Pizza is the first food of independence. A few bucks enable a kid to enter the free market economy, and the words, “I left money for pizza,” kickstart life unsupervised. It's a hunger equalizer, powering campaigns, construction sites, term papers, mega-mergers, and eight-hour shifts. But given New York’s pizza heritage (the birthplace of American pizza) and proficiency at styles (Sicilian, grandma, neo-Neapolitan), comparing pizzas fairly can be challenging. How do you rate a classic slice against a Neapolitan pie?
Then there’s the minutiae we pizza snobs obsess over: coal, wood and deck ovens; dough hydration; house-ground flour. Basta! We won’t even talk cheese and sauce. Three shiny quarters can be the price difference between dollar slices that are ruining the city's rep for great pizza and an amazing spot that's been slinging for nearly 100 years. In order to restore some order, we compiled a ranking of best pies by price.
That’s to say: this isn’t a list of pizzas by quality, but the best pizza (slices and full pies) of any style topped with anything on the table, at dollar increments from $.99 to $30.
We should note some figures. First, after examining prices across America, NPR determined you almost always get a better deal when you buy a bigger pie. Having said that and researched the pizza economy, some price lanes:
- $.99/Dollar Slice Pizza: A subgenre of slicerias that sell dollar pizza (or pizza for $.99) using inferior techniques and ingredients.
- $2.75 The Pizza Principle: A correlation posited in 1980 by patent attorney Eric Bram in The New York Times. He postulated that since the 60s, a slice costs about the same as a subway ride. After the MTA voted not to raise fares to $3, that means $2.75 for the average quality slice.
- $5-6 Pizza Deals & High-End Slices: Pizzerias typically offer deals of a slice and soda (sometimes even two slices and a soda) for $6 and under. The city’s most expensive slices also top out here.
- $7-$9 Pizza No-Man’s-Land: While not bereft of pizza, a quasi-wasteland: too much for a slice, too little for a pie.
- $10-12 Cheese-less Neapolitan Pizzas: Marinara pies that don’t pass on cheese costs.
- $13 Average Neapolitan & Baseline Chain Pizza: When Eater crunched numbers years ago, the average American VPN Margherita cost $13.21. Not that you have an excuse to order from Domino’s if you live in New York, but ironically, their large, 14-inch "hand-tossed" cheese pie? A close $13.49.
- $13-$18 Neapolitan Sweet Spot: Hours of examining menus reveal this sweet spot for the Naples import.
- $15-$20 New York Style Pizzas: According to NPR, the price of Manhattan’s average pizza range, depending on the neighborhood, from $12 to $23. By my last calculations, examining the top 10 to 30 pizzerias in each borough, the average prices for Gotham’s best large plain cheese pizzas are: Manhattan $19.13; Queens $17.61; Staten Island $17.21; Brooklyn $17.15; the Bronx $15.83.
- $21-$30 High-End Toppings & Pricy Pizza: Neapolitan and New York-style pizzas with expensive toppings like freshly shucked clams can send Neapolitan pies above $20. This slot is reserved for pies from pricier, lauded joints.
Some ground rules. Prices are pre-tax: menu prices, not check prices. Next, because slices and pies are intertwined with our associations with pizza, and given you can’t find pies under $7.50, we included both. To avoid pizza pedantry and search for the best pie at every dollar level, we examined every style and eschewed a baseline. This is a snapshot of pies in relation to each other, but just as you can expect your average slice to soon cost $3, what you shell out for the following tangle of slices and styles may quickly change!
Check out the best pizza at every price point, from $.99 to $30.