"What's the best way to set New Yorkers to bickering? Ask where to find the best slice of pizza in the city. No subject starts a battle faster—not bagels or hot dogs or chopped liver, not even the primacy of the Rangers or the fastest route to J.F.K. Pizza, introduced to New York in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi, who saw it as a way to use up the day-old bread in his Spring Street grocery store, has long been the affordable, satisfying food of choice for peripatetic New Yorkers of every age, sex, race, and class."
I wrote that in November of 2002 in the New York Times. The title of the story said it all: "The State of the Slice."
Recently, I started wondering about the state of the slice today. So much has changed in the last 17 years. While we've certainly witnessed a revival of the New York slice, you could also argue that it's been reinvented, all because of five perhaps inseparable factors:
- The explosion of food culture over the last two decades, thanks in a major way to...
- The rise of food-obsessed websites—yes, like the very one you're reading now. Which helped inform and connect...
- Exacting personalities intent on reinventing and elevating humble foods, like burgers, fried chicken, barbecue, ramen, and more. Which eventually included...
- Pizza-makers, both with serious culinary backgrounds and without, who started taking deep dives into slices using carefully chosen great ingredients (taking a stance that many of the classic slice joints either never did or had abandoned). Part of that stance being...
- A mastery of fermentation—the process by which yeast and bacteria break down flour, yielding complex flavors and various textures in the crust.
Take Frank Pinello, who may be one of the best examples of this convergence of most, if not all, of the points above. When he opened Best Pizza in 2010, it set the standard for what I and my like-minded pizza obsessives have come to call the "revival slice shop"—that is, an establishment that specializes in selling pizza by the slice, the old-school way, but with particular attention paid to the ingredients used and the techniques employed.
Since then, we've seen other revivalist spots open, such as Williamsburg Pizza, which has grown from one outlet to a mini empire based on pizzaiolo Nino Coniglio's manically obsessive efforts. We've watched brothers Mike and Pete Bergemann, in partnership with Ivan Orkin (of Ivan Ramen fame), open Corner Slice, serving their own unique take on Sicilian pizza made from artisan flour.
And, taking it to the next level, and maybe even full circle, we now have Scarr Pimentel, who developed his pizza-making chops at Lombardi's over 10 years, making pies at Scarr's Pizza. Scarr's is a studiously hole-in-the-wall slice joint on Orchard Street, a half mile away from Pimentel's previous gig, where, get this, he makes dough partially from flour he mills himself. (The obsession with flour and dough is typical of the revivalists: Find a celebrated new-school pizza maker these days, and chances are they're also well versed in bread-making techniques.)
We're in a fundamentally different era of slicedom from the time when I wrote that Times piece, or even when I wrote my pizza book, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, which was first published in 2005. To fully capture this moment in the evolution of the slice, I enlisted a couple of co-conspirators, Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener, both of whom share my passion for the slice.
Why You Should Trust Us
Adam was the founder of the seminal pizza blog SliceNY and is a former managing editor of Serious Eats. Not only does he keep his finger on the pizza pulse of this city, he's been making terrific bar-style pizza at his periodic pop-up, Margot's Pizza.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott's Pizza Tours. No one, and I mean no one, has been to more slice joints or eaten more slices of pizza in the last 10 years. Scott estimates that he has eaten 5,000 slices of pizza in the last five years (that's 2.75 a day).
And I'm Ed Levine, the founder of Serious Eats. I've been eating and writing about pizza for over 20 years, and published the aforementioned book on pizza (Pizza: A Slice of Heaven) in 2005.
What Is a New York Slice?
Before we go any further, let's define our terms.
A New York slice (or pie) has a thin crust that's crisp yet flexible—you can fold it without shattering it like a cracker. A red pie will typically have an uncooked tomato "sauce" (really, uncooked crushed tomatoes that have been lightly seasoned with salt); white pies forgo sauce and typically add dollops of ricotta. Depending on the pizzeria, the sauce may be seasoned with herbs (and sometimes sugar), but the key is that it's uncooked prior to going in the oven. (The regular New York pie is not to be confused with the Sicilian or "grandma" pie, both of which have thicker crusts.)
