In the universe of New York pizza, very few stand taller than Patsy Grimaldi. One of just a handful of pizza men left who helped make New York-style pizza as renowned as it currently is, he’s the man behind Patsy’s Pizzerias, the original Grimaldi’s, and Juliana's, which he opened last year in the original Grimaldi’s location after deciding to get back into the pizza game.
Along with Dom DiMarco (of Di Fara) and the late Gennaro Lombardi (or Lombardi's) and Antonio Pero (of Totonno’s), Grimaldi is a member of New York’s pizza elite, one of the last of a dying breed of pizzaioli who helped invent the New York-style pizza that we know and love.
If you were to head to Naples, Italy, you’ll encounter a very different product from the traditional New York pie. Whereas the New York slice is completely covered with cheese and has a slightly crunchy crust, traditional Neapolitan pizzas (like what you encounter at Motorino) are smaller, tend to have dollops of cheese as opposed to one even layer, and have a crust that sags when you list it, oftentimes requiring a fork and knife to eat.
While dining at Giuliana recently, our intrepid Recipe editor Will Budiaman encountered Grimaldi himself, and asked him what the main differences are between a New York and Neapolitan-style pizza. Grimaldi’s answer was technical yet extremely simple: According to Grimaldi, the difference between Neapolitan-style pizza and New York-style pizza is that Neapolitan-style pizza uses what's called '0' or '00' flour, which is ground as finely as possible, and is made in a wood-burning oven. "If you use '0' flour to make a pizza and cook it in a coal oven like mine, it’ll just burn up," he said.
Grimaldi uses what he calls "American flour," which is most likely just all-purpose, for his New York-style pies, from a special supplier who gives him 1,000 bags a day. He also cooks his pizza in a coal oven, which is illegal in New York but allowed where it’s been grandfathered in.
So there you have it: Neapolitan pizza is made with '0' or '00' flour in a wood-burning oven; New York-style pizza is made with all-purpose flour in a coal-burning (or electric) oven. And that’s made all the difference.
Help me understand New Haven Pizza!!
First a little background, so you know what my pizza roots are:
I grew up in central New Jersey, where there's a decent to great family run pizzeria in every strip mall, all "New York style" (though I never would have known to call it that when I lived there).
After 4.5 years at school in central Missouri (total dearth of any kind of decent pizza. google Imo's Pizza for examples of the weird proto-casseroles on a saltine cracker that they call pizza), I've now been in LA for 10 years. It's rare, but out here you can find a decent NY pie (not great in the way DiFara in Brooklyn is great-- but decent pies where you might be fooled if you closed your eyes). Of course there is the "California Pizza" with toppings like lox and cream and chicken tikka masala (but that's a whole other thing entirely.)
OK-- that brings us to New Haven. I've never been, and I don't understand it. What exactly IS New Haven pizza? What do they serve up that makes it (supposedly) the best pizza in the country? I've heard Sally's and Pepe's bantered about for a long time now, not quite understanding what it's all about.
For ease of response, I'll list out my questions here:
1. What exactly IS New Haven pizza? What makes it unique?
2. Where did New Haven pizza come from? What's the history? Does it have roots from New York Italian immigrants who migrated out of of the lower east side in to the Connecticut suburbs? (i.e. is it "modified" New York style pizza, or is it in fact it's own creation?) I'm wondering if there's any link between the 100+ year old New York based Lombardi's/Patsy's/Grimaldi's type places.
3. Is this New Haven style of pizza copied in other places in Connecticut?
4. What is the quintessential New Haven pie? (I've read something about clams and bacon. By comparison I'd say that in NY/NJ, the classic cheese slice is the standard by which to measure a great pie)
5. Are Sally's and Pepe's pretty much the only game for great New Haven pizza?
6. Are there any quintessential rituals associated with going out for New Haven pizza?
7. Many of the 100 year old NYC places like Lombardi's and Totonno's still use super hot coal-fired ovens (though they are illegal now, these old places were grandfathered in). Do the New Haven pizzeria's use coal ovens? Wood ovens? Regular pizza ovens? (any visit to Di Fara will illustrate that a coal oven is not necessary to make a great pie)
8. Is New Haven pizza available by the slice or pies only?
9. Are pies divided into 8 triangular slices (as god intended it) or are they hacked up into crazy irregular squares (as I've seen done many, many times during my midwest pizza encounters. even one place in LA does this, inexplicably)
Thanks for your input, 'hounds! Hopefully I'll make it out to your neck of the woods sometime soon.
New York Pizza vs. New Haven Apizza
In his heyday, the world was truly Frank Sinatra’s oyster. Or, perhaps, we should say – his clam pie.
When all was said and done, the Rat Pack superstar sold over 150 million records, won every award under the sun, and recorded some of the most iconic ballads of all-time, including “New York, New York”.
That means Sinatra could get anything he wanted, any time he wanted, including pizza. Before his biggest performances in New York City, Sinatra would order delivery from Sally’s…in New Haven, Connecticut.
That’s right – even when Sinatra would wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep, he had the pizza of New Haven, Connecticut at the top of his list. King of the hill. Number one. (You get the idea.)
Does this mean that New Haven’s pizza is actually better than New York’s?
Before you dig in to find out if you see it the same way as Ol’ Blue Eyes, spot the difference with our Styles Spotlight.
The first difference you might notice between New Haven-style pizza and New York-style pizza is the shape. The NY pie is as round as Madison Square Garden. The New Haven pie, on the other hand, can be best described as round-ish.
There’s no true uniform shape for the New Haven pie – some are oblong and some take the form of an asymmetrical circle, depending on the shop that makes it and the whims of the chef on any given day. Lopsided or not, rest assured that your New Haven pie will be sliced into triangles and come out darn near perfect, no matter what.
Both crusts are crispy, but New Haven-style crust is all about the chew.
There’s a stark difference between the two crusts, owing to the longer fermentation process of New Haven’s dough. Proofed slowly overnight in the fridge, New Haven crust tends to be more complex in flavor than its oversized NYC counterpart.
For the most part, New York-style pizzas are built upon a quick-rise dough to form a foldable crust. The fold is a major hallmark of the style – some say that if the slice doesn’t fold, it isn’t truly a New York slice. In fact, the New York slice is so collapsable that Tony Manero managed to stack two of those bad boys together and fold them while strutting down 86th St.
Some say that New York’s tap water is the secret to the fold. NYC’s “softer” H2O has lower concentrations of calcium and magnesium than water found elsewhere and a bit of extra sodium, and some pizzaiolos say that’s the key to a crust that is simultaneously springy and crunchy.
The doughs differ in flavor and texture, but they both emerge crispy on the bottom, thanks to super-high oven temperatures. New York-style pies are typically baked between 500-600° in gas-powered ovens, whereas New Haven kicks things up a notch at 650° or higher.
A New Haven neophyte might wonder if the bottom of the pizza has been burned. Rest assured – it’s not. The New Haven pizza is given additional time to achieve a blistered and blissful char, the true hallmark of a perfect NH pie.
ATTN: New Haven neophytes – please don’t send your pizza back for a perceived lack of cheese, either.
New Haven-style pizza subscribes to a less-is-more philosophy. New Haven’s first pies were topped with only tomato sauce – no cheese – to showcase the tangy tomato sauce and nuanced taste of the crust. In keeping with that tradition, New Haven-style pizza has only a light touch of cheese, which often means just a smattering of grated cheese, unless you specifically order a pie with “mootz”.
Meanwhile, New York-style pizza is positively packed with cheese, with low-moisture mozzarella spanning the entire pie, right up to the cornicione. If you’re looking for a highly-Instagrammable cheese pull and deciding between a New York and New Haven pie for dinner, the choice is a no-brainer (Though, making and documenting the pizza pilgrimage to New Haven will also get you lots of likes.)
You might not be able to see the difference between the sauces used on New York-style and New Haven-style pizzas, but you’ll certainly taste it. New York’s pizza sauce is heavily seasoned with aromatics like garlic, oregano, dried pepper flakes, and basil to balance out the sweetness and acidity of tomatoes.
New Haven sauce, on the other hand, aims to preserve the natural sweetness of San Marzano tomatoes with fewer aromatics and spices.
Because there are no rules when it comes to pizza, you can get a New Haven-style pie with ample cheese and toppings, just like you’d find on a New York-style pizza, if that’s what you’re after. Modern Apizza, for example, loads its signature Italian Bomb with mozzarella, sausage, bacon, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, bell peppers, and garlic.
Still, for a true New Haven experience, you’d do well to try the famed white clam pie, made with grated Romano cheese, fresh garlic, olive oil, parsley, and freshly-shucked, barely-briny, and surprisingly-sweet bivalves. There’s no need to bring sauce or extra cheese into the mix here, but you can up the smokiness and textural contrast by adding bacon, a pro move that many New Havenites swear by.
Pizza vs. Apizza
Remember: Your New Haven-style pie is charred, not burned. And, if you want mozzarella, you need to order a pie with mootz.
Oh, one more thing: In New Haven, it’s not called pizza. It’s apizza, pronounced “ah-beetz”.
The name “apizza” is a nod to the dialect of the Neapolitan immigrants who first brought pizza to the region. It’s one of the many ways that New Haven-style pizza stays close to its roots, along with the chewy crust, minimalistic tomato sauce, and lighter touch of cheese.
Don’t worry – Sally’s, Pepe’s, Modern Apizza, and the rest of New Haven’s famed shops will still know what you’re talking about if you order a “pizza” or slip into New York nomenclature and request a “pie”. But, if you want to blend in with the locals, you can say “ah-beetz” and park your out-of-state license plate somewhere off of Wooster Street.
What is the difference between "New York Style" pizza any other average greasy thin slice you can get anywhere else in the country?
I overheard a debate about new york vs chicago style, and while I'm very familiar from Chicago because my dad is from there (NOT deep dish/thick crust which a lot of people confuse it with. We're talking crust up the sides of the pan, then cheese, toppings, and then sauce on top), I guess I don't really grasp what New York is, and maybe that's why I've never been a fan, maybe I've never actually had it.
When people talk about NY style, I just picture a thing greasy lifeless slice of cheese pizza without much flavor or thought put into it. I go to school in DC, and that is what ALL the pizza is like here, and it's painfully average.
. but then I went to NY recently, and grabbed a slice here and there, and they tasted EXACTLY like the crap pizza in DC.
Have I just never had a true NY slice, or is this what people are referring to?
This is a very good question since the term "NY Style Pizza" gets thrown around so frequently, especially outside of NYC.
Before I get started, it's important to note that Chicago's thin crust pizzas (ala Pat's, Vito & Nick's, etc.) are typically cooked in pans at lower temperatures in gas deck ovens, and rolled out with a rolling pin so there is no ɼrust' to speak of, leaving it more like a cracker.
That said, there are two distinct types of NY-style pizza:
"New York Neapolitan" - this is a term I use to describe the famous, "no slices" by-the-pie coal-fired godfathers of American pizza (John's, Totonno's, Patsy's, and Lombardi's - America's first pizzeria c.1905). Because they're made in a coal-burning brick oven, their crusts are often crispy and dry, use fresh tomatoes with very little seasoning added, and fresh mozzarella cheese.
"NY Slices" - once the 60's rolled around and pizza as a whole started to blossom in America, a lot of NY pizza parlors converted their coal ovens to gas, used cheaper tomatoes and low-moisture mozzarella (the more orange, greasy cheese you expect from a slice) and started selling by the slice for people on the go, all in the name of reducing overhead. This is what most people come to think of when it comes to "NY style"
Keeping this in mind, what makes a pizza "NY style" is that it's thin up until the crust, which is typically crispy on the outside and bready, chewy on the inside. Sauce is typically cooked and flavored with oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic. The bottom has a little char on the bottom, giving it support.
I'm sorry to hear you had some lackluster slices while you were in NYC, do you by chance remember where you went? There are a dime a dozen pizzerias in this city, but only a fraction of them are worth their flour.
Best Pizza in NYC #3: Prince Street Pizza
Snack on a SoHo Original.
As far as their specialty square pizzas go, they have four different options, which are all named after nearby streets in the SoHo neighborhood where this pizzeria lives. You’ve got the self-titled “Prince Perfection Pie,” the “Mercer Margherita Pie” with a thin crust, the “Broadway Breadcrumb Pie” which is cheesy pizza at its finest, and the “Spicy Spring Pie” if you want to spice it up a little in your slices.
Gino’s East brings Chicago-style pizza to the Woodlands – Our First Look Review
Update: As of Dec 16, 2014, guests are reporting a two-hour wait for tables during the week. Combine that with 45 minutes to cook a deep-dish pizza, and you’re not going to be eating in a hurry. Caveat diner.
One of the culinary world’s eternal battles is between the cities of New York and Chicago, and the topic is pizza. In one corner you have the svelte New York-style pizza, thin and flexible, topped only with sauce and cheese, and perhaps a meat or two. In the other corner is the burlier Chicago-style, a thin, pastry crust piled high with cheese, lots of toppings, and finished with a chunky tomato sauce. It’s a classic battle, the scrappy wisecracking dancer vs the heavy, no-nonsense bruiser, both fighting for bragging rights and a place in your belly.
So on our recent visit, we ordered a small deep-dish, and selected the Meaty Legend,
one of Gino’s East’s most celebrated pies, and one that we’d sampled years ago in Chicago.
These thick pizzas don’t cook fast our server estimated 45 minutes to an hour for it to cook. Since we ordered a small, it cooked a bit faster, but expect a wait when you order one of these pizzas made to order.
Ours appeared in about twenty minutes, and the server wrestled out a slice.
The Best Pizza in Every State
I spent a good deal of 2007 hanging around Detroit, back before the world became fully aware of what exactly had happened to the city. That was the year I first went to the original location of Buddy's Pizza, historically known as Buddy's Rendezvous, at the corner of Conant and McNichols. Then and now, it's an address fairly far off the beaten path, way up in the northeast part of town.
There are so many to choose from, but Buddy's is inarguably Detroit's most iconic pizzeria since the early days, it has expanded to become a regional chain, but this bunker-like pile, distinguished from nearly everything else around it by showing signs of life, remains its spiritual home.
Buddy's goes back, way back, to Prohibition times, when Gus Guerra, an immigrant from the tiny Republic of San Marino, ran the place as a blind pig, or speakeasy. Eventually he enlisted his wife, Anna, who borrowed her Sicilian mother's recipes, and began to make pizza, cooking them in the sturdy metal trays used to store parts at the automobile plants. By the late 1940s, Detroit was on to Guerra's curious square pies, with their crispy edges and generous amounts of sauce ladled on top, cut into hearty, satisfying squares.
For the better part of a century, Buddy's has been here, right here on this same corner in Detroit, watching as the city's fortunes rose and fell, and then kept falling. The surrounding neighborhood has been in decline for much of its modern existence, but there has always been pizza, beyond the cinderblock walls and glass bricks that pass for windows, past the bocce courts and parking lot security guard and all.
To this day, the restaurant still feels kind of like a speakeasy. To enter, you must walk down a long hallway and into a windowless room, where you will be warmly greeted, like an old friend, and invited to sit wherever you'd like. The bar area is usually where the action is, at least in normal times. Post up in an adjacent booth and look at the menu, even though you know exactly what you want—a four-square pizza of your own, which means four corners, which means all the crispy edges you deserve. The cost? Just $9.99.
Back in 2007, explaining Detroit pizza to people who were not from Detroit was difficult. Was it Sicilian style? Not really—the oil-slicked crust is equally considerable, but it is always light and crunchy on the bottom, topped judiciously with Wisconsin brick cheese and a fine, fragrant sauce (Buddy's tomato-basil is legendary). On a proper Detroit pie, the cheese goes right to the edges, allowing it to bake into the porous crust, resulting in a crispy little miracle that you never really lose the taste for, once you've been there.
