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10 Old-Fashioned New York Neighborhood Pizzerias

Neighborhood pizzerias are the backbone of New York City dining. Since the 1950s when the stacked pizza oven was first popularized, they’ve been providing cheap food for much of the city’s population. In fact, for the last half of the 20th century, two slices and a fizzy soft drink was considered the classic working person’s lunch. Nowadays, lunch options have grown to include a tidal wave of franchise fast food for which modern mayors and real estate interests have opened the floodgates. But miraculously, the neighborhood pizzeria survives and prospers. Here are some of the city’s best, ones that deserve acclamation for consistently turning out a voluptuous product. God bless you, neighborhood pizzerias!


Napoli’s Best Pizza Robert Sietsema

[All photos by Robert Sietsema]

Napoli’s Best Pizza — What a charming name! With a tip of the hat to Naples, this tiny pizzeria across the street from Tremont Park is usually thronged with locals enjoying the neighborhood’s best pizza. And this place doesn’t doll it up, either. There are two choices: a plain cheese wedge and a square, extra-thick Sicilian, unless you want pepperoni to be strewn across the top of your slice as an afterthought. The crust is the thing here, beautifully browned, with a little more dough around the circumference than you really need, in order to flaunt the crust’s excellence. And every morsel of crust gets eaten. Astonishingly, a whole 14-inch round pie can be had for $5.50. 521 East Tremont Ave, Bronx, (718) 299-0759.

Pizza Town Robert Sietsema

Pizzatown — This lively pizzeria with some nifty murals has been a mainstay of 5th Avenue in the Slope since before that thoroughfare was even considered part of the Slope. The regular slice boasts a thicker and crisper crust than usual, and many patrons go for the extensive collection of novelties — such as the Buffalo chicken slice, the vodka slice, and the square Sicilian fried-eggplant slice with fresh mozzarella, surmounted by a very large basil leaf. But best of all is the stuffed slice, which features Italian sausage, pepperoni, potatoes, and cheese pressed between a double crust — it’s double delicious, and identifies the roots of Pizzatown in Abruzzi, where such pizzas are a specialty. 85 Fifth Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 789-4040

Tony’s Robert Sietsema

Tony’s — Since the 1970s, when Bushwick was still an Italian stronghold, Tony’s Pizza has been turning out near-perfect pies on Knickerbocker Avenue, a stone’s throw from Maria Hernandez Park, once known as Bushwick Park. The slice is austere in its structure: the crust pale and thinner than most, but crisp; the sauce mild and only slightly sweet; the better-than-average cheese strewn with a generous hand. Devotees also extol the hot heroes, potato-lovers pie, and fried calamari. 443 Knickerbocker Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 455-9664.

Mr. Phil’s Pizza Robert Sietsema

Mr. Phil’s — The upside-down Sicilian is star of the show at this classic Dyker Heights pizzeria (established 22 years ago), which is more glitzy and comfortable than its brethren along New Utrecht Avenue, an ancient Dutch thoroughfare that dates to the 17th century. The slice in question is square, thinner and crisper than most Sicilians, with the mozzarella next to the crust; the rich, thick, sweet tomato sauce on top of that; and a scatter of parmesan on top for enhanced saltiness and cheesiness. The garlic knots are especially good and so are the outsize, deep-fried rice balls, once again demonstrating Sicilian heritage of this excellent place. 7212 New Utrecht Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 234-4106.

TuArepa Pizza Cafe Robert Sietsema

Tu Arepa Pizza CaféTaken over not too long ago by a Chinese-Venezuelan, this pizzeria just off Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills was already a historic and fully functioning institution. Now it also serves overstuffed arepa sandwiches, fried and baked empanadas, cheese-stuffed cachapas, and other Venezuelan fare as a sideline. The pizzas, though, remain uncommonly solid, including a plain slice with extra cheese, a narrow bone (the bare outside edge of the slice), and a bland tomato sauce that makes this example typical of great neighborhood slices. Other more contemporary slices include the baked ziti, the Hawaiian, and the bacon chicken ranch, the last slice gobbed with salad dressing. 100-22 67th Ave, Queens, (718) 766-8900.

Olga’s Pizza Robert Sietsema

Olga’s — Offering virtually no place to sit and eat, only a narrow shelf that runs around the room, Olga’s on Upper Broadway in Hamilton Heights is nevertheless mobbed during the day with neighborhood types, who use it as a sort of stand-up social club. This is an example of a pizzeria taken over by Dominican owners from its previous Italian ones, and all the better for it. The slice is uber-cheesy, the crust pale and doughy, the tomato sauce less profuse than usual, and yet it tastes fantastic, showing how a distinct point of view is always an asset to a great neighborhood pizzeria. 3409 Broadway, (212) 234-7878

Stella’s Pizza Robert Sietsema

Stella’s — Founded in 1997, this Chelsea mainstay across from the projects and just north of the Maritime Hotel seems far older. The regular slice is especially tomatoey and slightly salty, best enjoyed on the two-slices-with-a-can-of-soda $5 lunch special. On the other hand, then you’d miss the dense white broccoli slice, which features cloudy masses of ricotta and mozzarella. Seating is limited to a gleaming metal counter, and you should see the line that winds out the door during mealtimes! Are those Roy Lichtenstein prints on the walls? He once lived nearby. 110 9th Ave, (212) 462-4444

Pizza D’Oro Robert Sietsema

Pizza D’Oro — Lush, lush, lush, and thick-crusted, too, is the style of most Staten Island pizzerias, if you leave out places like Lee’s and Denino’s that specialize in cracker-type bar pies. Several notches above its neighborhood brethren, 42-year-old Pizza D’Oro ("Pie of Gold") displays a glass case filled with pies that ramp up pizza’s richness, many available by the slice. One of our favorites is the lasagna pizza, multiplying cheeses and meats heaped high on the crust. Located in an old house now surrounded by a strip shopping center on the northwestern part of the island. 3115 Victory Blvd, Staten Island, (718) 698-8873

Giovanni’s Pizzeria Robert Sietsema

Giovanni’s Pizzeria — This Woodside pizzeria of ancient vintage always had a larger menu than most. In addition to the regular pies, there are pastas, heroes, salads, steaks and chops, and belt-busting, all-in Italian dinners. But in addition, the place now serves Mexican food, so that you can have guac and chips alongside your Sicilian slice. The cemitas (round Pueblan sandwiches) have become neighborhood favorites. Hopefully, the Mexican and Italian menus will begin fusing, and we can expect a Mexican pizza strewn with chiles and cactus strips, or maybe chipotle chicken, in the future. 45-59 47th St, Queens, (917) 473-3727.

San Marco Pizzería Robert Sietsema

San Marco — Named after a famous piazza in Venice and dating to 1969, Williamsburg’s San Marco Pizzeria is perhaps the most beautiful and elegant establishment of its type you’ve ever seen. Seating is mainly at a polished granite counter that faces the pizza oven; a series of signs display the menu, for which there is no paper equivalent; and pies are restricted, for all practical purposes, to plain cheese and plain Sicilian. The cheese slice is austere, with a tomato sauce not the slightest bit sweet, and plenty of salty cheese, making it an entirely savory experience. 577 Lorimer St, Brooklyn, (718) 387-4861.

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