That oven will be a deck oven cranked to around 550°F (288°C), most often gas-fueled in New York, but electric models are making inroads. (To understand why a deck oven was so important for the evolution of New York pizza, check out our history of the New York slice.)
The standard cheese is what's known in the industry as low-moisture mozzarella (sometimes referred to as LMM), and, ideally, there shouldn't be too much of it. The amount of cheese used should be in balance with the sauce and crust. Ed prefers "discrete areas of sauce and cheese."
As for form, it's always sliced into a triangle. Scott adds, "It's served on a paper plate, but the slice is bigger than the plate." (Sicilian and grandma slices are served in squares.)
So that's essentially a New York slice. A good New York slice is something more.
A good slice will have a thin, crisp crust, flavorful sauce that's well-balanced, and good-quality cheese that's creamy and not rubbery. The crust should have good coloration—a golden-brown to dark-brown hue tells us the dough was likely fermented properly, which means good flavor.
Fermentation, where pizza dough is concerned, is the chemical breakdown of flour by yeast, which yields sugars and alcohol. The sugars that the yeast helps release end up browning the crust. Too short a fermentation yields too little sugar for browning (and not enough alcohol and by-products for flavor). You can over-ferment, but that's an issue you'll likely never encounter at most slice pizzerias, where the more common foul seems to be making and using the dough too quickly.
A properly fermented dough will also have a nice crumb, or good hole structure, which is produced by a well-developed network of gluten. This is easiest to see in a Sicilian slice or in the end crust of a regular slice, where the crust is obviously at its thickest.
Hole structure itself is largely a function of dough hydration, which is simply the amount of water in a pizza (or bread) dough relative to its flour content. Generally, the more hydrated a dough, the more open and "airy" the crumb is, as a wetter dough allows longer gluten strands to form.
Finally, let's talk about reheats. You're going to encounter this phenomenon at most slice pizzerias, because they'll precook a number of "slice pies" for quick service. If a slice pie has been sitting long enough to cool, they'll throw it back in the oven for a bit. Some pizzerias even under-bake their pies somewhat, so the final slice doesn't get hammered on reheat.
One tip that veteran slice-eaters will already know—you can specify your reheat temp, from "not too hot" or "warm" to "make it hot." Some exceptionally service-forward pizzerias will even ask, "Hot or warm?" The more you know.
How We Made This List
Our original goal was to come up with a master list of all the New York slices you have to eat before you die. But after eating our way through all five boroughs, I made an executive decision and changed course. Why? Because we didn't want to publish yet another pizza bucket list. The internet is full of them, and you deserve more from us.
New York's slice culture seems to be making an evolutionary leap—led by the aforementioned revivalists—and we wanted to give this moment some context. So I decided to split up our list into three parts to do just that:
- The Revivalists: The slice shops described above, led by the ingredient- and technique-obsessed new wave of pizza-makers.
- The Classics: We've chosen to define "classics" as continuously operating pizzerias that date back to between the 1950s and the 1970s—old-school spots that played a not-insignificant part in the rise of the New York slice joint, and that we consider the best in class of the First Golden Age of the Slice.
- The Neighborhood Favorites: These spots may fly below the radar in a citywide sense, but locals will be quick to send you there—or not, if they want to keep a good thing to themselves. They're places that serve as community gathering spots or local touchstones.
Before we go any further, though, some caveats.
- We researched this article over the course of six months. Each of us did some individual slice-snarfing throughout the boroughs, and then, for two incredible Saturdays, one in Brooklyn and one in Queens, we met up and hit 10-plus places each day.
- The lists here are largely in alphabetical order instead of ranked, with one exception (Louie's, in the "Neighborhood Favorites" portion of the list). Why? Because none of us really believe in ranking pizzerias. When you live and breathe and think about pizza constantly, there are just too many variations among slices and too many gray areas. And, ultimately, this body of slices represents the pizza you need to eat to comprehend the New York slice experience.
- We went back and forth on whether we should include toppings—and which styles we would consider. In the end, we decided on plain slices only, but we did allow ourselves to consider any style commonly served in NYC slice joints—regular* (i.e., round, cheese-and-tomato-sauce-only pizza); Sicilian (a thick, rectangular, raised-dough pan pizza); and grandma (like Sicilian, but with dough that's not left to rise). For regular slices, we mostly limited consideration to those made only with what's known in the industry as low-moisture mozzarella—as in, not fresh mozzarella, but the stuff most folks probably know as plain ol' mozzarella from the grocery store. LMM, whether it's whole-milk, part-skim, or a blend of the two, is the standard mozzarella on regular New York slices. For square slices, we were a little looser in what cheese we'd consider, as you'll see. Squares have always been more of a gray area.