At Buddy's you'll find good pizza, nice people, and excellent gossip overheard from the bar, which seems to be populated by patrons who've known each other for a very long time, but then again, this is Detroit people can be wonderfully chatty. I learned something on those visits, something I never forgot, something that came in handy recently—no matter how bad things get, there will probably always be pizza.
This was certainly true during the last year. Restaurants were failing left and right, but if you could figure out how to make pizza and get it delivered, the odds of survival appeared to improve significantly. Referred to by the New York Times as "the hero of Covid," pizza turned out to be the one thing that nearly everyone wanted and could afford. The numbers don't lie—sales by independent pizzerias, the mom and pops, grew last year in many cases, and coming into this year, things are looking mighty good for many of them.
Pizza pop-ups, powered by famous chefs and first-time dabblers alike, are suddenly everywhere. Popular restaurants where you'd wait hours for a table pivoted to takeout, to delivery, even curbside pickup, and in many cases are sticking with the program, one hopes for a long time to come.
Pizza, we were reminded at our lowest, has this unique way of rekindling the lifespark. And we couldn't get enough of it. From trucks in Portland, from scooters with ovens strapped to the back in Atlanta, from a pizza vending-machine in Baton Rouge—we don't care how we get it, just give us more pizza.
Just in time for everybody to be sitting at home refusing to eat their own cooking for one more night, American pizza culture spent the last fifteen to twenty years retooling, remaking itself, in order to give us more options, better pizza, than ever before. As late as the turn of the last century, we might have counted the number of cities where a serious pizza eater might find solace on a couple of hands. These days, it's absolutely everywhere, and you wouldn't believe how good, too.
Courtesy of Inferno Pizzeria
The Neapolitan revolution has now reached into every state, sometimes deeply. There are floppy pies made by real Italians in Nashville you have sourdough bread bakers putting their expertise to work in Sioux Falls. From Marfa, Texas, to Juneau, Alaska, to Bismarck, North Dakota, some of the most surprising pizzas uncovered during a multi-year effort to pull this list together came from some of the most surprising places. Incidentally, since the recession, and the subsequent rekindling of interest in Detroit, the city's unique style of pizza has spread like wildfire around the country, and is now even influencing the culture in New York, where you'll find that crispy, cheesy edge on an array of gorgeous square slices being sold around town.
For a minute, however, never mind the latest trends, because there has always been so much to uncover and appreciate, so much that has always been there, so much wonderful Italian-American tradition, which is a whole other universe from Italian-Italian. Do you know, for instance, about the beach pizza in Massachusetts and New Hampshire—crispy, thin squares with the provolone and the sweet sauce that you think you're going to absolutely hate, then secretly fall in love with? How about the scissor-cut strips of lean sausage pie with the malted crust in the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois? Or what of the Old Forge pie, the calling card of a blue-collar Pennsylvania town that very seriously calls itself the Pizza Capital of the World and has the highest rate of pizzerias per capita in the country? How about Utica-style pizza, a staple in New York's Mohawk Valley for longer than many of New York City's famous pizzerias? Sure, it may not be all to your stylistic taste, but every single one of these long-held regional traditions is spectacular, in its own way.
How did we make this list? While there was a certain amount of collaboration, in the end, most of the tasting fell to me, a native New Yorker with decades of experience eating pizza all across the country. I've lived everywhere from Chicago to Los Angeles to Seattle to New England, and over time I've learned that I have no specific style preference. The kind of pizza I like best is pizza, and I will try all of it, at least once.
I also understand how subjective pizza can be. In a city like New York, ask the question, "Where is the best pizza?" and you will receive at least a few million conflicting answers. Ask the question, "Why?" however, and you begin to get to the heart of the matter—pizza is personal, often nostalgic. It's about how pizza makes us feel, about what is familiar and grounding. This raises an important point—technique alone doesn't make a pizza essential to its community, or this list. The country is crawling with restaurants that have prioritized the acquisition of gear (the right ovens, the right-sounding ingredients) over passion, many of them in normal times using pizza as a sophisticated gimmick. Then, and now, some of the best pizza in this country will come from some of the most unlikely places, and out of some of the most unfashionable ovens.
In some cities, the hottest properties left me absolutely cold better they should hang around a few more years, when we'll know just how important they are to the fabric of the local culture. Not that I discriminated against the Napoletana new wave, much of it more Neapolitan-inspired, or Neapolitan-esque (in fairness, that's what New York pizza has always been). But I always tried to be mindful not to get too swept up in trends, and not to let the new overshadow the best of pre-existing pizza culture, the kind from back before you could buy bags of Caputo flour on Amazon Prime. With any luck, the new kids will stick around for a long time. And there will be many more of them to come.
The 10 Best Pizza States in America
1. New Jersey
Before the world turned upside down, it had been established that some of the best pizza in the country was being made in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. First there was Razza, over at Grove Street, one of those sit-down places you planned an evening around, a brilliant showcase for Matawan-born Dan Richer's expert-level pizza-making capabilities, but also for the exceptional, often underrated bounty of the Garden State, from heirloom tomatoes, to buffalo mozzarella, to—yes, locally grown— hazelnuts.
After that came Bread & Salt, way up on relatively remote Palisade Avenue, Rick Easton's appealing little café, serving light-as-a-feather, impossibly perfect Roman-style pizza by the slice. Suddenly, Jersey City had become this glorious showcase for just how far we'd come with American pizza, after twenty-odd years of tinkering under the hood. Very different styles, certainly, but both Richer and Easton are working on a level most people will need to experience to appreciate—this is pizza so good, you could eat it with nothing more than a bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of flaky salt, and you'd still know it was one of the best you'd ever had.
Making it through the last year really was all about the small pleasures, and while these were pizzas you'd jump through any number of hoops for, you didn't really have to, which was kind of the greatest. Apart from a short closure last spring, Razza rather ably pivoted to become a takeout operation—every day at 3 p.m. except for Monday, a few taps on your smartphone, and in short order, you had your hands on as many pies as you could carry. These days, there are plenty of tables out front, for lingering, with a full view of City Hall across the street. Getting to the pizza at Bread & Salt requires slightly more planning for the moment, it's a Sunday-only affair, but the advance ordering process is simple.
None of this happened by accident, even if the reasons for both ending up in Jersey City were very different. Dan Richer grew up influenced by one of the country's oldest, most accomplished pizza cultures Rick Easton landed here—reportedly, he'd planned on Brooklyn—because it was easier and more affordable to do the type of work he wanted to do.
Both stories, in their own way, bring us to where we were going with this, which is that New Jersey is the best place to eat pizza in the country right now. The state is one in an elite group remaining true to their heritage, through long periods of time when others were too busy crashing ahead into the future to care about theirs. Imagine, if you will, what New York's pizza culture might look like, forced to exist outside of the spotlight, without the world beating a path to its door—that's New Jersey, working hard, very often without the interruption of sustained attention, mostly serving a very local clientele that will have no trouble holding them accountable.
Not that New Jersey is some vast, remote unknowable. The state is, quite literally, on the way to everywhere else. And still, even when the world resumes normal travel, you will still have to explain to most people the importance of the work being done here. Less so than before, thankfully. In recent years, places like Razza and Bread & Salt have lured more than a few New Yorkers onto the PATH train, thanks to glowing reviews (all true, every word) in the New York Times.
Besides having the best new pizza in America, New Jersey also has some of the best, oldest pizza in America, down in Trenton, where they don't call it pizza at all, but rather tomato pie. Here, that means a relatively small amount of mozzarella on a nice, thin crust, with a generous amount of crushed tomatoes up top. These days, the two best practitioners of the style can be found in suburban Robbinsville. There's Papa's, which dates to 1912, run by the Azzaro family, who will proudly tell you that this is the oldest, continuously-operating, family-owned pizzeria in the United States. If you really want to throw it back, ask them about putting mustard on your pizza (seriously—it's kind of a tradition here). Practically around the corner, you have DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies, which until recently still operated out of a memorably outdated space in the old neighborhood. These days, the same magic still happens, the same way it has since 1947. Don't let the modern premises fool you this is one of the finest classic pies in the entire Northeast.
In between, there is everything else, and where to start—the tavern pizza culture of North Jersey, Patsy's in Paterson since 1931, or Kinchley's Tavern way up in Ramsey, where they've been at it for just as long, just to name two out of many? How about the Jersey Shore, all the way up and down, from beautiful Sicilian-style pies at Rosie's in Point Pleasant to Manco & Manco, a boardwalk staple in Ocean City since the 1950s?
There are no wrong answers, really, as long as you promise to make two very important stops, on your way—the first in Elizabeth, where one-man-act Al Santillo continues the work his grandfather began a very long time ago at Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza. The menu reads like a list of exhibits in a pizza history museum, spotlighting different styles throughout the years. The most basic pie here, featuring generous amounts of rich, dark red sauce with the soul of a Sunday gravy, is finished with herbs and oil. This isn't just a pizza it's a work of art.
Same deal over in Atlantic Highlands, where New Jersey native Anthony Mangieri, one of the country's most skilled practitioners of the Neapolitan style, has been posted up since his New York restaurant closed (temporarily, one hopes) last year. A very long time before Mangieri became a star on both coasts, Una Pizza Napoletana was right here, in New Jersey, and all you had to do was bother to show up.
Getting to know Connecticut pizza is relatively easy. No state wields quite so much clout out of such a concentrated pool of talent, centered in New Haven, which has been one of America's most important pizza cities for as long as there has been pizza in America. Search high and low, and you will not find a city quite so jealously protective of its heritage as New Haven. Things are in many ways as they have been for generations, going back to when Frank Pepe, a young immigrant from Naples who never learned to read, started a bakery on Wooster Street with his wife, Filomena. Eventually, around 1925, they began serving thin-crusted, coal-fired tomato pies topped with a bit of grated cheese, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, and, if you liked, anchovies, to make it a proper pizza Napoletana, in the earliest, most original sense.
Today, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana has restaurants all over the region, but you can still get that same pizza, still coal-fired, nice and thin but always a little chewy, the way a New Haven pizza should be, and it is still, and very likely will be for years to come, one of the finest in the country, as will the one you should try at Sally's Apizza (say ah-beets), also coal-fired. Just down the street, Sally's was founded in the 1930s by Salvatore Consiglio. The blackened edges contrasting with that blood red sauce is breathtaking, before you even bite in.
Chances are, however, you're in the market for a more modern New Haven classic—the white pie topped with freshly-shucked littleneck clams. While Pepe's has achieved the most fame, the one at Zuppardi's Apizza in West Haven has been a sleeper hit for years. Incidentally, their tomato pie ($7.50 for 14 inches), which is said to be founder Anthony Zuppardi's favorite pizza, topped only with grated Pecorino Romano and a bit of fresh garlic, feels like it was delivered from a different era. It is also one of the most essential pizzas being made in the New Haven area today.
There's so much more to be said about New Haven pizza, but there are also other cities and towns in Connecticut. Derby, for example, is home to the near-ancient (okay, since 1935) Roseland Apizza, flashing its vintage neon to a mostly quiet residential neighborhood that grew up on their giant pies, ranging from the humble tomato to over-the-top pizzas loaded with way too much fresh seafood.
For some, there's only one kind of pizza in Connecticut, or at least only one best pizza in Connecticut: the unbelievably thin (and yet somehow still chewy) bar pies at the Colony Grill in Stamford, also around since the end of the Great Depression. This is easy pizza to eat the sauce and cheese practically bake down into the crust by the time it comes to your table, with a hot pepper in the middle, known around here as a stinger. For the full effect, order your pizza with a drizzle of hot oil. It's spicy, but it's more about the flavor than the heat. New York is about an hour in one direction, New Haven the same in the other—here, it's like neither of them exist, and as long as you're eating this pizza, and possibly for a long time afterward, you might not even care.
Not all of the good Connecticut pizza is ancient. One of the best clam pies in the state right now comes from Nana's Bakery & Pizza in Mystic, a superbly likable modern addition to that town's growing culinary scene.
3. New York
There has always been very good pizza in New York City, and there most likely always will be, but a couple of decades into the complete remake of American food, and after years of rising rents, we find ourselves at a crossroads.
What kind of pizza city are we going to be, in the future? Right now, that's anybody's guess, and like so much else in New York, it feels like the outcome has everything to do with money. Before the pandemic, everything that made the city one of the most alluring destinations on the planet put the local pizza culture at a distinct disadvantage. It is hardly covering new territory to point out that one of the city's main attributes is tripping over the present to see what's next.
In a town so intently forward-focused, so many of our historic institutions have succumbed to one malady or another, from mass tourism to simple mission drift. To say the pandemic laid things bare is an understatement some of our one-time greats have become so undependable, you wonder how long they'll survive. Right now, John's of Bleecker, which opened in 1929, remains the most vital link to the past. With the world no longer beating a path to its door, the restaurant feels like the quaint, West Village hangout it once was. The coal-fired pizzas, remarkably thin-crusted, but never dry or brittle, are as pure as they come. Staring into the face of one of the beautiful, classic pies, you can easily see the origins of the modern New York style.
Long before the pandemic, New York's aggressive self-belief in its own pizza had started to seem a little dated. Roughly fifteen years ago, when the New York Times said that the best pizza in America was in another state entirely, there was outrage. By 2017, when the paper said that the best pizza in New York was probably in Jersey City, people mostly seemed to want to know how long it would take them to get there on the PATH train.
There have been bright spots in recent years, let's not forget. There's Mark Iacono's inimitable Lucali in Carroll Gardens, which even now is still a pain to get into. Roberta's, which had people trekking to Bushwick all through the recession, was there once again during the pandemic, this time for takeout. They weren't the only ones innovating their way through the mess—since last spring, a whole crop of new ventures have come online, from pizza pop-ups by accomplished chefs to winning new slice joints.
Speaking of—could the slice, in fact, be our savior? Through good times and bad, the overwhelming availability of a decent-to-exceptional piece of pizza continues to set New York well apart from the rest. Back in 1975, when the genre wasn't much worth celebrating, Pino Pozzuoli raised the bar at Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street, offering a more careful version of the city's most popular street food, with the perfect (and all-important) ratio of crust to sauce (never too much, you don't want drippage) to cheese (same). There are now multiple Joe's locations, and they are all fine Carmine Street, however, is where you go, should you wish to understand not only what the New York slice is all about, but also why New Yorkers love it so much.
And there are so many to love, nowadays. Whatever the future holds, a sustained movement toward a better slice appears to be here to stay. What Joe's was to the 1970s, Scarr's Pizza on the Lower East Side is to the present. Scarr Pimentel grew up eating New York pizza, and worked at a number of high-profile establishments before setting out to reinvent a classic: milling wheat in the basement, subjecting the dough to the long fermentation process, using only the best ingredients. One bite of a plain slice here, and you'll have a hard time settling for less.
Not that you have to. There's still work to be done, but it's possible to see a time when far-above-average could become the norm, all across the city. For example, head next to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, land of the sloppy dollar slice. In the middle of it all, you'll find Upside Pizza, turning pie after high-quality pie out of their brick-lined oven, just around the corner from Times Square. (They opened a second location in Nolita, during the pandemic.) On the Upper West Side, at Mama's Too!, every plain slice is scattered with fresh basil leaves and a final shower of cheese before being handed over the counter, the crust cracking open in a thunderclap at first bite, collapsing into a light, chewy, beautifully-balanced crust. On it goes—there is the now-legendary Hellboy slice, an indulgent, intensely craveable marriage of sopressata and hot honey at Paulie Gee's Slice Shop in Greenpoint, the seriously underrated cheese slices prepared with love and care at Philomena's in Sunnyside, and the astonishingly good, high-quality squares coming from Corner Slice, always worth a walk to 11th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen.
