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The United States of Pizza: Where to Eat Pizza in California (Part 2,
Southern California L.A.)
Hola, homeslices. Last week we gave you "The United States of Pizza: California (Part 1, NorCal)." Where there's "Part 1" there's gotta be a "Part 2," right? Well, here it is. Southern California. By which we pretty much mean Los Angeles area. I know, I wish I had a more reaching guide for you, but this is where our two main pizza guys are located. And, you know, if we've missed something, you're always free to add it in the Comments! OK. Enough from me. I'm going to turn this over first to Slice's L.A. Pizza Maven and after him, we'll kick it to Damon Gambuto, who's debuting here on Slice with his list and who will also be chiming in with pizza talk from time to time. Let's go! —The Mgmt.
L.A. Pizza Maven's Los Angeles
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Talk about Mission Impossible! When our fearless leader, Adam, asked me to supply brief reviews and a Best NorCal Pizza list among my 7 or 8 favorites, I hesitated, thinking that it would be impossible for me to determine the best pies among my several memorable Bay Area pizza experiences. Merely glancing at my collection of pizza porn (close-ups of Tony Gemignani's sausage Margherita especially) makes me salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs. Woof, woof! Recalling those delectable pies from Pizzeria Picco, Pizzaiolo, or Tony's simply leaves me in a pizza delirium, incapable of rational thought.
Well, I wasn't up to the task but I gave it my best effort. Now, however, I'm truly filled with trepidation. AK has presented me with a task worthy of the recently departed Peter Graves and his covert Mission Impossible crew. I have to duplicate the Bay Area assignment in SoCal. Damn! This will be inordinately more difficult. Are there 7 or 8 pizzerias here in the Southland worthy of a recommendation. Oh, what's a pizza lover to do!
Mercifully, thanks to AK's encouragement and advice to be more tolerant of Los Angeles pizza, I have made some fairly satisfying discoveries over the last few months. While the Bay Area clearly outpaces the Southland with a greater number of superior pie establishments, Los Angeles may actually offer greater slice satisfaction.
L.A.'s By-the-Slice Places
Bonello's New York Pizza
Bonello's New York Pizza in San Pedro produces a solidly satisfying New York–style slice. As I pointed out recently on Slice, this New York family came out to SoCal nearly 30 years ago and has been cooking up excellent thin-crust pizza in a standard gas oven ever since. If you are in the San Pedro area, Bonello's not only has taste appeal, it also offers great value. With a sausage slice priced at a mere $2.50, Bonello's should be particularly busy in these recessionary times. Bonello's: 832 Gaffey Street, San Pedro CA
In order to provide a broader range of impressions of the pizza scene out here, I've visited some local pizza purveyors that I once dismissed out of hand. Many Angelenos chatting on the local food blogs name Damiano's on Fairfax to be a favorite slice joint. So, one day, in pursuit of a tasty slice, and with Adam's words echoing in my ears, I entered this very "understated" pizzeria.
It was a sunny Angeleno afternoon, but as I crossed the joint's threshold, I seemed to enter an old set from a post-WWII noir film. Darkness hinted at illicit activities, and the youthful, slim tatooed figures moved around furtively, seemingly uninterested in my presence. Undeterred, I bravely stepped up to the counter and, after a while, an employee took my order.
The regular cheese slice was thin crust, greasy, and tasty—all most folks need, especially after a late night at a nearby club. Would I recommend Damiano's? If I needed instant pizza gratification and I was in the Fairfax district, I would return. Would I drive crosstown for one or two of their slices? I think not. Damiano's: 412 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles CA 323-658-7611
Lamonica's New York Pizza
Another local favorite slice joint is Lamonica's New York Pizza on Gayley Street in Westwood. This longtime establishment, which caters predominantly to the UCLA crowd and quite a few former New Yorkers, has the requisite New York subway maps and station signs, a personalized, signed photograph of Al "the Godfather" Pacino and a wall filled with UCLA sports alumni photos.
When I've been in there, the joint seemed fairly busy, so the slice pies, sitting out sans heat lamps, appeared fairly fresh. (What would the NYC Health Dept. do?) Lamonica''s claims to fly their dough in from New York City, where the owner, a Gotham native, apparently owns a dough factory that also supplies Germany, Japan, and other foreign locales with the foundation for their pizzas.