- Many of the entries in the list are a synthesis of notes by, and recorded conversations between, Ed Levine, Scott Wiener, and Adam Kuban—written up by Adam. Where they're the work of primarily one of us, the author's name will be noted at the end. Make sense? Yes? Good.
* Once known as "Neapolitan," until the great traditional-Neapolitan revival of the 2000s.
We're leading with the revival places, the places to try out if you want to discover where slice culture is in 2019. Start your slice journey here if you're already familiar with the classics.
When it comes to the thoughtful reinvention of the classic New York slice here in the city, Frank Pinello may be Patient Zero. In retrospect, it seems inevitable. He was raised in Bensonhurst, trained at the CIA, and opened a slice shop in Williamsburg at the height of Brooklyn's mid-aughts renaissance.
Those factors seem to have shaped the pizza he makes at Best, which is cooked in a massive brick bakery oven from the early 20th century—a setup that would have been familiar to the men who started the New York coal-oven giants Totonno's, John's, and Patsy's (though Best uses wood as fuel).
At the same time, Pinello's Culinary Institute chops reveal themselves in the attention he pays to ingredients—making, then shredding, fresh mozzarella for the cheese; pickling various vegetables for the sesame seed–crusted white "pickled veg" slice; respecting the ingredients enough to let them stand on their own, as with the nice bright sauce on the plain slice, which is made simply from good-quality crushed tomatoes.
The crust on the regular slices is thin yet pliable, with a satisfyingly crisp-springy texture and great hole structure. The grandma slice has a light and crisp crust and a punchy sauce spiked with garlic and finely chopped anchovies. You simply cannot order the wrong slice here—and that's before we even mention the fantastic sandwiches, which we won't, because this list is all about pizza.
Best Pizza, 33 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718-599-2210
As Ed put it, "Corner Slice may be the single best slice of pizza in New York at the moment. Holy s***, is this pizza good, and unlike any other slice around. They're elevating the New York pizza slice in a way that no one else has in a long time." Ed's called co-owner Mike Bergemann "the mad scientist of pizza" for the way he's experimented with various cheese blends and artisan flours in crafting the square pies that lend the stand in the Gotham West food hall its name.
The Corner Slice crust is made from a blend of durum and spelt flours from Central Milling, a Utah-based mill whose premium flours are considered among the best by many bakers and pizza-makers. Mike and his brother, Pete, employ long fermentations (which enhance flavor) of their dough, which is noticeably wet (making the finished product light and airy). The crust's flavor is excellent, and the crispness is on point, verging ever so slightly into crunchy territory. It's bubbly and light, yet sturdy.
The tomato-topped slice, finished with a little Sicilian oregano, is a great way to get a taste for what the brothers are doing here, but pair it with another slice of whatever else calls to you. They're all good.
Corner Slice, 600 11th Avenue, New York, NY 10036, 212-956-9339
When L'Industrie opened in 2015 under its original French owner, the tiny Williamsburg shop was making fairly pedestrian pies that garnered little attention. But when current owner Massimo Laveglia took over in early 2017, he changed everything but the name, overhauling the pizza while steadily building a reputation for stellar pies and slices. The Florence native made the best slice of the day on our Brooklyn pizza crawl, and it's been consistently good on subsequent visits—superb crust, char, air, texture.
"It's the re-Italianization of pizza, and not in a way that says one way is right and one way is wrong," says Scott. "It's not an Italian machismo thing; it's more like, this Italian guy making New York–style pizza, but in a way he would do naturally, so his ricotta dabs are more floral-looking—it's just a really cool, good pie, in a tiny, 300-square-foot space." Don't miss the burrata slice, which is blowing up Instagram.