Beyond the suburbs, the city wields relatively little influence on the state's pizza culture. A couple of hours north, and you're in another world entirely, or make that worlds. In Schenectady, it's thick slices of tomato pie at Perecca's Bakery, celebrating a century in business. Utica has kept O'Scugnizzo's around since 1914, with expats calling in for shipments of their tomato-forward pizzas with cornmeal-dusted crusts. In Syracuse, they cut their thin-crust pies into long strips at Twin Trees, and then there's Buffalo, for the thick boi pizzas, topped with pepperoni cups, long before it was cool, at Bocce Club, opened in 1946 and still run by the Pacciotti family.
There is a right way and an incorrect way to argue for Chicago pizza, and even the genre's most ardent supporters can get it wrong. There exists, after all, no one style of deep-dish pizza. Nowadays, you have countless kinds lumped together under a giant mountain of Wisconsin mozzarella, like so many splinter groups within the Baptist faith. Classic, stuffed, pan pizza—they are all quite different, and you won't know which one is right for you, until you get there.
Things were simpler, back in the day. Said to have been invented by Ike Sewell at Pizzeria Uno, back during World War II, deep dish used to be a relatively modest affair. Semolina added to wheat flour gave the crust, typically rich in butter or oil, its signature yellow hue. Other than that, it's much like a regular pizza, but in a different order—sausage and fresh peppers, then fresh mozzarella cheese, topped with generous amounts of tomato sauce. Height-wise, your original deep-dish pie would not be all that formidable.
Then things took a turn, somehow. Even though the classic pizza at Lou Malnati's remains close to the original ideal, popular, often over-stuffed monstrosities began to define the genre, for worse or for better.
One of the earliest arrivals on the modern scene was Burt Katz, who opened his first pizzeria in the early 1960s. Katz preferred to call his version "pan pizza," and over time became famous for his crusts, which achieved a distinctive caramelization during the baking process, thanks to the slices of mozzarella carefully tucked down along the edges.
Katz was famously the founder of Pequod's, which for many is the beginning and end of the pan pizza conversation (or deep-dish in general, for that matter), but Burt's Place in Morton Grove, which he opened in 1989, after selling Pequod's, feels more like Katz country, even after a recent retooling. (Lefty's Pizza in Wilmette, founded by one of the original partners in the recent Burt's reboot, is a fine option on the North Shore.)
People eat a great deal of pizza here, and you can ask anybody who's tried—one is only able to indulge in so much deep-dish at a time. Most pizzerias in the region, in fact, sell the absolute opposite—the thinnest of the thin-crust, always square-cut, like so much other pizza throughout the Midwest. A hungry person could down an entire round by themselves. You'll find great versions at Pat's Pizza, serving Lincoln Park for the better part of a century, at Marie's Pizza and Liquors in Mayfair, since 1940, where you will find strolling musicians on the weekends, at least in normal times. There's Pizza Castle in Gage Park, and Fasano's in suburban Bridgeview, too, but nobody quite comes close to thin crust essential-ness like Vito & Nick's, a gloriously classic tavern on the far Southwest Side, where the granddaughter of Vito and the daughter of Nick, Rose Baracco George, runs the show. They've been using the same dough recipe since the 1940s, and nearly everyone goes for the sausage.
That's not the end, however. There are so many other styles to be appreciated in this part of the world. Square slices, of all different kinds, have been a thing here for generations, and in very recent times have enjoyed a considerable comeback. Honor tradition at D'Amato's, going for generations in West Town, or better yet, at Freddy's Pizza & Grocery in suburban Cicero, historically one of the more Italian places in America. Their Sicilian pies have remained a neighborhood staple.
Trace the lineage of modern-day Neopolitan pizza in America and soon enough you'll soon come across Jonathan Goldsmith's Spacca Napoli. There's still an attention to detail here that is so often lacking in other, newer restaurants working with the style.
Don't leave town without poking your head into recent import Bonci, straight from Rome—pizza al taglio could be the next big thing, and you might as well be introduced via the real deal. Crust-centric but nice and light, and topped with all sorts of different seasonal finds, this is pizza that's beautiful to look at, as well as eat.
Not much more than a decade ago, most Americans didn't know that Detroit had its own style of pizza, which never really made sense—it wasn't like Michigan didn't know how to export an idea, after all Domino's, headquartered in Ann Arbor, had only grown to become the largest pizza chain on the planet. (Domino's is, quite definitely, the very opposite of a good Detroit pizza.)
And yet, somehow, we got there, finally—nowadays, Detroit's square pies, with their distinctive crispy edges, plenty of Wisconsin brick cheese, and a quality tomato sauce on top, are cropping up all over. In more than one other state on this list, it's some of the best pizza being made right now. Detroit pizza goes back to 1946, when Gus and Anna Guerra introduced the city to the style at Buddy's on Conant and McNichols. Guerra split amicably from the restaurant a decade or so later, opening his own place in Eastpointe. These days, if you're not loyal to Buddy's, which is now a regional chain (the original being the best), chances are you're loyal to Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant. Unless, of course, you're a diehard Loui's Pizza fan since 1977, the musty, cozy, family-owned restaurant has been a staple in Detroit-adjacent Hazel Park, serving up one of the heartiest versions of the style. Not that there hasn't been any movement in recent years. One of the best new versions comes from the recently opened Michigan & Trumbull, where two Detroit natives have sensitively updated the template, introducing some excellent topping combinations, and paying close attention to ingredients. Regular pies are a steal for as little as $10. For more on the vibrant, ever-evolving Detroit pizza scene, check out our city guide for more of the most exciting new additions to the landscape.
Don't neglect the rest of the state—Fricano's wafer-thin pies have been the pride of Grand Haven since before anybody else in the state was serving pizza, based out of an 1800s era boarding house the slightly thicker style has been a hit at Mr. Scrib's, in Muskegon and Grand Haven, for generations.
The first thing to know about pizza in California is that it did not, in fact, begin at Spago in the 1980s, when Wolfgang Puck began topping pies with smoked salmon and goat cheese and what have you. It did not begin, either, with California Pizza Kitchen, later that decade. In fact, it didn't start anywhere in Southern California, but rather up north, many years before.
The first Italians arrived here during colonial times, long before California was a state, and things pretty much snowballed from there. In the late 1800s, there were more Italian immigrants on the West Coast than in all of New England. Many landed in San Francisco, where North Beach was, and remains today, a center of Italian-Californian culture. Here, you find Tommaso's, the first pizzeria on the West Coast, dating back to 1935, right around the time cities like New Haven, Connecticut, were getting serious about pizza. This is to say, Tommaso's, by American standards, is very old, still firing up its vintage wood-fired brick oven to cook rather formidable classic pizzas.
Not that progress hasn't been made. San Francisco practically invented the modern sit-down pizza restaurant, an idea that spread rather rapidly throughout the country over a decade ago. The groundbreaking A16 bounced onto the scene in 2004, before everyone was buzzing about pizza again, then came the ingredient-centric Pizzeria Delfina in 2008, followed by Flour & Water in 2009, still among the finest of the wave of artisanal, wood-fired pizzerias that followed.
Every year since, it has always seemed like somebody's up to something interesting, and often very good, but it wasn't until 2015 until Tony Gemignani, a Bay Area native raised on a farm where they grew apricots, that thing got exciting in North Beach again. These days, it feels like so much longer since Tony's Pizza Napoletana opened. Feeling every bit as chummy and laid back as a bustling parlor in suburban New York City, Gemignani and crew are remarkably adept at doing justice to well over a dozen regional styles of American pizza. The signature pie is one of the most meticulous recreations of a Neapolitan pie you will find, anywhere.
Los Angeles' journey from pizza semi-desert to enthusiastic laboratory can be traced back to 2006 when Nancy Silverton opened Pizzeria Mozza at Melrose and Highland. She may now be playing on an extraordinary crowded field (some of the contenders she's an investor in) but this is still one of the West Coast's most essential (and unique) pies. For our complete guide to the best pizza in Los Angeles, click here.
A while back, an enterprising trade publication put out a list, one that somebody ought to update at some point, ranking the places in the country with the highest number of pizzerias per capita. At the top of the list was the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre region, which likely would not have achieved such a prestigious score without the town of Old Forge, nestled into the hills between the two cities.
Serving a population of less than 8,000, you have at least a dozen pizzerias, most of them selling rectangular trays (that's local speak for a whole pie, a slice is called a "cut") of simple, soft, Sicilian-esque cheese (Wisconsin white cheddar) pizza, with well-oiled crusts that end up nice and crisp at the bottom. If you grow up with Old Forge pizza, which came onto the landscape about a century ago now, you tend to think a great deal of the stuff, even if others do not. The town recently decided to promote itself as The Pizza Capital of The World, and if anybody was laughing, that didn't stop it from happening—you can take your picture next to the sign on Main Street, while you wait for your pizza at Arcaro & Genell, where a giant, 12-cut tray goes for $15.
Pizza is always personal, but in Pennsylvania, it can be an intensely local affair. Old Forge is no more than five miles from downtown Scranton, and here already, you will find people rolling their eyes in the general direction of the neighbors, and their weird ideas about layering chopped raw onions beneath the sauce, which is a very Old Forge move. Imagine then, what happens when you start to travel even further into the state, or south to Philadelphia, where you will find plenty of people who do not know that Old Forge even exists.
This is understandable. Philadelphia is one of those intensely lucky cities that not only has an overwhelming amount of pizza, but is also, stylistically, all over the map. Whatever your mood, somebody is doing it, and chances are they are doing it incredibly well. From spartan square slices brought out from underneath the counter at the fantastically dingy La Rosa Pizzeria in South Philly to the saucy pies that have been coming out of the oven at Tacconelli's in Port Richmond since 1948, there's plenty of the classic stuff to love, but more than in most Northeast cities, recent developments can be equally exciting, if not more. It has been nearly a decade since Joe Beddia opened his pocket-sized pizzeria on Girard Avenue in Fishtown, setting the wheels for the current renaissance more or less in motion. Today, Pizzeria Beddia, with its neo-Neapolitan pies topped with a tangy aged alpine cheese made in Pennsylvania, is practically old itself. It's now a full-blown restaurant, a few blocks away, and in its place, Pizza Shackamaxon sells some of the city's best New York-style slices. For our complete guide to the best Philadelphia pizza, click here.
Don't get stuck, because there's only the rest of the state to contend with. Grab a slice of Philly-style tomato pie, an unglamorous but beautiful square of bread smeared with sauce, and maybe kissed with a little cheese from the shaker, typically served room temperature as a snack, at the absolute relic Conshohocken Bakery in Conshohocken, or better still, at Corropolese Bakery & Deli in Norristown. Then, head west. If you're curious, you can stop in the central part of the state for square cuts from the drive-thru at Best Way, another hyper-regional favorite, or in Johnstown for formidable regular pies at Old Franco, a low-slung shack on the fringe of town painted like the Italian flag.
Ultimately, however, your destination is Pittsburgh, which has a little bit of everything, and a lot of provolone to put on top of nearly all of it. Not so much at Il Pizzaiolo on Mount Lebanon, slinging Neapolitan-style pies to discerning locals since the 1990s, but definitely at Beto's, where the square slices get piled high with shaved cheese after they come out of the oven the restaurant goes through more than 500 pounds of provolone on a busy day.
Surely not for much longer now, but throughout last winter and up to as recently as a few weeks ago, the visitor to Boston's historic (and extremely Italian) North End would most likely have had the streets nearly to themselves, particularly earlier in the day, before the neighborhood really started to wake up. One thing seems to be back to normal, however—before opening its doors in the morning, usually shortly before 11, there is now nearly always a line in front of Galleria Umberto.
Not that this is such a bad thing—a little bit of standing around can be good, the better to get to know the old-timer regulars, some of them not so patiently waiting for the appearance of the first of the Sicilian-style pies the Dauterio family has been known for, dating back to their arrival from Avelino in the 1950s. Now, as before, you don't wait too long to show up—the restaurant, if one can even call it that, still sells out, even in the absence of the armies of slumming office workers that typically spill into the neighborhood from the Financial District. Come much past noon, and it might mean no pizza, no arancini, no panzarotti or calzones for you.
The cavernous Hanover Street shop, which seems to have not changed much since they started serving here in the mid-1970s, has all the charm of a small town bus station from the era—barely lit, barely furnished, ugly tile floors. This is a cash-only establishment. Luckily, everything about Umberto's is a trip back in time, including the prices, and you'll only need a couple of bucks to eat well. There's nothing revolutionary about the pizza here—thick squares, with a nice crunch down below, tomato sauce, unremarkable cheese, baked until tiger spotted, but that's not the point. In the new and improved Boston, Umberto's offers a welcome reminder that keeping with the times might not only be overrated, but furthermore, if you're really good at what you do, the times can go dump themselves into the harbor.
A maze of one-way streets away, Regina Pizzeria has gone in the opposite direction. One of the country's older pizza joints, opened in 1926 with a relic of an oven dating back to the late 1800s, there are now pizzerias Regina in mall food courts and strip centers throughout the region, and most of them are a disaster. The Thacher Street original, however, remains as good as gold. Here, they still use that same brick oven, even if it hasn't burned coal in nearly a century. The classic, neo-Neapolitan pies that come out of there won't change your life, but they're often astonishingly good, displaying far more attention to detail than many a similar pizza found a few hours down I-95, starting with dough from a nearly century-old family recipe, and ending with generous amounts of whole milk mozzarella on top.
Who makes the best pizza in Boston? Depends on who you ask, but this list is not a democracy, and that honor easily goes to Santarpio's in East Boston in now-times drive barely five minutes by tunnel (and a world apart) from the North End. Thanks to a relatively obscure location, even normally, you don't get the same kind of crowds here. During the last year, you could park right on the block, place an order through your phone, and slip through the back entrance into the kitchen to pick up your pizza barely fifteen minutes later. Starting out around the turn of the last century as a bakery, the pizzas to this day have a baker's touch, with a scraggly, blistered, almost Italian bread-like crust that doesn't shy away from the spotlight—a balanced sauce takes center stage, rather literally, never overpowered by the cheese the plain pies are outstanding, pies with lots of the house sausage are even better.
Boston likes to play the field, but Massachusetts is home to at least three very distinctive regional styles, the first being Greek pizza, which for these purposes is only Greek in the sense that it was invented by a Greek guy who opened a pizzeria somewhere in New England. A Greek pie is a crust-forward affair, thick but when done correctly, never a stodgefest the tomato sauce will be insignificant, and the cheese will be a blend of mozzarella, typically cut liberally with cheddar. You will find this style in every corner of the state, from The Berkshires to The Cape, where it's George's Pizza House in Harwich Port you want.
From here, things get downright strange, but in the best possible way. Generations of South Shore Boston natives grow up loyal to their own local style, typically called bar pizza. Buttery, soft crusts could almost be used to make a decent tart, and at classic taverns like the Lynwood in Randolph, they're sometimes filled with salami and baked beans, a house specialty. You think you're going to hate it, and then you try it, and maybe not the beans again, but even a plain pie, topped with blistery cheddar cheese—tremendous. Similar story, way up on the other side of Boston, where summers (and anytime, really) are all about beach pizza—thin squares topped with sweet tomato sauce and provolone cheese. Don't knock them until you've tried one, or two, or three, or four, at originator Tripoli Bakery in Lawrence and elsewhere. Cristy's Pizza in Salisbury Beach is the friendly competition.
Unsuspecting visitors to Steubenville have been known to walk out of DiCarlo's Pizza more than a little confused, which is understandable, because Ohio Valley pizza is not the pizza most Americans (or anybody, really) will be used to. It goes back to World War II, when a young Primo DiCarlo came home from the front inspired to recreate something he'd eaten in Italy, and convinced his parents, who had been running an Italian grocery in the city since the turn of the century, to give it a whirl. The pizza DiCarlo's serves today is focaccia-like, crunchy on the bottom crust, nice and airy, with an exceedingly simple sauce of quality California tomatoes, and then, what's this, a mountain of uncooked toppings? Confounding some, infuriating others, and making the rest of us terribly happy, the best introduction to one of the country's most hyper-regional styles will be keeping it brutally simple, with just a little of the aged provolone on top—try a slice for contrast between the grated cheese and the cooked base, and if you're not a fan, just close the box and wait a few minutes. See? All better now. There are locations throughout the region, and this is still very much a family affair, now into the third generation of DiCarlos. At the distinctive, mid-century Pizza Inn flagship—look for the neon sign out along Sunset Boulevard—you'll often find plenty of locals eating their slices (a steal at .95 each) in the parking lot.