Two recent sausage slices proved quite flavorful. The sauce, slightly sweet, and a generous supply of crumbled, spicy sausage mingled amiably with standard, low-moisture mozz atop a reasonably thin crust. Though the dough foundation definitely lacked the desired crispness, and though the slice was a tad too greasy, at $2.55 for a slice with a topping Lamonica''s rates fairly high on the local "slice" list. More attention to cleanliness wouldn't hurt either. Not that there were roaches running up and down the walls, but things did seem a bit too sticky for me. And for those of you with proper documentation, it is also conveniently located directly across the street from one of LA's busiest medical marijuana dispensaries, making Lamonica''s a sure neighborhood "munchie" destination. Lamonica's: 1066 Gayley Avenue, Los Angeles CA
Mulberry Street Pizza
Over the last few weeks I've frequented another local pizza fave, Mulberry Street Pizza, opened more than 10 years ago by native New York actress Cathy Moriarity, who famously played Vicki LaMotta opposite Robert De Niro in the Martin Scorcese classic Raging Bull.
Decorated with the classic red-and-white checkered tablecloths and with walls covered by handwritten testimonials and autographed celebrity photos, I have fond memories of enjoying proper slices at Mulberry Street's original Beverly Hills location years ago. Eventually, however, I lost interest when the crusts were regularly served undercooked. I've returned more recently and, though I have encountered some inconsistency in the crust quality, the slices have been surprisingly tasty.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the Encino outpost in the San Fernando Valley and ordered a pair of pies, a regular cheese and a lasagna pie, consisting of ricotta and ground beef. I immediately ran into problems with the fellow who took my order. In an effort to minimize the likelihood of severe crust disappointment, I mentioned that I'd like the pie cooked "well-done." The response was, "You mean burned?" I did my best to convey my desire and then sat back and anxiously waited. After much gnashing of teeth, a clearly undercooked crust, nearly as blonde as Elin Woods, was set down in front of me. It went right back into the oven. The pies we eventually ate were a bit dry but still satisfying for Ventura Boulevard.
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Remarkably, I've had better success at Mulberry Street with reheated slices than with fresh pies. Back at one of the two Beverly Hills locations, I sat at the counter and ordered and devoured what I thought were excellent slices. The sausage, in the form of oddly diced slices, was spicy and plentiful, but most importantly, the crust had enough of the longed for crunch to cause me to order two more slices. On another occasion, I took my mom, who lived in the Bronx for more than 55 years before relocating to L.A. three years ago, to Mulberry Street and we were both pleased—Mom with the Sicilian and me with a regular cheese slice.
Generous toppings, spicy flavors and crusts which might not make me forget Paradise Pizza on the Bronx's Grand Concourse circa 1965, but out here in 2010, I can't complain. Mulberry Street Pizza:347 N. Canon Dr. in Beverly Hills and 17040 Ventura Blvd. in Encino)
Joe's of Bleecker Street
Not long after successfully "slicing" at Mulberry Street, I found myself by the beach in downtown Santa Monica. Once I nabbed a parking spot, I knew I was headin' to Joe's of Bleecker Street. While I have, on occasion, been disappointed by too thin, too crisp crusts at Joe's, it is still my personal favorite.
On this day, my patience and newfound pizza tolerance was rewarded with an absolutely flawless regular slice. I actually stopped in midslice to thank Joe Jr. for the great pizza. The slice, a crisp yet chewy thin crust with perfectly spiced sauce and what I believe is Grandé brand, low-moisture mozz, disappeared in near record time.
My appetite unsated, I then ordered a relatively recent addition to Joe's pizza offerings, the grandma-style slice. Now personally, I don't have much experience with this pizza varietal, but I've learned that it typically is prepared with a thinner Sicilian-style crust. Joe's iteration is thin-crusted, with a very generous amount of a flavorful, thick sauce surrounding pools of fresh mozz. The cheese might have benefitted from another minute in the oven, but this slice also proved to be eye-opening. Thank you, Joe Vitale for bringing great New York–style pizza to the West Coast. At $2.75 for a regular cheese slice and $4 for the grandma slice, Joe's also qualifies as a value meal. Joe's of Bleecker Street: 111 Broadway, Santa Monica CA; 310-395-9222; joespizza.com
Though I haven't been to Vito's Pizza in quite a while, I would endorse it as my second favorite slice purveyor. I've had the cheese, sausage, meatball and white slices and they have been excellent nearly every time. Thin crust, very fresh toppings and a sauce made from a New Jersey grandma's recipe yields delectable though rather pricey pizza. 846 North La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood CA 90069; 310-652-6859; vitopizza.com
Whole Pies Only
And now for the better news: Los Angeles is the home of two of the very best pizza restaurants in the U.S of A. But first, a few words about two other recent pie experiences.