L'Industrie, 254 South 2nd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718-599-0002
Mama's Too opened on Broadway and West 105th Street in late 2017, having spun off of longtime Upper West Side pizzeria Mama's, just around the corner. Too often, the story of decades-old mom-and-pop restaurants ends with the youngest generation "moving up" in the world and out of the business. But there's a great counter-narrative to that, and it's one where fresh blood pulls the business into the present while honoring the past. We've seen it here in NYC with Wilson Tang at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Niki Russ Federman at Russ & Daughters, and Jason Wang of Xi'an Famous Foods.
For Mama's Too, owner/operator Frank Tuttolomondo built on foundations established at Mama's, where the pizza is standard slice-joint fare. "I knew I couldn't change the pizza there, or regulars would be upset," Frank said. "So I opened this place."
When it's available and fresh from the oven, the pizza at Mama's Too is fantastic. (The small shop has trouble keeping up with demand, and the slices can suffer on reheat.) The squares are superb, with a satisfying crisp-chewy quality and a nice open crumb that still stands up to the substantial toppings. Tuttolomondo says he's inspired by noted Roman pizza-maker Gabriele Bonci—but that he's trying to bridge the gap between Roman-style pizza al taglio (that is, pizza "by the cut") and New York squares. Gap bridged.
Tuttolomondo does the whole post-oven cheese-grating-and-tons-of-basil thing made famous by Di Fara's Dom De Marco. The crust is made from a 70% hydrated dough, leading to a very open, airy crumb and a light, crisp bite. As a general rule, most pizza is best eaten straight out of the oven, but we strongly recommend eating a regular slice from Mama's Too as fresh from the oven as possible; it loses some of its ethereal qualities when you let it sit.
Mama's Too, 2750 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, 212-510-7256
My Pie Pizzeria Romana
Like Mama's Too, My Pie Pizzeria Romana takes inspiration from revered pizza-maker Gabriele Bonci, who is behind Pizzarium in Rome. When My Pie first opened in its original spot in 2013, astute pizzaheads would have noticed a Bonci cookbook on proud display, alongside a wood pizza peel bearing the mark of Bonci. For the casual eater of pizza, we'll stress that Bonci is an outsize figure in the world of pizza, and when a spot can claim a connection, pizza nerds sit up and listen.
It turns out that the two brothers who opened My Pie, Michael and John Ozger, learned from Bonci himself, and now turn out medium-thick, crisp, and light squares topped with good-quality organic ingredients in an unsuspecting part of Midtown. The pizzas are served al taglio out of large trays displayed behind glass, and they bear an abundance of toppings.
My Pie's bready slices would be a fantastic find anywhere, but in its original location on Lexington and 57th, they're a godsend. They've since added a second location on Amsterdam and 72nd on the Upper West Side, which also needed something like this.
My Pie Pizzeria Romana, 690 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022, 212-317-1850
Not many pizzerias in New York—or the world, for that matter—can claim they're using freshly milled flour in their dough. And Scarr's is the only one in New York selling such pizza by the slice. (Bruno, which opened in the East Village slightly before Scarr's, offers whole pies made with house-milled flour.)
Owner/operator Scarr Pimentel, who has worked in pizzerias all over the city—Joe's, Lombardi's, Artichoke Basille's—blends his own milled flour with organic heritage flour from an upstate farm. Pimentel says freshly milled flour retains more of the wheat's nutrients and can help with digestibility, but what wins us over is the slightly nutty flavor and crisp-chewy texture that the flour blend produces in the crust.
The shop itself is a fun re-creation of a 1970s pizza shop—one that just happens to sell some of the most well-considered pizza in the city.
Scarr's, 22 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002, 212-334-3481
Sofia Pizza Shoppe
Tommy DeGrezia and Matthew Porter opened Sofia in 2016 in an area of Manhattan that sorely lacked a fine slice. Tom's last name may look familiar if you've already perused the "Classics" section: He's the grandson of Vincent DeGrezia, the "V" in Bensonhurst old-school joint J&V Pizza.
The regular slices at Sofia are what you should focus on—they're thinner than usual, always consistent, and have just the right balance of sauce and good-quality cheese. As mentioned, one of our ground rules was that we'd judge only on plain slices, and these plain slices pass. But don't skip their signature spinach-dip slice, which sounds like a gut-busting gimmick but actually works, leaving you feeling satisfied but not regretful in the least.