The great thing about Ohio is there's more where that came from. Pizza-wise, this is as balkanized a state as you will find, each city and region very much into their own style. The other great thing about Ohio is that most of these styles remain a complete mystery to the outside world. If you love pizza and think you've seen it all, we'll raise you, say, Youngstown, where Brier Hill-style pizza, named for the local Little Italy that thrived during the city's industrial heyday, is legendary among everyone who grew up on slices sold at church pizza sales, which are a thing around here. This is blissfully simple stuff, a thick but never leaden crust, topped with rich, red sauce, bell peppers, and a shower of Romano cheese. The originator of the style, St. Anthony of Padua, in the old neighborhood, still holds weekly pizza sales (you'll have to reserve in advance), but anytime is a good time for a Brier Hill pie at Wedgwood Pizza. Owner Fernando Riccioni recently turned 90, but you'll still see him around the three area locations (try the Austintown original, first).
From here, things get slightly less esoteric, but no less worthwhile. In Cleveland, there are pan-style pizzas topped with a provolone at institutions like Geraci's in University Heights, now over a half-century old, or Mama Santa's, in the city's Little Italy. Things thin down considerably in Columbus, home of the Johnny Marzetti noodle-beef-cheese casserole, in case you needed a reminder that the Midwest really does start here. Terita's does the regional style proudest, operating out of its little North End bunker for more than 60 years now. This is definitely a thin-crust town, but the dough at Terita's has never been an afterthought. By the time you get to Dayton, another town that's incredibly proud of its pizza, you're down to the bare, cracker-crust walls, loaded up with toppings. Locals like to debate big names like Cassano's (which used to automatically salt the bottom of the crust before baking) and Marian's Piazza, but it's one-offs like Pappa's Pizza Palace in Miamisburg (and Joe's back in Dayton, if you like a slightly thicker crust) that work the hardest. On and on it goes. There's Hamilton, where the pizzerias are also known for their fruit pies (try both Chester's and Milillo's, both local institutions). There's Akron, where the salads you order with your pizzas are mostly grated cheese. And we haven't even gotten around to the overwhelming number of regional chains that, for many Ohioans, are the first and last word in best local pizza, depending on—of course—which chain they grew up with.
At some point, however, you'll be happy to snap back to the pizza present, and there have been some impressive new developments—there are the lovely, neo-Neapolitan pies at Il Rione, one of Cleveland's best restaurants, summer nights and Margherita pizzas on the patio at Harlow in Lakewood Cincinnati, one of the more pizza-deprived corners of the state, finally did the right thing and outsourced to a certain pizza capital, just a few hours up I-75—Taglio makes one of the finest Detroit-style pies you'll try in a state where they teach you to roll your eyes at Michigan from birth.
As with so many other processed foods introduced into the American diet during the 20th century, the inventors of Provel cheese, key ingredient to a St. Louis-style pizza, were most likely convinced that they were doing a good thing. Created right after World War II for a local grocer, the idea was that everybody loved pizza, except for that pesky real mozzarella (yes, seriously). Great cheese and all, sure, but it was really hard to get a clean bite, and back then, people hadn't yet figured out that photos of cheese pulls made great content. What, the inventors wondered, if there were a pizza cheese that melted like no other?
Like an early, food-focused version of those disrupters in Silicon Valley, sitting around answering questions nobody was actually asking, they came up with a highly-processed blend of provolone, Swiss, and cheddar, packaged it in giant bricks, and the rest is pizza history. Provel melts alright, at low temperatures even, and it looks great when the pizza, otherwise just your usual Midwest, cracker-thin, party-cut pie, comes hot out of the oven.
Founded in 1964 and now boasting approximately 100 stores, Imo's is the most high-profile Provel pusher the right way to eat a St. Louis pie is to load your pizza up with stuff. Not just any stuff—follow everyone else's lead and get a Deluxe pie, overloaded with sausage, bacon, and veggies it's a killer combo of tastes and textures. You'll see why St. Louisans love their pizza so much, to the point where they order it over the internet, once they move to other places.
Few practitioners will be found fussing over one of America's most divisive regional pizza styles quite so thoroughly as the Faraci brothers, Pete and Vince Faraci, who own Faraci's Pizza in Manchester (the family started out in Ferguson in the 1960s, but sold that location back in the 1990s). To the uninitiated, the pizzas might once again look much like any other Midwest thin-crust, but the amount of work that goes into these pizzas is astonishing. Three days to make the dough, sauce from scratch, meats processed on premises, and a brick-bottom oven for the bake. Yes, the cheese is Provel, but there's a little sprinkling of Pecorino Romano at the end, just to class things up. If you don't get St. Louis pizza after eating one of these lovingly made pies, you may just be in the wrong city.
Supposing you're now on board, continue your education at Frank & Helen's in University City, a mid-century pizza parlor complete with the lamps and wood paneling and everything. Newer on the scene but also widely appreciated is Liliana's Italian Kitchen, a comforting St. Louis-style red sauce joint, where you can opt for a blend of mozzarella and Provel on your pizzas, or skip the Provel altogether, which these days is not all that unusual. At the terrific little Melo's Pizzeria, they make a great, very modern tomato pie, with just a hint of Grana Padano. Pizza nights at the city's most up-to-date bakery, Union Loafers, were a smash hit during the pandemic, and same with the admirable Neapolitan pies at Noto Italian Restaurant in St. Peters, a lifeline for a restaurant that had opened only months before everything went kaboom.
The Best of the Rest:
Like many of us, Marco Butturini had a tough year. The Veneto-born, 20-year veteran of some of the South's most decorated restaurants (Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega, Chez Fonfon) had finally gone out on his own, opening Le Fresca at the very end of February 2020. His brother, a partner in the business, had to make a quick trip home to Italy shortly thereafter, landing him right in the middle of the pandemic, with no way to get out. Call it the ultimate test, or tests, which the restaurant, centered around a handsome wood-burning oven, has so far passed with flying colors. If you're looking for suggestions, the sausage is made in-house.
Of course, it didn't take an Italian to get Birmingham hooked on pizza—ask the generations of locals who practically grew up on the arcade games and thin, cheesy, party-cut pies at Davenport Pizza Palace in Mountain Brook, the kind of place where you always half-expect a little league team to burst through the doors in a celebratory mood.
Beau Schooler used to surprise the hell out of unsuspecting visitors to Juneau, not a few of them desperate for something good after days on a cruise ship, with his work-of-art, wood-fired Neapolitan pies at In Bocca al Lupo, a rustic Italian spot serving the last thing you might expect to find in this part of the world. How gratifying to see the restaurant powering through what had to be one of the worst years for Alaskan tourism, of all time—then again, the locals always knew what they had on their hands: one of the best restaurants in the state.
No pandemic was going to stop Anchorage from turning up to the Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria, a fixture on the local pizza landscape since the 1990s, when rock climbers Rod Hancock and Matt Jones opened up shop in a space much smaller than the one you find today. Grab a buzzer and wait your turn. (Don't skip the smoked salmon spread.)
Picture it: Phoenix, 1987. A young Chris Bianco leaves New York to start a new life in the desert and ends up slinging pies in a supermarket to make rent. The late-1980s were different times—this was the decade of Spago, of people making jokes about goat cheese. It was the age of the barbecue chicken pie at California Pizza Kitchen. New York was on the outs—the New York Times would later pronounce the era a dark one for New York City pizza culture, going so far as to say it had been on life-support. Who knows, things could have been very different if the Bronx-born Bianco had stayed, but would the city, at the time in the throes of addiction to the cheap and quick and easy, have known what to do with Bianco's exemplary approach to quality and execution? Phoenix sure did, and don't you forget it.
Since 1994, Pizzeria Bianco has been one of the most important, best-loved restaurants in the Southwest, inspiring countless pizza makers across the country (and the world) to raise their game, and keep it there. In Flagstaff, duck into the tiny Pizzicletta for wood-fired pies made by geologist-turned-pizza geek Caleb Schiff, who cycled across Italy and came home determined to master the craft.
Hot Springs isn't the first place you expect to find one of those fancy pizzerias where the tomatoes are imported from Napoli, and you're supposed to reserve your dough during busy periods to avoid disappointment, but Brooklyn expat Anthony Valinoti isn't your average Arkansan, not that there's anything wrong with that. The big, beautiful pies at DeLuca's are cooked at 725 degrees in a custom brick oven—they're Neapolitan style, but also New York style, in that they're well-structured, unpretentious, and generous. Little Rock and Conway got lucky with Zaza, a smart spot for nice, Neapolitan-inspired pies get yours topped with ham and bacon from Petit Jean Meats, an Arkansas favorite for a century and counting.
There are plenty of cities that have only recently acquired a serious pizza culture, but few have seized on the idea quite so urgently as Denver, currently doing the most to make up for lost time. Every American neighborhood, for starters, deserves a spot like Pizzeria Lui, where a local baker works the wood-fired Acunto oven, turning out Neapolitan-meets-Mountain State pies from a converted liquor store in an unglamorous part of town. With bench seating and a casual atmosphere, it's the kind of pizza place you bring the kids, when the kids are ready to learn about great pizza. Ask for some of the house hot sauce, which goes great on everything. (Temporarily closed for renovations.) For the downtown-bound, two locations of the smart Cart-Driver serve up a nicely-blistered margherita pie, complemented by Prosecco on tap. Back before Detroit-style pizza was everywhere, it was getting raves at Blue Pan Pizza, with two locations in Denver.
Your Delaware pizza education will be brief, but memorable, and if you are lucky it will happen in Rehoboth Beach on a beautiful summer evening, just steps from the sand. That's when the walk-up windows at the approximately half-dozen locations of Grotto Pizza (a slight exaggeration, okay) and Nicola Pizza (just two locations) will likely be the heart of the street-side action, everybody lining up for slices topped with cheddar cheese and swirls of sweet tomato sauce at Grotto's, and for the Nic-O-Boli at Nicola's, a lava bomb of beef and cheese and pizza sauce barely contained by an oven-charred envelope of tasty crust. Grotto's will proudly tell you that only a handful of people have ever learned the secret of the dough, which bubbles up beautifully around the edges during the cook. Anybody who leaves their crusts behind is wrong.
There are plenty of Europeans who wished they lived in Florida—some of them are making moves to do just that—and the odds are good that a few of them are Italians who will open pizzerias, or at least that is how it seems these days. All apologies to the Northeast pie guys trading on their heritage down here, but when you want the best, just go somewhere they speak Italian, the modern kind, like Mister 01 in Miami, named for the O-1 Visa granted to Renato Viola, a well-regarded pizza maker from the old country who came to the United States because some very smart person in government decided we needed his pizza skills. From humble beginnings, the restaurant has grown to five locations in the region—the better for everyone to have access to Viola's delicious and distinctive star-cornered pies, with pockets of creamy ricotta cheese. Giovanni Gagliardi comes from pizza royalty in Caserta in Miami Beach, he opened La Leggenda, said to be Gagliardi's nickname back home. The terrific Neapolitan pies ought to answer any questions you might have.
Need proof that good pizza can and does happen pretty much anywhere in America? Take a little trip down to Savannah, where you will find Pennsylvania native Kyle Jacovino fastidiously recreating the Neapolitan pizzas of his Italian travel dreams at Pizzeria Vittoria, which operates out of a shipping container, facing a beautiful garden courtyard, in a part of Savannah tourists have yet to overrun. These pizzas, very often works of art, might have been the last thing you were expecting to eat in this city right now, they ought to be near the top of your list.
Georgia has something of a track record for manifesting good pizza into existence, where there was none to speak of before. The Bronx-born Jeff Varasano opened Varasano's in Atlanta, back in 2009, with a plan to replicate his favorite New York pizza and serve it to the masses it worked, and then some. Around that same time, Italian expat Giovanni Di Palma opened Antico Pizza Napoletana, serving puffy Neapolitans to go. The business has evolved considerably over the years, but this is still one of the South's best.
Great pizza isn't as difficult to find in the Aloha State as you might think. A decade ago now, people were eating beautiful pies out of a very pricey Ferrara oven at Prima in Kailua like it was nothing, but sadly that didn't last. The restaurant closed in 2019 (who inherited that oven, we wonder) and O'ahu's Neapolitan pizza-loving crowd was forced to look elsewhere. Brick Fire Tavern, which opened Chinatown in 2019, and moved during the pandemic, fits the bill for a lot of people, but for us it's pizza guy James Orlando's Fatto a Mano, a mobile operation that has proved itself during the last couple of years as one of the most essential operations in the state.
Dan Guild rode into Boise back in the early aughts from his native New Haven with a promise of good pizza. After spending an extraordinary amount of time working to get it right, Guild delivered and then some Casanova Pizzeria serves the kind of pies that your average Idahoan had perhaps never seen, no offense. Look, it wasn't every day you found a serious Napoletana, as in, the real thing, with anchovies, but Boise not only responded, it fell in love, leaving so many pizza lovers heartbroken when the first shop ended up closing. The story ends happily, however, like a good Hollywood movie. After too many years away, Guild is back, Casanova is back, and right in the middle of the pandemic to boot, when the city needed him most. Where were the pizza lovers eating, in the interim? No doubt more than a few of the pies—a pleasing cross between New York-style and Neapolitan—at Tony's Pizza Teatro, another local favorite.
Indiana is bordered at length by three of Food & Wine's Top 10 Pizza States in America, so it doesn't take a brain genius to figure out that Hoosiers eat a ton of the stuff themselves some of it is good, or even spectacular. While the occasional exception can be made in other regions, Northwest Indiana—the part of the state where you can hop on a suburban train and be in Chicago in no time—is where most of the magic tends to happen, whether you're talking the sturdy, generously topped thin-crust at Doreen's in Dyer (with a sister restaurant just over the state line), or crusty, careful wood-fired pies at Stop 50, Chris and Kristy Bardol's modern classic tucked into the woodsy Michiana Shores community, where a walk down to the lake might land you in neighboring Michigan. The dough is made from an heirloom sourdough starter, and the pies are generous and beautiful to look at. The style, let's call it modern thin crust, is very different at The Rolling Stonebaker in Valparaiso, the artistry nearly as impressive.
Your first scissor-cut strip of Quad Cities pizza will most assuredly not be your last, not if you can help it. With a distinctive, crispy-chewy crust rich in malt and molasses, generous heaps of crumbled lean sausage (the classic topper) shrouded in low-moisture mozzarella, and a conservative amount of spicy, fragrant tomato sauce hidden way down at the base, this isn't the pizza you're used to—chances are, it's better. One of the country's strongest regional pizza styles remains, however, one of the hardest to find off its home turf, which is the part of Iowa shared culturally with neighboring Illinois. At the great Harris Pizza, where never-frozen dough is hand-stretched, they still use custom-made mozzarella and a fresh, locally-made blend of sausage seasoned lightly with fennel and red and black pepper. The restaurant started out in Rock Island, Illinois, and still thrives there, but these days, it is outnumbered by branch locations just over the Mississippi River, where it competes with other locally loved names like Uncle Bill's Pizza, and proper dive bar Gunchie's, tucked away in a quiet Davenport neighborhood, turning out some of the best pizzas in that city.
