It's Easier To Get Good Pizza In New York Than In Most of Italy
Illustration by Alina Petrichyn
Around five years ago, I moved to 5th Avenue and 18th Street in Brooklyn, a neighborhood that entrepreneurial (and slightly dishonest) realtors called Park Slope.
As it turned out, it was not actually Park Slope. It didn't (and still doesn't) have the upscale boutiques, nor the handsome brownstones, nor the fancy restaurants, nor the strollers. But on my first night living at my new place, my roommates and I wanted to get some pizza, so we fired up Yelp and found a place a few blocks away—Toby's Public House—which somehow had the best reviews in the area for pizza despite having a name that sounded like a Manchester soccer hooligan pub.
Puzzled, and a bit concerned, we made the walk with our worries only mitigated by the well-known truism that pizza is like sex: When it's good, it's good, and when it's bad, it's still pretty good.
Unexpectedly, it ended up being the best pizza I've ever had in New York City.
To think: A random place with the moniker and interior of a mediocre British bar somehow had the best pizza I've ever had in a city that's home to hundreds of pizza joints. And mind you, this was no $2 slice spot (although the New York slice, is, of course, a masterpiece all its own—that's another story); this was legit, Neapolitan-style pizza with that thin-but-not-too-thin crust with the perfect doughiness; melted gobs of mozzarella di bufala, not the shredded stuff from a plastic bag; and balanced, tangy tomato sauce. (As an Italian, I have no reservations about asserting that Neapolitan pizza is what good, "real" pizza should be. I grew up in Italy, near Milan, and in Barcelona, Spain, where I spent most of my teenage years at a friend's Neapolitan pizzeria.)
After almost six years of living in New York City, I've realized that finding amazing Neapolitan pizza in a neighborhood that barely had a decent grocery store was no fluke. As it turns out, it's easier to find good pizza in New York than in many Italian cities.
WATCH: Meet Brooklyn's Greatest Pizza Legends on The Pizza Show
Yes, you read that right. As I sit in my office in Williamsburg, there are quite literally half a dozen excellent Neapolitan-style pizza restaurants in a two-mile radius. I know this might sound ridiculous, but I challenge you to look at me with a straight face and tell me you would have the same easy access to high-quality, true-to-Naples pizza in any other Italian city, such as Milan or Venice.
Sure, there'd be dozens of pizzerias. But the reality is that most pizzerias across non-Naples parts of Italy only serve pizza—and not very good pizza, at that—because tourists demand it. Depending where you go, a pizza in Milan or Rome can be fundamentally different from Neapolitan pizza, and is often made with low-quality ingredients, and by pizzaioli that have no idea what they're doing other than topping a simple crust with some form of tomato sauce and cheese.
Go to Florence or Rome and eat the first pizza you find; you won't be able to convince me that it's good. (Sorry Romans, but Roman pizza is paper-thin, slightly crunchy, and made with bland dough—in my opinion, not nearly as good as Neapolitan pizza.)
The dirty little secret about Italian cuisine is that it's highly regional, and that the only place where you can find great pizza pretty much anywhere consistently is in Naples. If you put dogmas and national pride aside, that should be obvious. No one takes pizza as seriously, and has mastered its art as well, as Neapolitans. (This is why they want mandatory licenses for all pizza-makers to prove their craft, and look down on such lowly pizza clichés as dough-spinning.)
You know where there are a lot of Neapolitans outside of Naples? That's right—New York City. In fact, America's first pizzeria was opened by a Neapolitan, and New York-style pizza was directly inspired by Neapolitan pizza.
READ MORE: The MUNCHIES Guide to New York Pizza
And it's not just early-1900s immigrants who have made New York City a true destination for quality pizza. There's a new wave of Italian transplants, and this time it's all-star pizzaioli. In the last few years, some of the most renowned pizzerias in Naples, such as Starita and Sorbillo, have opened branches in New York City. (Their respective New York City joints are called Don Antonio and Sorbillo NYC.)
So if you find yourself in Italy and want good pizza, do a bit of research and hunt down a real authentic Neapolitan pizza joint. Or you're probably better off eating something else—Italian cuisine is chock full of other, more worthy delicacies.
Because yes, while bad pizza in Italy is still pretty good, you're better off buying a ticket to New York.
Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai is a staff writer at Motherboard, where he writes about hackers and cybersecurity. He was born in Spain and spent his childhood in northern Italy, but has lived in New York since 2011.