25 Perfect Pizzas

We asked for your suggestions, then we started to eat—and eat. We logged more than a thousand miles, and concluded that these are the pies to pine for.

Mack & Manco’s

On the Boardwalk at 8th, 9th, and 12th Streets, Ocean City (609-398-0720, mackandmancos.com)

Bright green vinyl stools, faux-wood tabletops, and bright, flashing Mack & Manco’s signs that light up every night as predictably as the stars shine. Ninth Street location open all year.

The Story: “It’s definitely all in the crust,” says Tony Polcini, general manager of Mack & Manco’s three boardwalk locations. “It’s a family recipe that hasn’t changed since day one.” Cousins Anthony Mack and Vincent Manco moved from Trenton to Ocean City in 1956 to open their first location at 918 Boardwalk.

These days Vincent Manco’s son Frank and his wife, Kay, run the operation. Good luck getting the details. There’s definitely something different going on with the cheese—a little bit smoky, a little bit gritty—which most people theorize is a blend that includes extra-sharp, white cheddar. Then there’s the sauce, a sweet, brightly colored concoction that customers can watch being swirled onto the pies in a smooth, spiral motion through a hose. It’s a flourish worth seeing.

And finally, there’s the crust—thin and crispy. The edges often are dotted with deliciously browned cheese bubbles. Because the crust is so thin the sauce and cheese come through with extra kick.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Old World

242 ½ Nassau St, Princeton
(609-924-9321)

Tiny takeout shop with a brick oven and pizza boxes stacked to the ceiling. Narrow counter facing the front window. Cash only (but there’s an ATM).

The Story: Though a relative newcomer, Old World, which opened in 1997, turns out mighty fine pizza. Fresh ingredients include slivered portobello mushrooms; thin-sliced, fresh-made mozzarella; and Italian San Marzano tomato sauce rich with character (mildly spicy). The dough is expertly stretched for a light, pliant crust and a pleasingly browned surface. You can customize whole pies with extra San Marzano sauce and toppings including roasted red peppers, imported anchovies, prosciutto, and, for vegetarians, meatless versions of sausage and pepperoni.

Papa’s Tomato Pies

804 Chambers St, Trenton
(609-392-0359)

Simple wooden booths, fluorescent lighting, framed photo montages of celebrity customers and regulars, wide-open linoleum-like floor in center of dining room. Ample street parking in front.

The Story: The oldest, continually operating pizza parlor in New Jersey. Thin-crust pies with chunky tomato topping.

Read more here.

Pete & Elda’s

96 Woodland Ave, Neptune City
(732-774-6010, peteandeldas.com)

Multi-roomed, wood-panelled restaurant with red tables, a large bar, lots of illuminated beer signs, and a placard that reads, “Free tee shirt if you can eat 1XXLG pizza by yourself.”

The Story: People hearing, “Hello, Carmen’s Pizzeria,” when they call here may think they’ve dialed a wrong number, but there’s no mistake. Present owner George Andretta’s father was Carmen, and back in the late 1940s, Carmen ran the pizzeria while—on the same site—partner Pete and his wife, Elda, ran the bar. Whatever you call the place, the kitchen turns out some of the tastiest ultra-thin-crust pizzas around.

And they give out a lot of free T-shirts—as many as 90 to 100 on a summer weekend—to people who eat an 18-inch extra-extra-large pizza on their own. The record is three XXLGs in one sitting, by Paul Fitzgerald of Bayville, whose picture went on the website and looks like he could fit comfortably in a medium-sized tee.

Pizza-Town U.S.A.

89 U.S. Route 46, Elmwood Park
(201-797-6172)

Jersey roadside attraction meets bus station charm plus 1950s Uncle Sam kitsch. On-site parking.

The Story: Crunchy crust with puffy edges; lusciously saucy, light on cheese. Let cool before eating so it pulls together.

Read more here.

Ralph’s Pizza

520 Station Ave, Haddon Heights (856-547-0030)

Small number of seats to the left of the takeout section. Old menu boards from the ’80s make it feel vintage. At dinner there is often a line out the door. No delivery.

The Story: At Ralph’s, the signature is the garlic and tomato pie, a square pizza (soft, like focaccia) topped with chopped plum tomatoes, fresh garlic, and shredded, low-moisture mozzarella. Simple, to be sure. But also incredible. “It takes a little longer to make than a traditional round pie because you have to fit the dough into the [square] pan and break up the tomatoes. But we think it’s worth it,” says Kathie Villano, who, with her husband, Ralph, has owned this small shop for 24 years. The rest of the pies are of the round, traditional variety.

The tomato sauce they use in their regular pie benefits from infusions of fresh basil grown in their garden. “As soon as it starts growing, my husband picks off the leaves and brings them to the pizzeria,” Kathie says. “And when we get close to the end of summer we harvest the rest, wash it, dry it, and store it in air-tight bags to use for the rest of the year.”

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  1. Jake Davidson

    How is Antonio’s Brick Oven in Metuchen NJ not on this list? I call FOUL!

  2. john anderson

    Has anyone from njmonthly ever been to Sussex County?

    • BillySometimes

      I always wonder the same thing. If none of you have tried it yet, the pizza at Firehouse Pizza is AMAZING when Giovanni is making the pies.

  3. ILovePizza

    Nothing beats a traditional North Jersey slice of pizza. It’s too bad the photos of the pizza are just generic stock photos and not of the actual pizza from these restaurants. Not one of those images looks like NJ style pizza, nor like any pizza I’d go run out to try.

    • New Jersey Monthly

      I think most people know what pizza look like 😛

  4. mojiody

    Nothing from Madison = failure to launch. One of the best Italian communities in all of NJ. Romanellis, Firehouse, Roccos, the list goes on.