With a modest loan from Mom, brothers Frank and Dan Carney opened a pizza place in Wichita, back in 1958, by the name of Pizza Hut. It would grow to become the world's biggest pizza restaurant brand, a distinction it enjoyed until relatively recently. (Domino's squeaked past them, a few years back.) Since the heady peak-Hut era, back when you dined in, and they had those great salad bars, and kids across America were furiously reading enough books to earn a free personal pan pizza, Kansas has kind of been coasting, not that there aren't some great candidates for a broader audience. In Kansas City, there's 1889 Pizza, a modern mom-and-pop operation, making some of the finest pizza—wood-fired, Neapolitan-style—on either side of the state line. Here, they need two tiled ovens in order to meet demand. On the other end of the culinary spectrum, there's the classic Old Shawnee Pizza, a suburban KC staple for decades. Their claim to fame? A crab rangoon pie. Anyone who spends much time in Lawrence inevitably ends up at Limestone Pizza, where instead of carelessly tossing a few basil leaves on top, they drizzle basil oil, which packs a serious flavor wallop.
From downtown Louisville, it's a pleasant walk across the Ohio River (via the old Big Four Bridge, converted in modern times from railroad to pedestrian use) to the birthplace—Jeffersonville, Indiana, 1984—of Papa John's. At times that seems like it might be Louisville's go-to pizza, given all the branch locations you see, driving around town. A good few years before all that, however, Benny Impellizzeri was working a string of pizza ovens in the city, introducing his own restaurant, Impellizzeri's back in the late 1970s. To this day, even after a short closure back in the mid-aughts, the pizzas here remain a firm Louisville favorite. The Sicilian-style deep dish, your best bet on the menu, is like a high-walled swimming pool filled with cheese and toppings. If it's modern, glamour-puss pizza you're after, look to Camporosso in Fort Mitchell, just a short hop from downtown Cincinnati. They've been known to confound the odd local with their gorgeous, often admirably true-to-style Neapolitans.
New Orleans had more pizza than you might expect prior to 2012, when the New York expats behind Pizza Delicious launched their weekly pop-up, but the year was definitely a watershed moment a brick-and-mortar in the Bywater followed soon after, and these days, Pizza D, as it's widely known, can be found slinging well-balanced slices and properly gigantic pies that would fit in just fine up north. For something very local, head to Creole Italian legend Venezia's in Mid-City (look for the fantastic old neon sign, beckoning passersby on Carrollton), where hearty, red sauce-centric meals begin, if you are doing it right, with a simple, hand-tossed cheese pie flecked with plenty of dried oregano.
Maine's Italian culture is perhaps not widely celebrated beyond the state line, but Mainers certainly take it for granted. From treasured one-offs to popular local chains, you're never far from pizza. Opened in 1949, the family-operated Micucci Grocery in Portland has been a lunchtime staple for years, serving light, focaccia-esque Sicilian-style squares (known here as slabs) to go Greek pizza, that New England suppertime staple, puts on a fine performance at the cash-only Pizza by Alex, a Biddeford institution since 1960 up in Lewiston, even the plain pies at local institution Luiggi's come with ham on top (just go with it). While The Cabin in Bath's claim of having "the only real pizza in Maine" may have made more sense in the 1970s, their classic pies are still very much worth a stop, perhaps on your way (way, way) up the coast to Brooksville, where pizza nights at Tinder Hearth—one of the state's many intensely good bakeries—are well worth planning your week around, should you ever be lucky enough to find yourself within striking distance.
With a few notable exceptions, mostly only appreciated by the people who grew up with them, Maryland is where the Eastern Seaboard pizza magic ends, and rather abruptly at that—maybe it's that there's so much else to eat, but cross in from Pennsylvania or Delaware, and pizza culture is suddenly persona non grata, at least relative to the situation over at the neighbors. Not that there aren't exceptions—the deep dish, lard-in-the-dough, back fin crab pies at Matthew's, purporting to be Baltimore's oldest pizzeria, are a firm favorite in Highlandtown, a neighborhood that supports more than a few notable retro institutions. Flash-forward to the present and over to exurban Darnestown in Montgomery County, where Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana offers one glimpse of the possible future of pizza in the DMV—here, accomplished chef and owner Tony Conte makes one of the finest tomato pies anywhere, a deceptively spare beauty with Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, a hint of parmesan, garlic, and fresh basil.
Actress turned award-winning chef Ann Kim has been known to say that she makes and serves the food that she likes to eat, and more often than not, that food has been pizza. Opening her dream restaurant in 2010—Pizzeria Lola, named for her dog—caused no shortage of controversy within her immediate family her South Korean immigrant parents were baffled as to why a Columbia grad would choose such a life. Minneapolis, on the other hand, was all in from the beginning, lining up for Kim's inventive, wood-fired pies, some of them topped with homemade kimchi. A New York-style slice shop, Hello Pizza followed, out in suburban Edina, and then in 2016, Kim opened Young Joni, a bold restaurant that garnered national acclaim, where the menu revolved around—you guessed it—pizza. Neo-Neapolitan pizza, to be specific, is what Kim calls it, made in a giant, copper-clad Le Panyol oven. (If you've never had a Korean short rib pie, you'll find a rather legendary one here.) Pizza and Minnesota go way back—did you know that pizza rolls were invented here?—and more often than not, the style is thin-crust Midwest, nearly always square cut. Mama's in St. Paul (established in 1964) and Dave's Pizza in Bemidji (since 1958) serve up fine examples of the genre.
What's a terrific little restaurant like TriBecca Allie Cafe doing, slinging wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas in a town like Sardis, Mississippi, population well under two thousand people? Simple, really—entrepreneurial couple moves from elsewhere (in this case, New York) for family, the husband builds himself a backyard oven to tinker with bread and pizza, selling them at the farmers' market in nearby Oxford, and before you know it, everyone's telling them to open a restaurant, which they did. And then all the people who told them to open a restaurant showed up, again and again, apparently, because Dutch and Rebecca Van Oostendorp's one-of-a-kind operation has been around for a decade already. Emily Blount didn't come to Mississippi from New York, but the West Coast native spent plenty of years there before coming to Oxford and opening Saint Leo, a smart Italian spot with some mighty fine pizza of the thoroughly modern variety.
Bob Marshall, the proprietor of Biga Pizza in Missoula, arrived in town from the East Coast back in the early 1990s and stayed, opening up this casual but warm spot for brick-oven pies with creative toppings, back in 2006. The city he fell for years earlier responded in turn. Fifteen years later, it's still very much a love match, and perhaps more than ever, now that they've successfully mastered the art of delivery, a pandemic-era necessity. Craving pizza in Bozeman? Brake for gorgeous sourdough pies at Blackbird, a local favorite for over a decade.
In this part of the world, when the question is pizza, the answer will often be Valentino's, a popular destination for sturdy, pan-style pies founded in Lincoln back in the 1950s, now boasting scads of locations—some with full-blown buffets—throughout the state. But Nebraska pizza culture runs deeper than that, particularly around Omaha, which supports an impressive number of older pizzerias, a vestige of the city's rich Italian heritage. For starters, throw things way back with hearty Sicilian-style slices at Orsi's Italian Bakery & Pizzeria, a local favorite since 1919. There's plenty to try, in between—the hamburger pizza, another rectangular classic at the neon-lit La Casa Pizzaria, around since the 1950s, for one. But it's awfully difficult to resist the siren call of the all-up-to-date Lighthouse Pizza, a modern classic for fine, very large slices (with sauce, for dipping) and creatively-topped, hand-cut fries. They're open late, and there's a drive-through—no wonder they've already opened a second location.
Las Vegas is a pizza town, a pretty damn good one, and it didn't happen yesterday, either. Back in 2005, for example, long before Neapolitan-ish became a thing in upscale shopping centers across the United States, Settebello was bringing actual pizza Napoletana to suburban Henderson. These days, there's all kinds of good pizza within your grasp here, starting with gorgeous Grandma pies, thoroughly convincing Detroit-style pizza, and some of the best gluten-free crust in the country at Vincent Rotolo's Good Pie in the Arts District. Don't skip town without a visit to California pizza legend Tony Gemignani's Pizza Rock, which may not be a complete substitute for a visit to his San Francisco pizzerias, but a margherita pie here can be awfully good. Pizza lovers in Reno are in a particularly festive mood these days—after an extended pandemic-related closure, Smiling With Hope Pizzeria, famous throughout the industry for training and hiring people with learning disabilities, is back to churning out some of the best New York-style pies west of the Rockies.
When you're wandering around New England and come upon a pizza house, or a house of pizza, or anything to do with pizza and house in the same sentence, what you're probably getting is a Greek-style pie, whether you know it or not. New Englanders know what this means (they invented the genre, after all): a well-oiled, generously-proportioned crust, tomato sauce riddled with dried herbs, heavy on the oregano, and too much cheese on top, typically mozzarella blended with cheddar and/or provolone. This will never be the greatest pizza on earth, but in capable hands, it can be a real pleasure to eat. Tilton's House of Pizza in Tilton often meets that mark, with their buttery, generously topped, unrepentantly Greek monstrosities. Not far from I-93 north of Concord, consider this an essential stop on your way home from a day of rigorous outdoor recreation in the White Mountains.
Terra Firma Wine Co - In the News
From the website of Garagiste. whose taste we have always admired, comes this incredibly thorough treatise on pizza. We have taken the liberty of reposting it here, in homage to our friends at Delfina. Congratulations, Craig and Annie!
Garagiste is a small, independently operated purveyor of wine, wisdom and esoteric tidbits of travel and culture.
Everything I offer below will be controversial to someone and make perfect sense to someone else.
Everyone has their favorite pizza and it’s not negotiable. Trying to pry one’s fingers from their favorite pie (to branch out) is not an easy task but it can be done. As in all vinous or gastronomic trials, experimentation breeds knowledge but pizza is a particular oddity. Most of us have a set image and expected flavor of what pizza should be (similar to a perfect steak or Napa Cabernet). As opposed to something like coq-a-vin, where the dish probably has more latitude with each taster, most pizza lovers want their pie in a specific incarnation (learned since birth) and any deviation from that taste and image is heresy.
2009 was a banner year for pizza around the world and while I could not (obviously) travel to every top purveyor of this foodstuff, I tried. My waste line appears to be the only casualty as my knowledge for not only the food but also the people behind the pie became as important as the pizza itself. There is no doubt that New York has regained its crown as the epicenter of pizza in the world but it is not for the style normally associated with the Big Apple. The classic NY pizza, upheld by luminaries such as Grimaldi’s, Lombardi’s, Joe and Pat’s, Di Fara, Johnny’s and others has been somewhat pushed to the background in favor of a broad synthesis between greenmarket, Naples and hyper-gourmand (most notable in Chelsea’s “Co.”). This is the style the modern world seems to favor circa 2009 or more appropriately, this style seems to be the inspiration for others to take up the paddle and learn the trade of pizza making.
Of course, what I call The Classics never go out of style and that’s why they are classic. These are a combination of old-school Italian and Italian-American recipes produced in a thoroughly retro style that became the inspiration for what most of us recognize as pizza. The East Coast of the US and West Coast of Italy have a semi-monopoly on these establishments but their offspring can be found throughout the rest of the US, Europe and indeed throughout the world.
The rules: I traveled unannounced to each establishment. I ordered a simple Margherita or plain pizza and also a second pie with signature toppings of each establishment. If the results were superlative, I then sampled each pie a second time announcing my intentions to the proprietor. The highest rated establishments showed no difference between my “unannounced” experience and the potentially spruced up pizza (when they knew what I was up to). Those that showed a wide difference between the “unannounced” and “announced” pie (i.e. - they served the typical customers a lackluster version of what should have been grandiose) were dropped off the list or added to the “Most Overrated” list. I’ve included a few of those names below as it ended up as one of the most important defining lines between the great houses and the also-rans. Every consumer has the right to the same experience but (in the end) it’s up to the proprietor or individual pizza maker on any given night to uphold the stringent standards they preach.
The following review may appear to be a review of NY area pizza joints but time and again I found myself comparing very good pies around the US, UK, Italy and even Canada to those of the current upstarts in New York City. Throughout its history, New York has attracted those with big dreams (monetary or artistic - sometimes both) and the New Pizza Order proves that the Big Apple magnet is alive and well as far as top pizza chefs are concerned. As a destination attraction, one could do a lot worse than a weekend in NY sampling 3-4 of the establishments below.
Almost all of the pizza places below use some form of wood or clay oven at very high temperatures 800-1100 degrees. The exception comes from The Classics below, most still adhere to the standard (albeit very well seasoned) pizza oven you are more familiar with. There are also a few old-school coal oven entrants (Lombardi’s, Grimaldi’s, Luzzo’s, et al) that swear by their combination of a standard pizza oven fueled by Pennsylvania’s finest.
Please keep in mind - this list is not comprehensive but it attempts to be. There are always establishments yet to be discovered and that’s why I will pen a 2010, 2011, 2012 list and so on. I welcome your input and your continued discoveries via: [email protected]
As promised, I’ve included my impressions followed by a compiled list from our email members who passionately submitted thousands of top five lists with well written ammo to back up their favorites. In truth, it’s tough to argue with passion, especially when it comes from the heart, and this topic bread a slew of passion that was exciting for me to read.
With that, let me present the best of pizza 2009.
2009 Overall Winners - The Best of the Best
1) Franny’s (Brooklyn, NY)
Placing Franny’s as the #1 overall pizza may be a little anti-climactic as they’ve received so many accolades in the past but, try as I might to knock it from the top spot with a new (or old) kid on the block, I couldn’t. What sets Franny’s apart from most on this list is that they are not really a pizzeria. They are a destination Park Slope/Prospect Heights eatery with a small menu that changes throughout the seasons. They serve some of the finest, small-farm antipasti and primi in the US along with other tidbits of an equally first-rate freshness to the pizza and, in no small way, Franny’s influence on the culinary trend over the last decade in New York and the rest of the US is as far reaching as Blue Hill, Craft or even The French Laundry. Credited with inventing the now widespread “gastro-za” movement (in reference to a pizza version of London’s greenmarket gastropub movement in the 1990’s), Franny’s remains in a class of one. While Franny’s is certainly one of the finest overall low-fi restaurants in the United States (shorts and flip-flops are still allowed), we’ve come for the pizza. Franny’s pizza is perfect in nearly every way - it epitomizes the new school of pizza making in the US and, in fact, they may have invented it back in 1999/2000. Ask any of the neo-chefs who’ve come after and nearly every one will tell you this Flatbush quasi-organic/farm-table eatery was in some way an inspiration. If that is the case, then why are there so many die-hard pizza fans and knowledgeable palates that would rate Franny’s among the most ho-hum in New York? Many of my friends and colleagues just don’t see what all the fuss is about? The key is in the simplicity. Franny’s perfected the art of pizza without toppings or maybe one garden-fresh miniscule topping (picked that morning from their friend’s backyard in Park Slope) and few would have the audacity to serve a pizza so naked. In some way, it almost dares you to toss it back in the server’s face in protest “This is pizza? Where’s the, well, pizza?”. To those that understand, this is precisely the point – the finest cuisine is the simplest and the ingredients that make up a typical Franny’s pie are so superlative (fantastic flour, fresh cut organic herbs growing in their Brooklyn alley/garden, local/sustainable meats, cheeses, etc) that a simple dusting of charred fennel and olive oil is all that’s needed to bring any pizza taster to their knees. Franny’s pizza has deep roots in Calabrian cooking but it is not classically Neapolitan. Served only in the now ubiquitous small 10-12” size (uncut), the crust is stunning, lightly crisp with a whiff of wood smoke from the oven and a texture that is sublime. Regardless of the choice of toppings, you will find a glorious marriage of light, pinpoint flavors combined with savory flavors that taste exactly of what they are (tomato, mozzarella, etc). Franny’s is not for those seeking multi-toppings or a 2 a.m. post bar-binge slice - it is for those seeking the most inspired, unpretentious and soulful new-generation pizza in the world. NO TAKE OUT (although you can convince them on occasion).
