The selection of pizzas and other dough-based products is different in every place. There are strombolis, garlic knots, pepperoni rolls, spinach pinwheels, calzones, Jamaican meat patties, and (especially in the Bronx and parts of Queens) bureks — flaky Balkan pies stuffed with cheese, spinach, or meat. The number of pizzas offered at neighborhood parlors has multiplied dizzyingly, so that buffalo chicken, nonna ("grandma"), Hawaiian, lasagna, and Caesar salad pies have become standard in most neighborhood joints, each of which is capable of inventing its own oddities, such as the double-crust stuffed pie recently encountered in Park Slope.
In addition to the usual hot heroes, many pizzerias attempt full Italian menus, with pastas and meal-size salads now available. And some are offering beer, wine, and espresso beverages. Not to be beaten by their many competitors, neighborhood pizza parlors have remained feisty and combative. Here are 10 fantastic examples that belong in our Neighborhood Pizzeria Hall of Fame.
Armando's — This newish Ocean Hill establishment is a branch of a long-running Canarsie pizzeria that's been in the D'Arpa family since 1968, now being run by a third generation. Like the sign outside says, the mini-chain's specialty is the Sicilian slice (only $2.50!), and you've never tasted better. The bread is thick and bouncy, but paradoxically light-textured, and the sauce in the typical Sicilian style is a little on the sweet side. In addition, there's a strong taste of oregano, which may or may not be due to the Greek origin of many Sicilians. Other specialties include a delicious, sesame-seeded ground beef stromboli, pepperoni pinwheels, and meatball rolls. 1717 Broadway, Brooklyn, (718) 484-8500
Bergen Pizza — This quintessential Brooklyn pizzeria has seen progress overtake it. Where once its main feature was proximity to a police precinct, now it's being engulfed by the nearby AtlanticYards developments. For a neighborhood joint, it sure has a nice dining room, though perhaps a little more lit than you might like. The thing to get here is the Sicilian slice, which is nicely salty with more cheese than you usually get. The crumb is dense enough that one's a meal. Salads are unexpectedly spot-on here. 67 6th Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 636-4863
Broadway Pizza and Pasta — Located in hilly Kingsbridge and boasting a big and comfortable dining room, BPP is deluxe for a neighborhood joint. The best slice we tried wasn't the Neapolitan pepperoni or the Sicilian cheese, but the lasagna slice, with gobs of mellow ricotta, splotches of sweet sauce, and herb-scented ground beef. You won't miss the noodles. For a bigger meal and a spicy kick in the pants, try the chicken fra diavolo ala Rosa, one among many entrees served with spaghetti, ziti, or salad with garlic bread. The slogan of this delightful spot is, "The taste you always come back to," and we will! 192 W 231st St, Bronx, (718) 601-5000
Daro's Pizza & Chicken — Surrounded by Northern Chinese restaurants, Daro's is tasked with fulfilling two pressing neighborhood needs: pizza and fried chicken, a combination common enough in Brooklyn's Afghani-owned fried chicken joints. Here it seems like the pizza predated the bird, because the list of pie is far more sophisticated than the chicken menu. A case in point is the grandma slice, thin-crusted and utilizing fresh mozzarella, premium tomato sauce, and fresh basil — an herb not easy to find in these parts. Hot heroes are another strong point, especially the iconic egg and peppers. 44-25 Kissena Blvd, Queens, (718) 445-5572
Golden Pizza — Golden is about as bare-bones as a pizzeria can be, yet it has obviously been feeding the populace of its Mott Haven neighborhood for a good long time. The dining room is standing-only, and the counter routinely displays only one kind of slice, yet what a slice it is. Trim, nicely clotted with good cheese, not quite thin-crusted but crisp and tasty nonetheless. You can have some pepperoni thrown on top, but it's not necessary. And, miracle of miracles, an entire cheese pie can be had for $6.50, which is less than dollar slice places charge. 504 E 138th St, Bronx, (718) 665-8328
Joe's Pizza — King of the neighborhood pizza parlors, Manhattan edition, Joe's offers a slice magnificent in its plainness, appreciated by generations of New Yorkers and visitors. No frou-frou here, just a well-pureed sauce and just enough cheese — but not too much — and one of the city's most perfect crusts. On the other hand, for just a bit more you can get the fresh mozzarella slice, with little annealed gobs of newly minted cheese. But the best-selling slice, according to a counter guy I talked to, is the pepperoni slice. Miraculously, new branches of this place near Union Square and in Williamsburg have not diminished its brilliance. 7 Carmine St, (212) 366-1182
Luigi's — Located just off the Grand Concourse in the neighborhood with the idyllic name of Mount Eden (yes, the region is hilly like San Francisco) has been owned by steadfast Eastern Europeans for 25 years, and they have cleaved to the classic neighborhood pizza formula. The plain slice is a beaut, carpeted with good cheese and browned a smidge more than normal, with a non-sweet sauce concealed under the cheese that the female pizzaiola makes herself with great care. But even better is the mushroom slice, with many more ‘shrooms than are strictly necessary. The premises feels antique, with plenty of room to sprawl out and relax. 119 East Mt Eden Ave, Bronx, (718) 294-1800
Lunetta — The stylish pizzeria (the name means "Little Moon") is on the verge of becoming an actual restaurant, but the emphasis remains staunchly on some excellent pies, with a sauce perhaps a little sweeter than usual. The margherita is a Lunetta invention: a round, thin crust pie with fresh mozzarella and little wads of crushed tomatoes here and there, creating a prodigious mouth wallop. A larger than usual roster of apps, subs, hamburgers, heros, and cheesesteaks provide enhanced dinner options. 245 3rd Ave, (212) 432-2134
Sam's Famous — Sam's is a throwback to the 60s, when East Harlem was one of the city's most prominent Italian neighborhoods. Now it and Rao's are two of the few surviving institutions. The place is narrow and efficient, and turns out a bigger range of products than seems possible given the small space. The pizza crust is especially thin and crisp (the dough is made on premises), and the regular slice is on the cheesy side with a big thick "bone" (circumferential edge). Among specialty slices, the three meat (pepperoni, bacon, Italian sausages) is especially fine and greasy, and the chicken parm slice a nice invention. Garlic knots A+. 150 E 116th St, (212) 348-9437
Triangolo Pizza — Located on the northern reaches of Manhattan Avenue, Triangolo is one of Greenpoint's most distinguished neighborhood parlors. Look through the glass display counter and pick what looks best — on a recent visit, it was an extra thick slice with sauce and cheese, dotted with bacon, pepperoni, and ground beef. "What's that called?" I asked the pizzaiolo. "I'm not sure," was his reply, suggesting a high level of improvisation. The cheese and spinach stromboli, with a particularly crisp crust, was also exemplary. Dig the lettering on the neon sign outside, and don't miss the cryptic Steven Seagal shrine. 1017 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 389-5885
Check out our previous neighborhood pizzeria honor rolls: