New Yorkers can be fierce defenders of their favorite pizza place. What's better: L&B Spumoni or Lucali? Mama's Too or Scarr's? L'Industrie or Di Fara? The correct answer is they're all awesome, but that doesn't stop arguments among pizzaficiandos that can last a lifetime.
But honestly? Even the most opinionated New Yorkers have nothing on the apizza lovers of New Haven. Strike up a conversation with anyone waiting on line at one of the Elm City's most famous spots, and you'll immediately be told, in no uncertain terms, that 1. New Haven pizza is way better than NYC pizza, and 2. The best pizza in New Haven is at Sally's, or Pepe's, or Modern, or Bar, depending on where you are at that moment.
You should decide these important issues for yourself, however, and so we've compiled this definitive guide to embarking on a New Haven pizza crawl, starring the Big Four, of course, but with a couple of wild cards thrown in to mix things up.
To get started, take Metro North from Grand Central or 125th Street to New Haven's Union Station, which is about a two hour and fifteen minute ride. The station up here is a mix of pseudo-futuristic passageways and a main room resplendent with old-time grandeur. There's so much seating, too! And once here, you’ll be walking distance to the Pizza District.
Getting to any and all of the places listed below on foot from the station is both doable and safe. And pleasant in parts, especially in the immediate vicinity of Yale. Note that Zuppardi's Apizza, which everyone raves about, is located in West Haven, not New Haven, an impossibly long walk from the rest of the action, and as such is not included here.
But first, a few "know before you go" tips:
Some places here call pizza, "apizza," a throwback to the dialect of the Neopoltian immigrants who first settled around Wooster Street here in the 1920s. Just roll with it.
The classic New Haven pie has a thin, slightly crisp crust, plenty of char, sometimes smokey from coal ovens, often oblong (or, at least, lopsided), and usually much larger than you expect. None of the pizzerias below sell slices. Your pizza crawl is all about whole pies. The "small" at each stop will be plenty.
These places aren't a secret! On a recent Saturday afternoon the wait time for a table at the Big Four was at least 90 minutes. They all do takeout though, which is much faster and can even be ordered in advance for a timed pickup.
Almost everywhere here sells locally-produced Foxon Park sodas, which use (lots of) real sugar and come in flavors like root beer, cherry, white birch, and a luridly green lemon lime. These are highly recommended accompaniments to your pies.
The following six spots are listed in the order in which I visited them on a recent sunny Saturday, basically a counter-clockwise loop from the train station and back. The entire walking and eating part of the excursion took a little more than four hours.
157 Wooster Street
Since 1925, Pepe's has been firing up its coal oven here on Wooster Street and cranking out countless crisp, charred pies, including what they call "the original tomato pie" that has become a New Haven pizza legend. So of course that's what I had to get. And it was fantastic, much better than expected from a place that has spawned fifteen locations across seven states, and that some locals have taken to calling a tourist trap.
Pepe's warns you repeatedly that there's no mozzarella (or "mootz," as they say in these parts) on the tomato pie, but you won't miss it; a sprinkling of strong parmesan, baked in with the bright sauce, provides all the counterpoint you need.
Other signature Pepe's pies include a white clam, a meatball and ricotta, and a chicken diavolo. I preordered from the train, and the pie was ready right on time. There's a little park with a picnic table nearby, which proved to be the perfect perch to enjoy this simple beauty.
237 Wooster Street
Also on Wooster Street, and first opened 13 years after Pepe's back in 1938, Sally's Apizza boasts a coal-fired brick oven, a friendly vibe (really though, all of these New Haven spots are extremely welcoming), a long line waiting for tables before noon, and one of the best clam pies — officially called the New Haven Original Clam Pie — you're ever likely to eat.
Seriously, the bivalves on this beauty are briny and tender, the fresh garlic is liberally applied, the salty mozzarella ties it together nicely, and the crust is baked exactly to the correct side of burnt. Like Pepe's, Sally's offers a tomato pie, as well as a classic potato and rosemary, a popular garden pie laden with vegetables, and a meat party called the "carne amore," which is topped with pepperoni, sausage, coppa, salami, and pancetta.
