Westchester's Top Pizzas

Coal-, wood-, or gas-fired; round or square; traditional toppings vs. new-fangled: Westchester’s top pizzas are as varied as they are delicious.



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My romance with pizza started so early that it can’t be linked to a single event, but I do know the pizza that stole my heart: it was a rectangular pie that my mother baked on an olive oil-slicked cookie sheet. The dough, made with Pillsbury all-purpose flour, had risen all day in our biggest, bathtub-sized ceramic bowl (we were a large family) and had already filled our house with a yeasty, nearly alcoholic scent. After two rises, and when the oven was so hot that being in the kitchen made her face rosy, my mother prodded and poked the dough into the corners of absolutely every pan that we owned—roasting pan, cookie sheets, cake pan, no matter. The oddly shaped, bumpy white pies were topped with crushed, imported tomatoes pulled straight out of the can and thin slices of cakey, aged Polly-O mozzarella cheese. Salt, pepper, oregano, and fluffy shreds of Pecorino Romano grated on a rotary mill followed, then olive oil around the naked lip before the whole thing was baked until volcanically bubbly. You can’t believe how delicious it was.

Since that time, I have eaten pizza wherever I have found myself, from Rome and the hills of Tuscany to, I’m afraid, even Costco. I’ve had pies in most of the famous New York and Connecticut parlors; I’ve painstakingly roasted my own pizzas over wood. I’ve even stood (more than once!) drunk on a Manhattan street corner eating a shame-laden 3 am triangle. On some very profound level, I’ve loved every one of those slices, down to the last orangey drop of grease. For me, pizza is a passion. It’s a vice. It’s a lifelong love affair.

I am not alone in my love of pizza; Westchester is filled with pizza fanatics. Within our borders, we support classic pizzerias that date from the pre-War origins of American pizza in working-class, Italian-immigrant communities. Westchester residents also flock to elegant new pizza restaurants, cheffed by food-world luminaries, that allude to Italy not with green-white-red pizza boxes, but with truffles from Alba and $600 bottles of Barolo.
High, low—Westchester loves them all. These are the pizzas that leave us pie-eyed.

Old-School Pies

Sausage pie
Johnny’s Pizzeria

(30 W Lincoln Ave, Mount Vernon
914-668-1957)
In 1942, this small, family-owned icon opened in a heavily Italian neighborhood as a dual spaghetti/pizza joint. A menu from that year (sponsored by New Jersey’s Trommer’s beer, closed in 1951) shows that seafood was almost solely represented by scungilli. There’s still a lot that is singular about Johnny’s. This crabby little restaurant serves no slices, is closed Sunday and Monday, and accepts no credit cards. The centers of its famous pies are a spare one-quarter-inch thin, salty, and almost cracker-crisp; to keep it that way, Johnny’s places the cheese (never too much) directly onto the dough before the sauce. Don’t miss the sausage pie, which is studded with cupped, one-inch rounds of sweet, light-on-the-fennel sausage—but plan to eat your pizza at Johnny’s (these pies are too thin to travel).

Sicilian pie
Sal’s Pizzeria

(316 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck 914-381-2022)
If there were a late-era Elvis crooner among Westchester’s slices, that slice would surely be a Sal’s Sicilian. On weekends, fans line up out Sal’s door for a taste of this charismatic, deep-bellied star whose name everyone recognizes. Sure, Sal’s regular slice is fine, but the Sicilian is the breakaway star—it offers a chewy, one-and-a-half-inch-tall bite whose sweet, milky cheese packs a fresh, dairy intensity. The secret is in Sal’s dough. Though these slices are tall, their bubble structure is perfect, rendering each slice miraculously light and moist. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this slightly oily crust’s bottom has been baked to a golden crunch in a well-used pan.

Plain cheese
Roma Restaurant

(29 Columbus Ave, Tuckahoe 914-961-3175; romarestaurantinc.com)
Though both Johnny’s and Roma are still family-owned, Roma is as lavishly welcoming as Johnny’s is defiantly crabby. A member of the Tavolilla family is usually stationed by the door to greet every patron, a fact that’s made even more astounding when you realize that Roma has been open since 1931. Like Johnny’s (though less excessively), Roma serves a thin-crust pie in the American neighborhood tradition, topping its sweetly-sauced version with Grande aged mozzarella from Wisconsin. While you could load up with additions (as with the Roma Special: sausage, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, and anchovies), it’s wiser to let this thin-crust pie retain its naked crunch.

