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Local Obsessions: NYC Pizza by the Slice

by Devorah Klein Lev-Tov

Photo: ashleylovespizza / Flickr

Devorah Klein Lev-Tov has spent the past six years editing non-fiction books and eating pizza. When it comes to pies, as well as books, she's looking for the real deal.

NEW YORK – Trying to narrow down the best pizza in NYC is like trying to select the best apples from an orchard during U-pick season. The options are limitless. That said, I have sampled my fair share of NYC slices and have come to a few conclusions. There's a different pizza for every mood and appetite. If you're visiting the city and don't have time to sample around, these top ten slice joints, classy restaurants, and old-school institutions will do the trick.

1. Di Fara
Lay of the Land: You do not go to Di Fara for ambiance or speedy service. You go because it's an institution. Beret-clad pie-master Dom DeMarco has been obsessively manning the oven for 40 years, and he's the only one who touches the pie — hence the sometimes excruciating wait. Go as a party of two so that you can keep each other company and split a whole, drizzled with top-notch olive oil and finished with fresh basil. You can order slices, but they cost five bucks these days, and, trust me, you're going to want one more than one.
Overall Vibe: Wood paneling, bare tables, and oven smoke clog the small room, but you can entertain yourself by reading the articles plastering the walls.
Square or Round: It's a draw. Both are excellent, although the square tends to come out with a blacker crust.
Good to Know: It's cash only.
Find It: 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY 11230, +1-718-258-1367
Review: NYT

2. L&B Spumoni Gardens
Lay of the Land: This is a 72-year-old classic neighborhood joint in residential Gravesend, Brooklyn, close to Coney Island. It's packed most evenings and epecially Sunday nights when Italian families are supping with nonna. The real charm is inside, but on nice nights you can grab a slice and catch the patio action. Aside from the addictive Sicilian pies (in which sauce is ladled over the cheese), roasted artichokes and garlic bread make great sides.

Overall Vibe: This is a classic red-sauce Italian joint, so bring the attitude and your Jersey Shore-loving friends.
Square or Round: Square Sicilian is their specialty.
Good to Know: The only way to finish the night is with a spumoni ice.
Find It: 2725 86th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11223, +1-718-449-1230
Review: Slice Blog

3. Motorino
Lay of the Land: This spot won the hearts and taste buds of many, including The New York Times' Sam Sifton, who declared it to be the city's very best pizza. It is perfectly cooked and perfectly proportioned (the crust to sauce to cheese ratio is flawless), and they've got a host of inventive toppings (from Brussels sprouts to clams). They inherited Una Pizza Napolitana's famous oven, which seems to be working out beautifully.
Overall Vibe: Clean, East Village cool.

Square or Round: You'll only find round.
Good to Know: Motorino is open for brunch, and the fantastic pizza al'uovo — with eggs, pancetta, pecorino, fior di latte, basil, and chili oil — is sure to cure any hangover. Also, the tiramisu is pretty damn authentic.
Find It: 349 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003, +1-212-777-2644
Review: NYT

4. Lucali
Lay of the Land: It's packed. The good news is a host will take your phone number and call when your table's ready. Inspired by Di Fara, Lucali's pies are meticulously made using the freshest ingredients. 

Overall Vibe: Unlike Di Fara, this place has farmhouse coziness — you can watch the wood-burning oven from the open kitchen. You'd never believe all those mafia rumors by the looks of the place, but it does add another layer of authenticity.

Square or Round: There is not a square in sight, but they do have out-of-this-world calzones.

Good to Know: Call ahead to save a place in line. Just be nearby with a bottle of wine — it's BYOB — when your table is ready.
Find It: 575 Henry Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231, +1-718-858-4086
Review: NYT

5. Artichoke Basille's
Lay of the Land: This place has its cult followers and its detractors, but I'm all about the tiny storefront's Sicilian slice. Their specialty is the namesake artichoke pizza, but I think it's way too heavy — it essentially swaps tomato sauce for a creamy spinach/artichoke dip. But their Sicilian squares will do you no wrong. They've opened outposts in Chelsea and the West Village with more menu offerings and are also selling frozen pizzas in supermarkets, but I vouch for the original 14th Street location.
Overall Vibe: Big sloppy portions in a little in-and-out spot. Eat on a bench outside.
 Bring napkins.
Square or Round: Square all the way.

Good to Know: They serve beer!
Find It: 28 East 14th Street, New York, NY 10003, +1-212-228-2004
Review: NY Mag

6. Best Pizza
Lay of the Land: It's a simple shop with a focus on inventive pies and super-fresh ingredients. Pies are crazy thin and oozing with goodness. Pickled vegetables and caramelized onions are only the tip of the toppings iceberg. Let them shine.