Bleecker Street Pizza
Last weekend I ventured into another restaurant attempting to cash in on a New York connection. In this case, it was Bleecker Street, located in Tarzana, out in the San Fernando Valley. I was informed that Greenwich Village's Bleecker Street and its ethnic restaurant diversity inspired the owner's eclectic and extensive menu. My gastronomic curiosity, however, was limited to the pizza. Boasting a wood-fired oven and a food sourcing philosophy that emphasizes local and organic, Bleecker Street also featured live music on this particular Saturday night. The restaurant's interior design, high ceilings, exposed brick and dark wood was pleasing to the eye but the noise quotient, like so many new restaurants out here, was quite high. Our last minute arrival and the restaurant's popularity meant we were out of luck for a private table but, in this case, I'd endorse the communal table typically reserved for walk-in traffic.
On this night, I ordered three pies: the Nolita, the Mulberry, and the Canal. Wow, I felt right at home. I could almost smell the fetid odors of rotting vegetables on Chinatown's narrow and crowded streets. Not! Anyway, the pies were essentially a regular cheese pie, a spicy sausage and fire-roasted peppers pie, and a hand-sliced pepperoni pie. As is my habit, I tried to convey my desire for a slightly charred crust to the waiter, but ultimately gave up and kept my fingers crossed.
Much to my surprise, Bleecker Street's pies, which came served on a small pie peel (cute touch), come in bar-pizza style. This is another varietal I have scant experience with, and frankly, I am not especially enthralled by several features of this pizza species. The pie's shape, a slightly irregular rectangle, didn't disturb me but the odd "cut," which results in several small, undesirable and untopped slices, seems fundamentally ill conceived. Furthermore, from pie photos I've seen, the "bar" pie lacks lip. In spite of these stylistic complaints, the pies achieved a fairly high score on the "Maven meter." The high-quality meats, vegetables, cheese and sauce, made from San Marzano tomatoes, and a nicely charred crust made for a solid pizza. Bleecker Street Pizza: 5442 Yolanda Street, Tarzana CA 91356; thebleeckerstreet.com
Recently, Slice major domo, Ed Levine, posted a review of one helluva scrumptious looking clam pizza at Zuppardi's Apizza. A commenter remarked that Nicky D's, in L.A.'s ultra hip Silver Lake district, served a great clam pie, so off I went.
It took nearly an hour to navigate my way there from the Westside and I truly hoped for a cheesy, clammy (in a good way) reward. The restaurant occupies a very cute space in what once was a private home. Very homey, rustic furnishings, and what a newspaper clipping claims is one of the biggest wood-fired ovens around.
We ordered the garlic white clam pie (they also make one with red sauce) and a fresh-mozz and sausage pie and prayed. The clam pie was very tasty. Fresh clams, not at all rubbery, but for my taste, there was too much oil and garlic. Now, I'm someone who could bathe in oil and garlic, but in this case, the very thin crust suffered. It was saturated with the oil and, consequently, the crust was soft and limp. Never a good thing! The second pie's crust carried the toppings more successfully. The sausage, spicy and thinly sliced, was plentiful and quite good, as was the mozz, though the cheese didn't really have the creaminess of fresh-made. Unfortunately, my pizza partner and I both were disappointed with the minimal sauce, to the extent that we both actually questioned its existence. I specifically requested that this "customized" pie include tomato sauce yet, even after peeking under the cheese and sausage we could barely detect any redness. The manager assured us, however, that it was there. I think that with careful ordering the pies here at Nicky D's would satisfy a pizza lover, but I can't honestly say I would drive crosstown for it. As a local pizzeria/restaurant though, I would definitely patronize this establishment. Nicky D's: 2764 Rowena Avenue, Los Angeles CA; 323-664-3333
And now for L.A.'s best. Had it not been for Antica Pizzeria in my former Marina del Rey 'hood, I would have been denied pure pizza pleasure for the majority of my time out here in SoCal. The day I found this Neapolitan outpost in the local mall my life changed for the better.