(Above) The evolution of a thin-crusted, sweetly-sauced Roma Restaurant pie

Pepperoni
Carlo’s Restaurant

(668 Tuckahoe Rd, Yonkers 914-793-1458; carlosrestaurant.net)
Sure, you could visit a fancier restaurant—one that’s loaded with Carrera marble and moldings that echo Vitruvius—but the charm of Carlo’s is that, inside, it’s perpetually 1976 (the year it opened). There’s the piney, diagonal panelling, and waitresses who call you “hon” without irony. You’ll also find yellowy, fizzy beer that never met the phrase “craft brewed.” Yet Carlo’s classic American pizza tastes and smells like the fabled pies of your youth, with the wonderful scent of charred flour emanating from blackened bubbles and just the right amount of orangey grease dripping from a folded slice’s crease. A note: while Carlo’s accepts credit cards, you may not tip your waiter on plastic. Make sure you stop at an ATM so that you can meet these folks’ eyes on the way out.

Sausage and onion pie
Dom & Vinnie’s

(351 Saw Mill River Rd, Yonkers 914-476-6666; domnvinnie.com)
Like Carlo’s, Dom & Vinnie’s debuted in the ’70s, but its antecedents run much further back than that. Check out the maps of Italy, the placemats emblazoned with peninsular boots, and—on the waiter’s station—the bottles of Llord’s Anisette. This is a small, family-owned, Italian-American restaurant in an old-school Italian neighborhood catering to multi-generational groups that come for tasty, thin-crust pizza and warm service.

Under-the-Radar Pie

The Original Pan Pizza
Solano’s Lincoln Lounge

(209 Stevens Ave, Mount Vernon
914-664-9747)
The sneakiest of Westchester’s great pies hides behind the modest frontage of a 1950 tavern-restaurant located in an iffy Mount Vernon neighborhood. Lincoln Lounge’s pies are made with aged mozzarella,
it’s true, but their oddball, pan-baked crust is what makes them great. Order The Original Pan Pizza, a square pie with tomato slices and lavish, hot, fennel-y sweet sausage; it’s baked on an oiled pan that yields crisp, porous, golden, deep-fried crusts and edges. It’s so addictive that boxes fly out the door all night long. And guess what? You’ll return, too.

The Young Guns

One of Polpettina’s truly special specialty pies—fig, goat cheese, pancetta, arugula, and truffle-honey.

Fig, goat cheese, pancetta, arugula, and truffle-honey pie
Polpettina

(102 Fisher Ave, Eastchester
914-961-0061; polpettina.com)
Polpettina is bringing new energy to Westchester’s pizza, uniting our love of locally raised food with cozy neighborhood pizza joints. The curds from which Polpettina’s chef hand-stretches its mozzarella come from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont—that’s also where the restaurant buys its ricotta and burrata. Look for taps that pour only Captain Lawrence beer, and stellar, house-cured lamb pastrami sourced from Pennsylvania’s Elysian Fields. And in pizza, these guys have all the bases covered, offering Neapolitan, square Grandma, and Brooklyn-style pies. Sure, you can pick from all the standard toppings—pepperoni, anchovies, and the like—but the smartest tactic is to let this sprightly kitchen take the reins. Always check the specials board for daily creations, or choose from specialty pies, like the sweetly salty fig, goat cheese, pancetta, and truffle-honey pizza.

(Above) Pie prep is serious business in Polpettina’s kitchen.

Sorbillo pie
ZaZa Restaurant

(753 Central Ave, Scarsdale 914-472-4005;
zazarestaurant.com)
There are certain names to look for in the world of pizza. Caputo “00” flour is one; it’s the Neapolitan standard, milled as fluffy and fine as cake flour. Others are San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the Valle de Sarno and awarded a European Union DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta—roughly, “Designation of Protected Origin”). Acunto wood-fired ovens made in Naples;  buffalo mozzarella, made from the  milk of water buffaloes. Fior de latte, translated as “flower of the milk,” or hand-stretched, fresh mozzarella. ZaZa has all these catchwords—plus more, like prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Calabrese salami, et al. But ingredients don’t address the skill of the pizzaiolo—and the man at ZaZa’s wood oven is a master. Don’t miss the Sorbillo, a version of salad pizza: a round of ZaZa’s wonderfully crisp, wood-scented crust topped with the fresh crunch of arugula, veils of prosciutto di Parma, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a drizzle of truffle oil. Mmm.