Sofia Pizza Shoppe, 989 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022, 212-888-8816
Nino Coniglio is an idiosyncratic, itinerant pizza guy who went from pizza competitions to a superb, now-defunct shop in deep Brooklyn and is now a partner and lead pizza-maker at Williamsburg Pizza. He's also a pizza consultant, developing pizza programs at pizzerias, restaurants, and bars. Judging by his work at Williamsburg Pizza, those places are in good hands. We had a very good grandma slice here, and the regular slice has an old-school NYC crust with a crisp veneer and tender insides, and plenty of color and bubbles to boot.
Williamsburg Pizza, 265 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718-855-8729
The old-school places that laid the foundations for the revivalists to build upon. These are the slices you need to eat for some basic level-setting and for overall slice cultural literacy.
The late Dom De Marco, proprietor and pizza patriarch, was famous for his unhurried approach to preparing his widely lauded pies (he even used to take his pies out of the oven with his bare hands), and we'd be lying if we said it didn't take forever (though his daughter Maggie managed to make at least some order out of chaos, writing down each order manually in a notebook with her own unique shorthand). They're not using fresh mozzarella on the regular pie anymore, and the fistfuls of freshly grated Grana Padano were replaced by pre-grated Romano after Dom's old counter-mounted rotary grater broke and he was unable to find a replacement.
The Sicilian, which a lot of people prefer to the regular slice, was dense and tough. We much preferred the regular, which, even with the changes, somehow still tasted like Di Fara. It may not be what it was, but Scott calls it "the pilgrimage pizzeria of NYC."
Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY 11230, 718-258-1367
Joe & Pat's
A photo of a slice from Staten Island legend Joe & Pat's is instantly recognizable: a super-thin, flat crust all the way to the edge, with discrete cubes of low-moisture mozzarella that melt into distinct blobs (rather than the full coverage that comes from using shredded cheese), against a background of very simple tomato sauce.
Joe and Pat's Pizzeria, 1758 Victory Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10314, 718-981-0887
This is the New York–iest of New York slices. It defines classic NY slice pizza—crisp, thin crust, crushed canned tomatoes as sauce, low-moisture mozzarella for cheese. Don't bother with the fresh-mozz slices—they're invariably bland. Joe's is so consistent in all its locations (a bunch of NYC shops and one in Shanghai) that I have dreams of it replacing every mediocre Famiglia in airports and malls and train stations everywhere.
Joe's Pizza, 7 Carmine St., New York, NY 10014, 212-366-1182
L&B Spumoni Gardens
When someone talks about an "L&B–style slice," they're often talking about the way this legendary Gravesend pizzeria assembles its square pizzas: dough, slices of low-moisture mozzarella, then the sauce. This is followed by a dusting of grated Romano cheese all over, especially along the edges, where it bakes into the crust, creating a kind of accidental Parmesan stick—you know, like those breadsticks that have just a dusting of baked-on cheese.
But there's more to it than that. The crust is like no other. The bottom is plenty crisp, but the interior is tender and soft—it's airy, even though it has a tight-to-medium crumb.
Where the cheese and crust meet, the two become one. Some people find this off-putting because, when you bite in, it feels like the dough is undercooked. But, as Scott pointed out to us, this is a false "gum line"—a line in the crust where the dough is still raw, which can happen in improperly cooked pizza. What's happening with L&B's is that your teeth push the melted cheese into the dough, creating the impression of a gum line.
The L&B Sicilian slice really is its own thing. And let's be clear that we're talking only about the Sicilian here, because that is 100% the pizza they're known for.
L&B Spumoni Gardens, 2725 86th St, Brooklyn, NY 11223, 718-372-8400
Louie and Ernie's
Let's use the superb, just-thin-enough slice at Louie and Ernie's to talk about topping distribution, because something they do there illustrates this concept perfectly: They put a little pinch of black pepper in the center of the pie, so your first bite has that zing. This is called center-loading. Another technique they're adept at here is evenly distributing the toppings so each bite is uniform.
These are the small differences you might not notice, but they're integral to making your favorite slice your favorite slice. There's also a bit of cornmeal on the underside here, which offers some extra texture. It's all topped sparingly with whole-milk mozzarella and grated cheese, and when you add up all the details, it makes for a diminutive slice of heaven in Throgs Neck in the Bronx.
