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MAP: Where to Find the Best Pizza in Harlem

By Gustavo Solis | September 24, 2014 1:31pm | Updated on September 26, 2014 8:02pm
  A recent batch of new pizzerias have added to the small but established pizza scene and are turning Harlem into a destination for pizza lovers.
Harlem's Growing Into a Pizza Hotspot
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HARLEM — You don't have to go to Little Italy, Brooklyn Heights or Midwood for a great slice of pizza.

A batch of new pizzerias in both Harlem and East Harlem are contributing to the neighborhood's small but growing pie scene — which fans say is growing to a level where it can compete with pizza giants like Lombardi's, Grimaldi's and DiFara.

"I think Brooklyn is more associated with pizza but I can see that changing into Harlem in the next couple of years," said Anthony Suitzer, a foodie who lives on West 140th. "There aren't too many places around here that have crispy wood-fried crusts. This is great."

Harlem's pie shops range from fine dining establishments with imported ingredients to hole-in-the wall shops that refuse to accept debit cards.

From Covo Trattoria Pizzeria on 12th Avenue to Patsy's on First Avenue, here are some of the best pies Harlem has to offer:

Covo Trattoria Pizzeria: 701 West 135th St. (212) 234-9573

The owners imported a pizza oven from Verona, Italy for the West Harlem restaurant. And most of the ingredients — the mozzarella, the tomato sauce, the flour — are also brought in from the old country.

"We wanted to bring traditional Italian to the neighborhood," said manager Luca Valeriani of the pizzeria just north of the West Harlem viaduct.

The space is massive with indoor and outdoor seating. They have a lounge filled with antique couches used for live music and private parties. 

They've tweaked their menu with the help of input from their customers, including the shrimp pizza, which has become one of their most popular pies, he added.

Locals "like a lot of seafood, which was a surprise," Valeriani said, saying the restaurant offers close to ten seafood dishes on the menu.

Their pizzas range from $12 to $15 and feature classic like the Margherita to more traditional Italian like the Fichi which has gorgonzola, figs and pancetta.

Custom Fuel Pizza: 2288 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (646) 524-5636

This new made-to-order custom pizzeria opened in March. You can choose from their signature pies, which start at $8.50 or make your own.

Their menu features nine different cheeses, 10 types of meat, 17 vegetables and herbs, and seven sauces. With so many options, their menu can be overwhelming at first. 

"Someone ordered a Hawaiian pizza with Alfredo sauce," manager Tom Knudsen. "That's probably the strangest combination I've seen."

The place has been a hit with students from nearby Touro College, who have dubbed it the Chipotle of pizza, said student Andrew Jose, 24.

Their kitchen is set up like a stage in the middle of the pizzeria. You can take your pie to go or sit down and eat in.

Bad Horse Pizza: 2222 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (212) 749-1258

Owner John Kandel decided to open the restaurant on Frederick Douglass' restaurant row back in 2011 when he noticed it was missing a neighborhood pizzeria.

Their signature pies start at $17 for a small and $24 for a large. Kandel is not afraid to go bold with flavors. Some of the favorites include the 3 Lil' Pigs — pepperoni, hot sausage and apple wood smoked bacon — and the eponymous Bad Horse — marinated skirt steak, jalapenos and onions.

Inside the place looks like a converted warehouse filled with exposed red-brick walls, a wooden bar with a metal top and a long community-style table.

Bad Horse also has scallops and crab cake appetizers and they have more than a dozen beers on tap.

King’s Pizza: 110 W. 145th St. (212) 283-0182

King's has been around for almost 20 years and hasn't changed all that much. The red and green awning has been discolored by the sun, they don't accept credit cards and they serve classic New York style pizza. 

"This is the best pizza in Harlem," said James Carr, who has been going to King's for ten years."

There are a few plain tables on the sides and old arcade machines by the door. Most of the people from the neighborhood delivery or get slices to go, the manager said. The place is filled with the smell of fresh pizza coming out of the oven. 

Their $2.50 slices are big, cheesy and crispy with a doughy crust and King's is always generous with their sauce.

La Corsa: 123 E. 110th St. (212) 860-1133

When this place opened eight years ago, people didn't know what to expect.

“In the beginning it was tough,” said Nino DiGiovanni, the pizzeria’s owner. "People didn’t recognize this type of home-cooked Italian food.”

Their cheese slices are $2.50, which is what they were when the store opened.

The front looks like a typical New York pizzeria with a dozen different pies displayed behind glass. But a small hallway on the side leads to a dining room decorated with flowers on the walls full of small tables for romantic dinners.

DiGiovanni uses his mother’s recipes in the restaurant and makes all of the sauces and salad dressings in house. He likes to play around with pizzas and creates different flavors like the chicken Cesar salad pizza, a caprese pizza and their signature shrimp pizza.

Although he likes to experiment, DiGiovanni sticks to traditional Italian flavors.

“We don’t sell beef patties,” one of his employees said. “He has nothing against beef patties, they’re just not authentic Italian.”

Patsy’s Pizzeria: 2287 First Ave. (212) 534-9783

This East Harlem classic opened in the 1930's when the neighborhood was still Italian Harlem.

Their slices are only $1.75 and are made fresh, which means you might have to wait 10 or 15 minutes to get one. They are thin and crusty with just the right amount of oil.

Locals don't seem to mind the wait, the small takeout section next to the restaurant is usually crowded with school kids, people on their lunch break and tourists with cameras around their neck.

Patsy's anniversary has evolved into a block party complete with pizza eating contests, visits from local celebrities, vintage hot rods parked outside. 

Inside, the restaurant's walls are filled with famous visitors from decades past, including Frank Sinatra.

"Did you ever have pizza at Patsy's at 117th Street?" the famed singer once asked his audience. "The greatest in the world. There ain't nothing like that. I don't care where the hell you go. All over Italy you ain't never get anything like that."

Lexington Pizza Parlour: 1590 Lexington Ave. (212) 722-7850

This pizzeria is a combination of old and new. They serve $2.50 slices and New York-style 18-inch pies for $14. But they also have signature brick oven pies prepared with fresh seafood and pesto sauce for $20. 

Inside their silver tile ceiling and black and white mosaic floors are a throwback to classic New York pizzerias. 

Don't let the name fool you, they have more than just pizzas. They serve a sautéed mussels calamari and a garlic tomato broth, homemade pasta with braised short rib ragout and rosemary red wine reduction.

They have a new owner this year, who doesn't plan to touch the affordable prices but may play around with the menu, they said.

Their slices are $2.50 and their 18" pies are $14 and $20 for a brick oven pie.

►Babbalucci: 331 Lenox Ave.

This wood-fried oven pizzeria and Italian restaurant is set to replace a now-closed Papa John's on Lenox Avenue later this year. 

They applied for a liquor license, which was approved by the community board in September, and have been working hard to convert to fast food chain into an Italian restaurant.