Food & Drink

Forget the Dollar Slice: Here's Where to Find the Best Regional Pizza Styles in NYC

Published On 01/18/2017 Published On 01/18/2017
Emmy Squared
Emmy Squared | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

In the old days, pizza in New York City essentially meant one of two things: either thin triangular slices (commonly known as New York-style pizza) or thick doughy squares (aka Sicilian). But, over the past decade or so, the city has seen an influx of various foreign pizza styles that don’t really conform to the typical New York pizza experience -- from traditional Italian varieties to bizarre Midwestern interpretations. Here’s a handy style guide to help you navigate this brave new world of non-New York-style pizza in New York today.

Courtesy of Gnocco

Roman pizza tonda

What it is: The precise history of this style -- which literally translates to “round pizza” in Italian -- is hard to pin down, but it became popular in Rome sometime after World War II, thanks to the influx of strong, high-protein American flour. It’s cracker-thin and crunchy at the edge, yet soft and flexible at the center. The dough is usually stretched with a rolling pin to achieve a density that differentiates it from other Italian styles. Pies are small, about 12-14in in diameter, and work great as personal pizzas or as appetizers in restaurants that offer a full menu.

How to know it’s good: Look for thin crust with a light char. Beware of dusty crusts caked with excess flour, which tend to taste bitter.

Where to get it: The most popular spot is probably Danny Meyer’s Marta, but Gnocco has been doing it for more than a decade in Alphabet City.

Prova Pizzabar

Pizza al taglio

What it is: Like pizza tonda, this style is another creation of post-war Rome. In New York pizza terms, it’s most similar to Sicilian pizza. Both are thick, rectangular, bready pies baked in moderately heated ovens at around 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Like Sicilian pizza, pizza al taglio is baked in a pan and served by the slice (al taglio literally means “by the cut”). Where they differ is their ingredient makeup. Pizza al taglio is built on a base of extremely wet dough. Unlike New York squares, which get topped with shredded low-moisture mozzarella and cooked sauce, pizza al taglio has a lighter dressing of fresh mozzarella and uncooked tomato. Additional toppings tend to be a slightly more gourmet variety than your usual pepperoni or sausage.

How to know it’s good: Eyeball the pizza’s cross-section. You’re looking for big holes to indicate an open crumb structure, meaning the pizza will be light.

Where to get it: Prova in the dining concourse of Grand Central Terminal and My Pie on the Upper East Side.

Kesté Pizza & Vino

Neapolitan

What it is: Pizza as we know it developed on the streets of Naples by the early 1700s, when bakers used topped dough discs to cool down the floors of their overheated ovens. The last 15 years have seen a massive comeback in this style, particularly in New York. It’s the personal-sized pizza that gets baked in a super-hot wood fired oven for just 90 seconds. The edge is puffy and thick, but the center is thin. The overall pie is soft because of its short bake time and sometimes a bit wet in the center (also thanks to the fast bake). Toppings on Neapolitan pies are sparse but fresh.

How to know it’s good: Push the edge crust (“cornicione”) down with your finger. It should pop right back up. You should also see an even constellation of char marks on both the edge crust and the underside, sometimes referred to as “leopard spots.”

Where to get it: Kesté, Sottocasa, Tavola, Ribalta, Song’ e Napule, and Rossopomodoro.

Merilu Pizza Al Metro

Pizza alla pala (aka pizza al metro)

What it is: These thin, rectangular pies are baked directly on the oven floor and sold either whole or by the slice. The style is said to have started at Pizza a Metro da Gigino L’Università Della Pizza in Vico Equense, just outside Naples, where the lengthy pies are baked in wood-fired ovens. Like most other Italian styles, pizza alla pala is delicately topped with fresh Italian ingredients.

How to know it’s good: The pie should be thin but not entirely stiff, with a noticeably raised crust along the perimeter.

Where to get it: Farinella, Merilu Pizza al Metro, and Numero 28 (the Park Slope location).

Courtesy of Archie's

Greek pizza

What it is: This style is common in New England, where Greek immigrants adapted it with some of their own flavors in the 1960s. These round pies are thicker than the typical New York-style pizza, as the dough sits in round pans and rises before baking. They also tend to be greasier than other styles, thanks to a generous amount of oil in the dough and lining the baking pan. Greek pizza’s thickness makes it perfect for loading on toppings. The result is hefty, hearty, and (surely to the dismay of most New Yorkers) not at all foldable.

How to know it’s good: You want a pie that’s more robust than the average slice, yet not so oily that you need to bust out extra napkins.

Where to get it: Archie’s, Boston Pizza, and Scarr’s (ask for the personal pan pizza).