2) Delfina Pizzeria (San Francisco, CA - the original Mission location only)
If you take everything regarding Franny’s above and move it to the west coast with a San Francisco vibe, it would be Delfina Pizzeria. What makes me quite happy with Delfina is their continued improvement in quality despite a plethora of accolades - they could rest on their laurels but they don’t. Last year, they did not make my Top Five but in 2009 they are all the way up to #2. Delfina exemplifies the new way to dine in America - laid back sophistication for $20. You are just as likely to see Mission slackers as businessmen and, in an “only in San Francisco” occurrence, the two opposites are actually friends, meeting here to dine and venture to a concert together after the pizza. Without bragging or boasting, Delfina’s immensely flavorful haut-gourmand pizza speaks for itself and one taste of the broccoli rabe pie (sampled five different times this year) will make you understand how fastidious and detailed this establishment is - all without ever batting an eye or allowing the visitor a moment of uncertainty (the complete opposite of Di Fara). The crust here manages the most difficult of tightropes, between a soft Neapolitan-inspired center to a slightly crisp Roman bottom and it succeeds where others cut in its mold fall short (Co. of NY). Many of have taken inspiration from what Delfina does best - a San Francisco dedication to natural ingredients, no attitude and gastronomic heights at bargain prices for the quality. Delfina’s mother restaurant/trattoria next door remains one of the finest bargains in San Francisco with equal if not greater attention to simplicity and detail with primi and secondi. The ultimate compliment to this pizza is the fact that you never tire of it and always look forward to the next perfectly structured taste of greenmarket goodness (surrounded by cracking hot and blistered dough cooked at nearly 1000 degrees). Hard to find a fault. TAKE OUT AVAILABLE.
3) Pizzeria Da Michelle (Naples, Italy)
Many pizza snobs would rate Da Michelle (or the recently downgraded Pelloni in Naples) as the world’s #1 by a wide margin. For many, it’s not even close. Naples has been the center of pizza for generations and this establishment has been in business for more than a century and a half (with little change in recipe and without cleaning their oven). According to local lore, the carbon buildup on Da Michelle’s oven (since the industrial revolution - that is not a joke) makes their pie unlike any other. For me, this pizza is the inspiration for the classic pies of the US but they do not compare to the original. If you desire what is arguably the single greatest Margherita pizza on earth, Da Michelle rarely disappoints but it is true to its old-style roots - roots that seem to sing a wonderful, beautiful song as you dine. Da Michelle makes you take a step back in time to appreciate just how far the influence of pizza and Italian food and culture have spread around the world. There are no green market ingredients or small-batch mozzarella balls from a specific row of cows in Calistoga but they have the finest local products that don't need any tag or certification to give them credence - one taste is all you need to toss every facet of the current food revolution and its obsession with small production out the window. Stick to the simple Margherita (not the buffalo milk) and you will ground yourself at pizza’s zero position. Da Michelle is pizza and pizza is Da Michelle. NO TAKE OUT.
4) Franco Manca (London, UK)
Why does it seem that many of the world’s pioneering food purveyors take up residence in broken down or lesser neighborhoods? The answer is simple: money. Cheap rent and young hipsters that are willing to work for next to nothing (just to be associated with the next big thing) often fuel the honest and pure momentum of an establishment such as Franco Manca - the UK’s finest pizza. No corporate structures, big name chefs or Bravo paving the way for a Top Chef appearance - this is from the street and it’s as real as it gets. If you navigate your way past the heroin dealers and others as you emerge from the Brixton tube stop (or, if you are set to see a show at the legendary Brixton Academy), Franco Manca should be your destination. For a mere 5 pounds sterling you will feast on London’s finest cuisine with plenty left in your wallet for whatever you seek prior to the latest Wolfmother show up the street. What makes this pizzeria so special is the Franny’s aspirations with a far more classic Calabrian structure. This is new-generation Neapolitan with organic ingredients and locally sourced, small-production cheeses, tomatoes and even basil that is fussed over without any fuss at all. All of the water is filtered (twice) and the clientele ranges from Caribbean locals to newly posh celebs from Tooting. The ultimate bargain in the most expensive city in the world - if you appreciate culinary detail as well as the most natural and fresh pizza you will find, Franco Manca deserves it’s #4 ranking and it has aspirations to move up. TAKE AWAY AVAILABLE.
5) Borboni (Ostuni, Italy)
If you find yourself venturing down the wrong side of the tracks in Ostuni, in the uncharted part of this tourist mecca of southern Italy, you will be far from the beauty of the white-walled, ancient center of town - rather you are buried in a Mussolini-era, depressing, modern village linked to the old-town by name alone. It is here, away from all tourists or even people for that matter, that one of the finest pizzas in the world is made. Owned by a young gun with aspirations (Miky) and his “girlfriend”, Borboni screams quality from the smallest ingredient to the most grand (fresh white truffles). Miky is one of the more interesting Jim Jarmusch-like characters I’ve stumbled across in my journey and this half pizzeria/half advertisement for Miky’s lingerie shop a few blocks away is curiosity enough to make the trip. At Borboni, you don’t just eat pizza, you experience soft-porn on the walls in a cave-like setting with Transylvania-esque candelabras hanging from the ceiling and only the bare light of a single flame (a la the 40 Watt Club in Athens) to illuminate your view. None of this is contrived - it’s the real thing that any aspiring independent filmmaker would be licking his/her chops to document. Easily confused as a sex-shop from the outside with scads of dowdy men (and woman) smoking and cavorting about, this one-of-a-kind dragon’s lair is also home to one of Italy’s finest pies. Here, you eat an experience of freshly cut and sliced meats (literally, sliced from an entire pig’s leg or other as you watch) - nothing is pre-prepared - even the dough is made fresh throughout the night so don’t expect to be in and out in 5 minutes. The quality is nothing short of stunning and each topping is painstakingly sourced from friends and small farmers around Puglia, the Abruzzo and Umbria. If you are a fan of Jamon Iberico (the real $50/lb stuff), Borboni produces several cured meat renditions of pizza that are among the most sublime culinary treats for 8 euro you will experience. Make no mistake, Borboni is world-class (and the owner knows it) but he may be off somewhere getting inked so be warned - do not eat here in his absence - he will return in due time. TAKE OUT AVAILABLE BUT FROWNED ON.
2009 The Crossovers
1) Lucali (Brooklyn)
2) Veraci (Seattle)
3) Veloce (East Village, Manhattan)
When you simply want great pizza but don’t necessarily wish to cut it with a fork and knife or learn the Naples subway system, The Crossovers come to the rescue with a synthesis of old and new that is arguably more desirable than any of the Top Five above. This style takes inspiration from many backgrounds but in the end it is one thing: an American pie. There were times during the past year when I was tempted to place Lucali in Brooklyn as #1 overall (ahead of Franny’s) but its aspirations are just not the same - which is entirely the point. This is pizza, inspired by the size (16-18”) that you knew in high school but they’ve taken the accepted norm of US pizza and turned it on its head - combining it with the finest ingredients and a bakers pride in each pie they serve. Not to be confused with The Classics below, the The Crossovers can compete with the list above in their desire to be Neapolitan, Roman or (in the case of Veloce) Sicilian but they bring a sigh of relief to the tired gastronome and a comfort that is missing from the list above. This is pizza without frills or fuss but it’s done is a very 2009 fashion. If you are looking for the finest pepperoni, roasted pepper and artichoke pizza in the world (all from hand roasted peppers and whole artichokes baked in their wood oven), Lucali is your destination. The wait outside can be annoying and the no-rules approach even more so, but the pizza result more than makes up for it. Keep in mind, this establishment has no set hours and there is no sign outside - you are not even allowed to go inside unless you are one of the lucky few to score a table.
A special star goes to Veraci, housed in what looks like an old gas station in the not-so-trendy section of west Ballard (not the area around Ballard Ave). With no atmosphere to speak of (anti-atmosphere?), this establishment vies with Lucali as the best Crossover pizza in the US. and they will come to you. literally bring their portable brick oven to your next street fair or event. San Francisco may boast Blue Bottle and it’s Rotisserie Chicken stand at the Ferry Plaza farmer’s market, but Veraci is the only traveling brick oven gastro-za road show I know of - uniquely Seattle and worth the trip.
Veloce is the only true Sicilian-inspired pizza in this review – a square pie with a thicker and crisper crust that is able to hold a myriad of toppings without fail. On a good night, the results are among the finest in the land (or any land) and their combinations merge greenmarket with rustic in a homey way. Try the Five Onion (a combination of leeks, sweet onions, chives, roasted red onions and scallions) or their signature Porchetta with home made sausage, rosemary, sage, fennel pollen, tomato and mozzarella – you will not be disappointed and the effort does not require contemplation (a la Keste) to walk away completely satiated.
2009 The Classics
1) Cafaso (Naples, Italy)
2) Di Fara (Brooklyn, NY)
3) Pizzeria Uno (Chicago, IL)
4) Sally’s Apizza (New Haven, CT)
5) Pizzeria Remo (Rome, Italy)
6) Johnny’s (Mt. Vernon, NY)
Like Da Michelle, there are many that would place Cafaso as the #1 overall pizza in the world. Leave the valuables at home and don’t go alone (Naples can be a free for all crime-wise, especially in sections of the old town like the Spanish quarter and Furcella) but the pizza is worth the risk to bodily harm. The crust is slightly different than Da Michelle but the results are no less superlative. A little more cheese and even less sauce than Da Michelle gives Cafaso its legendary character - all charred to a blissful golden delight in one of Naples hottest (and most seasoned) ovens.
In a town with so many would-be legends of the pizza oven, for me, Di Fara earns its title as the best of the US-based Classics. You never know what you will get after the circuitous subway ride to this less than desire bale section of outer Brooklyn but, if Dominic di Fara is in a good mood and he decides not to burn your pie to smithereens just to spite you, this pizza (Brooklyn’s most expensive at $5 or more/slice) can be pure heaven. It’s depth of flavor is just that much better than Grimaldi’s, Joe and Pat’s or any of the other stalwarts in the five Boroughs. You will wait for the opportunity - maybe for an hour or more after ordering as Da Fara often forgets who has ordered what and those weaned on his omnipresent state of amnesia and gruff style push themselves to the front when “a good one” debuts from the oven. Don’t be shy – when he calls out “Smith!” the name sounds just as good as your own.
The original Pizzeria Uno in Chicago (only the location on Wabash - sadly, now a tourist destination) is the grandmother of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and the mother of a horrible chain of Appleby’s-like “pizza” restaurants that cannot be recommended. The original location still uses the same ovens, pans and recipes from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Even some of the produce purveyors are the same. The simple cheese or sausage pizza at Uno set a standard for Chicago pizza that has never been topped (not even at Due, the sister restaurant a block away). Some say it’s the water, others the secret recipes held under lock and key for 50 years but Uno is in a league of its own. Very rich and immensely filling, a true Chicago deep dish is not 2/3 dough and 1/3 ingredients - it is the opposite. The dough is actually thin, not obtuse like so many copycats. Semi-crushed tomatoes vie with mozzarella (and a few other cheeses skillfully blended) plus one of the more flavorful doughs ever created (slightly sour but more inline with freshly baked, dense Tuscan bread). For me, Uno remains the only true Chicago pizza (along with Lou Molnatti’s but they are not as consistent) in a genre that has become a caricature of itself with heavily breaded, cheaply produced pies that are all dough and no talk. Giordanos? I don’t think so.
Sally’s Apizza is a Classic all to itself. The New Haven style of pizza making, like Chicago, is unique. The style is part New York, part college town but the results (with semi-burned cheese all the way to the outer part of the dough) are miraculous. Some say Sally’s has fallen off a bit lately but your trip to New Haven will not go without stellar pizza - there are 4-5 other top Apizza establishments in the city (unrelated to Sally’s) that are equally as alluring.
Pizzeria Remo is Rome’s only entrant and they hold the torch for the Capital city with aplomb. Located in Testaccio, a night-owl’s party zone that has become quite trendy over the past decade, Remo has the Roman style of pizza down to a science - a crisper crust than the best of Naples (a style preferred by many American pallets) with a near-perfect blend of char, cheese and lightly dusted sauce that you can almost (I said almost) pick up with your hands. I have a soft-spot for true Roman pizza as it is every it as good as Neapolitan and distinctive due to the crust. Rome is also known for pizza bianca (no sauce) and no visit to this city is complete without it. Be warned, there are more poor pizza establishments in Rome (and Naples) than anywhere else in my travels - you must choose wisely among a handful of the best or you will be sorely disappointed.
To a huge contingent of die-hard NY/NJ/CT dwellers, there is only one pizza establishment worth the time - the original Johnny’s in Mt. Vernon. There is such a following for this eccentric classic that many I interviewed for this article became angry when I hinted that anything was better. Johnny’s creates the type of venom and passion that sustains a cult-like frenzy and, on the East Coast, that venom is perfectly fused with the gruff and abrupt social norm that is linked in less urbane areas with The Sopranos. If you want to experience what true New York style pizza was back in the 1950’s when Frank Sinatra and others created a halcyon image of the New York dream, head outside of the five boroughs to Mt. Vernon. Just remember, they are rarely open and post no hours. Even so, if you venture to Johnny’s, go when you think you have the best chance that other people will be eating (say, 7:00pm on a Thursday night?) and they will probably be open (don’t even think about Sunday. or Monday. or probably Tuesday).
2009 Honorable Mention - New York
1) Keste (West Village, Manhattan)
Keste may indeed produce the finest pizza in the United States but I haven’t come to that conclusion yet. For now, I will place them at the #1 spot in the Honorable Mention list. Rated #1 by New York Magazine and Time Out New York (a rarity, maybe even a first where both publications agree), Keste is playing on a field with few peers. This is the richest Neapolitan-inspired pizza in the country, one that takes contemplation and concentration to fully enjoy. The crust is downright spectacular, with irregular nooks and crannies and right angles where round lines should exist. No two pizzas are alike from an appearance standpoint and the artisanal bent is evident upon first glance. I’ve read from a supposed astute reviewer that Keste’s sausage looks like it came from a Jimmy Dean frozen pack - that’s completely missing the point. The sausage is so rich and, well, meaty that there is no question you are dining on a carnivorous concoction meant to challenge the senses. The cheese used at Keste (especially the ultra-premium Burrata) is so rich and creamy, those with even a hint of lactose intolerance should head across the street and stick to the old-school Joe’s. Circa December 2009, no pizza review or understanding of where pizza has come would be compete without at least two visits to Keste.
2) Co (Chelsea, Manhattan)
There are times when Co is simply amazing. The toppings are among the finest gastro-za in the US (or anywhere) but there can be to many of them and the too thick crust is what keeps them from cracking the Overall list. It is indeed a fantastic crust, unique and singular (almost just-baked, gooey and bread-like), but there is just a too much of it and the soft texture makes 1-2 very filling pieces stay with you for too long. If Co’s crust had a more cracker-like bottom, it would vie with Delfina for a similar crown. Co is among the most ambitious low-fi establishments in the US (although not quite as low-fi as Motorino in Williamsburg), treating pizza more as a culinary experience than simple pizza. I am drawn to this spot time and again as their desire to be perfect and stand out is palpable. While not quite there yet, out of thousands of potential pizza restaurants for this review, they came in #2 on the Honorable Mention list - that should tell you something.
3) Motorino (Williamsburg to be East Village in the old Una Pizza Napoletana space)
Think Franco Manca above, in a non-hipster corner of Williamsburg, Brooklyn with aspirations to take over the #1 overall position. With abandoned furniture found on the street corner, employees that probably don’t even get paid (in money) and some of the truest Naples-inspired pizza you will find. If you like your bands at the true garage stage, I mean Modest Mouse in the basement before they knew that they could copy the Pixies and few would notice, Motorino has the chance (like any serious talent) to achieve great things. Unfortunately, like most talented bands, only a very few become REM. Stay tuned.
