Ray’s Pizza in New York City has a reputation for being great pizza. Or at least it does to people who don’t live in New York City. For those who do live or work in the city, the name Ray’s Pizza depends on which Ray’s Pizza one is talking about. Just because a pizzeria utilizes the name Ray’ Pizzas does not mean it represents or defines the original Ray’s Pizza that opened in 1959 on Prince Street. In fact, most pizzerias named Rays in New York City are simply just pizzerias trying to sell pizza based on a supposedly legendary name.
I grew up in the Bronx and for me there will never be a pizzeria that serves better pizza than Sal’s Pizza on 206th Street or even Napoli’s on 204th Street. Every borough argues they have the best pizza. Well maybe not every borough, but definitely the Bronx, Brooklyn and some parts of Queens. Nonetheless, its usually neighborhood loyalty that wins out when arguing over the best pizza. Most New Yorkers love what they grew up with and don’t want to hear about anyone else’s pizza. We never talked about Rays pizza in Manhattan when living in the Bronx. Never even heard of it back then.
21st century pizzerias in Manhattan are huge disappointments for the most part. There are exceptions like Prince Street Pizza which is the location of the real original Rays Pizzeria at 27 Prince Street. That Ray’s stands as the first Ray’s Pizza which was opened by a man named Ralph Cuomo. The history of Ray’s Pizzerias become a mess after that as former employees opened up their own pizzerias under variations of the name Ray’s like “Famous Ray’s” “Original Ray’s,” World Famous Ray’s and of course the combo platter “Famous Original Ray’s.” Some were brought and sold, lawsuits were flung around like spinning pizza dough and everyone claimed that their Rays was the absolute original.
Going back to the original Rays on 27th Street, we have Prince Street Pizza. It is arguably one of the best, if not the best pizzerias in Manhattan. Their reputation is based on their amazing Sicilian pizza, if you don’t mind waiting on long lines to get it. (my son doesn’t, I do) I have had their pizza many times. It is very good. Yet, it’s really not old school pizza. The old pizza makers would never put as much pepperoni on a slice as they do at Prince Street Pizza. Yet the kids love it. However there not exactly the most friendliest pizzeria in town and have been accused of some racist stuff which I am just not going to get into here right now. As far as other great pizza places in Manhattan, there are many especially on the upper East Side but the majority of pizzerias in Manhattan especially in the tourist sections taste like Sbarro’s mall pizza.
While the first Ray’s Pizzeria opened up at 27 Prince Street in 1959. The Ray’s Pizzeria I visited recently in Times Square supposedly opened up in 1964. Their website claims that they opened in 1964 and now own four Ray’s Pizzerias in Manhattan under the name FAMOUS ORIGINAL RAY’S PIZZA. Now of course if you own four and claim that all four are the original Famous Original Ray’s Pizzerias, it doesn’t take a whole lot of math skills to figure out that only one can be the original. This is why I pretty much dreaded writing this article in the first place. In the end, it seems, this chain is owned by the Mangano family who originally purchased Ray’s Pizza from Ralph Cuomo in 1964 and opened a second store. Why they claim to be the original when it was Ralph Cuomo that opened the original Rays is a little confusing.
Now that the history is somewhat out of the way, its time to talk about the pizza at Famous Original Ray’s Pizza Times Square. As I said earlier, I grew up on New York pizza in the Bronx. I am old school. If I am going to compare pizza, its going to be based on a slice of regular piazza. None of this fancy dancy nonsense. Just dough, sauce, cheese, oil and spices. That is pizza! I walked into Famous Original Ray’s Pizza Times Square store at about noon on a weekday in November 2020. Normally a pizzeria on a weekday is packed in Times Square. However, the pandemic has changed everything. No one was in the store and the tables were all empty outside. I felt bad for them. Yet the counter were filled with pies and entrees all ready to be served very quickly.
The workers behind the counter were very friendly. Like so many Manhattan take out food establishments, you order at at one counter and pay at another. That’s not old school, but I guess its actually a better system as you have separate people handling money and food. A slice of basic cheese pizza was three dollars and fifty cents. That the most expensive slice of pizza I have ever ordered anywhere outside of stadium prices. Nonetheless I understand that this is Times Square and their cost of operating there must be astronomical. However, what I did not like was that it was a really small slice of pizza. If your going to charge three dollars and fifty cents for a slice you have to be fair about the size. A tourist might not notice, but a real New Yorker is going to be thinking “are you kidding me?” I almost said something, but like I said, the place was empty and I felt bad for them. And they were very nice.
The counters at Famous Original Ray’s Pizza were filled with all different types of pies. It was pretty impressive that at that time of the day they had so many pies out ready to go. I wondered how long those pies would stay out on the counter because there was nobody in the streets that day. The calzones look pretty impressive and the menu was very clear right above the ovens. It was a top-notch professional operation being run. Everything was very clean. The counters and the floors were all pretty much spotless. That’s very telling into how a restaurant runs their operation. It’s also reassuring for someone about to eat there.
So how was the slice of cheese pizza I ordered? Well to be fair and really express my review of their slice I recorded a video of the experience of tasting their pizza. Its the best medium for a reader to get a real genuine opinion by viewing the reviewers initial reaction to the taste of food. Its a short video and it gets to the point pretty quickly.
The Famous Original Ray’s Pizza that was reviewed in this article can be found at 736 7th Ave and 49th street at the edge of Times Square. Their other locations in the city are at 462 Columbus Ave and 82nd Street on the Upper West Side, 831 7th Ave and 54th Street in Midtown and 204 9th Ave and 23rd Street in Chelsea. You can also visit their website below to check out their menu. If you into loaded pies, their Ray’s Famous Special looks pretty good. They even have an app. (Definitely not old school)