Emmy Squared | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Detroit style

What it is: This style owes its creation to the auto industry, as legend holds that the first Detroit pizzerias used blue steel pans, which were commonly used by car manufacturers to store auto hardware. The pans’ angled sides allow cheese to fall into the crevice between dough and pan, paving the way for a crispy caramelized cheese border. Sauce goes on last, lending this style the nickname “red top.”

How to know it’s good: Look for a blackened cheese crown along the perimeter and an even golden hue on the crust.

Where to get it: While Emmy Squared is probably the most talked-about place doing Detroit-style pies right now, Nino Coniglio (of Williamsburg Pizza and the Brooklyn Pizza Crew) has also been experimenting with limited edition “Not Detroit Style” pizzas every night at his post in the coat check room of 310 Bowery Bar.

Chicago deep-dish

What it is: Before you go spouting off about how deep-dish isn’t even pizza, think about the basic components. It’s dough that gets stretched, topped, and then baked. Just because you can’t eat it with your hands while walking down Mulberry St doesn’t mean it’s not real pizza. This is a high-ridged pan-baked monster filled with cheese, toppings, and finished with a stewed tomato sauce. The style goes back to the early 1940s, when it was introduced by a pizzeria that later morphed into the Uno chain. The original idea was to transform the dish into a full meal; it was previously thought of as more of a bar snack in the midwest.

How to know it’s good: The pie should be dense and biscuit-like rather than thick and fluffy, with the sauce on top (or else, it’s just a thick pizza). Get it with sausage for the authentic experience.

Where to get it: Emmett’s

Courtesy of Speedy Romeo

St Louis style

What it is: Before the massive chain pizza companies took over the Midwest, native pizza was thin, round, and cut into squares (the so-called “party cut”). It was originally served in bars as a snack, but later came to prominence as a popular kids’ birthday party meal. Imo’s in St. Louis is credited with introducing a variation of this style that subbed in a bizarre local cheese called Provel -- a blend of Swiss, Cheddar, and provolone. Locals love Provel cheese but non-natives tend to find its globby consistency unsettling. Regardless of how one feels about the stuff, it’s clearly the defining element of the style.

How to know it’s good: Provel cheese has a distinct tangy flavor, which is something of an acquired taste, especially if you’re not from St. Louis.

Where to get it: While it’s not a 100% true St. Louis-style pizza, the Saint Louie pie at Speedy Romeo is about as close as you’ll get. The restaurant even imports the Provel!

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Scott Wiener is the founder of NYC-based Scott’s Pizza Tours and author of Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box. He’s still trying to acquire a taste for Provel cheese. Follow him on Twitter (@scottspizzatour) and Instagram (@scottspizzatours).

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1. Marta 29 E 29th St, New York, NY 10016 (Nomad)

From Danny Meyer and the excellent chef of Maialino, Nick Anderer, this Roman-style pizza joint in the Martha Washington Hotel is serving up simple pies like a Margherita with buffalo mozzarella, and less simple pies like the Capricciosa with mozz, artichokes, prosciutto, olives, and egg.

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2. Gnocco 337 E 10th St, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

Tucked into a cozy space across from Tompkins Square Park, Gnocco specializes in northern Italian cuisine from the Emilia region. You'll find handmade pastas and bubbly pizzas along with the namesake speciality, gnocco, a crispy appetizer of deep-fried dough served with Italian cold cuts (read: prosciutto). Though the dining room is rustic and intimate, the place to sit is in the gorgeous courtyard, where mural-splattered walls and weaves of tree branches do a good job of disguising Alphabet City as Modena.

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3. Prova Pizzabar 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017 (Midtown)

The old Two Boots Pizza space in Grand Central Terminal is now home to Food Network star Donatella Arpaia's Prova Pizzabar. Arpaia's Neapolitan-inspired pies are made in stone deck electric ovens instead of the more typical wood-fired ones, but their flavor profiles remain true to the boot with toppings like hot or sweet soppressata, house-made meatballs, and truffle burrata. Pizzas are served as round personal pies or in rectangular slices to-go, the latter of which appeals to commuters rushing to get back to the suburbs.

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4. My Pie 696 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022 (Midtown East)

This hole-in-the-wall pizza spot in Midtown defies all sad desk lunch expectations. Prepared with flour imported from Rome, and featuring fresh toppings like marinated chicken, artichoke, and fior di latte cheese, My Pie's authentic pizzas will inject oomph in your worst conference call-swamped days.