Overall Vibe: Williamsburgish. The walls are covered with customer-decorated paper plates and hip-hop or indie rock blares from the speakers. Servers are friendly with an occasional touch of attitude, and the counter-service is laid back and easy.
Square or Round: The grandma slice (technically square) is a winner.
Good to Know: They also make a mean meatball sub. And truly terrific garlic knots.
Find It: 33 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211, +1-718-599-2210
Review: NYT

7. Rubirosa
Lay of the Land: This is the hot Soho spot from the family behind Staten Island institution Joe & Pat's. The place is really good-looking, with a sleek old-fashioned bar and cocktails to match. They have all the items you'd expect to find on a Little Italy menu (breaded artichoke, mozzarella sticks, Caprese salad), but high-quality ingredients elevate the dishes to new heights.
Overall Vibe: Soho chic, complete with lots of high heels and heavy mascara. Expect to wait for a table during prime hours and don't expect the bartender to pay much attention to you. 

Square or Round: They only have round.
Good to Know: They have fantastic handmade pastas.
Find It: 235 Mulberry Street
, New York, NY 10012, +1-212-965-0500
Review: The New Yorker

8. Roberta's
Lay of the Land: The funkiest of the bunch, Roberta's has been making waves since it opened in 2008. It has become a Bushwick destination, the anchor of the neighborhood. There's a DIY feeling in the air, from the homemade charcuterie to the on-site bakery to Heritage Radio Network, the pirate radio station run out of a shipping container on the patio. Settle in for thin-crust pies with creative toppings often pulled from the greenhouse garden. Did I mention foie gras and tongue are also on the menu?
Overall Vibe: Laid-back, creative, tattooed, and eccentric, this is the perfect place to take skeptical out-of-towners and actually impress them.
Square or Round: Only round at the restaurant, but I hear they do Sicilian slices at their booth in Madison Square Park (spring and fall only).
Good to Know: Roberta's switches up the menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner. They have a killer wine selection and a list of add-ons that goes for miles.
Find It: 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206, +1-718-417-1118
Review: NYT

9. Saraghina
Lay of the Land: The darling of Bed-Stuy has a sprawling indoor/outdoor space, so you can go with a group without worrying about a wait. The pizza is Neopolitan — without the sag. People rave about the proscuitto and funghi pie, but I love the bufala mozzarella.
Overall Vibe: Relaxed and casual. Feel free to lounge in the rustic garden for hours. 

Square or Round: They only offer round.
Good to Know: Carbo-load at brunch by ordering pizzas and French toast. Their espressos are legit.
Find It: 435 Halsey Street, Brooklyn, NY 11233, +1-718-574-0010
Review: NYT

10. Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitano
Lay of the Land: This age-old joint has had several Manhattan locations (now closed), but the original, founded in 1924, is still in Coney Island. The classic New York pizza is cooked in a coal-burning oven — something of a rarity these days — and is charred in all the right places.The sauce is sweet, the cheese is fresh, and the setting is classic low-fi. Totonno's is not about gourmet; it's about tradition. And this place has plenty of it.

Overall Vibe: Brooklyn-Italian all the way: red sauce, loud BK accents, no bullshit. Your authentic, old-school pizzeria experience is served on a platter.
Square or Round: Keep it simple and round.
Good to Know: Granddaughter Louise "Cookie" Ciminieri often mans the door — and the line that waits outside it. You better not piss her off.
Find It: 1524 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224, +1718-372-8606
Review: NY Mag


MAP IT

See the locations for this pizza tour. (Googlemaps)

FOR THE PIZZA COGNOSCENTI

There are, of course, several other NYC pizza parlors that have stood the test of time, have a lot of history, and are still worth a try if you can get to them easily: Grimaldi's in Dumbo, Patsy's in Harlem, Lombardi's in Nolita, and John's in the West Village.
Franny's in Park Slope is a good, modern spot if you like thin-crust pizza with gourmet toppings and have time and money to spare. Same for Fornino in Williamsburg and Co. in Chelsea.

There are also notable newcomers and spin-offs. Forcella specializes in fried dough crust. PizzArte serves traditional Neopolitan pies. And if you want to get into the kitchen, classes are open (and excellent) at Pizza A Casa, a pizza school on the Lower East Side.

YOUR TURN?

You love the list! You hate the list! There you go: Everyone's got an opinion about pizza. Give us yours in the comments below.

Devorah is a writer and editor in Brooklyn who's been eating her way through New York for the last six and half years, one slice at a time. She travels for the quirk.

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