New York typically gets all the attention when it comes to pizza, but it's time we meditated on New Jersey’s deep love affair with the almighty pie. Pizza first arrived in the Garden State by way of Trenton with Joe’s Tomato Pies in 1910, which was followed by Papa's Tomato Pies in 1912. (For the uninitiated, a tomato pie consists of thick, Sicilian-style square slices topped first with cheese and then with tomato sauce.)
New Jersey’s large Italian community (third percentage-wise after Rhode Island and Connecticut) has ensured a steady stream of delicious pizza that rivals New York's, and a permanent place for it in the state’s gastronomical history. So the next time you’re driving through New Jersey on the way to the shore, on a road trip to DC, or to go antiquing in Lambertville, do yourself a favor and take a break for a slice at one of these places.
Opened in 1945, Star Tavern still feels like a ‘70s-era tavern to this day with its wood paneling and neon signage. But the atmosphere is of little importance -- it's all about the thin crust, which beats anything you could get in New York. Unlike standard thin slices in NYC, this magical crust manages to be paper-thin but still somehow sturdy enough to hold every topping you could imagine without flopping. Put it to the test by ordering the everything pizza, with pepperoni, sausage, anchovies, mushrooms, onions, and peppers on top.
It's fitting that a place whose name could also be a suitable moniker for a Mafia second-tier hitman is on a list about New Jersey pizza. With white and red tiles and a super basic interior, the vibe here is decidedly old-school. The pizza sauce is slightly sweet, though not overpoweringly so, and besides having an excellent cheese-to-sauce ratio, Big John’s also offers a double thick crust for those who like their pizzas thick but not square/Sicilian thick.
The industrial Razza has truly elevated typical Jersey pizza to a more refined affair -- a stark contrast to other statewide favorites, which tend to skew more old-school. Razza even charges $4 for bread and butter, which sure, is totally ludicrous, but you better believe you haven’t had butter his delicious and fresh since you went to Amish country on an elementary school field trip. It's strictly local ingredients here (you'll even find a pizza with hazelnuts sourced from Rutgers University); the butter is grass-fed, the salt handpicked, and for god’s sake they put a dollop of cream on the pizza.
Maruca’s signature spiral sauce-topped pies are so iconic in the Jersey pizza lexicon that ignoring the Shore in a list of the best pizza would be like not mentioning Nashville when talking about the best hot chicken. Owned by four brothers (Anthony, Pasquale, Joseph, and Dominick -- does it get more Italian than that?) Marcua's has been a Seaside Heights institution since 1950, famous for swirling its sweet tomato sauce over a bubbling cheese base, creating a sauce-cheese ratio that no one could complain about. Maruca’s thin crust pizzas are crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, drawing in legions of fans from all over the Garden State.
As the oldest pizzeria in Jersey and second in the country after Lombardi’s (although Papa’s challenges that), Papa's Tomato Pies rightfully deserves a place on the list of best pizzas in the state. Still run by the same family since its opening (not even Lombardi’s can say that!), Papa’s is named after Giuseppe Papa, who came to New Jersey by way of Italy. The restaurant first opened in Trenton in 1912 but relocated to suburban Robbinsville in 2013. However, the family is so dedicated to sticking to the original recipe, they actually have water shipped in from Trenton. Be sure to try the mustard pie, in which spicy brown mustard is layered on top of the dough before adding the mozzarella and tomato sauce.
People from North Jersey like to say they have the best pizza on lockdown, with their classic slice joints juxtaposed with upscale Neapolitan spots, but they are sorely mistaken. South Jersey is far superior to North Jersey on the pizza front, and that's due in large part to Bruno's Pizza & Restaurant. In addition to offering all the traditional slices, Bruno’s offers the most delicious and unique Sicilian margherita pie with melty buffalo mozzarella, as well as the perfect Grandma slice (which is basically a thinner slice of Sicilian).
If you’re tired of plain cheese, Dominick's (also in South Jersey) expands on the traditional offerings by offering pizzas like cheesesteak, eggplant Parmesan, chicken club, and Bolognese. Kitschy, sure, but you better believe it works. The cheesesteak/pizza combo is also pretty fitting, as South Jersey associates itself with Philadelphia (while North Jersey associates itself with New York). And yes, even with all those toppings you can still fold the slices.
1. Star Tavern Pizzeria400 High St, Orange
2. Big John's Pizza90 E Commerce St, Bridgeton
3. Razza275 Grove Street, Jersey City
4. Maruca's Tomato Pies601 Boardwalk, Seaside Heights
5. Papa's Tomato Pies19 Main St, Robbinsville
6. Bruno's Restaurant & Pizza509 Hopkins Rd, Haddonfield
7. Dominick's Pizza1768 S Lincoln Ave, Vineland
New York has nothing on the thin-crust pizzas served at this classic Jersey 70's bar and pizzeria. The paper-thin pies are loaded with the perfect ratio of sauce and cheese and have a crispy and bubbly crust. The pizzas are served family-style, but slices are small so if you're usually a two-slice person, you'll want to go for three or four at Star. The go-to order includes buffalo wings and a cold beer, and the best seats in the house are in one of the wood-paneled booths with a crew or at the bar with a pie all to yourself (don't worry there are TVs).
Since 1969, this pizzeria in Bridgeton has been serving quality pizzas with a thick-ish crust and an excellent cheese-to-sauce ratio. Big John's has a pretty basic interior and minimal seating, so it's more of a take-out spot, as its Friday night lines can attest. Both square and round pies are on the menu, and the double-thick crust option is perfect if you like your pizza thick but not Sicilian-thick.
If there's one thing New Jersey Italians do really well, it's pizza. Jersey City's Razza is more upscale than the old-school classic taverns that dot the Garden State, and as expected given its artisanal nature, it sources ingredients from local producers. The thin-crust pizzas are served in a hip and industrial space with concrete walls and a long wooden bar.
Maruca's signature spiral sauce-topped pies are famous on the Jersey Shore. Owned by four Italian brothers, the Seaside Heights spot has been a boardwalk institution since 1950 (despite changing locations a few times). Piping hot as the thin-crust pies might be, one slice is the perfect beachside snack.
Papa's is the oldest continuously operating pizzeria in America, so there's that. But what really makes Papa's so damn good is its tomato pies, a pizza style straight out of Trenton. Sort of like inside-out pizza, the thin-crust pies are topped first with a light layer of cheese, then a solid amount of sauce, which gets all caramelized and sweet while it cooks. The restaurant first opened in 1912, and if it looks a little bit modern, that's because it relocated from its original Trenton location to suburban Robbinsville in 2013.
In the heart of south Jersey, Bruno's is one of those be-all and end-all Italian restaurants that serves everything under the (Tuscan) sun. In addition to pasta, seafood, and meat dishes, Bruno's serves up traditional round Neapolitan pizza AND square Sicilian pies. The interior is a bit kitschy, with painted murals of Italy and fake vines winding around the arched entrances, but hey, A for effort.
For unfussy, quality pizza the south Jersey way, go to Dominick's in Vineland. The sit-down and to-go pizzeria expands on the traditional toppings by serving up pizzas loaded with eggplant parm, buffalo chicken, and cheesesteak. There's also a full menu of hot and cold sandwiches and pastas.