Louie & Ernie's Pizza, 1300 Crosby Avenue, Bronx, NY 10461, 718-829-6230
New Park Pizza
We struggled with including New Park because it can be inconsistent, and because you have to ask for it well-done if it's to approach its potential greatness. But when it's on, it's so on. The regular slice is the thing to get, cooked in an old brick-lined oven that's got, like, a flamethrower inside. Scott thinks it used to be a coal oven that was just repurposed. They do this thing where they throw salt on the floor of the oven every hour or two, and when you get a just-salted slice? Perfect. It's the little quirks that make the difference here.
New Park Pizzeria, 156-71 Crossbay Blvd, Howard Beach, NY 11414, 718-641-3082
NY Pizza Suprema
After leaving the family business to work in law, Joe Riggio eventually came back and took over Suprema from his father, Sal. Located across from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, the place is always busy, so you're all but guaranteed a fresh slice that hasn't been sitting. It's got a sweet sauce, but it's one satisfying slice nonetheless. If you're going to the Garden, this should be your pre- or post-game slice. If you get to Penn Station early, head here immediately. The regular slice is exemplary, but the upside-down Sicilian is on another level altogether. Super-fast and efficient service, and you can almost always find a seat.
New York Pizza Suprema, 413 8th Ave, New York, NY 10001, 212-594-8939
Patsy's East Harlem
Patsy's is a treasure. It's one of only two coal-oven pizzerias selling by the slice in New York—and a plain slice goes for only $1.75. An example of minimalist perfection, the Patsy's slice has been remarkably consistent ever since I've been in New York. [Editor's note: That is, since 1973.] Sure, it's smaller than most slices, but it's cheaper than any other good slice in New York. In the dining room, they offer a choice of fresh or low-moisture mozzarella—the only coal-oven pizzeria to do so—but at the slice counter next door, LMM is the default.
Patsy's Pizzeria, 2287 1st Ave, New York, NY 10035, 212-534-9783
Rizzo's Fine Pizza
Rizzo's serves a unique slice, which it describes as a "thin-crust Sicilian." It's a rectangular slice sparsely topped with sauce and cheese. As with Joe & Pat's, its signature look is the whole discrete-areas-of-sauce-and-cheese thing. But Rizzo's takes it to a whole new level—you can almost imagine them meticulously laying on one two- by three-inch rectangle of sliced cheese per slice. The crust is biscuit-y and dense, but it works. Nobody else is making a slice like this, unless you head to Lazzara's in the Garment District, but that's whole-pie-only.
Rizzo's Pizza, 30-13 Steinway St, Astoria, NY 11103, 718-721-9862
The Neighborhood Favorites
The superb grandma slice at Louie's—light, not too thick, nice and airy and crisp—is an example of why it pays not to be too strict about categorizing and nomenclature.
For the longest time, I mistakenly believed that a grandma was simply a "thinner Sicilian," one that typically had a lot of garlic (but sometimes not) and that often had the sauce painted on in diagonal stripes (but not always). But Scott set me straight a while ago, explaining that a grandma's dough is pressed out into its rectangular pan, topped, and then baked immediately, while a Sicilian dough is left to rise, or "proof," in the pan before it's topped and baked. (At L&B, they actually top it with cheese and sauce and then let it proof.)
Per Scott's definition, the star of the show at Louie's Pizzeria is technically a Sicilian, since it proofs in the pan. Moreover, it's an upside-down Sicilian, because the cheese (fresh mozzarella, in this case) goes on first, covered by an ample amount of crushed plum tomatoes seasoned with lots of garlic, basil, and Pecorino Romano.
Even if you don't remember these details, just remember to get the grandma at Louie's. The regular slice is perfectly fine; better than average, really, and I'd be happy to order it if it were my local and we needed round pies for some reason. But it's just not in the same universe as the grandma there.
What's more, Louie's embodies the very notion of the Beloved Neighborhood Fave, which is why it's at the top of this category and not in alphabetical order, like we've done elsewhere.
Even though we believe we're in the middle of a pizza renaissance, and even though a lot of pie-makers may be turning out the most technically well-crafted pizzas we've seen in a generation, one thing that seems to be in short supply is a form of genuine hospitality, something that isn't part of a self-conscious "strategy" designed to wow you. You might not notice the difference until you finally get your butt to a place like Louie's.
