New York Style Pizza In Los Angeles

NYC PIZZA BY-THE-SLICE CHALLENGE

You hear the phrase, “New York Style Pizza,” everywhere. Pizzerias claiming that they can provide a slice of authentic New York City, Italian-American style pizza.

And you want to believe it.

Because if you have grown up in NYC like I have, or visited, you know how awesome a grab and go pizza by-the-slice can be.

What would seem so easy to achieve, is not; not at all, or every pizza place would be doing it.

To create an awesome slice of pizza you have to have the perfect marriage of tomato sauce, cheese and dough. You have to have great texture and crunch, with the right balance of salt and sweet from the tomato and cheese, and the cheese has to be fresh, milky and smooth.

As you might have guessed, pizza (especially New York  style pizza) means a lot to me.

There are three well-known and respected Pizzerias in Los Angeles right now that are lauded by foodies and food critics alike for offering this New York style pizza by-the-slice: Prime on Fairfax, Vito’s on La Cienega and Joe’s on Sunset (the West Hollywood location). I set out to try one plain cheese slice at each place to determine which one, I thought, was the closest in offering true New York City style pizza.

I went with a plain cheese slice, not only to make it a fair contest, but also because the merits of a pizza are in its basic ingredients.

Once you start putting toppings on, like lingerie, it’s cheating a little bit.

Your subject needs to be judged naked with all its glory and imperfections exposed.

PRIME PIZZA
Prime's Sign
Prime’s Sign

When you walk in you get the feeling that you are in a Los Angeles Pizza joint with some NYC accents like subway tile on the walls. The pizza display is front and center, the room simple with just counter tops to eat at.

A slice of cheese pizza is $2.50 plus tax; which is pretty much the going rate.

Prime's Interior a cross section of LA hip with NYC accents
Prime’s Interior – a cross section of LA hip with NYC accents

Behold the slice… I will start off by saying I enjoyed it thoroughly.

They dress their cheese slice with basil.
They dress up their cheese slice with basil.

By all accounts it looks a lot like a slice of New York style pizza. It has the proper amount of cheese and sauce. The color of the cheese is golden yellow. When I bit into it I was actually surprised at the vibrant flavors in both the cheese and sauce. It is one of the best that I have tasted in Los Angeles, and I have been to a lot of places that offer good or even sublime pizza: Mulberry Street Pizza, Tomato Pie, Pizzanista! and Village Pizza, to name a few.

Gooey Goodness!
Gooey Goodness!

The cheese was moist but slightly toasted, and the sauce was extremely fresh, as if the tomatoes came right out of a garden.

The fault in this pizza was in the crust.

A truly great slice of New York style pizza doesn’t sag or droop when you pick it up, and this did big time.

There wasn’t any char on the bottom, no hard crust, so the slice wasn’t firm. The flavor of the dough wasn’t poor, it just wasn’t nearly as good as the cheese and sauce.

VITO’S PIZZA
Pulling on those NYC Italian American heartstrings
Pulling on those NYC Italian-American heartstrings!

When you walk into Vito’s you feel like they designed this place to be kid friendly, and I thought that was pretty awesome. However, when I looked at the pizza display I felt concerned because I came just one hour after opening and the pizzas already looked old, stale and a little dry.

Very respectable
Very respectable, though small.

I ordered my cheese slice, upon taking a bite I was excited to discover that the crust was on point!

Unlike Prime Pizza, Vito’s pizza dough was more authentic to New York style pizza in taste and execution. Unfortunately, their cheese and sauce fell a little flat. Neither of the ingredients packed a whole lot of punch.

But the dough was awesome as was the crunch, and when I held it up in the air the dough did not droop!

Still holding! Still holding! -Vince Vaughn in "Old School"
Still holding! Still holding! — Vince Vaughn, “Old School”

Part of the problem with the sauce and cheese may be that it was layered too thin, which caused the slice to dry out it re-heating… Who knows.

But that is the mark of genius in a truly great by-the-slice New York style pizza; it’s made knowing that it will be reheated, and the flavor isn’t compromised.

Cost: $3.00 plus tax

JOE’S PIZZA
Now this is an NYC Pizzeria Oven!
Now this is an NYC Pizzeria Oven!

New York City Pizzerias have their ovens front and center, proudly on display; I was happy to see the Joe’s honored that tradition.

Upon receiving my slice of pizza I checked the undercarriage and indeed saw that the crust on the bottom was perfect. I was even pleased to see that it had the proper rise of crust at the top.

Then I gave it “the test”…

Perfect!
Perfect!

A true New York style pizza slice is cut from a 18-inch pie; it wasn’t until I got a slice from Joe’s that I remembered that fact. Both Vito’s and Prime were smaller and probably cut from a 16-inch pie.

Aesthetically, Joe’s comes the closest to what a New York style slice of pizza looks like. The bubbly, slightly crusted cheese and the thick roll of dough at the top. By all accounts you are looking at a slice of NYC right in front of your eyes.

Then I took a bite, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the slice.

Size Does Matter
Size Does Matter

The cheese and sauce have hella flavor, the crust was crispy and it had the right amount of crunch on the bottom and moisture above.

Cost: $2.50 plus tax

Even though I thought Prime had better cheese and sauce and Vito’s had perfect dough… Joe’s wins this contest for overall execution and authentic flavor.

Ironically, Joe’s has been around longer than these two worthy competitors, and they have five locations.

They are all good slices of pizza and have rightly earned their accolades, but my hat is off to Joe’s!

Congratulations!

Restaurant and Bar Reviews for the impure palate