For my first post, I decided to begin right here in New York City on what seems like the endless quest for the perfect slice of “New York pizza”. It’s not only a popular conversation among visitors of this great city, but often becomes a heated debate between those of us who have our homegrown favorites. Me, I’m a Russ’s pizza girl myself (this tiny Greenpoint spot), but we’ll save local favorites for a different post.
For now, I wanted to dive into what I found to be a dizzying number of supposedly “essential New York slices”. Having my usual spots, I’ll be honest, I hadn’t even been to a couple of these, which made for an interesting experience. I was, in all honesty, skeptical and wanted to see which ones really lived up to their popularity and write-ups in seemingly every NYC food blog.
Prince St. Pizza
After employing the company and appetites of my two friends to help me on this pizza quest, our first stop was the legendary Prince St. Pizza, on none other than Prince St. in SoHo. Upon turning the corner off of Mott St., we were met with an unnervingly large crowd outside of the pizza place. Had I underestimated how popular this place was? Is this like the pizza equivalent of the cronut?
But alas, the agitated mob of onlookers, paparazzi, and weary pizza consumers surrounded - wait for it - KIM KARDASHIAN AND HER TV CREW. Yes. I have never before been to Prince St. Pizza, and the random Monday afternoon that I chose to pop in, I ran into an uber celeb. Bummer.
I can’t really begin to quantify how little my interest in Kim Kardashian paled in comparison to my interest in this supposedly legendary pizza, so I was happy that after five minutes of waiting, the crowds dispersed, and we waited on a line of only two people to get our margherita slices.
I’m happy to report that they were absolutely worth the chaos, and I 100% understand why Kim K. and her posse decided to stop by. While a bit steep at $4.25 for one slice, I was definitely satisfied and would absolutely come back to try some of their other slices.
If you’re like me, you might have seen the movie Elf once or twice (or several hundred times). Among many quintessential New York spots mentioned in the movie, the Famous Original Ray’s Pizza was one of them. In one scene, Santa recalls, “there are, like, thirty Ray’s Pizza’s, but the original is on 11th.”
If you’re not familiar with the almost “urban legend” quality of the story behind Ray’s, I’ll fill you in real quick, without getting too history-nerd on you. The first and only TRUE Ray’s Pizza opened up in 1959 and quickly expanded. Basically one “Ray” after another started opening up their own Ray’s Pizza shops, riding the coattails of Rosolino Mangano, who some credit with building the “Ray” brand to what it is today (you can read more about it here).
We were saddened to learn that the true, original Ray’s Pizza did in fact shut down in 2011, leaving behind litany of imposters citywide in its wake. This, of course, does not stop people from seeking them out, no matter what neighborhood they’re in, to try one of Ray’s Famous Original Slices (RIP). So we took the scientific approach and just picked a random one near Times Square.
I wish I could say that I was as pleasantly surprised as I was with Prince St., but for $3.00 for a plain slice I was underwhelmed. My friend and I walked a few blocks up from the Times Square B stop past the buskers and the sirens and the ever present chaos of Times Square in hopes of finding solace in the warm embrace of a hot slice.
Yeah this wasn’t where we were gonna find it.
The cheese itself was dried out like it’d been reheated multiple times throughout the day, and the speciality slices looked even older. Now pizza is pizza...so I ate it. I really wanted to like it, but I’m sad to say that if it’s a “New York slice” you’re looking for....look elsewhere. This is one “must-see” whose heyday has long since passed.
Proudly in operation for over 100 years, Lombardi’s claim to fame is that they were America’s first pizzeria. Located on Spring St. just around the corner from Prince Street Pizza, this is definitely not your typical NYC slice. Unlike the other spots on this list, this is a sit down restaurant that serves their pizza family style in either 12” or 18” pies.
Like any famous NYC establishment, this was evident and capitalized upon from the moment we walked in and got seated. The first thing I saw at the door were t-shirts for sale with the phrase “I ate at Lombardi’s” on the back and noticeably more families of tourists than at the other pizza places I visited that week. The barrage of merchandise met us at the table as well, conveniently on the menu next to the beer (talk about point of sale marketing).
I split a small margherita pie with one person which was more than enough food for the both of us, and honestly I have nothing bad to say. Of the margherita pizzas I’ve had it was tasty, but not the best I’ve had by far. I'm no food critic, bit it definitely could’ve used more cheese, and would average you $12+ which puts it in a different category than other casual pizza places.
Because of its proximity to Prince St. pizza alone, I’d almost say skip it if you had to choose, but, I’m a sucker for history. So while I probably won’t be jumping to return there anytime soon, I’m happy I got to see why this place is such an iconic NYC dining spot.
Ah, Artichoke. You just get me. Their slices are the size of your head and covered in a garlicky, cheesy, artichoke alfredo sauce - what more could your drunk self ask for? (Or sober, not judging). As far as “New York pizza” goes, this one’s a lot different. While they do have a great, margherita slice, what they’re really known for is their previously mentioned “artichoke slice” that’s, in all fairness, inspired a lot of controversy.
Pizza purists will argue that it’s just a “trendy” food like ramen burgers or cronuts and I get it - it’s not for everyone. For all intents and purposes, it’s pizza-shaped but not really pizza. HOWEVER...while you may need to unbutton your jeans to survive the Artichoke experience like I do, it is so, so delicious, that I really couldn’t tell you not to go and try it out. It’s something that you really can’t get outside of their nine NYC locations and that exclusivity is about as “New York” as it gets.
While this trip wasn’t as special or research motivated as the last two since I'm an Artichoke veteran at this point, the fun thing is never knowing what to expect as you turn the corner check your wallet for any lingering dollar bills. Being that it’s busiest late at night, I decided to go after a night out with a friend of mine around 11:30 PM. We got lucky, as it was a Tuesday, so there was no one in line.
With minimal seating and a kitschy “A Christmas Story” leg lamp glowing in the window, it certainly looked the part of a typical NYC pizza place. At this point, I started to regret how much money I’d spent on pizza that week, because delicious as it may be, that last slice was $5.00. The margherita, for reference, wasn’t much more affordable at $4.75, but nonetheless I am #TeamArtichoke and it absolutely deserves its title as a NYC slice.