If you miss the first seating here, at 11:30 a.m., and don't feel like waiting forever for one of those booths to open up inside, ordering from the takeout window is fast and easy. Just ring the little bell and someone will appear to help you, then bring your pie to the park.
ZENELI PIZZERIA E CUCINA NAPOLETANA
138 Wooster Street
Founded in 2019 by four brothers from Albania, who learned everything they know about pizza in Naples, Zeneli serves classic Neapolitan-style individual pies and trolls its famous, nearly-century-old Wooster Street neighbors with the tagline "finally, good pizza has arrived in New Haven."
And it is good pizza! Very good, in fact, if the Napoletana pie we devoured is any indication. Topped with anchovies, black olives, tomato sauce, mozzarella, garlic, and fresh basil, the crust soft and chewy, the center "wet" enough to discourage picking up the slices by hand (though we did so anyway), it was delicious. There are more than a dozen other varieties on the menu as well.
But while Zeneli makes for a great option for locals, it definitely does not traffic in New Haven pizza. Up to you whether you want to include it in your crawl. Perhaps you should hit Abate across the street instead? Near the end of my journey, when it was too late to turn back and try it myself, someone told us that place was "underrated."
DA LEGNA X NOLO
687 State Street
De Lenga X Nolo was opened a decade ago by "homegrown locals" in a space that once housed Jet Cleaning, a beloved dry cleaning and laundry business on State Street. The huge interior is now set up like a dinner theater, or nightclub, with two tiers of circular purple banquettes — definitely not your typical pizzeria vibe here.
I got the Brussel Hustle pizza, which sounded like a nice vegetable-forward addition to the day, but I would recommend trying one of their other pies — after all, there are more than 20 different options on the menu. Bonus: You can devour it while you chill in these ridiculously baller booths, and soak in the novelty of the place.
874 State Street
The second-oldest apizza place in New Haven is Modern, which first opened in 1934 and has been owned and operated since 1988 by Billy Pustari who, among his other accomplishments, added an absolutely enormous brick oven to the space. This place can handle high volume.
Modern is definitely not skimpy with the toppings, either. Witness the joint's signature pie, the Italian Bomb, a glorious beast covered in sausage, bacon, pepperoni, mozzarella, romano, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic, the sturdy crust holding up just fine under the onslaught. Was this my single favorite pie of the day? Hard to say, but it's the one I've thought about most often since the adventure. For vegetarians, there's a Veggie Bomb version as well.
Booths dominate the seating inside — a hand-painted menu from 1960 on the wall is a nice bit of history; remember when large pies were $2.25? Me neither — but since the wait for a table was almost two hours by the time I got here mid-afternoon, the takeout window around back was once again a time-saving savior. Unlike Wooster Street, however, this stretch of State Street doesn't seem to have any handy little parks nearby, so be prepared to enjoy your feast while standing up.
254 Crown Street
In case you forgot that New Haven is home to Yale University, the walk from Modern to Bar, past cute old wooden homes and the august brick buildings of academia, adds a welcome change of scenery.
Opened on Crown Street in 1996, Bar is a relative newcomer that clearly caters to the college crowd. There's a pool table, lots of beers on tap, dancing at night, multiple large dining/drinking areas, and the pizza is crazy good, with the thinnest crust in the city that somehow avoids the cracker-like quality of, say, Chicago tavern pies.
Everyone will tell you to get the Mashed Potato and Bacon pie here, and they are correct. This is a phenomenal pizza, the potato light and fluffy, the bacon both fatty and crisp, parmesan and garlic adding a nice strong kick.
There are dozens of other options here too, from brisket to Buffalo chicken to spinach to eggplant. The small pies are comically large; the large pies almost obscenely so (in a good way), and they're cut into rectangular pieces for easy grabbing and sharing. Basically, Bar is fun as hell. Totally earns its way into the top tier of New Haven's pizza pantheon.
If you head to New Haven for a pizza feast, tag @MTAaway on Instagram in your photos, and let us know your favorite spot!
The pizza spots are about a 10 to 15 minute walk from the Metro-North station