What's the best pizza in New York City? Just ask the News' online readers
Rectangular pies line the counter at Pala on Manhattan's lower East Side. Take a virtual tour of each pizzeria with our audio slideshows: See links below and top right.
We all know New York's got the best pizza on the planet – and more great pizzerias per capita than any other city in the nation. Despite the stiff competition, naming the top spots was easy as pie for the hundreds of online readers who wrote in to describe their faves. We tallied their votes and visited the winner in each borough to sample the fare (everything from round Sicilian to organic-crusted rectangles to the ubiquitous margarita.) Here are the city's boroughwide reader picks - which boast the crunchiest crusts, most sublime sauces and toppings that are, quite simply, tops!
IN BROOKLYN: DI FARA PIZZA (1424 Avenue J at 15th St.; 718-258-1367)
Every day but Monday when the shop is closed, hungry customers start lining up 20 minutes before Di Fara Pizza opens. At noon sharp, when his married daughter,Louisa Castagnini, unlocks the door, they begin pouring in with one thought on their minds: to savor a slice or three of the traditional old-style pizza that Domenico DeMarco has been making for 42 years.
Andy Hill, who lives in the neighborhood, came in with his 13-month-old son earlier this week and ordered three slices of margarita - plus a whole artichoke pie. As he sat at a table polishing off all three slices of basil-flecked margarita, he explained: "The artichoke pie is for me to take home for dinner."
So what makes this pizza rise above the rest and brings tourists from all over the region for a taste?
"I got too many years over my shoulders - I got a lot of experience," explains DeMarco, who came to this country from Italy in 1959. "And a lot of my ingredients are imported from Italy."
That goes not just for the canned tomatoes (San Marzano) but the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and even the flour. "The dough - it's more light, it has more crunch," says DeMarco, explaining why he imports even his flour.
His ovens heat up to 900 degrees and the pizzas cook in about five minutes. "If the pizza stays too long it comes out like a pretzel," says DeMarco as he pulls a pie from one of the ovens to check it. "When you see a pie with black spots on the bottom, that's Italian pizza but when you see a pie all the same color on the bottom, that's not real Italian pizza."
This first pie of the day is a beauty - an extra crunchy, thin-crusted round with blistered edges and a topping of melting cheese atop a sauce that tastes like the essence of fresh tomatoes. At the last minute, DeMarco snips fresh basil right onto the top and customers line up as he slices it into wedges. It's gone before half the line has been served, but no matter. These customers are willing to wait through their lunch hour for a slice of truffle pie ($5, because it contains imported truffles) or for the Di Fara special (sausage, onions, peppers and mushrooms.) One nice touch on the tables here: bowls of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and extra tomatoes so you can customize your slice. Not that it really needs any tinkering: this is true pizza perfection.
Customers like Matthew Wolsky, who voted for DiFara, emailed, "Each pie is given unique individual attention, and over the past 40-plus years, Dom DeMarco has perfected his craft. You have to try it to believe it."
And Michael D'Angelo wrote in, "Fughedabout any other pizza, this is perfection. It's like you died and went to pizza heaven."
IN STATEN ISLAND: VALDUCCI'S (4369 Amboy Rd.; 718-317-1100)
"The sauce is great, it's not sweet and it's not bitter – it's just perfect," enthuses a reader about this longtime shop, and we couldn't agree more.
Whether you choose the three-cheese garlic Sicilian made with two kinds of mozzarella and Parmesan or the crisp, flavorful regular pie, it's easy to see why this 18-year-old, family-run Eltingville shop draws crowds just about every night of the week. Owners Michael and Margaret Vallario use a sauce recipe that they got from his mother, Camille, and it's pretty much perfection on a crust. The concentrated essence of tomato, with overtones of garlic and onion, makes for a wonderful sauce.
"In the beginning, my mother would come in and show everyone how to make the sauce," says Michael Vallario. She still comes in to sample a slice or two and bring the grandkids in to get a taste not just of the pizza but of how the family biz is run.
Vallario was one of the first on Staten Island to perfect the thin-crusted Sicilian pie. He also prepares a noteworthy no-cheese salad pie, and a whole wheat pizza for the health-conscious.
After the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, Valducci's set up a stand on the West Side Highway and Vesey Street, and dispensed 1,000 pies in four days. "We felt so strongly to be there," adds Margaret. "We didn't realize how many of our customers worked in Manhattan." On the anniversary every year since, Valducci's given free pies to firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and those in the military.
The couple's four daughters help out, too – along with assorted relatives, all of whom live in the area. Valducci's (the name combines Vallario and Ducci, Michael's grandmother's last name) stays open till midnight Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and is usually packed with pizza fans young and old.
One fan who identified herself simply as Denise in our online pizza poll summed up the Valducci's like this: "Valducci's is simply the best pizza you will ever have. Can't say which of the numerous types of pizza is my favorite because they are all delicious."
Adds Melissa Javaheri, "Valducci's pizza is the best! Great tasting pies and great customer service."
What's the secret to these notable pizzas? "We use the best cheese and tomatoes," Vallario says. "And I never substitute anything."
IN MANHATTAN: PALA (198 Allen St. at Stanton St.; 212-614-7252)
To walk into this welcoming lower East Side restaurant, with its open kitchen, touches of wood and beautiful displays of rectangular pizzas, is to feel immediately at home and in good hands. Husband and wife team Gigio Palazzo and Edena Barreto opened about a year and a half ago and word spread quickly: The pizza here is truly fabulous. It's baked in special brick-lined electric ovens from Italy, where native Italian Palazzo returned a few years back to study pizza-making.