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5. Keste Pizza & Vino 271 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

You know a restaurateur takes his pizza seriously when he's heating the pies on volcanic stone in a wood-fired oven that's made specially by Italian artisans. The man behind the kitchen is Roberto Caporuscio, a certified member of the Associazone Pizzaiouli Napoletana, a trade organization devoted to upholding traditional Neapolitan pizza techniques. Caporuscio's bona fide position in the pizza-making world puts Kesté among the best spots in the city for the sparsely topped, doughy discs -- all made with imported Italian ingredients.

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6. Tavola 488 9th Ave, New York, NY 10018 (Hells Kitchen)

Tavola does Italian food the old-school way in a rustic and charmingly down-trodden dining room that wouldn't look out of place on a Roman side street. The transportive aesthetics -- with a wall of canned tomatoes fit for a mom-and-pop store -- make it easy to forget you're just a stone's throw from Port Authority. Here, wood-fired pizzas are reliable and topped with Little Neck clams, hot capicola, and imported buffalo mozzarella. Antipasti, pasta, and protein entrées take their inspiration from across Italy, as does the wine list.

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7. Ribalta 48 E 12th St, New York, NY 10003 (Union Square)

Wood-fired, thin-crust Neapolitan pizza is what's on the menu at this airy, modern Italian restaurant near Union Square. While crispy pies piled high with bright splashes of tomato sauce might be the stand-outs here, Ribalta's menu also features a nice selection of rustic pastas and greens. Flat screen TVs regularly broadcast international soccer matches, adding to the casual, bistro vibe.

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8. Rossopomodoro 118 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10011 (West Village)

What started out as a pizza counter inside Eataly is now a full-service Italian restaurant in the West Village. Rossopomodoro is known for its soft but charred Neapolitan-style pizzas, which emerge hot and fluffy from the gold-tiled wood-burning oven in a matter of minutes. A host of elegant pastas, including sea urchin linguine and tagliatelle Bolognese, round out the menu, as do cocktails with distinctly Italian ingredients like Aperol, Campari, and limoncello. The corner restaurant is surprisingly large with four separate dining rooms and a bar area, and luckily, the atmosphere is nowhere near as tourist-ridden as its Flatiron parent.

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9. Farinella Bakery 788 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10065 (Upper East Side)

Sometimes you're so hungry you could eat a full 18-inch pizza pie, and other times you're so hungry you could eat the unimaginable: a four-foot-long rectangular pizza. Farinella Bakery specializes in the latter, a long and thin style that's baked directly on the oven floor and served on over-sized wooden boards. Served whole or by the slice, Farinella's flatbread-like pies are sturdy and finished off with traditional Italian toppings. The bakery also serves Neapolitan-style calzones, and focaccia and and rustic casereccio breads to-go.

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10. Merilu Pizza Al Metro 791 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (Hells Kitchen)

This family-run pizzeria in Hell's Kitchen pays homage to both Roman and New York pizza-making traditions. Merilu's thin-crusted Roman pies are rectangular, crisp, and firm, while its New York ones are thicker and round. The space has a few tables but it's ideal for a quick slice on-the-go.

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11. Numero 28 Pizzeria Park Slope 137 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (Park Slope)

A more casual branch than its Manhattan outposts, Numero 28 in Park Slope delivers signature thin-crusted Neapolitan pies in a cream-colored dining room with Italian sayings scrawled on the walls. The menu has a few protein-based entrées (how could you not serve chicken parm?) but sticks largely to handmade pastas dishes like baked ziti with sausage and ricotta, and pizzas, both circular and rectangular. A notable pie is the namesake Numero 28 topped with buffalo mozzarella, speck, truffle cream, and mixed mushrooms. If you can't settle on just one, go big with the 29in rectangular pie that's split into thirds, with each portion topped with different combos.

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12. Archie's 128 Central Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11221 (Bushwick)

Archie's brings a much-needed round-the-clock pizza option to Bushwick: this bumpin' bar and restaurant serves slices until 4am daily (12am on Sundays). The pies deviate from the traditional New York-style and instead take inspiration from the thick and weighty ones common in New England. Fat hoagies stuffed with meatballs, breaded chicken, and cured meats complement the pizzas, as do baked pastas with Bolognese or marinara sauce. Thankfully, coming to Archie's for a late-night slice doesn't necessarily mean your night is over, thanks to the party atmosphere fueled by cheap beers, house wine, and cocktails. With just a handful of tables, the space is tight but the deep-crusted pizza is worth any cramped seating.