2009 Most Overrated
1) Malletti (London, UK)
2) Una Pizza Napoletana (East Village, Manhattan) NOW CLOSED
3) Lombardi’s (Manhattan)
4) Tutta Bella (Seattle)
5) Artichoke Basille (East Village, Manhattan) tie
5) Nick’s (Manhattan) tie
5) Patsy’s (original 117th st location) tie
All of the establishments above performed below their expected level of hype with vastly different results when the proprietor or pizza chef knew of my intentions to pen this review. In the case of Malletti, Lombardi’s, Artichoke Basille’s and Nick’s, the pizza’s were sub-standard on both tasting occasions (unannounced and announced) and Lombardi’s and Nick’s were so poor, I even tried them a third time to confirm my opinion (thus the delay in publishing this review). While I’m set to be tar and feathered for my inclusion of Una Pizza Napoletana on this list, the excellent standard they set years ago has been eclipsed by others on this list (although the establishment is now closed and headed to San Francisco, so it may not be fair to include them).
There you have it, the best (and worst) of 2009 - now let’s hear from all of you.
2009 Garagiste Email List Member Favorites
1) Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix, AZ)
2) Cheeseboard Collective (Berkeley, CA)
3) Delfina Pizzeria (San Francisco, CA)
4) Sally’s Apizza (New Haven, CT)
5) Campo de’Fiore (Rome) (tie for 5th)
5) Via Tribunali (Seattle) (tie for 5th)
5) A16 (San Francisco, CA) (tie for 5th)
There was one vote for Papa Murphy’s - seriously.
Pizzeria Bianco was no surprise to be #1 on this list - Bianco could make any top five list and (on a good night) could climb as high as #2 or #3. For me, it still remains to be seen whether Bianco can distinguish itself enough among the other high-caliber true Neapolitan pizzerias in NY or the rest of the US to be considered #1 - there are others that performed just as well and failed to make the cut on any of my lists above (Pizzeria Fresca - Union SQ, Manhattan), (Zero Otto Nove - The Bronx), (Via Tribunali - Seattle).
Big Apple vs Capitol Hill? February 21, 2011 9:31 AM Subscribe
The paternal unit and I are going to be spending 10-12 days in the US this June, split between New York, Washington DC, and Orlando, Florida. We're planning on flying into JFK, spending a few days in NYC, taking the train down to DC and then flying down to Orlando for the final leg of the trip. At this point all we're certain is that we're spending 3-4 days in Orlando, which leaves us around 7-9 days for NYC and DC.
What would be the best way to split our time between the two cities?
- Dad and I both love museums, monuments, things like that. As things stand, we plan on hitting MOMA, the Smithsonian, the International Spy Museum, and all the usual sites- the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Arlington and the Wall if we can manage it. Any glaring omissions on this list?
- NYC/DC natives, tell me about your cities! What must I see/do? The less touristy, the better. I'd also love any shopping recs, especially for thrift stores and discount retailers like TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack.
-Restaurant recommendations please! I'm not a huge fan of Asian food, but anything else goes. If they have a great vegetarian selection, even better.
- I would love to see a show on Broadway, preferably American Idiot or the Lion King. How early do we need to start thinking about booking tickets?
-Would it be worth it to go up to Niagara? I'm not a huge nature type person, but I'd be willing to go if it were a day trip and we didn't have anything else that I'd like to do more.
-Re: Orlando, I'd like to do EPCOT and the Harry Potter and Marvel theme parks for sure, and the Hollywood theme park if we have time. Would all of these be doable in two days? And is there anything within these theme parks that I shouldn't miss/avoid like the plague?
-Finally, I'd like some ideas for cool/interesting souvenirs. I've already got the I &hearts NY shirt and the Empire State keychain. I'm a geeky type who's also a bit of a girly girl, so recommendations along those lines would be helpful.
Re: DC -- So many great museums, so little time. It'll have to depend on your interests. Art-wise, I love the National Portrait Gallery, and going there would give you a chance to check out the DC Chinatown. Another great cultural stop is Ben's Chili Bowl, which has a lot of African American history as well as delicious chili dogs. Also, cheesy as they sound, if the weather is nice I love a good open-top bus tour.
Re: cheap clothing -- The undisputed discount clothing store in the DC area is Filene's Basement, which you should have no trouble finding.
Re: Niagara Falls -- Meh, I've been there and it's okay. But if you aren't really into natural wonders, I'd stick to all of the great museums in NYC and DC.
Re: Souvenirs -- At lots of the Smithsonian gift shops, you can get red, white, and blue scarves that have all of the signatures of the American presidents. Tons of cheap crap that says FBI. There are tons of places that sell this stuff, so don't think you need to make a special stop to get it.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 9:41 AM on February 21, 2011
Niagara is indeed not an easy day trip from either DC or NYC -- Niagara Falls is substantially farther from NYC than DC is. Like, almost twice as far away.
But, Niagara is not 2 hours from Buffalo. More like 20-30 minutes.
You could do it in a day -- take a wee silly airplane from LaGuardia to Buffalo, rent a car, see the falls, go back. But it would be a pretty hectic day.
I'd like to do EPCOT and the Harry Potter and Marvel theme parks for sure, and the Hollywood theme park if we have time. Would all of these be doable in two days?
Only if you want a miserable, grinding experience instead of anything remotely resembling fun.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:47 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]
Yeah Niagara Falls in not a day trip at all. It's about 7 hours from NYC to Buffalo (I drove up there last year).
If you want to go to some cheaper stores in NYC, the Century 21 downtown is huge. It's also right near the World Trade Center and City Hall. And make a stop in Soho. Most of the stores are pretty pricey, but H&M and Uniqlo (only one in America!) have good prices. As for thrift stores, there's tons of Salvation Armies and Goodwills. The Housing Works on 17th st between 6th and 7th ave is pretty good.
If you haven't between Metropolitan Museum of Art, you must must go. Also, if you're in to film, the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria is pretty fun, if you don't mind trekking out to Queens.
As for Orlando, Marvel and Harry Potter is all in one park, so you can definitely do those both in one day. But don't expect to have time to go to either Disney MGM Studios or Universal Studios (they're both Hollywood themed) if you also want to go to Epcot.
posted by catwash at 9:58 AM on February 21, 2011
I don't know what you like in particular, put the MET is a phenomenal museum if you've never been there. You can see actual structures inside the museum such as the Temple of Dendur If you check out the schedule in advance, too, you can go with a volunteer who will show you part of the museum in great detail (Egyptian art, the instruments/music collection, etc.).
Also, I think the Cloisters is a unique museum. The less touristy, the better.
This may become touristy overtime, but I was delighted last year to have a chance to check out Governors Island, which has only been open the last few years to the public.
If you go on Wed or Thursday, there are special tours and only a handful of people go with a park ranger. You get to see things like forts and hear how this island has been occupied and used from the time of the Native Americans, wars (one of the forts was used as a prison)., etc. You can also go during a weekend, and there is typically sort sort of festival/concert during those times, but I doubt the actual events will e announced before then.
Also, for more along "unusual"/nontourist (and only if you enjoy this), you can bike and slowly explore areas like the west side of NYC along a bike path, cross by ferry to Staten Island, and check out another fort and home of a former/historic photographer. Alternatively, go out to Brooklyn, also take a bike path along the west side, but explore Coney Island, which is changing a lot. If you are really interested in this last part, memail me because I think most pple don't do this and you would obviously need more details.
posted by Wolfster at 10:12 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]
Harry Potter World can be seen in about 4 hours. The rest of the "Islands of Adventure" are pretty dated in my opinion, but you could catch one of the bigger rides (Jurassic Park, Hulk, Spiderman) while you're there. Just go to HP World right when it opens and you'll be done by early afternoon.
Epcot is a one day affair as well as long as you can prioritize what you really want to see. Also, Epcot is awesome after dark, so if you get the chance stay for dinner.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:17 AM on February 21, 2011
Harry Potter and Marvel aren't theme parks. They are tiny parts of Universal/Islands of Adventure. In June, those will be a zoo. Stay at a Universal resort and get there an hour before opening if you want to attempt to do these parks in 2 days.
EPCOT is a two day park Disney's Hollywood Studios is another full day.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2011
For NYC: MOMA is doable in a day. The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the American Museum of Natural History (which you should have on your list) less so. The Statue of Liberty (and Ellis Island) will eat up at least half a day: waiting in line to board the ferry, the ferry ride, and don't forget to get a monument and/or crown pass if you wish to actually go inside the statue. Book your ferry and monument pass well in advance online. Many people are disappointed when they get there since it tends to sell out in the summertime.
And you're not even including Empire State Building/Top of the Rock (I prefer the latter), a stroll through Times Square, a stroll through Grand Central Terminal, exploring any part of Central Park, seeing the NYPL Main Branch, or a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. The Union Square Greenmarket will also be in full swing in June.
In DC: The Smithsonian is huge -- it really depends what part you want to visit and your interests. A lot of the Smithsonian museums have counterparts elsewhere that are equally good. The Air & Space Museum is unique. Don't miss the National Archives (to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights). As for the International Spy Museum, it's a fun afternoon diversion if you're into the spy stuff. Just be aware that the beginning is pretty cheesy (choose your spy cover!) and unlike the Smithsonian, there's an admission fee.
As for the Lincoln Memorial (don't miss the exact spot where MLK stood at the top of the steps -- it can be easy to miss the engraving), Washington Monument, Vietnam War Memorial, White House, Jefferson Memorial, Capitol Hill, etc. it is a very long walk to and from each of these attractions, especially if you want to take in the details. Hopefully the weather will be good and not humid.
Oh, and if you want to go inside the Washington Monument to the top, tickets will sell out far in advance.
posted by kathryn at 10:25 AM on February 21, 2011
For Disney, plan on one day per park. You can easily do Epcot in a day if you use FastPass for the popular rides ditto the Hollywood park - doing both in one day is possible, but you'll miss a lot and waste a substantial amount of time in traveling between them (plus it will cost a fortune because they charge by the park). Harry Potter and Marvel are both at Universal (in the Islands of Adventure park) - they can be done in a single day. If you want a don't-miss activity there, see if you can get tickets to La Nouba (the Orlando Cirque du Soleil show) -- it's a simply incredible show.
There's not a lot of discount shopping in Manhattan proper, though you can often get incredible deals at Century 21, if you can stand the crowds. For don't-miss museums, the Lower East Side Tenement museum is something you won't find anywhere else, the Met for the Temple of Dendur, and the Guggenheim is worth a visit just for the architecture. I love the Cooper-Hewitt museum as well. Many of the museums are within a short walk from one another, and offer pay-as-you-wish, so you can do more than one in an afternoon if you just want to see one or two things.
posted by Mchelly at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2011
I don't know what you like in particular, put the MET is a phenomenal museum if you've never been there.
Agreed. An amazing collection . and in my opinion a 'must see.'
There's also the Whitney and Guggenheim museums.
While in NYC you might also enjoy the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space. If you are into photography, don't miss ICP (the International Center of Photography).
In addition to booking tickets for Broadway shows ahead of time, you can also get discounted tickets for shows at the TKTS Discount Booths
1. The Times Square Booth sells day-of-performance tickets only.
2. The South Street Seaport Booth sells tickets to evening performances on the day of the performance, and matinee tickets the day before.
3. The Downtown Brooklyn Booth sells tickets to evening performances on the day of the performance, and matinee tickets the day before as well tickets to Brooklyn performing arts events.
Orlando - if it's your first visit, stick to the biggies: Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Stay at a Disney resort so you can take their easy and free transportation to and from the parks. Then move on to DC and New York.
DC - can't offer any advice, but I plan to visit the Holocaust Museum and the White House someday.
Philly - I'm from Philly. Boring. Skip it. But if you do go, have a cheesesteak at Jim's, Geno's or Pat's. Jim's is my favorite, on South Street.
New York - aside from seeing some museums, take some time to explore the variety of neighborhoods. Shopping on Fifth Avenue is corporate and mainstream, shopping in Greenwich Village can be local and quirky.
A few of my New York favorites, many of which are definitely not touristy:
Lower Manhattan village walk - Chinatown's canal street, Little Italy, Soho, Village, Lower East Side.
Katz's Deli for a Pastrami Sandwich and a hot dog. Favorite place to eat in New York by far!
The Strand Bookstore
Hot dogs at Papaya King or Grey's Papaya
Take a Circle Line cruise around NY for great city views
Visit a jazz club in the Village - like the Blue Note
Favorite museums: MoMA and Guggenheim
Radio City Music Hall behind the scenes tour
Risoterria (risotto restaurant) downtown
United Nations tour
Patsy's Italian - in the theater district. Go before a show.
Times square - avoid except for a walk-through at night to see the lights. Otherwise, it's one big tourist attraction.
Ellis Island - fascinating
Shake Shack - best burger in New York City
Bleeker Street Pizza - perhaps the best pizza in New York
Apple Store near Central Park
Have tea or a drink at a grand old hotel - Waldorf or the Plaza
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge - awesome
Ess-a-bagel - best NY bagels
Feel free to email me via MeFi mail if I can assist further.
posted by kdern at 10:49 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]
Many of the big museums in DC are free. Most of the ones in NYC are not. Many of the museums in DC are grouped around the National Mall (a big grassy area) where there are often festivals and other diversions. You can look up the days you will be in town to see if there will be a big festival - if so it can be crowded, but can be fun if it's a festival you like. The many open-air monuments of DC are mostly grouped nearish to the Mall, but they are a big of a walk if it's hot out. DC in general is a "low" city - the buildings are required to be shorter than the Washington Monument, so in the main museums-and-monuments area, it is very human-scale, with short buildings and a lot of wide open space. NYC (especially Manhattan where many of the big attractions are) is a "high" city that doesn't have as much open space (though Central Park is great). So if you find skyscrapers to be a tiring environment, DC will be easier on you. The "outer boroughs" of New York (such as Brooklyn) are areas adjacent to Manhattan, and in most cases they are "low" cities too - so a trip out to Brooklyn might be a relief if you find the high rises tiring.
DC has lots of good restaurants, and is one of the best places in the world outside Africa to have Ethiopian food (which can be an acquired taste, but if you're looking for a characteristically DC experience, that's a good one). Meskerem, Dukem, and Etete are all good ones.
The websites "yelp" or "chowhound" give restaurant reviews, and would be a good place to start in figuring out where to eat. In both cities, there are tons of good restaurants so you'll want to pick ones that are close to your hotel or to your day's destinations, rather than adding 45 minutes travel each way to get to dinner. (IMO)
DC's subway system is Metro, and is very clean and fairly straightforward. Two drawbacks: it does not have great coverage outside the core of the city - just okay coverage. And fares vary depending on how far away your destination is, and on the time of day, so you may want to look at a subway map in advance to get a sense of how it works. Then there are maps in every subway entrance to allow you to figure your fare. You can also get multi-trip passes, which may make sense depending on specifics of your trip. The Metro does not run all night, so if you're out late you'll want to note when the last train is.
NYC's subway system is more confusing, has many more lines, covers a much larger area and covers it more densely - and runs overnight in most cases. I believe their system is a one-fee system, where all rides cost the same. (Could be wrong about this, look it up.) Talking about what combination of trains to take to get to a destination is a favorite sport of New Yorkers, so if you ask someone for help they'll be happy to reel off directions ("take the L to the R and then switch at Smith St, there's construction on the F so you'll need to take the back staircase. " etc).
NYC is more geographically spread out, so be careful in planning your days that you don't plan on itineraries with huge travel times - I always get worn out in New York because we say "oh let's go see such and such" and it's an hour on the subway and a half hour walk, then walking around a museum, then walking to dinner, etc. Take it easy on yourselves!
