Special Report

The 15 Oldest Pizzerias in America

Courtesy of Christopher P. via Yelp

Pizza arrived in America sometime in the late 19th century, and the earliest pizzerias probably opened just before the dawn of the 20th. 

The people responsible for bringing pizza to these shores, hardly surprisingly, were immigrants from Naples, where pizza had evolved out of rustic flatbreads sometime in the late 18th century. These newcomers settled mostly in New York (especially New York City) and New Jersey, and slightly later in Connecticut, which is why 14 of the 15 pizzerias on this list are in those three states — each of which developed its own signature variations on the Neapolitan original, as many other places have done since. (These are America’s greatest regional pizza styles.)

The precursors of actual pizzerias were Italian-owned bakeries, where pizza or its simpler (usually cheeseless) relative tomato pie were sold alongside traditional Italian breads and pastries.

In most of the U.S., pizza remained relatively unknown, or considered only as an “ethnic” specialty, until after World War II, when G.I.s returning from the battlefields of Italy brought with them a taste for what were long known here as “pizza pies.” 

To assemble a list of the oldest pizzerias in America, 24/7 Tempo consulted PMQ Pizza Media, Pizza Facts, and pizza historian Peter Regas’s Pizza History Book, as well as local news sites in New Haven, Boston, and Trenton, and the websites of most of the pizzerias featured here. Note that while some of these restaurants serve little more than pizza, others have turned into full-service Italian establishments, while maintaining their original pizza traditions. Note, too, that pizza history is often cloudy, so some of the information that follows may be disputed. Prices given are for a single pie, ranging from the smallest, simplest one (usually just tomato sauce and cheese) to the most expensive large offering. Extra toppings will bump the prices up.

Today, there are an estimated 77,000 pizzerias across the nation (including chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut), and we consume more than three billion pizzas every year. It might well be proposed, then, that pizza, not apple, is the quintessential American pie — and it all started well over a century ago. (Here are some examples of the most popular pizza in every state.)

15. Tommaso’s
> Location: San Francisco, CA
> Founded: 1935 (tie)
> Hours: Tues.-Sun. 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $23-$35
> Specialties: Carbonara (white pizza with bacon, caramelized onions, Parmesan, and egg), Super Deluxe (mushrooms, anchovies, peppers, green onions, ham, sausage, black olives)

The Cantalupo family, from Naples like other pizzeria owners on the Eastern Seaboard, were pizza pioneers on the West Coast. When they opened their restaurant in the city’s heavily Italian North Beach neighborhood, they installed the first wood-fired brick pizza oven on that side of the country. Tommaso’s has a place in modern American restaurant history, too: Alice Waters, founder of the seminal Chez Panisse in Berkeley, was a fan of the place and its pizzas, and installed a wood-burning oven similar to theirs in the café she opened above her main establishment thus launching the California pizza genre subsequently further popularized by Wolfgang Puck and California Pizza Kitchen.

14. Jennie’s Pizzeria
> Location: Monroe, CT
> Founded: 1935 (tie)
> Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $9.50-$35
> Specialties: Pop’s Hot Oil Dirty Pie (grated cheese, black pepper, oregano, crushed red pepper, fresh garlic, hot oil), Traditional Calzone (ricotta, mozzarella, side of marinara sauce)

Jerry Curcurello opened the original Jennie’s (named for his wife) in Bridgeport in 1935, selling it 10 years later to Alfonso and Assunta DeSimone who’d been running a bakery out of their Bridgeport home. Jennie’s moved several times within the city before migrating a dozen or so miles inland to its present home in Monroe in 1998. Now a bustling 6,800-square-foot operation, complete with cocktail lounge, it remains in the DeSimone family. The “hot oil” referenced in the name of one of their signature pizzas is just olive oil infused with chilessaid to have been introduced to the Connecticut pizza world by the Colony Grill in Stamford (which opened as an Irish tavern in 1935 before introducing its own now famous pizza).

