Who serves the best kosher pizza in NYC? We found out – Forward

Posted By on July 23, 2022

Photo by Getty Images

By Tani LevittJuly 20, 2022

Pizza is personal. From the best late-night slice to the most reliably cheap lunch, every New Yorker has a unique opinion that is objectively, 100% true. So when I posted on Instagram that I was searching for the best kosher pizza in Manhattan, it was no surprise to find my DMs flooded with hot takes and big feelings.

Friends and friends-of-friends inundated my inbox with the kind of meticulous analysis that befits the inheritors of the Talmudic tradition. One respondent suggested that a certain kosher pizza shop was a front for some more nefarious enterprise, asking how [tactfully redacted pizzeria] can have such a large space when no one actually eats there. Its a conspiracy to the highest level. Others cast doubt on the kosher certifications of the neighborhood joints.

You see, while pizza is a piping hot topic for all New Yorkers, the laws of supply and demand drive even more intense interest among kosher connoisseurs. For the general pizza-consuming populace, a slice of pizza is a matter of convenience. But there arent dozens of kosher pizza shops in every square mile. For the same reason, plain kosher slices run from $3 to $4 per slice. So the relatively few kosher pizzerias get outsized attention, with slices and shops analyzed down to the final drop of sauce.

I carefully considered the Instagram votes, but, like the chief rabbi from The Frisco Kid,I am the one who has to decide! While I originally planned to restrict the search to Manhattan, my quest for the best slice eventually led me across all five boroughs. Okay, fine, four boroughs Staten Island was a bridge (or a ferry) too far. I purchased and tasted 18 slices of plain kosher pizza, rating them on a scale of one to five greasy napkins. My only concession to my beleaguered Ashkenazi digestive tract was that I split the tasting over a bunch of trips.

So, here are my very biased and very correct opinions on the best kosher pizza in New York City. I look forward to being told Im wrong.

My research started informally and over time in Manhattan, as thats where I live and eat most of my slices. I started my crawl there too, with the slice Ive eaten more than any other in New York: Bravo Kosher Pizza.

When judging pizza, there is only one category that really matters, and thats the quality of the plain slice. I need evenly melted cheese that doesnt slide, a crispy crust (especially on the bottom of the slice), rich sauce that doesnt drown the triangle, and a thin film of grease to crown the small triangle of paradise.

Ari Schaffel, a food scientist and my former roommate, said it best in response to my Instagram poll. Bravo. Period.

Open since 1985, with locations in Midtown and the Financial District, Bravo Kosher Pizza is the king of classic. Their plain slice is consistent from bite to bite and order to order. More than any other kosher pizza place, Bravo is able to make a traditional NYC crust: crispy but not brittle, flexible enough to fold while still maintaining structural integrity.

Its worth letting a fresh slice from Bravo rest for a minute to let the cheese tighten ever so slightly, but this is a slice you can eat on the go. Just make sure to bring a napkin.

Where it is: 107 W. 37 St., Manhattan; 17 Trinity Place, ManhattanWhat a (plain) slice costs: $4.50My rating: 5 greasy napkins

Cafe Viva got a lot of love on the Instagram poll. Some praised Vivas specialty slices, but there were also plaudits for the plain.

Located at 97th and Broadway, Viva is often the most convenient option for Upper West Side Jews. In addition to the shops geography, its also open until the last second before Shabbat and within a minute of Shabbat ending. (How can that be, you ask? The shop stays open throughout Shabbat.)

Vivas crusts are less than crispy and dusted with a bottom layer of corn meal, but the slices reliably satisfy a craving for pizza. The cheese will not slide off the slice, though the point of the triangle might droop as you fold it.

Where it is: 2578 Broadway, ManhattanWhat a (plain) slice costs: $3My rating: 3.5 greasy napkins

Like Cafe Viva, Sabas is known for specialty slices more than plain ones. The pizzeria may also possess the most devoted fans of any shop I visited. When discussing the plain slices, fans praised the sweet sauce as a standout feature. Id add that locations on the Upper West and Upper East sides make Saba easily accessible for most of Manhattans kosher yuppies.

But when I actually tried the slice, I found I couldnt share the apparently widespread enthusiasm. The crust feels like cardboard, and the sauce and cheese are unremarkable. Slices here reminded me of the ones I ate at Jewish day school growing up a damning indictment, considering those slices were delivered to my school early in the morning and sat around until lunch time.My conclusion: Sabas is only worthwhile if youre out late on Saturday night.

Where it is: 1217 Lexington Ave., Manhattan; 403 Amsterdam Ave., ManhattanWhat a (plain) slice costs: $3My rating: 2.5 greasy napkins

Manhattan is unique among the five boroughs in that the kosher pizza shops arent usually located near each other. The exception is Washington Heights, where you can find Lake Como and Grandmas pizza shops on the same block of Amsterdam Ave., between 186th and 187th streets.