From the outside, it's an unassuming place, which, truth be told, is part of the reason I initially hadn't bothered to check it out. It was neither knowingly hip-looking like Scarr's, nor was it charmingly old-school like J&V. Step inside, though, and you're greeted immediately and enthusiastically by Louie. If he doesn't know you, he introduces himself (though he declined to disclose his last name for this story). The people cycling in and out all seem to be regulars—if they're not, you wouldn't know it from the way Louie chitchats with them.
The customers are a diverse lot—this is Queens, after all, on the border of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. But more than just the racial diversity you'd expect, you've got people from seemingly all walks of life. There are the cops—it is very cop-heavy—picking up dinner for themselves and colleagues. There's staff from Elmhurst Hospital across the street. There's a bougie-looking dad and son, plus a large multigenerational family there for the non-pizza food (which I understand is also quite good).
Over the course of three consecutive evenings there, I saw several of the same faces, all of them bantering with Louie and often with one another. Louie's is a community hub. It's more than just a place you go to collect a photo for your Instagram feed—though, admittedly, those grandma slices translate to mega likes.
Are non-Queensers going to rush out here from other boroughs? Probably not. As fantastic as the grandma is, the place is a schlep if you don't live in the area, and you can probably find a slice just as fulfilling, in one way or another, closer to home. But if you live nearby, you know the qualities that bring you to a place like Louie's—or to Delmar in Brooklyn, or Nunzio's on Staten Island, or Sal & Carmine on the Upper West Side—and you advocate loudly for your spot.
That is what we mean by Beloved Neighborhood Faves. Here are some more—in merciful brevity.
Louie's, 81-34 Baxter Ave, Elmhurst, NY 11373, 718-440-9346
Living in the shadow of L&B is Ciccio's (just a 10-minute walk away—make it a twofer visit!). We learned about it at Slice back in the day from Gravesend local David Sheridan, who went on to open Wheated in Ditmas Park. Ciccio's is known for its sesame seed crust, one of the few shops in New York where this is SOP. It's got a dense edge, more cheese than many a New York slice, and nice color on the underside. The crust is like getting a bonus red-sauce sesame stick.
Ciccio's Pizza, 207 Avenue U, Brooklyn, NY 11223, 718-372-9695
Dani's House of Pizza
Dani's is way the heck out in Kew Gardens, Queens, a true neighborhood spot if there ever was one, so you'd think it would be a casual, quick-grab kind of place. Nope. The few seats at the counter are never not filled, and there's a line out the door at lunchtime, at dinnertime, at 3:30 p.m. on a weekday, at midnight on a rainy Friday when the streets are otherwise empty, and at 10 p.m. on the coldest night of the winter in 2015, when I first visited after looking at an apartment nearby.
The crust is super thin, crisp, and light, with a generous helping of sauce, though be forewarned: Their semiofficial hashtag is #sweetsauce. I'm usually not into sweet sauces, but I make an exception for a fresh, hot slice at Dani's. And yes, I know we're supposed to talk only about the plain slices, which are great, but they're also kind of known for their pesto slice, which a lot of locals get with red sauce added on top.
Dani's House of Pizza, 81-28 Lefferts Boulevard, Kew Gardens, NY 11415, 718-846-2849
As noted pizza guys, all of us are often asked, "What's the best slice in the city?" and/or "I live in [Mister Rogers' Neighborhood], what's the best slice near me?"
As we've said, none of us really rank pizzerias, so to the first question, you're apt to get a long-winded answer filled with several options. For the second question, we'll either have a neighborhood pick to toss out, or we'll end up learning something new from a local (which is always a good thing).
But these questions aren't really intended to elicit new information for the asker. They're usually all about the asker testing for BS on our part, seeing if our answers jibe with theirs and whether they can trust our judgment.
For folks who grew up in deep Brooklyn, Delmar in Sheepshead Bay often serves as a litmus test. And rightly so. It's a fine slice, with very even color on the crust and tight proportions of cheese and sauce. The mozzarella is good-quality—it had a nice pull to it when we visited—and there's a good amount of Romano on it, enough to lend the slice a salty, tangy note. The Sicilian is very nice and light, too.