13. Modern Apizza
> Location: New Haven, CT
> Founded: 1934 (tie)
> Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.-10 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $13-$25
> Specialties: Margherita (mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil), Italian Bomb (bacon, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, pepper, garlic)

Considered one of the “Holy Trinity” of pizzerias in the renowned pizza capital of New Haven along with Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza (a relative newcomer, dating from 1938) Modern was opened by Antonio Tolli under the name Tony’s Apizza. It was later rechristened State Street Apizza (in honor of its address), and took its current name in 1944. It has had several proprietors since then, but has been run by Bill and Mary Pustari since 1988. The pizza oven is oil-fired, in contrast to the coal-fired ones at Pepe’s and Sally’s, but the effect is almost identical. (“Apizza,” the term used most often to describe New Haven-style pies, is a local adaptation of the Neapolitan dialect phrase “‘na pizza” “a pizza.” It is pronounced “ah-beetz.”)

12. Zuppardi’s Apizza
> Location: West Haven, CT
> Founded: 1934 (tie)
> Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. noon-8 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $8-$41.75
> Specialties: The Special (mozzarella, mushrooms, homemade fennel sausage), Fresh Clam (littleneck clams, garlic, spices, optional mozzarella)

Domenico Zuppardi came to the New Haven area from Maiori, a town on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, which also happened to be the birthplace of the better-known Frank Pepe. Today, almost 90 years later, the family still runs the place, along with satellite locations in the towns of Derby and Ansonia. Like Frank Pepe, Zuppardi’s is famous for its white clam pizza, which some connoisseurs think is better than the Pepe original (Ed Levine, founder of Serious Eats, called it “the best clam pie I’ve ever had”). The oven is gas-fired, a break with New Haven tradition.

11. Patsy’s Pizza
> Location: New York, NY
> Founded: 1933
> Hours: Sun.-Mon. 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (Original East Harlem location)
> Price of a single pizza: $20-$26 plus cost of toppings ($2.75-$5.95 each)
> Specialties: Design your own “old school round” or white pie

This historic Manhattan pizzeria, opened by Pasquale “Patsy” Lancieri in East Harlem, which was then the city’s “Little Italy,” claims to have popularized the now ubiquitous thin-crust New York pizza style, and to have been the first to sell pizza by the slice a definitive New York tradition that has spread nationwide. Lancieri died in 1975, and in 1991, his widow sold the place to Kosovo-born Frank Brija, whose son Adem is now co-owner. There are now other locations around Manhattan, most of them franchises, as well as outposts in Queens, Westchester County, Long Island, and Connecticut.

10. Santarpio’s Pizza
> Location: Boston, MA
> Founded: 1933
> Hours: Daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $12-$22
> Specialties: Italian Cheese and Ground Beef, The Works (mushrooms, onions, peppers, garlic, sausage, pepperoni, extra cheese, anchovies)

Santarpio’s dates its origins back to a bakery opened in East Boston by Frank Santarpio in 1903, but he didn’t start selling pizza until 30 years later. The pies served today are sometimes described as “Boston style” but they have also been called a cross between thin-crust Neapolitan and New York style pizzas. Besides pizza and one salad, Santarpio’s is unique in the pizza world for offering “barbecued” skewers of lamb, steak, chicken, or sausage. A fourth generation of Santarpio’s now runs the operation.

9. Sciortino’s
> Location: Perth Amboy, NJ
> Founded: 1932
> Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. 3 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.-9 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $11-$35
> Specialties: White (with fresh garlic, basil, and tomato), Cheese Steak (with onions, peppers, mushrooms)

Sciortino’s has come full circle. It was opened in Perth Amboy by Paolo and Francis Sciortino in 1932 (some sources say 1934), and thrived until 2003, when the city took over the site by eminent domain for an urban renewal project. A year later, the Sciortino family reopened in more elaborate form as Sciortino’s Harbor Lights, just across the Raritan River in South Amboy. That place is still going strong, but in 2012, the pizzeria reopened in Perth Amboy, where it is now operated by a fourth generation of Sciortinos.

