I took part in NYC's greatest pizza challenge and was surprised to find Staten Island's slice beat out the competition

Brooke RethwillThe 5 Boro Pizza Challenge is an annual event where participants eat a slice at a preselected pizzeria in each of the five boroughs of NYC without using a car.

Nine hours, 40 miles, five boroughs: These are the lengths I travelled to taste some of the best pizza slices in New York City.

It was all part of the 5 Boro Pizza Challenge, an annual race where participants eat a slice at a preselected pizzeria in each of the five boroughs of NYC without using a car.

The challenge started at 11:00 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and the goal was to hit all five spots and cross the finish line in downtown Manhattan before 9:00 p.m.

Here was my journey to find some of the best pizza slices in NYC.

11:00 a.m. — I arrived at the meeting point on a Saturday morning in Manhattan’s Financial District to join a crowd of roughly 170 participants who spanned all age groups.

Ian BurkeI was hungry and ready to go at the starting point.

Many people were standing with bicycles, and some were decked out in full cycling gear and speedsuits.

Event staff handed out some swag as you checked in, including a fanny pack, T-shirt, and a racing bib. They also distributed lists of the pizzerias that we’d be hitting in each borough, which were folded shut.

Ian BurkeThey hooked it up with a shirt and a fanny pack.

I tried to open the list, but was stopped by the woman next to me. She told me that everyone opened their lists at the same time to make sure nobody got an unfair head start.

Once everyone had the list, we opened them and began to plan our route across NYC.

Ian BurkeThe list of pizzerias that we’d be hitting.

The five selected pizzerias were:

Joe Cutrufo, the creator of the 5 Boro Pizza Challenge, told me that the race isn’t meant to be a roundup of the absolute best pizzerias in NYC – just some really, really good ones.

For my route, I planned on using ferries and subways as my modes of transportation. Since I was already downtown, I decided to hit Staten Island first, then Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, in that order.

Google MapsMy route, with each pizzeria labelled next to a red star. The blue star was the starting point and the green star was the finish line.

The entire trip would span roughly 40 miles – 34 on the subway and ferry and around 6 miles on foot.

Though most of the journey was going to be on public transportation, it was still a long haul.

11:20 a.m. — As I walked to the Staten Island Ferry, I saw other pizza challenge participants sprinting past me.

Ian BurkeThe Staten Island Ferry entrance in Manhattan.

Many of the participants were going for time, whereas I was taking it pretty easy. My day was all about the taste.

Along the way, I thought about growing up in northern New Jersey — an area widely considered to have some of the nation’s best pizza — and the pizza-filled years I’ve spent living in the city.

Brooke RethwillGrowing up in New Jersey, I’ve always taken pizza seriously.

As I took the free ferry to Staten Island, I also thought about how the challenge was raising awareness for NYC’s public transportation system.

Cutrufo told me that proceeds from the 5 Boro Pizza Challenge go to Transportation Alternatives, an activist group whose mission is to “reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and advocate for better bicycling, walking, and public transit for all New Yorkers.”

12:17 p.m. — I got off the ferry and walked about a mile to Paulie’s Pizzeria on Bay Street. The line, which was comprised almost entirely of challengers, went around the corner.

Ian BurkeThe only line of the day was at Paulie’s Pizzeria.

Thankfully, it would be the only line of the day as the group got fuller and slowed down (or maybe that was just me).

Paulie’s is a small slice shop with an attached restaurant. I was psyched to embark on my pizza-eating journey.

Brooke RethwillMe in front of Paulie’s Pizzeria.

This would be the most challenge participants I’d see in one spot all day. Many were using Lime bicycles, which are part of a bike-sharing service similar to Citi Bike.

After waiting in line for about 15 minutes, we made it inside. The interior was small but efficient, though the leaning towers of pizza boxes stressed me out.

Ian BurkeThe service was quick and professional.

The workers behind the counter were able to move a large number of people in and out quickly.

12:33 p.m. — This pizza was gorgeous. The sauce had a great deep red colour, the slice had a uniform shape, and there was some solid bubbling on the cheese, which I like.

Ian BurkeThis was a gorgeous slice of pizza.

Right off the bat, I knew this slice was going to be special.

All-around it was an amazing slice. The cheese was perfectly melted and the entire slice was thin, crunchy, and delicious.

Brooke RethwillPaulie’s slice was delicious.

The highlight, however, was the sauce, which was rich and perfectly portioned.

Ian’s ranking: 4/5

1:35 p.m. — After I finished the slice, I resisted the urge to pop back in for another and instead walked a mile back to the ferry station to return to Manhattan.

Brooke RethwillI wasn’t kidding about the cheese.

After getting off the ferry, I took the R train to Downtown Brooklyn for the next leg of the challenge.

2:15 p.m. — I got off the subway at Jay Street and walked a few blocks to Norm’s Pizza on Adams Street for slice number two.

Brooke RethwillNorm’s Pizza in Brooklyn.

I could smell Norm’s Pizza from down the block as I approached.

The interior of Norm’s was small but cosy, and the slice shop also had a table for customers to scarf down pizza at their leisure.

Ian BurkeThe inside of Norm’s Pizza in Brooklyn.

The employees working behind the counter were exceptionally friendly.

One of the employees happily jumped in a photo with me as I posed with my next slice.

Brooke RethwillWe were both excited about my slice of pizza.

This staff member jumped in front of the camera as I was being photographed, then shouted his Instagram handle at me as he disappeared into the back of the restaurant.

