don’t see many female pie makers even today—they might look something like the ones at this Garment District gem. The superthin crusts are rectangular and have crisp raised edges, with ample char and some nuttiness. Each slice is covered with delicious, tangy sauce and a perfect square of melted mozzarella. Those in the know order the plain pie and try to snag an extra-crunchy corner slice before anyone else does.
10: Franny's: 295 Flatbush Ave between Prospect Pl and St. Marks Ave, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
It is a feat of Gotham-sized proportions that Franny’s, a two-years-young Brooklyn phenomenon, draws devoted pizza pilgrims from across bridges and tunnels—and comparisons to Di Fara and Totonno’s. This modern pizzeria distinguishes itself by combining a progressive food philosophy (Franny’s uses locally sourced, sustainable ingredients, like organic eggs from Tello’s Green Farm in upstate Red Hook) with traditional old-world equipment (a wood-fired oven) to achieve the crowd pleasing bubbly, browned pies with chewy, crisp crusts. Husband-and-wife team Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens met while working at the organic-minded Savoy restaurant, and they continue to add seasonal ingredients to their menu of individually portioned pies—but the version with clams, chilies and parsley is always a hit.