I owe many thanks to the various food writers and pizza bloggers who have reported on tons of great "undiscovered" spots over the years. Jim Leff, the creator of chowhound, reviewed DiFara Pizza in his 1999 book "The Eclectic Gourmet Guide to New York City," and all of us who are devoted to the very fine NY slice have benefited beyond words. Village Voice restaurant reviewer Robert Sietsema likewise has written and shared a diverse array of his favorite finds throughout the five boroughs. (Pre-Voice, Sietsema distributed a Xeroxed newsletter called "Down the Hatch," and for a spell Leff contributed its end piece.)
I recently stopped by Elmhurst Famous Pizza, one of Sietsema's spots, to have the Indo-Pak - it had been a while. This pizza is not for everyone because though the bottom layers of crust, sauce, and cheese are rather traditional, the additional elements (jalapeños, onions and green peppers, curry powder, and a pores-clearing quantity of roughly minced garlic) are quite strong.
Besides the obvious pleasures that spice-loving people will derive from the Indo-Pak, this pizza's very existence syncs perfectly with its locale: the melting pot that is Queens, NY, a county where approximately 138 languages are spoken and over 6% of the borough's population are Indian or Pakistani.
The owner of Famous pizza, however, is from Greece. After immigrating to the US in 1967 at the age of six, Louie (as he prefers to be called) opened Famous in 1992. He had spent the 15 prior years working at Singas, another pizzeria formerly owned by his uncle and cousins.
Louie's wife Lila, who had passed away in 1997, invented the Indo-Pak pizza. Recognizing that the most prevalent demographic groups in Elmhurst were Indian and Pakistani, Lila conducted research at several Indian and Pakistani markets and restaurants prior to opening, and developed the Indo-Pak recipe. It featured a unique tomato-based Indian-spiced sauce until when Lila passed away. She hadn't written down the recipe, and Louie changed the its sauce to standard tomato.
Most of the Indian and Pakistani people have left Elmhurst and the neighborhood is now mainly Asian. While the Indo-Pak remains on the menu, it doesn't sell much.
The second Famous Pizza location (which Louie opened one year after the first) on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, remains within a dense Indian and Pakistani neighborhood, so the Indo-Pak pizza is still very popular there.
Famous Pizza serves "bar size" (ten inch) pizzas with a crust that Louie says is prepared from a "basic French bread recipe." The result is a little bit thicker than typical New York pizza crust, but it has a good crunch and is not doughy. Aside from the Indo-Pak, Famous offers most standard pizza toppings.
Click the photo above to view an short audio slideshow of Louie describing the origins of the Indo-Pak pizza.
Map Elmhurst Famous Pizza (2 locations) (call ahead for days/hours).