The Classic Tarry Pie
Tarry Lodge

(18 Mill St, Port Chester 914-939-3111; tarrylodge.com)
Mario Batali. Joe Bastianich. Andy Nusser. Blah blah blah. As we’ve said, brand names only go so far when it comes to great pizza. The good news is that Tarry Lodge’s pies live up to their rep, offering a smoky, chewy, wood-fired crust that stands up to the luxe toppings that this Euro-centric trio provides. From Spanish-born Nusser (whose childhood memories inspired the trio’s New York City Casa Mono and Bar Jamón), you’ll find items like feathery Spanish boquerones replacing more standard anchovies. From Batali, you’ll find  his in-laws’ Coach Farm goat cheese. From Bastianich, you’ll find his power in the world of wine reflected in a stunning, attractively priced list. The Classic Tarry Pie is my idea of breakfast—bacon and eggs in pizza form, graced with a wood-roasted sunny-side-up egg, salty guanciale, and lavish black truffles. Don’t miss the seasonal pies either—recently, it was a potato, Brussels sprouts, and pancetta pie.

Portabello, scamorza, red onions, and balsamic reduction pie
Ristorante Lucia

(454 Old Post Rd, Bedford 914-234-7600; ristorantelucia.com)
North of I-287, the pizza story gets a little slow—but when you crave a local pie, you might hit up this little restaurant. Though pizzaiolo Antonio Loiacono uses a gas-powered oven, Pillsbury flour, and Wisconsin’s own Grande mozzarella, he is miraculously spinning deliciously fluffy and crisp pies. Check out his almost meaty pie of funky, umami-rich portabello, scamorza, red onions, and balsamic vinegar reduction, divinely paired with sommelier Randall Restiano’s pick: Castelgreve’s carnal Brunello di Montalcino.

The beginnings of a pie at Ristorante Lucia in Bedford.

Lucia’s pizzaiolo Antonio Loiacono with a wild mushroom and pesto pizza.

Sausage, mozzarella, and broccoli rabe pesto pie
Arrosto

(25 S Regent St, Port Chester 914-939-2727; arrostorestaurant.com)
Like most of Westchester’s higher-profile pizza start-ups, Arrosto is no Americanized slice joint. Here, you’ll find individual-sized pies cooked before your eyes in a wide-mouthed wood-burning oven. For a treat, order one of Arrosto’s fabulous wines or an Italian craft-brewed beer and sit at the counter to watch the practiced hand of a master pizzaiolo. Watch how he drapes the round over the counter edge to stretch the dough, and watch the economy with which he garnishes a pie. I’m telling you, it’s better than any dinner theater anywhere—and only improves when you crunch into the result. Our favorite smoky and wood-scented pie offers rich, fatty sausage cut with a pesto made from biting broccoli rabe. We’ll toast to that.

Tartufo Nero pie and Al Caviale potato pie
Serafina

(199 Main St, White Plains 914-288-9300; serafinarestaurant.com)
This offshoot of the New York City chain is spinning its rounds using fluffy Caputo “00” flour, and cooking them right in front of you in a beautifully tiled wood-burning oven. Sure, you can pick from all sorts of specialized Italian toppings—which range from speck to fontina, truffles to mozzarella di bufala—but, we think, when you’re sitting at the foot of The Ritz-Carlton, you should stay on message with the Tartufo Nero (with robiola, fontina, truffle cheese, black truffles, and truffle oil), or my pick, the Al Caviale: slices of potatoes, crème fraîche, and caviar.

The wood-fired Amici pie at Frankie & Fanucci’s is for the meat lover.

 

The Amici pie
Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizzeria

(202 E Hartsdale Ave, Hartsdale 914-725-8400; 301 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck 914-630-4360; fandfpizza.com)
This Hartsdale original has such a loyal fan base that it attempted the unthinkable: it set up shop on Mamaroneck Avenue, right across from hallowed Sal’s. Insane? Perhaps. But in a testament to Westchester’s love of pizza, it worked. Now both restaurants are packed with fans clamoring for their different pies. But whereas Sal’s offers the classic American neighborhood pie baked in a gas-fueled deck oven, F & F is offering wood-fired rounds—which you can taste in every bite. We like the carnivorous overload of the Amici: sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and mozzarella.

 

 

The Regional Interloper

County pizza aficionados were thrilled when New Haven icon Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana opened in Yonkers. A favorite is the pie topped with bacon, clams, whole garlic cloves, and Romano cheese.

Bacon and clam pie
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

(1955 Central Ave, Yonkers 914-961-8284; pepespizzeria.com)
When the famed New Haven icon Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana came to Westchester, the pizza world was stunned. It was as though the Boston Red Sox moved next door to Yankee Stadium and decided to keep their name. To be honest, the pies spun at the various Pepe’s branches don’t achieve the excellence of the New Haven original, but the well-charred, briny/puffy Pepe’s pie strewn with one-inch tags of bacon, fat, juicy clams, whole garlic cloves, and funky Romano cheese is still a forbidden New York treat.