Still, the neighborhood is one to avoid when looking for kosher pizza. On my Instagram poll, thumbs-down and negative emojis far outweighed any other comments on these two eateries. Most commenters hedged by saying if youre in the Heights and have to eat pizza Its not a pretty picture, and I will spare you the details.

With 90 blocks between Washington Heights and Manhattans other kosher pizza offerings, upper Manhattan purists might have to gasp travel to nearby Riverdale to find a quality slice. I made the journey as part of a two-borough pizza crawl through the Bronx and Queens.

Riverdale is a suburb. I will die on that hill. But, technically speaking, it lies within the limits of the Bronx. Before I embarked on my grand tour of Queens, I visited the Bronxs single kosher spot: Pizza Plus.

Located in a calm Riverdale strip mall, Pizza Plus is only a 10- minute walk from the 238th Street stop on the 1 train. Unless you live nearby, you arent likely to be taking a slice to go. Thats a good thing, because Pizza Plus is not meant for grab-and-go.

In order to get a slice here, you have to order in Pizza Plus, then pay next door at Corner Cafe & Bakery, the pizzerias older sister. The slice you get when you return to Pizza Plus is too floppy to be a convenient travel partner. But its definitely tasty, with a fluffy texture and cheese that pairs nicely with an understated sauce. If there was such a thing as a diet pizza slice, this might be it. Some foreshadowing: Considering all the slices I had ahead of me in Queens, I was lucky to start the crawl with Pizza Plus.

Where it is: 3718 Riverdale Ave., the BronxWhat a (plain) slice costs: $3.50My rating: 4 greasy napkins

The real work began when I left the Bronx for Queens. Five stops to make, and all on a tight deadline. My stomach aches just thinking about it.

Naomis, my first stop in Queens, came highly recommended by a good friend. They told me that the vibes at Naomis are old-school, they only take cash, and the pizza is top-notch.

I paid with a credit card, and instantly knew something was amiss. My slice came noticeably thin, crunchy and burnt on the bottom, more matzo pizza than New York pizza. Spotty sauce distribution left me wanting flavor-wise as well. I left underwhelmed, the only lasting impression being my first tongue burn of the day. Word of mouth, it turns out, isnt always so trustworthy.

Where it is: 68-28 Main St., Flushing, QueensWhat a (plain) slice costs: $3My rating: 2 greasy napkins

When I asked around about Queens, my informers presented Shimons and Benjys as a unit. They rep Jewish Queens, said Shua Mermelstein, an acquaintance who became a friend as I ran my reporting by him. Old-school and non-conformist, yet simple and multicultural.

Shimons is cute: cash only, lined with faux-wood booths, messy in the way all good pizza shops are. Vibe-wise, I saw at Shimons what Id hoped for at Naomis. The slice was soft and doughy, though the sauce dried into the cheese and crust, creating a pizza bagel-esque culinary experience. Still, I enjoyed watching the owners grandchildren arrive and make themselves at home while I ate. The slice was lackluster, but the easy way customers moved around the joint testified to something of a cult following.

Two blocks down Main Street from Shimons, Benjys is separated from the street by a service road. While cleaner and more modern than Shimons, the space lacks personality. The restaurant was packed with families, so I took my slice to go. After the lackluster slices Id had in Queens so far, I was impressed with this one.

Chewier than the offerings in Manhattan or Brooklyn, Benjys pizza is still strong enough to fold and walk with. Ever-so-slightly-spicy sauce compliments a greaseless layer of cheese for a heavy-but-tasty bite. Though I was already well past full, I ate the whole slice. By the time I reached the crust, Benjys had cemented itself as my favorite pizza in Queens.

Where Shimons is: 7124 Main St., Flushing, QueensWhere Benjys is: 7272 Main St., Flushing, QueensWhat a (plain) slice costs:$3.25 at bothMy rating: 2 greasy napkins for Shimons, 4 greasy napkins for Benjys

Kosher offerings abound in Brooklyn, and I could never make it to every slice shop. Apprised of my plans, my concerned mother offered to overnight a box of Lactaid pills for the excursion. Foolishly, I declined. Still, I chose to handle Brooklyn in two trips. The first began in Crown Heights, and I brought a group of friends for support.

The Saturday night scene at Kingston Pizza in Crown Heights is one of controlled chaos. Chabad families, teenagers, and yeshiva bochers impatiently waited in line, muttering about being hungry while half a dozen portraits of the Lubavitcher Rebbe oversaw it all from the walls.