2:21 p.m. — This was a decent-looking slice, with good colour on the crust and and a deep yellow on the cheese. The slice was a little asymmetrical, but we aren’t really here for geometry. Overall, a handsome slice.

Ian BurkeThis slice had good colour on the crust and cheese.

The slice was hot and ready in minutes.

This was good utility pizza. It wasn’t too greasy and had a nice robust flavour. However, the crust wasn’t as crunchy as I like, and while the sauce was certainly there, I would have liked a little more of it.

Brooke RethwillChomping into a slice at Norm’s.

The highlight here was the cheese.

Ian’s ranking: 3/5

3:20 p.m. — After I finished up at Norm’s, I took the F train back into Manhattan, got off at the Lexington Avenue and 63 Street stop, and walked down a few blocks to Sofia Pizza Shoppe on 54th Street.

Brooke RethwillMe with a slice outside of Sofia Pizza Shoppe in Manhattan.

Staff behind the counter seemed thrilled to see more challenge participants – probably because we were buying so much pizza!

The inside of the small slice shop featured brick walls and a cute, lit-up “PIZZA” sign, along with a small bar that faced the street for customers to eat at.

Ian BurkeThe interior of Sofia Pizza Shoppe.

Sofia Pizza Shoppe was the smallest of all the pizzerias I visited during the challenge.

3:23 p.m. — This is what pizza should look like. Great colour, bubbly cheese, and an even crust with just a touch of crunchy brown.

Ian BurkeThis was a handsome slice of pizza.

I bumped into another participant on his bike, who told me that this was his favourite slice in all of NYC.

This slice had an awesome crunch and a great crust. The cheese was melty enough that it gave a pull, but didn’t drag the entire cheese layer off of the slice when you took a bite.

Brooke RethwillThis slice had a perfect cheese pull.

The sauce was solid, but the highlight here was definitely the crunchy texture.

Ian’s ranking: 3.5/5

4:20 p.m. — After I finished up at Sofia Pizza Shoppe, I took the R train to the Steinway stop in Astoria, Queens, to grab a slice at Rizzo’s Fine Pizza.

Brooke RethwillRizzo’s Fine Pizza in Queens was my third stop on the challenge.

If you aren’t looking for it, you might miss the small Astoria slice shop.

Inside, a large sign that read “Please forgive our appearance while we renovate” hung behind the counter, and the walls were adorned with art that appeared to be for sale.

Ian BurkeThe inside of Rizzo’s.

Some of the art on the walls was priced at over $US300.

4:25 p.m. — This slice left a little to be desired. It had an interesting, curled crust that looked like it had been cast in a tin, but the cheese-to-sauce ratio was a little off.

Ian BurkeThe cheese slice from Rizzo’s was a bit disappointing.

Although it wasn’t the most appealing slice in the world, I was intrigued by the crust.

It definitely wasn’t the best slice of pizza I’ve had, but it wasn’t the worst. The crunch was terrific, but the sauce was a bit too sweet, and the cheese didn’t offer a whole lot of flavour.

Brooke RethwillRizzo’s wasn’t my favourite.

And, to be fair, this pizzeria is most well-known for its thin-crust Sicilian-style slice. I was sticking with classic cheese at every pizzeria to keep my ranking consistent.

Ian’s ranking: 2.5/5

6:04 p.m. — After Rizzo’s, I took the R train to Rockefeller Centre, then transferred to the D train and rode uptown to Pugsley Pizza on 191st Street in the Bronx.

Brooke RethwillPugsley Pizza was the largest of the five shops, if you count the expansive outdoor area.

The pizzeria was swamped with Fordham University students and their families for parents’ weekend, but there was no line.

This was a total neighbourhood spot, with specials named after regulars hanging prominently in front of the counter.

Ian BurkeThe interior of Pugsley Pizza had a slice counter and lots of tables for guests to eat at.

The owner of Pugsley Pizza was very accommodating, and other participants said he had been playing the saxophone earlier in the day.

6:14 p.m. — This slice looked pretty good and featured a large crust, a deep red sauce, and an even layer of cheese.

Ian BurkeThis slice reminded me of home.

Somehow I managed to find some room to put down this delicious piece of pizza – even though it was my fifth slice of the day.

This reminded me of a Jersey slice — in a good way! It was a little doughy and had good cheese and sauce, an even distribution, and great flavours throughout the slice.

Brooke RethwillA very solid slice.

The only thing it was missing was the crunch.

Ian’s ranking: 3/5

8:00 p.m. — After taking the subway back to the finish line in Lower Manhattan, I received my “medal,” a metal bottle opener.

Ian BurkeThe medal was a metal bottle opener.

Everyone who finished the race received a Citi Bike day pass, while the winner and runner-up also received a waterproof Cleverhood biking cape, ticket packages to the New York Pizza Festival, and Giftzza pizza box gift boxes.

Paulie’s Pizzeria in Staten Island was my favourite slice. I would actually go back to Staten Island for this slice (no offence, Staten Island — you’re just very far away).

Ian BurkeA boy and his Staten Island slice.

Ian’s complete rankings:

  1. Paulie’s Pizzeria
  2. Sofia Pizza Shoppe
  3. Pugsley Pizza
  4. Norm’s Pizza
  5. Rizzo’s Fine Pizza

While I had a blast gallivanting around the city and enjoying some killer pizza, it’s good to note Cutrufo’s goals for the event: To raise awareness about public transportation alternatives and – most importantly – to have a good time.

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