9. Aloy’s Italian Restaurant
> Location: Poughkeepsie, NY
> Founded: 1929
> Hours: Weds.-Thurs. 3 p.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 3 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $11.75-$16.25 plus cost of toppings ($1.50-$3.50 each)
> Specialties: Design your own plain, grated cheese, white, or thin-crust pizza lina

Joseph and Annal Aloy opened their eponymous restaurant the Hudson Valley’s first pizzeria the year of the stock market crash (which presaged the Great Depression), primarily to feed local railroad workers. It evolved into Aloy’s Garden Restaurant, and by the 1950s had added a full range of other Italian specialties to the menu, but it remained known for its pizzas which are thin-crust and square. When chef Chris DiLeo bought the place in 2001, he reportedly had to sign a contract vowing never to reveal the secrets of the pizza crust or sauce.

7. Regina Pizzeria
> Location: Boston, MA
> Founded: 1926
> Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $12-$28.50
> Specialties: Cheese (Original Regina Pizza Sauce, mozzarella), The Giambotta (pepperoni, Regina sausage, salami, mushrooms, peppers, onion, fresh basil, mozzarella, anchovies upon request)

Luigi D’Auria opened what he dubbed Regina Pizza, or “Queen Pizza,” in the Boston’s North End, as the city’s first pizzeria (though another North End institution, Parziale Italian Bakery, claims to have introduced pizza to New England from its bakery counter as early as 1907). D’Auria bought provisions tomatoes, cheese, wine from the grocery store across the street, owned by the Polcari family. In either the early 1940s or in 1956, depending on which source you believe, the Polcaris bought out the D’Aurias, and they and/or their relatives the Buccieris have run it ever since. Today, Regina has grown into a regional chain with six outlets around Boston, five in other parts of Massachusetts, and one at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut but the original North End location is still happily in business.

6. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
> Location: New Haven, CT
> Founded: 1925
> Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $10.50-$39
> Specialties: Original Tomato Pie (crushed Italian tomatoes, grated pecorino romano, olive oil), White Clam (fresh clams, garlic, oregano, grated pecorino romano, olive oil)

Frank Pepe, an immigrant from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, is credited with having invented New Haven-style pizza, based on the Neapolitan pies of his homeland with a thin, irregularly shaped crust (like a rounded oblong), a charred bottom from the coal-fired oven, and only a light application of cheese. There are reports that Pepe started selling pizzas on the street from a kind of headdress he’d constructed, and later from a wagon, in the early 1920s. What is certain is that in 1925, he and his wife, Filomena, opened a bakery on New Haven’s Wooster Street, the center of the city’s Italian community. Pizza was a specialty there, and the place developed into one of the nation’s most famous pizzerias and part of the “Holy Trinity” of New Haven pizzerias, along with the younger Modern Apizza (vintage 1934) and Sally’s Apizza (opened in 1938 by Frank Pepe’s nephew Salvatore “Sally” Consiglio). Pepe’s grandchildren run the place to this day, and it has expanded far beyond its roots with six other Connecticut locations plus three in Massachusetts, two in Florida, and one each in New York, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

5. Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano
> Location: Brooklyn, NY
> Founded: 1924
> Hours:
> Price of a single pizza: $17.50-$23 plus cost of toppings ($2.50 each)
> Specialties: Design your own

Antonio “Totonno” Pero, who’d worked at the pioneering Lombardi’s pizzeria, opened his own place, complete with coal-fired oven, in Coney Island reportedly taking advantage of the fact that a new subway station had been opened there a few years earlier, making visits to the beach community easier for New Yorkers from other neighborhoods. The place has met disaster several times a fire in 1997 that closed it for three months, another one (far more serious) in 2009 that put it out of commission for almost a year, and then Hurricane Sandy, which it took three months to recover from but it keeps bouncing back and is bustling today, and still run by descendents of Pero and their families.

4. John’s of Bleecker Street
> Location: New York, NY
> Founded: 1915 (?)
> Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $15.99-$46.99
> Specialties: The John’s Original (mozzarella, tomato sauce), The Boom Pie (Polly-O mozzarella, tomato sauce, roasted tomatoes, ricotta, garlic, fresh basil)

Some pizzerias claim earlier founding dates than they probably deserve, but John’s goes in the other direction, tracing its origins to a place opened on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village in 1929 by John Sasso. However, Chicago-based pizza historian Peter Regas discovered a hitherto unknown pizza entrepreneur named Filippo Milone, who by 1903 had opened Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba (named after the pizzeria in Naples that claims to be the world’s oldest, dating from 1738) on Grand Street in SoHo and then gone on to launch a series of others, handing them off to new proprietors in turn. One of these, probably dating back to 1915, became John’s when Sasso, who may have been related to Milone by marriage, entered the picture. When he lost his lease in 1934, Sasso moved his coal-fired brick oven to the restaurant’s present location on Bleecker Street. In 1954, he sold it to the Vesce family, who in turn passed it on to their manager, Pete Castellotti Sr., in 1981. Today, relatives of Castellotti and the Vesces run it and two other Manhattan locations.

