Now reading The Quest for New York City’s Most Adequate Dollar Slice

The Quest for New York City’s Most Adequate Dollar Slice

I'm here to speak about the unspeakable.

Your food friends may all have their street-meat guy or a favorite falafel or a cheap dumpling spot to recommend. But you know what no New York food know-it-all is talking about? Dollar pizza.

In the latter half of the ’00s, dollar-pizza places began appearing on the city’s heavy-traffic blocks, lit bright and aggressively advertising the premise by which they live and die: We have pizza. It costs a dollar. Everyone has been to these places; no one is talking about it. Why did they go? Because they were hungry. What happened inside? They got a slice of pizza. And how was the pizza? It was fine. It cost a dollar. It certainly could have been worse.

I’m here to speak about the unspeakable, to break the dollar-slice silence. I spent a few weeks hitting dollar spots hard and seeing if I could find something lovable about the most utilitarian and unremarkable of Manhattan’s budget-eating offerings. I ate uniform slices of passable pizza all over town to see if there was something to say about these places and the pizza they sold. Here are my results.

2 Bros. Pizza
113 East 125th Street (between Park Ave. and Lexington Ave.)
542 9th Ave (at 41st St.)
Plus additional locations

Thanks to the cartoon logo outside locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, 2 Bros. Pizza is the most recognizable dollar-slice spot in the city. The 2 Bros. slice is consistent, with a dough that’s heavy and bready, a relatively zesty sauce, and passable cheese. (I should clarify what I mean by “bready,” since I’m going to keep using it: this is pizza with soft, foldy dough that does not taste so much like pizza as it does bread.) All in all, it’s a pretty acceptable piece of dollar pizza. The slices are consistent from shop to shop, as is the decor: jars of seasoning chained to counters, seating areas with a strong Port Authority vibe, men and women passing through while asking for change or selling teeth-whitening-strip loosies.

99¢ Fresh Pizza
201 34th Street (at 3rd Ave.)
360 West 42nd Street (at 9th Ave.)
Plus additional locations

You might not realize that New York’s other big dollar-slice chain is a chain, thanks to the stores’ aggressively generic look and the fact that two out of the three words in the chain’s name appear in the names of almost every dollar-slice place. Also contributing to the non-chain feel of 99¢ Fresh Pizza is the range of quality of pizza sold by their different branches. A store on 34th Street just east of Third Avenue serves slices that are golden and hot, with a flavorful greasiness to them—one of the handful of slices I encountered during this survey that I’d return for. But the chain’s flagship 42nd Street location serves a too-bready slice whose cheese and sauce slid right off.

Joey Pepperoni’s
493 2nd Avenue (between 28th St. and 27th St.)
381 Broadway (at Walker St.)
Plus additional locations

Another chain, Joey Pepperoni’s, has a logo of a portly cartoon pizza chef, illustrated in the style of a South Park character. Mr. Pepperoni has fortified the walls of nearly all of his shops with shiny panels of diamond-plate steel, like abattoirs that serve pizza. But enough about looks! The Joey Pepperoni slice is consistently good between stores, coming on a crisp and powdery crust reminiscent of the Domino’s pizzas of my youth. Joey Pepperoni’s pizzas were some of the only pies I encountered that were cooked directly inside the pizza oven, and not sitting on screen racks. The result is a pizza that tastes like pizza, with a relatively rich sauce and flavorful cheese. Of the chain dollar-slice spots, Joey Pepperoni’s is the best.

Roll and Go
570 8th Avenue (at 38th St.)
386 Canal Street (at West Broadway)
Plus additional locations

Roll and Go is the smallest of the multi-location bunch, but their pizza is strong. The slices served at their Canal Street location are nearly as good as Joey Pepperoni’s, and the pizza at their location on 38th Street is nowhere near as bad as at nearby 99¢ Fresh Pizza. Also unique to Roll and Go: they are the only stores that charged me tax, which raises the question: is it really dollar pizza if it costs $1.09? I’ll leave that for philosophers and economists. But it’s also worth stating that not a single 99¢ pizza place gave me change for my dollar. I think “99¢” is just an expression for “one dollar” in pizza talk.

Hot Fresh Pizza 99¢
126 Lafayette Street (between Canal St. and Howard St.)

This is my personal go-to dollar-slice spot, and by “go-to dollar-slice spot,” I mean it’s the spot that I go to because it’s between my subway stop and my house. The pizza itself exemplifies the bready sort of slice you most often get from a dollar-slice shop, with an obvious lack of elevation where there should be a defined crust ridge. It’s speckled with sauce and cheese like the frozen Totino’s pizzas of my junior-high years, but the guys behind the counter are friendly, and there’s a big squeeze bottle of a Frank’s Red Hot-style hot sauce. You’ll get fed and you live another day—pretty good deal.

Hakki Akdeniz
84 Hester Street (between Eldridge St. and Allen St.)

Almost all dollar-slice places are positioned on busy streets where they might attract the indiscriminate hunger of random passersby. This shop on Hester Street is far from any Little Italy or Chinatown tourist traffic, and most of the patrons give off the feel of locals and regulars. The man behind the counter greets them with a Hey big guy before they can order a few slices of his rather unremarkable pizza, with bare, bubbly patches and the stingiest application of sauce in town. This is a slice for locals and people who have gotten lost trying to find their Chinatown bus.

