The Empire State Building is one of New York City’s defining symbols. So nearby it you might expect to find a fantastic slice of this great metropolis’ defining food. But as one local doorman advised, “I’m from the Bronx so I know, most of the pizza around here tastes like cardboard!”
It was a Midtown challenge worth investigating. Since the closing of Giuseppe’s we counted fourteen pizzerias within a two-block radius of the Empire State Building (36th to 32nd streets, north to south; and Park to 7th avenues). That’s without venturing inside the Manhattan Mall, and including Rosa’s Pizza, which is actually in the Empire State Building.
While technically Sbarro and Pizza Hut are pizza places, most self-respecting New Yorkers wouldn’t consider them representative slices (same goes for the California Pizza Kitchen, just outside the aforementioned boundaries).
Similarly, a Brazilian cone pizzaspot called K! Pizzacone is preparing to open nearby on Fifth Avenue. While it will be interesting to see how New Yorkers (and tourists) take to it, this taste-off to find the best ‘Empire Slice’ involved eating conventional, plain slices in each pizzeria.
Check out the top six slices below, and the full cast of cheesy characters.
#14 Arome Deli & Pizza (138 West 32nd St.)
A messy, greasy slice ($2.50) with a thick layer of stringy cheese that looks like it has Cheddar mixed in.
#13 Kito Gourmet Deli (41 W 33rd St.)
A metallic sauce with congealed cheese on a crust that tastes like bread from the supermarket freezer for $2.50 a slice. Save your pennies.
#12 Spinelli’s Pizzeria (427 7th Ave.)
A droopy crust that breaks mid-slice. Flat sauce. Cottony crust. An utter disaster. They should be paying you the $2.75 for the slice. Get out. Quickly.
#11 Circa NY (22 W 33rd St., b/n 5th & 6th Avenues)
A dense crust with a layer of opaque, uncooked dough beneath a congealed, Polly-O tasting cheese. Sweet and saucy with a thick end crust that more resembles bread. The lunch crowd opts for personal pies. You should skip out, but if you join them, get the $5 deal — two slices (normally$2.75 each) and a soda.
#10 Aroma Pizza (35 W 36th St., b/n 5th & 6th avenues)
Not the worst slice ever, but close (and for $3!?). Doughy crust and stewed sauce undercooked enough to put you off of pizza for a week. That’s a long time.
#9 Pronto Pizza (976 6th Ave., corner 36th St.)
A slice ($2.50) heaped with thick, stringy cheese. The sauce seems okay, but with all that cheese who can tell? Doughy crust folds like a sheet. Even the outer crust had hardly any crunch.
#8 Rosa’s Pizza ( 350 5th Ave.)
This decent slice ($3) is a tad undersauced, but it has a good crust, it’s convenient, and hey, it’s kosher.
#7 Little Italy (178 W 33rd St.)
Same cornmeal bottom and crispy outer crust, but this barely-sauced, doughy slice ($2.75) is super droopy, and when you lift it you think you almost might be able to see through it.
#6 Pronto Pizza (1333 Broadway, corner 36th St.)
Thin, but not crispy, and with a narrow crust edge. There’s a good ratio of thoroughly melted cheese to tangy sauce— enough of both to be a flavorful presence, but not so much of either so as to be distracting.
#5 Café Rustico II (25 West 35th St., b/n 5th & 6th avenues)
When fresh, a decent slice at $2.50. Rich sauce, thick cheese, crisp crust and crunchy outer crust. There’s a lunch crush, but slices can sit due to the location. The ‘cardboard’ label isn’t entirely justified, but it’s a dry slice that doesn’t reheat well.
#4 Empire Pizza (314 5th Ave., b/n 32nd & 31st streets)
You’d expect a place called Empire to live up to its name. The slice ($2.50) is representative of the City’s average. Cheese and sauce are evenly distributed with significant oil separation. It’s good enough to satisfy when you’re on the go, but nothing pops.
#3 Sabina’s (150 West 36th St., b/n 7th & 6th avenues)
This quest’s shocking surprise, a slice from a place self-described as “Pakistani Indian Bangladeshi,” that’s also called Kabab & Grill Restaurant. Pencil-thick outer crust. Sweet, zesty sauce. And a pliable, crisp bottom crust that isn’t droopy, but seems barely thicker than the paper plate it’s sitting on. Also, at $1.35, the area’s cheapest slice.
#2 Little Italy (333 5th Ave., corner 33rd Stt)
Light, thin, and at times the area’s best slice ($2.75). Snag one from the oven and you’re in for a treat— bubbling cheese and sauce on a crackling crust with an upskirt dotted by sharp cornmeal. Traffic from being catty-corner to the Empire State Building favors the odds of a fresh pie.
#1 Squisito (64 East 34th St., b/n Madison & Park avenues)
One of the most economical ($2.25) and consistent slices. Crust is thin, and the edge crust — about the width of a Uni-ball pen — has a firm crunch. The sauce tastes fresh, the cheese is light, and while it loses adherence to the crust, it’s balanced. There’s little on this block so you might not be inclined to saunter this way, but it’s worth it.
This post was originally published January 19th, 2010, on the now-defunct, James-Beard Award-nominated blog AlwaysHungryNY.com.