Kingstons plain slice is like a discount version of Riverdales Pizza Plus. Same runny cheese and anonymous sauce, with just a tad less chemistry between the two. If youre at Kingstons on a busy Saturday night, as I was, you will likely be nudged to vacate your booth by a group lingering just over your shoulder, hoping to snag a rare seat. But dont rush this puffy crust is unique in Brooklyn, and worth savoring as much as the rest of the slice.

Where it is: 395 Kingston Ave., Brooklyn,What a (plain) slice costs:$3.50My rating: 3.5 greasy napkins

If Sabas boasts the most stans, Flatbushs Pizza Time comes with the highest expectations. Three friends joined me for this crawl, and between the four of us, wed received a dozen recommendations for this pizzeria.

When we arrived, however, we discovered that Pizza Time doesnt serve slices on Saturday nights. Knowing that slices are on offer during the week, we bent the rules a tad and ordered a plain pie. While we waited, we went around the corner to Bennys.

A closet at the back of a hallway lined with tiny tables and struggling fluorescent lights, Bennys hit the Saturday night vibe on the nose. Groups of young people overcrowded tables. The food came quickly, and the unassuming space led to a major surprise when I tasted the slice.

Bennys slice is as close to Bravos as you can get. It boasts the same sauce-cheese symbiosis, and the same crispy-but-foldable exterior. The only drawback was that the dough had a strong taste of yeast; Bennys is a Brooklyn alternative to a Manhattan classic.

Where it is: 1418 Ave. J, BrooklynWhat a (plain) slice costs: $3.21My rating: 4.5 greasy napkins

Pizza Times pie might be the most photogenic one Ive ever seen but we had to take it to go, because there was no space to eat in the pizzeria. We chowed down in my friends Toyota Sienna, a tribute to our high school days.

I found these much-touted slices a bit confusing. The crust and cheese held their shape easily: I could fold and walk with only a greasy wrist to worry about. The sauce-and-cheese combo reminded me of Bennys and Bravos, but it finished with a bitter aftertaste. The crust was chewier than it was crisp, and everything felt like it could be a little bit better. Pizza Times slice was perfectly serviceable, but the hype made it harder to get excited.

Where it is: 1324 Ave. J, BrooklynWhat a (plain) slice costs:$4My rating: 4 greasy napkins

A few weeks after the first Brooklyn crawl, I returned to spend an afternoon in Boro Park. I had spent the weeks exercising and eating well, and I was ready to undermine all that good work in the name of investigative journalism.

I began with Naim Pizza. On first bite, I was immediately offended by the sauce. Ketchup-y and pretty much substance-less, it lays on a chewy and doughy crust under a blanket of coagulated cheese.

One interesting note: Naim pizza accepts Zelle, Cash App, and, in a bind, Venmo a modern take on the cash-only business model.

Where it is: 3904 15th Ave., BrooklynWhat a (plain) slice costs: $3.25My rating: 2 greasy napkins

I grew up eating reheated J2 pizza, so I was excited to try the original. In the shop, a pair of Haredi men pulled on their vapes and tucked into a meal for seven while I waited for a taste of my childhood. The slice tasted just like the frozen version shocking and disappointing, although maybe it shouldnt be. The cheese is the best part of this slice, but J2 is simply not a first or second option.

Where it is: 5502 18th Ave., BrooklynWhat a (plain) slice costs: $3.95My rating: 1.5 greasy napkins

In Queens, my friends and informers considered Shimons and Benjys the twin standard-bearers. In Boro Park, it was Mendelsohns and Amnons.

Founded in 1959, Amnons looks like it hasnt been renovated since. Over the oven, a puzzling sign assured customers that we do not use apple juice in our dough a grim hint at the quality of the product. Cheese slid across too-thin sauce over the edge of a slice that drooped down no matter how I positioned my hands. Exposed sauce and crust did Amnons no favors.

By contrast, Mendelsohns was pristine. The seating area could fit an entire middle school field trip. The slices, meanwhile, were unlike any other on the trip, and they grew on me by the bite. The sauce was a bit sweet, but the cheese had a great stretch and the crust was light and flaky. The slice folded well, without letting any cheese slip off. Quality air conditioning and leg room made Mendelsohns a perfect rest stop during a busy day in the neighborhood.

Where Mendelsohns is: 4418 18th Ave., BrooklynWhere Amnons is: 4814 13th Ave., BrooklynWhat a (plain) slice costs:$3.75 at Mendelsohns, $3.50 at AmnonsMy rating: 4.5 greasy napkins for Mendelsohns, 2 greasy napkins for Amnons

Tani Levitt is a freelance journalist and podcaster based in New York City. He likes baseball, beatboxing and breathing roughly in that order. You can find his work on Twitter @HateItOrLevitt.

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Who serves the best kosher pizza in NYC? We found out - Forward

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