"I wanted to change the game of pizza," says Palazzo. "Takeout pizza is not a great product. So I took some courses, and learned about the fermentation process. Our topping are completely different, and our crust is highly digestible."
That crust is unique and worth mentioning. An all-organic dough made with nine different kinds of flour, including soy and barley, it's made three days in advance and spends 72 hours rising. The finished product is chewy and toothsome, yet not tough.
The set-up at Pala is a little bit different from that in most pizza places. The pies are two feet long and rectangular, and people order by the inch. You can order from the pizza bar by the slice or you can order a pie to your specifications. The best seller here? The buffalo mozzarella with fresh cherry tomato is a real winner, but perhaps the most unique, delicious specialty pizza is the zucca. It's made with layers of homemade pumpkin puree, mozzarella cheese and pancetta. After baking, fresh scamorza cheese and parsley are scattered over the top.
The name, Pala, by the way, refers not just to Palazzo's last name but to the Italian name for the long wooden paddle, or shovel, that is used to move the pizzas in and out of the oven. You don't need to speak Italian, though, to love this place.
"We have people who order from other boroughs, and people from uptown who send their drivers to get a pie," Barreto says. "We sometimes send our pies in a taxi. Yeah, it's pretty crazy!"
Daily News online reader Rafael Jimenez cast his vote for Pala with the following comment: "This is some pretty amazing, fabulous, sold by the foot, mouthwatering pizza."
Voter Edward Benitez says he often travels from Bay Ridge on his Vespa scooter to get some of this pizza. "Absolutely positively the best pizza I've had," he rhapsodizes. "I deal with clients from all over the country as well as the UK and every time I bring them to Pala, they can't get enough of the pizza."
IN QUEENS: BELLA VIA (47-46 Vernon Blvd. at 48th Ave.; 718-361-7510)
Five years ago, when Sal Polito, the chef and an owner of Bella Via, stood admiring the view of the Manhattan skyline from the street outside his brand new Long Island City restaurant. Suddenly, he had the perfect name for his new venture: Bella Via, or "beautiful way."
Life's been beautiful ever since at this family-run restaurant – sister-in-law Vicki and her son, "Little Sal," 23, are always on hand. They toss some thin-crusted beauties that hold some of the best and most imaginative toppings around.
"We use the real San Marzano tomatoes," says Polito, expertly slicing up one of his pies for a diner to sample. "This makes a big difference in the color and flavor of our sauce."
That well balanced sauce is the base for a number of delicious pies, including the regular margarita, which is scattered with fresh mozzarella and slivered basil, as well as a terrific arugula and prosciutto pizza. For this one, a pie crowned with mounds of peppery fresh arugula is tossed with slivers of prosciutto. Another winner is the four seasons, or quattro stazione, in which each quarter of the pie has different toppings like mushrooms, artichokes or ham.
What sets this pizza apart from many others is the crisp crusts – and that everything is super-fresh.
"All our pizza is cooked in a brick oven," Vicki Polito says. "And nothing is mass-produced. We make our dough every day. The cheese is handsliced with a knife, the old fashioned way. Everything is fresh done to order so people may have to wait a bit to have their pie."
Since it tastes so good, no one's complaining about the wait. Just ask voter Jay Meehan. "Best brick oven pizza in New York!" he emailed. It's a sentiment echoed by the legions of fans who come here from all points of the city to order Polito's perfect pies.
IN THE BRONX: CROSBY PIZZA STOP (1731 Crosby Ave.; 718-823-8980)
Jack McGee, a Studio City, California-based actor who's made more than 120 films, was back in town lately to attend a high school reunion at Cardinal Hayes High School. The first stop he made? Crosby Pizza Stop.
"It's the best pizza in town," says McGee. "It's the only place I come to. I get a couple of slices of pepperoni – maybe a third, too. Of course, I don't tell my wife about it."
Owner Vincent Leo's been turning out these admirable pies worth telling everyone about for close to 40 years – and the neighborhood responds by keeping him very busy. He's got a big heart and a big personality, and he knows his customers well. He says they love his round Sicilian pizza because of the aged mozzarella cheese he uses.
"I like to age my mozzarella for about a month," says Leo, who opened up shop in May, 1969. "It makes for a better pizza with a creamier color. It goes on all my pizzas, along with some other cheeses, too."
Leo's always in his kitchen, making crusts, sprinkling on the hand-grated, first quality cheese, and greeting his regular customers by name. He knows their tastes, and many repeat customers sit in a booth to savor a slice or share a pie.
On the round Sicilian pie, basically a deep dish pizza, the thick crust is cracklingly crisp at the base and soft within, and it holds a mantle of first-rate mozzarella cheese with a small amount of well seasoned sauce. To taste the regular pie is to indulge in a savory and crunchy slice topped with melting mozzarella and just the right amount of sauce.
It's classic Italian pizza, made all day long, served fresh and hot, and attracting crowds from all around the neighborhood and beyond. Mike Osorio of the Bronx said he especially likes the sauce here. "It's different from any other pizzeria," he says. "And my favorite is the stuffed pizza, it has pepperoni, sausage and peppers. I've been coming here all my life, since I was a kid and going to P.S. 71."