In DC: If you're interested in American history, you can go across the Potomac river into Virginia - there is the Arlington National Cemetary, on the grounds of the mansion of Robert E Lee (the famous general of the Confederacy, the southern states that seceded in the Civil War). There is Old Town Alexandria which is a historic colonial-era port with quaint old buildings and cobblestone streets, today full of boutiques and flower shops and cute eateries. In Alexandria there is the Torpedo Factory which was an old munitions warehouse that's been converted to artist studios and small contemporary-art gallery spaces. There are also malls if you want to go shopping - for example the Pentagon City mall, which is on the Metro line that goes to Old Town Alexandria.
If you're wanting nature, you can go check out the C+O Canal tow path, which is a forested path along an old canal path, nice for a peaceful walk. Part of it goes through Georgetown, a pedestrian friendly shopping area.
You could go to a baseball game, if you're wanting to do an American thing - games in New York may be hard to get tickets for, but games in DC should be available. The Washington Nationals are a fairly new team, with a nice new stadium. Baseball games are open-air and often around 3 hours long there is beer and food at the stadium. The team in Baltimore (about an hour north of DC) is the Orioles, and their stadium ("Camden Yards") is one of the best-regarded in baseball.
In NYC: Definitely you need to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art if you have any interest in art at all. You could easily spend the whole day there allot at least a half day to it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:34 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]
Just confirming LobsterMitten's info and adding a bit about the NYC subway:
It's a flat fare of $2.25 for all rides regardless of distance you don't have to swipe your card upon exit of the system like you do in DC.
However, if you buy a MetroCard over $10, you will get a 7% bonus. For example, if you pay $15 for a MetroCard you will get one that is worth $16.05. There are also 7-day unlimited ride passes ($29) but it doesn't look like you will be staying in NYC long enough to be worth it.
Also, while the subway does run 24 hours a day, night service is often significantly different from daytime service, e.g. the 5 train which normally runs from the Bronx to Brooklyn only runs from the Bronx to Manhattan on evenings & weekends, and it only runs in the Bronx during late nights. Make sure to look this up if you plan to be traveling back home late at night.
posted by andrewesque at 12:40 PM on February 21, 2011
I've lived in both NYC and DC. I'll focus more on DC since NYC seems well represented here.
DC in three days would be plenty 2.5 would be fine too, but less than that won't give you enough time to see everything you want to see. If you have 7 days, I'd do 4.5 in NYC, leave in the afternoon of the 5th day so you get in before dinner and have some evening time (maybe a nighttime monument tour?), spend days 6-7 in DC, and leave either the night of the 7th day or morning of the 8th day (not sure how you are counting time). If you have 9 days, I'd do a full 5 in NYC and leave early the morning of the sixth day. Skip Niagara. Take Amtrak between NYC and DC.
We have great museums here in DC, and they are almost all free, but it's a small city and 3 days will be enough. Also, keep in mind most of the museums here close at 5. It will be hot and sticky in June. Definitely check out the federal stuff while you're here--the Library of Congress, the Archives, the White House, the Capitol, the monuments--they're all different than what you get in NYC and really neat places to visit. You need to reserve tickets for the White House and the Washington Monument ahead of time. Of the Smithsonians, I like the Museum of American History (America's attic!) and the National Portrait Gallery (which closes at 7pm) the best.
Seconding the recs for a Nationals game in DC they're fun even if you aren't a baseball fan, and Dumbarton Oaks is really beautiful (don't miss the museum or the garden, they're both worth it).
I'd argue NYC is tons more fun to people watch in, or to just go to a coffeeshop and hang out in, and of course it's much bigger, so it's worth spending more time there. The museums there are fantastic, just pricey. Do not miss the Met. The Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of the City of New York are pretty great too. Definitely spend at least one day in Brooklyn, and one in Queens too if you can.
There is good food in DC, but the average good food is more expensive here. You can get much cheaper good food in NYC (as well as much more expensive food, obviously). Eat pizza and bagels in NYC and Ethiopian food and at Ben's in DC. I like Busboys & Poets for veggie food (as well as great bookstore) in DC. Also Bar Pilar (small plates), Estadio (tapas), 2Amy's or Pizzaria Paradiso (pizza), and Zaytinya (Greek mezze) are all fantastic spots and very veggie friendly.
posted by min at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]
In DC the National Museum of the American Indian is not to be missed. It opened in 2004 on the last site available on the National Mall, the 17th of the Smithsonian museums. It houses cultural treasures from indigenous peoples from every part of the continent. Nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. Lunch in the cafe there is also fascinating with four delicious menus inspired by native foods from different areas of the country.
NMAI and the Air and Space Museum, with American History Museum, of course, might be the most distinctly American of the Smithsonian museums. Also noteworthy are the Museum of Natural History, the Zoo, the garden at Dumbarton Oaks and the National Cathedral, for its shiny and loving homage to Gothic architecture, but perhaps the latter might not as interesting if you are familiar with the originals.
posted by Anitanola at 5:24 PM on February 21, 2011
Katz's Deli for a Pastrami Sandwich and a hot dog. Favorite place to eat in New York by far!
Hot dogs at Papaya King or Grey's Papaya
If you're a vegetarian, though, there aren't many (if any) choices for you at Katz's or Papaya King/Gray's Papaya.
I thought the UN tour was dry and boring. Many of the rooms look similar and are decorated in the same 1970s style decor .
Tamanna: If you wish to tour the White House, BTW, you'll need to contact your embassy in Washington, DC for assistance in submitting a tour request since you're not a US citizen I assume.
posted by kathryn at 6:03 PM on February 21, 2011
Skip shopping at Pentagon City and shop at Union Station instead. It's beautiful, less fatiguing and crowded by far, and it's right by the Capitol. And, you are already going to be there when you arrive from New York, so you can scope it out a bit for later. Otherwise, shop in New York.
I also suggest Ford's Theater, and Peterson House, AKA The House Where Lincoln Died.
Also, when you are on Capitol Hill or at Union Station, walk to Eastern Market and have crab cakes at the lunch counter.
posted by jgirl at 7:01 PM on February 21, 2011
Considering you'll be traveling in June, I would opt to spend more time in New York than in DC. DC being a hot, humid hellhole in summertime. At least in New York there's plenty of shade and the occasional breeze off the rivers.
I would not attempt Niagara Falls. There will be more than enough stuff to see and do in New York and Washington.
posted by Sara C. at 7:18 PM on February 21, 2011
MOMA is doable in a day. The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the American Museum of Natural History (which you should have on your list) less so.
The best approach for the Met and AMNH is to look at a floor plan of each museum and choose around three things that you ABSOLUTELY must see. Then you also look at things that are on the way to/between those three things. Ignore the rest. I majored in anthropology and used to have to visit Natural History every few months for class projects - I still haven't seen everything. I fracking WORKED at the Met and only now, after ten years in New York, have I begun to approach completion. You have to just prioritize and let the rest go.
MoMA, on the other hand, is specifically set up to be viewed in its entirety in one day.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2011
Response by poster: Wow, great answers so far! Thank y'all so much, and please keep them coming.
Sara C., I'm from the south of India, so no worries about the weather. I'll probably find it downright pleasant in comparison!
The current DC itinirary is something like this: three days to see the Newseum, the Spy Museum, the National Archives, the Air and Space Museum, and the Museum of the American Indian, plus the night-time monument bike tour amarynth suggested, and the WH tour if we can swing it. Is that realistic, or should I cut something out? Not too wedded to the WH or the Newseum.
As for food, while I prefer not eating meat, the point of travel is to try new things, right? So all kinds of recs are fine. I'd especially love some for NYC street food, since I've heard a lot about it.
posted by Tamanna at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2011
the Guggenheim is worth a visit just for the architecture.
In my opinion, the Guggenheim is the most missable of all the major New York museums from the perspective of a tourist. The building itself is brilliant, but honestly if you've seen it from the outside, you've seen it. If you're a huge Frank Lloyd Wright fan, step into the main lobby area to get a sense of the interior. Done and done. They don't have much of a permanent collection on view - whatever show is occupying the main spiral gallery space is what you get. Which can be amazing if it's something that particularly interests you, but will be a waste of $20 if you're not too keen on it.
posted by Sara C. at 7:39 PM on February 21, 2011
Street food in New York: avoid the ersatz hot dog carts that are on every other corner in midtown. What you want are the food trucks and the halal carts. There are also a lot of "street foods" that you don't buy from a kiosk on the street but from a deli or fast-food style joint which may or may not have attached seating. In that category are New York style pizza, bagels, Italian subs, dumplings, and the like.
Some of my favorite "street" food:
Ess-A-Bagel. The original shop on First Ave. in the 20's sells bagels and only bagels (with "shmears" AKA spreads, as well as coffee, juices, etc), but there is an outlet in Midtown which is more like a traditional deli where you can also get some other breakfast things, knishes, and some prepared foods.
My ideal slice: this particular Ray's Pizza* on Prince Street in SoHo. Apparently it is The Ray's. The first. The true original. The real deal. This is another good bet for a classic New York slice.
After you've done the New York style slice thing, though, you might want to branch out a bit. Lombardi's claims to be the oldest pizzeria in New York, and their pie is superb. It's a sit-down place with waiter service, and the pies are closer to what's referred to here as "Neapolitan style". Rivaling Lombardi's in New York City pizza lore is Grimaldi's, under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn Heights. In my personal opinion, Grimaldi's is the best easily accessible pie in New York (easily accessible because I think either Di Fara or Totonno might be better, but they're a schlep for tourists). All of the latter sort of places (Lombardi's, Grimaldi's, Totonno, Di Fara) are expensive for what they are and typically involve long waits for a table, which, if you didn't grow up obsessing over The Perfect Pie, probably won't be particularly impressive to you. There's lots of fantastic pizza all over the city - stay out of Sbarro's and you'll probably get something that will make you very happy.
If you want a radical departure from anything resembling New York pizza, check out Artichoke on 14th St. between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Get the spinach and artichoke slice. Only order one - they're huge. Try not to have a coronary.
If you eat beef, check out Gray's Papaya. New York isn't particularly well known for its hot dogs, but this is a local institution. For a couple or three bucks you get two all-beef hot dogs cooked on the grill, with optional sauerkraut, as well as a small fruit drink of your choice. Papaya being the classic, of course. There's nowhere to sit, and you'll be rubbing shoulders with vagrants and hoodlums. But there is nowhere like this place in the whole world.
Dumplings and other carb-encased snack foods. I like Prosperity Dumpling on Eldridge St. My go-to dim sum used to be Golden Unicorn, but I feel like they've really gone downhill over the past few years. I like the pierogi at Veselka, though they're by no means the only game in town for Eastern European comfort food. They are probably your best bet within the usual tourist stomping grounds. I get potato and cheese, mushroom, or whatever the monthly "special" pierogi is. Or sometimes I mix and match if I can't make up my mind. Fried, not boiled. With both sour cream and applesauce. Washed down with a Slavutich beer, because how often do you get to drink Ukrainian beer?
The best pastrami on rye is actually in Montreal at Schwartz's, but don't tell anyone I told you that. In New York, I like Ben's Kosher Deli, on 38th and Seventh. This is sort of blasphemous, because not only is it less famous than Katz's, Carnegie, and the like, it's also *gasp* a chain. Yes, it's true, they also have locations in Westchester, Long Island, and Boca Raton. I don't care. They are awesome, and a lot cheaper and less crowded than their touristy counterparts. I also like that they are in the garment district, and that the decor looks like something you'd find in a strip mall. It feels real, rather than a theme park version of what New York was supposed to be fifty years ago. Also worth a mention in the "Jewish Cuisine, Non-Bagel" category are Yonah Shimmel's Knish Bakery, Russ And Daughters, and if you like vodka and a spectacle, Sammy's Famous Roumanian Steakhouse. The latter is a real sit-down restaurant, not street food by any means. But I couldn't pass it up. My family LOVES this place. We have to go every time they come visit me. It's almost embarrassing. It is a great way to get a taste of a particular corner of New York City, though. And the chopped liver is incredible (Like Buttah, maybe? If any restaurant in New York deserved a Barbra Streisand pun, it's Sammy's).
Jesus, writing this made me so hungry.
*There are A LOT of Ray's Pizza places, all over the city, often stretched out into Famous Ray's, Original Ray's, Famous Original Ray's, ad nauseum. Most of them have nothing to do with each other, if I recall correctly. I think there's some tall tale about two pizzaiolos, both alike in infamy, in fair Manhattan where we lay our scene. A rivalry, brother against brother, for the right to inherit the family pizzeria. But I have no idea if it's true. It might also be that the name is short, sweet, easy to spell and pronounce, and just familiar enough to hit the right neighborhood notes.
posted by Sara C. at 8:38 PM on February 21, 2011
Sara C., I'm from the south of India, so no worries about the weather. I'll probably find it downright pleasant in comparison!
Ha, don't be so sure about that! Last summer at the height of our heatwave, I heard a family of South Asian tourists complaining to each other about how unbelievably hot it was. Now, maybe they actually live in Canada, but still . it got really, really hot here last June!
posted by yarly at 9:23 AM on February 22, 2011
Also, when you are on Capitol Hill or at Union Station, walk to Eastern Market and have crab cakes at the lunch counter.
Ooh! Excellent suggestion -- it's a bit more of a "local" thing, but it's definitely one of DC's unique highlights! They've got a fantastic flea market on Saturday and Sunday. It's easily accessible from the Orange/Blue lines, but also a pretty short walk from the Capitol along Pennsylvania Ave.
The National Portrait Gallery and National Building Museum are my two favorite attractions in DC. The latter is especially recommended if you have any interest in architecture, and only takes about 90 minutes to see in its entirety - both are free, and walkable from the Gallery Place Metro stop. The National Postal Museum is also surprisingly good, and can also be done in a little over an hour. The Natural History museum is a close runner-up -- if nothing else, stop in to see the Hope Diamond and gem/mineral exhibit (arguably the best of its kind in the world).
Like the others here, I'd give the Spy Museum a pass, unless you have small kids with you. The "Interactive" portion costs more, and is definitely not worth your time. Air/Space and the Newseum are also very much family-oriented. If you find yourself with lots of free time, you can drive out to Dulles Airport, and see the Air & Space Museum's annex, where they keep all of the cool planes that they couldn't fit into the main museum. The Newseum is nice, but very expensive for what it is, especially considering that most of the other places in DC are free.
DC has a very large Ethiopian community, and excellent restaurants to match. If you've never tried this cuisine before, there's no better place to try it than here! Lots of good vegetarian options too. I can't say that I'm particularly well-versed in our various vegetarian-friendly dining options, although I will say that DC's dining scene is a lot better (and more affordable!) than most people give it credit for.
3 days is plenty (if not excessive) for your itinerary. Don't feel like you need to see every museum and monument in its entirety. Also, try to optimize your schedule around the fact that some attractions close rather early.
For discount shopping, in addition to Filene's Basement, we've got a mediocre H&M, a decent Zara, and an enormous Forever 21 all on the same block (also directly adjacent to the Metro Center metro station). Also, check out Century 21 while you're in NYC. If you're into "Mall-like" shopping, I'd skip both Pentagon City (ick), and Union Station ($$), and walk or take the bus over to Georgetown, which though not a mall, has a lot of the same stores, and is generally a very pleasant place to be.
(Protip: Figure out how DC street addresses work before coming here. All streets are numbered and identified in relation to the Capitol Building. For instance, 500 8th St NW is 5 blocks north, and 8 blocks west of the Capitol, and in a completely different part of the city than 500 8th St SE. Numbered streets run north/south State-named avenues run in confusing diagonal patterns, and lettered streets run East/West. For bizarre historic and linguistic reasons, there is no J Street. There's some other weirdness around the mall regarding Independence (B St SE/W), Jefferson (A St SW), Madison (A St NW), and Constitution Avenues (B St NE/W) that you'll need to look at a map to understand.
posted by schmod at 10:41 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]