The discourse around pizza mirrors discussions about religion, politics, or monetary policy: plenty of passionate opinions, but not many resolutions. When deliberating over the best pizza in New York City, which is a litmus test for the best pizza in America, Di Fara Pizza is often included. Among pizza enthusiasts, Di Fara is legendary. In 2009, The New York Times referred to Di Fara as “one of the most acclaimed and sought-after pizza shops in New York City.” With numerous awards for best pizza in New York, and frequent big crowds, a slice of Di Fara isn’t just food; it’s a tradition, a public ritual, a culinary culture event. You’ll find Di Fara in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood, on Avenue J, heavily populated by Orthodox Jews. A subway ride from Manhattan takes almost an hour, and when you reach, you’ll notice a shop that has been open since 1965 and looks the part: a weathered sign advertising “PIZZA” and “ITALIAN HEROS.” There’s nothing in the shop or on the plate to indicate that it is highly-regarded trendy food. At $5 per slice, Di Fara might seem expensive but it’s not outwardly different from the countless other slices available around New York.
Staffed by Italian immigrant Domenico DeMarco, who passed away in 2022, Di Fara’s stringent ingredient measures are evident in every delicious mouthful. It’s the most magnificent pizza I have ever had. However, the best pizza in America doesn’t come from a hip artisanal shop but from the freezer case in grocery stores. Red Baron, a mass-market brand owned by Schwan’s, provides diverse toppings and styles like Thin & Crispy and Deep Dish at incredibly low prices. Red Baron is not the best-tasting pizza but is readily available, consistent, and inexpensive. Red Baron, along with other mass-market, corporate-produced, grocery-store-freezer-case pizzas, like DiGiorno, is a symbol of pizza’s complex cultural transition, starting out as an affordable street food in Naples and morphing into the mass-produced ready meals available today.
Pizza originated in Naples, Italy, primarily as a street food for the day laborers, characterized with a class of workers with a free-spirited lifestyle. In the mid-1830s, Alexandre Dumas, the French novelist of The Three Musketeers fame, described the lazzaroni, and their primary foods—watermelon and pizza. It wasn’t just a dish but also an indicator of the city’s economy. The revolving toppings on pizza were tied to the economic climate. As pizza spread through Italy and the U.S. after Italian immigration, the dish became an integral part of New York culture.