Over-the-Border Pies

Margherita
ReNapoli Pizzeria & Chicago Italian Beef

(216 Sound Beach Ave, Old Greenwich, CT 203-698-9300; renapoli.com)
Put succinctly, this is a pizza geek’s pie. Owner Bruno DiFabio is so consumed with pizza that his years as an American pizzaiolo were insufficient. DiFabio travelled to Italy to study under the most respected Italian pizziaolos he could find. In his travels in Pizzaland, he learned everything he could about dough-making and artisan ingredients, turning his passion almost into an insanity. For instance, he’s a world champion pie tosser—apparently, there are competitions. He uses expensive organic San Marzano tomatoes, and actually removes the seed pulp from each one. He sources his boutique flour from Canada and ages it in the Italian tradition, and he’s got both a gas-fueled American oven (for New York-style pies) and a whopper of a Cirigliano wood-fueled Italian oven. The last gets up to 900°F and can cook a pie in one minute. To be honest, I can watch this guy cook all day long.

Hot oil pie
Colony Grill Stamford

(172 Myrtle Ave, Stamford, CT 203-359-2184; Colony Grill Fairfield, 1520 Post Rd, Fairfield, CT 203-259-1989; colonygrill.com)
Here’s a local favorite, a vintage tavern that’s not unlike Lincoln Lounge; it’s a weird, old, bar-like place that just happens to pack a secret weapon. Colony Grill’s notoriety is based on a pie topped with hot chili oil before cooking. The result is a shamefully greasy treat that only makes you gulp your beer faster. (And who doesn’t love that?)

Margherita pie
Zero Otto Nove

(2357 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 718-220-1027; roberto089.com)
This is the Bronx hotspot that’s bringing Manhattanites uptown.  It’s an Italophilic trattoria that serves an orthodox version of Neapolitan pizza fired in a wood-burning oven—but the killer is the freshly pulled cheese sourced nearby at Casa della Mozzarella. Don’t miss the plain Margherita pie that showcases that uber-milky cheese.

The Great Ovens of Westchester

Sabatino’s Coal Brick Oven & Café
in Hawthorne
The secret weapon in the great New York- and New Haven-pie traditions lies in that 18th-century fuel: coal. Sure, wood has all the modern romance, but coal actually delivers more heat. If you want to see a gorgeous coal oven—one built before everyone and his brother owned an Italian wood-burning oven in his backyard—then hit Sabatino’s, and clap eyes on this giant, hopper-fed wonder.
101 Old Saw Mill River Rd
(914) 773-0108

Modern Restaurant and Pizzeria
in New Rochelle
Before Modern was a pizzeria, it was a commercial bread bakery—in fact, one of its dining rooms was formerly a loading dock for bread trucks. Modern’s original, white-tiled oven remains from those days. Sadly, all of its cleaning hatches and coal doors are vestigial: in the ’70s, this 1920s-era oven was altered to run on oil.
12 Russell Ave
(914) 633-9479; modernrestaurantandpizzeria.com

Village Social Mobile Oven
in North Salem
If you find yourself picking apples, that doesn’t mean you can’t grab a pizza. Taking a page from the mobile ovens you see at festivals in Italy, Village Social carts a small wood-fired oven to Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard, and uses it to roast up smoky pies outdoors as you watch.
130 Hardscrabble Rd
(914) 485-1210; harvestmoonfarmandorchard.com

Bakers Pride Oven Company
in New Rochelle
Anyone who has haunted pizzerias has seen the brand name “Bakers Pride” emblazoned on countless slot-mouthed deck ovens, but it usually comes as a shock to learn that all those ovens originated right here in Westchester. In fact, not only is Bakers Pride based in New Rochelle, but the company also claims to have invented the deck pizza oven design. According to its literature, Bakers Pride originated in the “mid-1940s, and initiated one of the most dramatic innovations in the history of American cuisine by inventing the modern production pizza oven. Prior to our invention of a factory built, gas-fired, ceramic-deck, transportable pizza oven, pizza was produced in massive, coal-fired, hand-built brick ovens by a small number of culinary artists catering to a limited number of pizza connoisseurs.” While I’d still rather have more coal ovens hand built by artisans, I’m also a little proud of Bakers Pride.
30 Pine St
(914) 576-0200; bakerspride.com

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