3. O’Scugnizzo’s Pizzeria
> Location: Utica, NY
> Founded: 1914
> Hours: Tues. 9 a.m.-9.30 p.m.; Weds.-Sat. 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $10.35-$26.30
> Specialties: Mozzarella and pepperoni, OSP Special (mozzarella, mushrooms, peppers, tomato, onion, garlic)

Utica is famous for its tomato pie not exactly pizza, but a semi-thick yeast dough baked on a sheet pan and topped with tomato sauce and sometimes parmesan. Eugenio Burlino, who arrived in the area from Naples in the late 1800s, sold the specialty (which is also known in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania) out of his basement as early as 1910, sometimes carrying pies around on the street on a large tray. Customers who saw him coming would call out “Hey, scugnizzo” using the Neapolitan term for “street urchin.” Burlino adopted the word as the name of his pizzeria when he opened it. (The “O” doesn’t indicate Irish influence: It is Neapolitan dialect for the definite article.) Burlino was succeeded by his son Angelo “Chops” Burlino, who eventually moved the place to larger quarters and expanded the menu beyond tomato pie and pizza. His son Steven runs the operation today.

2. Papa’s Tomato Pies
> Location: Robbinsville, NJ
> Founded: 1912
> Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
> Price of a single pizza: $16-$24
> Specialties: Mustard pie (cheese, tomato sauce, spicy brown mustard), Italian Stallion (white pie with sausage, broccoli rabe, garlic)

After Giuseppe “Joe” Papa arrived in New Jersey in 1910, he got a job at the age of 15 at the first pizzeria in Trenton, Joe’s Tomato Pies (which closed in the 1990s). Two years later, he opened his own place, which today holds the honor of being the oldest family-owned and continuously operated pizzeria in America. In 1945, a young man named Dominik “Abie” Azzaro went to work for Papa and soon married his daughter, Tessie. Today, their son Nick and his cousin Michael run Papa’s which moved slightly east of Trenton, to Robbinsville Township, in 2013. The pizzeria’s famous mustard pie, by the way, is a fairly recent invention. It was apparently created at a now-defunct Trenton pizza parlor called Shuster’s in the early ’80s. A former employee of Shuster’s went to work for Papa’s after the place closed, and brought the idea along.

1. Lombardi’s
> Location: New York, NY
> Founded: 1898 (?)
> Hours: Sun.-Thurs. noon-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. noon-midnight
> Price of a single pizza: $22-$32
> Specialties: Original Margherita (fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, romano cheese, basil), pesto pie (white pie with basil pesto)

Lombardi’s has the most complicated history of any pizzeria on this list. The restaurant website dubs it “America’s first pizzeria” and cites a founding date of 1905. The story is that Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store on Spring Street in 1897, out of which he sold tomato pies to neighborhood factory workers then in 1905 turned the location into a pizzeria. However, pizza historian Peter Regas discovered a newspaper ad from 1903 in Il Telegrafo, an Italian-language paper published in New York City, promoting a place called Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, on Grand Street, under the proprietorship of one Filippo Milone. He also found an ad from 1905 for a pizzeria opened either by Milone (as early as 1898) or by another Neapoliitan, Giovanni Santillo, at the address where Lombardi supposedly had his grocery store. More to the point, Regas tracked down Lombardi’s naturalization papers and found that he first reached these shores only in 1904 and that he was identified as a “laborer.” He may have been working for Santillo in 1905, but almost certainly didn’t own the pizzeria. In any case, while Lombardi’s is certainly the oldest American pizzeria still in existence, it can’t claim a continuous run: It closed in 1984, but was reopened 10 years later, a block from the original location, by Gennaro Lombardi III, the founder’s grandson.

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