Delmar, 1668 Sheepshead Bay Road, Brooklyn, NY 11235, 718-769-7766
The regular slice at this authentically retro Bensonhurst mainstay is very good, with salty cheese. There's a unique, crunchy grandma slice. But the Sicilian? Fantastic, light, and airy, with goopy cheese cascading down the sides. It's the thing to get.
J&V Pizza, 6322 18th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11204, 718-232-2700
Little Luzzo's, on 96th Street between Park and Lexington, is a hangout for nearby Hunter High School students, all of whom seem to opt for the special: two shockingly good Margherita slices and a soda or water for $5. It's the best deal in the city for traditional, good New York–style pizza. The slice is kind of Joe's-like: crisp, thin crust; dark bake; discrete areas of uncooked, crushed tomato sauce; and aged mozzarella. And there's a bonus on each slice: a couple of nubbins of fresh basil. I guess that's why they call their regular slices Margheritas. No grated Romano on the slice, but they have a shaker full of the salty stuff on the counter.
Little Luzzo's, 119 E. 96th Street, New York, NY 10128, 212-369-2300
Luigi's Pizza in Park Slope is an old-school place with a serious dough-management strategy. Second-generation owner Gio Lonzo (Luigi's son, who now runs the place) has devoted the entire next-door storefront to a series of refrigerators all set to different temperatures, which house the dough at different stages of its fermentation. (How can he afford this space? The Lonzos own the building.) It makes for a fantastic plain slice with tons of flavor. Worth seeking out not only for the pizza but for the effortless hospitality Gio and crew radiate—and for the authentic 1970s pizzeria vibe.
Ed finds the regular slice excellent, with perfect balance and seasoning, and he calls the grandma slice "snappy." Scott's assessment is a bit stronger: "It's the definitive slice. It's the truth. It's the honest truth of New York pizza."
Luigi's Pizza, 686 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215, 718-499-3857
Despite the old admonition about judging a book by its cover, sometimes you really can look at a slice and not want any part of it. One tell is seeing a slice absolutely blanketed in cheese. That's not the kind of slice Nunzio's serves out in Staten Island. Here, little islands of cheese seem to float on a sea of basil-laced sauce, all atop a perfectly crisp-pliant crust.
Nunzio's, 2155 Hyland Boulevard, Staten Island, NY 10306, 718-667-9647
Sac's is a large pizzeria-restaurant in Astoria that has the distinction, after Patsy's, of serving the only other coal-oven slice in New York. They do the initial bake in the coal oven, and when you order a slice, they reheat it in a standard gas-fired deck oven. There's not a ton of buzz around Sac's, but it was the best slice on the Queens leg of our initial pizza crawl—thin, crisp, with a bright tomato sauce and just enough cheese. It really should get more attention than it does.
Sac's Place, 35-11 35th Ave, Astoria, NY 11106, 718-204-5002
Sal & Carmine
The quintessential Upper West Side slice joint, located on Broadway between 101st and 102nd Streets. When it opened in 1965, on Broadway and 95th Street, it used to be just Sal's. It's now being run by Sal's grandson Luciano. The slices are slightly bready, with just a hint of crunch on the bottom, and they are very cheesy, so much so that the dreaded slice-blotters have a field day at Sal & Carmine. The sauce is barely evident. The place is so old-school, there's still a non-functioning slice window in the front.
Sal & Carmine's Pizza, 2671 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, 212-663-7651
A Final Word
So that's the state of the slice today, and we're eager to see what the future brings, as it appears the pace of reinvention hasn't slowed. For example, two more revivalist slice spots have opened: the long-awaited Paulie Gee's Slice Shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Sauce Pizzeria in the East Village, which has some impressive bona fides. (The owners worked with pizza consultant Anthony Falco, who made a name for himself at Roberta's.)
Both are putting out some promising pies, but we left them off the list proper to give their slices some time to mature. Based on what we've tasted, though, they seem to have internalized the best elements of the revivalist movement: They know they have to bring something new to the slice table and improve upon what's already on offer, whether it's from classic spots, neighborhood stalwarts, or some of the cheffier operations on the scene. Any ambitious New York slice shop opening in 2019 or beyond will have to do the same if it hopes to distinguish itself in a pack of truly superlative peers.