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13. Boston Pizza 3705 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11103 (Astoria)

What defines Boston-style pizza? It's thick-crusted and baked in a pan, yielding a crispy exterior and extra-doughy interior. This Astoria pizzeria has the New England technique down and proves to be a worthy rival to the New York-style joints that span the area. The shop gives a nod to another city, Philadelphia, in its signature cheesesteaks, which are served in split-top Italian rolls and brimming with mushrooms, peppers, and mozzarella. Much like the food, Boston Pizza's wood-paneled space is unfussy and comfortable, just like a pizza place should be.

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14. Emmy Squared 364 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

The Williamsburg follow-up to Emily and Matt Hyland's much-hyped Clinton Hill pizza and burger spot specializes in square, Detroit-style pan pizza. In addition to the classic square slice (with crispy, cheesy edges and dollops of sauce), Emmy Squared offers a Margarita, a pepperoni-laden Roni Supreme, and more unique pies, like The Emmy with mozzarella, banana peppers, onions, and ranch.

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15. 310 Bowery Bar 310 Bowery, New York, NY 10012 (Manhattan)

There's no mistaking how to find 310 Bowery Bar -- the address is in the title. The narrow, contemporary-rustic space features some 13 local and national beers on tap, as well as cocktails like Moscow Mules and vodka-spiked hibiscus lemonades that draw after-work crowds. Arguably the best part? Williamsburg Pizza helms the kitchen, and chef Nino Coniglio -- named 2016 Pizza Maker of the Year at the International Pizza Expo -- slings out pies, including his famed Grandma take.

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16. Emmett's 50 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012 (Soho)

There's no lack of animosity between New York and Chicago pizza camps, and Emmett's in Soho makes a bold move by specializing in the thick and saucy pan pizza native to the Windy City. The pies here are on the larger side of two-inches deep (this is deep-dish, after all), with the cheese appropriately layered below the sauce and toppings. Pizza's not the only food on offer at the beer pub; a charred cheeseburger on a potato bun does just fine, too.

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17. Speedy Romeo 376 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

This Clinton Hill Italian (with a second location on the Lower East Side) is one of the only places in New York that serves authentic St. Louis-style pizza. Different from the Neapolitan style, St. Louis pies are made with an ultra-thin, cracker-like crust and topped with white Provel cheese. Speedy Romeo's signature version, The Saint Louie, comes with an added topping of Italian sausage, pepperoni, and pickled chilis. If you aren't one for processed cheese, don't worry, the menu features more typical Italian pies with mozzarella, ricotta, and pecorino. Located in a 100-year-old bar-turned-liquor store-turned-auto shop, the space is decked out with retro decor that feels like an ode to its Brooklyn past.

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18. Sottocasa Pizzeria 298 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201

This friendly neighborhood spot in Boerum Hill seems to achieve the impossible: a crust that’s not too thick and not too thin with just the perfect amount of char. There’s a bevy of pizza picks to choose from in addition to antipastos and red sauce classics, which can and should be paired with a glass of wine from the extensive Italian selection. The space is clean and modern with white brick walls and dark metal furniture.

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19. Scarr's Pizza 22 Orchard St, New York, NY (Lower East Side)

Prepare for vivid childhood flashbacks and exceptional Sicilian slices at Scarr’s, a Lower East Side pizzeria inspired by the wood-paneled parlors that began popping up across tri-state suburbia in the ‘70s. It may have opened in 2015, but Scarr’s will transport you to your favorite after-school hangout with retro decor like Tiffany sconces, Formica countertops, and faux-wood booths, surrounded on all sides by tinted mirrors. Whether you’re getting a slice to-go or dining in, you place your order at the front counter, where a letter-board menu lists four types of pizza (original, pepperoni, white, and Sicilian), plus personal-pan and whole pies. They can be topped with a list of add-ons that juxtapose classics like meatballs and pancetta with modern alternatives like vegan cheese. Chef-owner Scarr Pimentel hails from institutions including Joe’s and Lombardi’s, and his pizza is a cut above the average late-night slice joint: the flour is milled in-house and ingredients are locally sourced, not canned. A DIY pie is a smart move to get exactly what you’re craving, but trust us, the Sicilian is mandatory. Its thick crust is crunchy but airy and topped with a few basil leaves, a dusting of parmesan, and mozzarella that won’t burn your tongue and lets the star ingredient shine: a rich tomato sauce with a zesty bite. If you’re dining in, take your pizza to one of the booths in the back room, which is home to a small bar with vinyl stools that serves wine and a couple of craft beers on tap (there’s natural soda, too, but no Coke or Pepsi products, despite a Pepsi-branded menu). The hip, if not ironic, vibe of this old-meets-new spot is accentuated by the fact that Drake is bumping through its speakers -- the sole reminder that you’re not at a middle-school pizza party in 1985.

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