Native Staten Islanders usually have at least one of four things: a car because our public transportation system is a joke, a story about the time they saw a member of the Wu-Tang Clan or a Mob Wife, a preference in ferry boats (avoid the Kennedy at all costs), or a favorite pizzeria that is better than your favorite pizzeria.
The last one of those inspires a great amount of hometown pride, even among natives like myself who left the “Forgotten Borough” as soon as humanly possible. Whether it’s our undying determination to prove ourselves as “real New Yorkers,” or the supposed acquavite surrounding our island, I can say, with complete confidence, that Staten Island has the best pizza in NYC and that my favorite pizzerias are better than yours. Before you try to throw hands, try one of these eight great spots for pizza in Shaolin.
Naming a pizzeria after one of the most enigmatic figures of beauty in art history can put a lot of pressure on a place, but Mona Lisa Pizzeria & Ristorante lives up to its name. Owner Lenny Giordano treats each and every step of the process with care - from the dough made fresh every morning to the layers of herbaceous tomato sauce and creamy mozzarella layered on top. While the classic cheese pie is excellent, the Gold Medal, a decadent creation topped with mushroom cognac cream sauce and truffle oil, is another good place to start. If you’re split between red sauce and white sauce or don’t want to limit yourself to just one pizza experience, they also do a half-white (dripping in mozz and ricotta), half-regular pie. And please - don’t forget to grab a Cannoli in a Cup for the trip home. Yes, it’s just as great as it sounds.
When Staten Islanders are asked about their favorite pizza, Denino’s is more often than not the first place that comes up. The crust is thin, so if you can get a group of friends together, or are feeling ambitious (and hungry), order a few pies to really get the full experience. Like most classic pizzerias, you can judge the place on its margarita pie and Denino’s is an exemplary model of a margarita pie done well. The marinara sauce is neither too sweet or savory, too thin or too thick - it is the Goldilocks of marinara. Another favorite is the M.O.R (meatball, onion, and ricotta), an aptly named house special that had me hooked after the first slice. Once you’ve polished off your pie(s) and at least one helping of fried calamari, grab an Italian ice across the street at Ralph’s. Since you’re on an island, you might as well pretend that the nearby Kill Van Kull is the Pacific Ocean and drift off to paradise with a Blue Hawaii.
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I’m not quite sure what it is, but there’s something particularly enticing about a piping hot Reggiano’s pie that always makes me rip open the box to eat a slice or three while I’m stuck in traffic on the BQE. Yes, I end up covered in crumbs from the charred, cracker-thin crust by the end of the journey, but I’m also full and happy. The arugula-sausage pie is my absolute favorite, with fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and Italian sausage, plus a hardy serving of fresh arugula and a finishing splash of olive oil.
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Known for specialties by the slice, the ideal way to enjoy Crust is to eat whatever slices are available while you wait for a full pie to bring home - I like to think of this as maximum pizza efficiency. If there’s a Buffalo pie ready to go, I will immediately forget everything I’m doing and dive into a slice (or three) topped with the most delicious homemade Buffalo sauce I’ve ever had. As a sauce queen, I can’t recommend the Pollock enough - an absolute stunner of a pie splashed with both vodka sauce and pesto. It’s not often available by the slice, but this is the pie worth waiting for. You know, while you eat your other slice(s).
Joe & Pat’s started serving their classic, wafer-thin pizza in 1960. When I’m here and feeling a bit more carnivorous, I’m all about the Royal, a round or square pie topped with sweet and spicy sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, and mushrooms. Anchovies are an optional (but recommended) addition. However, plain pepperoni will do the trick if just the thought of the Royal already feels like a lot. Sure, you can get pepperoni anywhere but Joe & Pat’s isn’t anywhere. The thick sausage curls beautifully into crisp, little bowls filled with delicious grease, and if that’s not the mark of a perfect pizza, I don’t know what is.
I love a wafer-thin crust as much as the next gal, but when I first saw the long list of toppings on Dough’s specialty pies, I worried about the foundation. Could such a light crust effectively deliver all these without crumbling under pressure? Time and time again, the answer is yes. I especially love the Purple Rain, topped with bechamel, smoked mozzarella, wild mushrooms, scallions, and Peruvian peppers. Between the rich, smoky cheese, the earthiness of the mushrooms, and bursts of sweetness from the petite peppers, this pie is exactly what a theatrical rock ballad cloaked in velvet would taste like if it were synthesized into edible form. The equally delicious Badda Bing will take you on an entirely different journey, perhaps in a Chevy Suburban down Route 17, into layers of dried bing cherries, bacon, bechamel, pecorino, gorgonzola, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of orange blossom honey. The sweet and salty bursts are intense, but strike the perfect balance.
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Lee’s is what you might call the Cheers of the city’s southernmost borough. Between the friendly staff and proximity to the Dongan Hills SIR station, it’s hard not to fall in love with this classic tavern. Though the camaraderie is certainly worth the visit, let’s be real - we’re here for the clam pie. The clams are briney and smooth, as bivalves ought to be, and hidden amongst an avalanche of melty cheese, fresh garlic, and your choice of red or white sauce (I prefer the white). It’s hard to create a memorable bar pie, but Lee’s has the magic formula down pat.
As you may have already guessed, The Pizza Parlor does, in fact, serve pizza. However, their updated takes on Italian-American classics go way beyond classic pies. There is the staple Grandma pie, and like my own dear grandmother, you mostly know what to expect: a consistent, reliable square, with the expected toppings of fresh mozz and red sauce. However, throw some vodka in the mix (vodka sauce for the pizza, but maybe a Screwdriver for Nana), and you’ve got the Pizza Parlor’s “Drunken Grandma,” a memorable standout at any christening or baptism - or is that just my family? My personal favorite is the Notorious F.I.G, which is essentially what would happen if I took the rich mozzarella, ricotta, prosciutto, and juicy figs on a charcuterie board, drizzled it all with agave nectar, and swapped out the platter for a delicate crust.