Vinny Vincenz
231 1st Avenue (between 13th St. and 14th St.)

The arrival of dollar pizza to the East Village (there’s a Joey Pepperoni’s across the street, and another dollar spot around the corner) appears to have forced this real pizzeria to enter the quick-and-dirty world of the dollar slice. It’s worth noting that the dollar slice seems to be a last resort for places fighting changes to their neighborhoods. During the last few years of its life, when the price of their famous Recession Special was forced to go up, the Greenwich Village Gray’s Papaya switched its signage to advertise not frankfurters, but the arrival of dollar pizza. It was a sad way to watch it go. The good news for the customer is that you can grab a cheesy, saucey slice on very thin, crackly crust for a buck here. Just look at the non-uniform shape of the slice I was served: this is a slice cut fresh to order, not just a piece of a pizza cut immediately into eighths and then reheated when necessary.

Percy’s Pizza
190 Bleecker Street (at MacDougal St.)

A dollar place at Bleecker and MacDougal? You need only the tiniest bit of New York real-estate knowledge to know that this place is going to need to sell a lot of pizza to stay in business. Percy’s originally operated more like a traditional pizzeria, with a higher-quality slice and tables for two along one wall. Now the tables have been cleared out for the sake of packing in the crowds, and the pizza has drifted. It’s a pretty decent example of the doughier sort of dollar slice: cheesy, but with a weak crust game. Definitely more fit for grabbing late at night between bars/jazz clubs/comedy shows than for lunching on if you’re passing by one afternoon.

99 Cents Express Pizza
301 West 43rd Street (at 8th Ave.)

A busy little operation that attracts a steady combination of folks headed home to Hell’s Kitchen and disoriented-looking tourists who have wandered a street too far from Times Square. The 99 Cents Express Pizza slice is a little sweet and pleasantly greasy: a definite exception to my discovery that all other dollar pizza within a few blocks of Port Authority is better off avoided.

Pick & Pay
30 Lexington Avenue (between 23rd St. and 24th St.)

The thing that’s hard about reviewing dollar slices is that most dollar-pizza places are run by very friendly people—and, really, how much can you ask for from a dollar slice? But the slice here at Pick & Pay made the weakest impression of any pizza I ate for this project. It simply did not register; no flavor to speak of at all. However, Pick & Pay is unique in that it offers a socially conscious Pay It Forward option, to buy a stranger a slice of pizza. So if you’re looking to do a little good in the world, Pick & Pay is your best choice—although you don’t have to stand around very long at many other dollar-pizza places before someone makes it clear that you could buy them a slice if you’d like.

The Best Pizza
748 9th Avenue (between 49th St. and 50th St.)

Sometimes it can be a little hard to figure out a dollar-pizza place’s real name, as being clear about their product seems more important than establishing distinct branding. But from what I can tell, The Best Pizza is what this place is called, and their pizza is a dollar. It was hot and the cheese tasted like cheese. The Best Pizza wasn’t the best pizza, but it was decent pizza, and most of the time that’s best enough.

Famous 99¢ Pizza
430 East 14th Street (between 1st Ave. and Avenue A)

I wandered in here late one Saturday night and the lone employee took my order, heated my slice, made change from my twenty (it was all I had!), and served me without a single pause to the conversation he held over his Bluetooth headset. The pizza had a proper crust and was dotted with a few dark spots of well-done cheese. I suspect that a pie from this place would taste pretty good coming out of the fridge the next day.

FDR 99¢ Slice Pizza
150 East 2nd Street (between Avenue A and Avenue B)

Roughly twelve hours after eating at Famous 99¢ Pizza on 14th Street, I visited this place a few blocks down. I am “greeted” by another guy deeply involved in a Bluetooth-headset conversation and, as I enjoyed my slice—not necessarily as well-crusted as the one I had on 14th Street, but anointed with a similarly caramelized-esque cheese—I recognized the that signage inside the store is nearly identical to the signage at Famous 99¢ Pizza. I piece together that FDR and Famous must be sibling sliceries, and I wonder, Is my guy here on the phone with the guy from Famous 99¢? Wait. Is it the same guy?

$1 Pizza Slice
2060 Lexington Avenue (at 125th St.)

I have a question for the owners of $1 Pizza Slice: Do you have an accountant? Because the pizza you serve here is not dollar pizza. This is full-price pizza; pizza cut in big, generous slices, where the tip dangles off the edge of the paper plate; pizza laden with gooey cheese that stretches and pulls with your bites. This is pizza to make a turtle say “Cowabunga.” The establishment is always full of kids and adults relishing the bargain. Imagine my surprise when, having promised to find New York City’s “most adequate” dollar slice, I found one I’d rank right up there with the best of Ray’s of yesteryear. If you live nearby and don’t know about $1 Pizza Slice, I urge you to take advantage of this neighborhood resource. And if you ever travel up to 125th Street for the M60 to LaGuardia Airport, spend a tiny bit of that money you saved by avoiding cab fare on a slice of pizza that will rearrange how you think about the buying power of one little dollar.