The First Pizzeria In The US Is Still Around Today

In the heart of New York's Little Italy sits a slice of culinary history. A historical marker installed at the corner of 32 Spring St. declares Lombardi's Pizza to be the first pizzeria in the United States and commemorates its induction into the Pizza Hall of Fame. In 1897, a baker from Naples named Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store that also served as a meeting place for the Italian-American immigrant community. The tomato pies that he baked in his coal-fired oven were such a hit with local factory workers who enjoyed them for lunch, that by 1905, Lombardi had turned his market into a full-time pizzeria.

It must have been delicious too because Lombardi's pizzeria has withstood the test of time. Still in operation more than a century later, the business was passed down to Gennaro's son, and then his grandson — earning them the nickname of "America's first family of pizza," — as flaunted on the company's aptly named website, First Pizza. From these humble beginnings, we get not only the first N.Y.-style pizza but also the oldest and longest-running pizza restaurant in the U.S.A. Along with the claim that New York City pizza is the best, the borough of Manhattan can also brag about being its birthplace, this side of Italy. 

Lombardi's still draws crowds. From tourists wanting to experience where it all began, to connoisseurs craving a taste of old-school pizza made with fresh ingredients flash-cooked at 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Lombardi's NYC pizza gets its perfect crust

Lombardi's coal-burning oven is responsible for its signature smokey and lightly charred crust. When its original coal oven at 53 Spring St. was damaged in 1984, its salvageable parts were used to rebuild a new oven at the restaurant's new location up the block at 32 Spring St. (per Whalebone Magazine). With plans to control NYC pizzeria's emissions set in motion by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2023, it remains to be seen how the proposed changes will affect pizzerias that rely on wood or coal ovens.

The restaurant's great reputation is also thanks to its high-quality ingredients. Lombardi's uses its own homemade dough and purist tomato sauce, fresh basil, and whole milk mozzarella. It's this adherence to freshness and attention to detail that make Lombardi's "probably the best pizza in the United States," as boldly declared by

Today, the restaurant's modest menu offers classics like the rustic double pepperoni pizza, a traditional Margherita, and a white pie with no tomato sauce but plenty of herbs, ricotta, and Romano cheese. There's also pesto pizza, a spinach and ricotta with white base, or visitors can choose from premium toppings like beef and pork meatballs, Italian sausage, anchovies, and sweet roasted red peppers. Lombardi's is also known for its "Famous Clam Pie," which boasts approximately three dozen freshly shucked and chopped clams on a pizza with Romano, garlic, oregano, black pepper, parsley, and a lemon to squeeze over the top.

Here's what we do know: Americans love pizza

Lombardi's claim to being the first pizzeria in America is not without controversy. Evidence put forth by Peter Regas, author of the forthcoming "Pizza History Book," appears to show that Gennaro Lombardi may not have been the original owner of the pizzeria at 53 Spring St (via The Pizza History Book). Regas' timeline puts Lombardi as having arrived in New York as a 17-year-old laborer in 1904. According to the research, he was possibly employed at the pizzeria in 1905 — but too young to have owned it yet. 

Another twist in the U.S. pizza lineage comes from Trenton, New Jersey, where Papa's Tomato Pies was opened by Joe Papa in 1912. While Lombardi's opened in 1905, it was closed to the public for a 10-year period after its coal oven became inoperable — when the restaurant reopened a decade later, it was in a different location. Papa's Tomato Pies on the other hand has been in continuous operation and remains managed by the same family — though it too has moved locations. This technically bumps Papa's out of second place and into first for the oldest and longest-running U.S. pizzeria.

We may never know the truth behind the legend of Lombardi's, nor agree on its positioning within the greater New York pizza origin story. No matter which way you slice it, Lombardi's has influenced generations of pizza makers and helped put pizza as we know and love it on the map.