The owner, Peppe Miele, I later discovered was the American president of the Verace Pizza Napoletana. His pizza cred was evident in the pies that, at the time, he mostly made. Miele has trained his longtime assistant very well, and even though Miele is often away training and certifying pizzaioli around the world, the pies remain consistently transcendent.
Granted, the "wet center" and softer crusts of the traditional Neapolitan pie befuddle and disappoint some pizza consumers, but cognoscenti know this is the real deal. Personally, I learned long ago to order my pies, typically the Margherita, well-done. I can unhesitatingly say that in more than 10 years I've never been disappointed. Rumor also has it that Miele may be opening up a pizza school soon. Now there's a class I'd thoroughly enjoy. Antica Pizzeria: 13455 Maxella Avenue, Marina Del Rey CA 90292; 310-577-8182; anticapizzeria.net
Finally, Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza truly transformed the pizza scene here in L.A. As proof of its pizza perfection, Mozza recently reached the Slice/Rachel Ray Final Four before eventually succumbing to New York City's Motorino, an amazing accomplishment for an L.A. pizza-maker. The real proof, of course, is in the proverbial pudding, and the puddi...I mean pizza...here is overwhelmingly flavorful. The Margherita with sausage added is mouthwatering and taste-bud intoxicating. The fennel sausage, which comes in large chunks, is juicy and spicy, the way Sly Stallone and I like our meat.
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But the crust is what definitively separates Mozza from so many pizzerias. Ms. Silverton is the La Brea bread lady and the pizza crusts reek, in a good way, of rustic bread. The crust has great hole structure, is crisp outside and chewy inside, and every pie I've had has been properly charred and blistered. Besides the Margherita, the regular sausage pie (pictured above) with panna and red onions; the Paprika salami, mozz, and hot Fresno chiles; the Bianco, with mozz, fontina, sottocenare and sage; all are highly recommended. Mozza's ingredients are the freshest, utilizing local farmers' markets for their produce as well as noted L.A. artisanal cheesemaker, Gioia. 6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90038; 323-297-0100; mozza-la.com
Remarkably, while dining at a Kosher pizzeria the other day, I spoke with another customer about our favorite pizzas and he actually claimed to dislike Mozza's pies. He was only a bit more positive in his attitude toward Antica. He couldn't really express his reasons and I don't think I would've paid him any mind if he did. Except for the random contrarian I would say that for me, particularly in light of my recent experience in Phoenix, Mozza is as good as Pizzeria Bianco. The only drawback is that it can be very difficult to get a reservation at Pizzeria Mozza. There are a couple of fairly easy solutions, though. A person can go for a mid-week late lunch or get your pizza at Mozza 2 Go, the next-door take-out joint. I have parked nearby, ordered a couple of pies, and devoured most of them while sitting on the hood of my car. If you don't need the restaurant experience, this is the way to go. Unless you live close by, I wouldn't let travel time reduce these pies' deliciosity. And if you do take this pizza home, obey Silverton's advice and Do Not Reheat it in a microwave.
Well, that's it. Mission accomplished! SoCal pizza ain't what it used to be. And that is a good thing.
Our Man Damon's Picks
Around the Serious Eats sites, I am known as a burger guy. Well, I am a burger guy and I take that delicious sandwich very seriously (both personally and professionally). I love offering up my opinion on my burger of the week over on A Hamburger Today. That said, if you are asking me what food I cherish the most, the answer is easy: pizza. It is my first and greatest food love, and that's saying something. My favorite things in this life? A girl from Texas, my family, and then pizza.
As you might imagine, my New York City childhood is more than a little bit responsible for my pizza predilection. As a boy, my father and I would travel back and forth across the city in search of a slice. We'd ride the Belt Parkway out to his childhood stomping grounds in Bensonhurst to eat what I will always describe as the perfect Sicilian slice at L&B Spumoni Gardens. We'd eat four squares each and suck down a Pepsi as he'd describe what the place looked like 30 years earlier when his father had brought him. Sometimes it was a ride up to Arthur Avenue in The Bronx to the strange stuck-in-amber stretch of mid-century Italian-Americana. Suffice to say, my earliest and best food memories are pizza-shaped.
One of the many ironies of my adulthood is that I've chosen to live in a city that is renowned for making such mediocre (even bad) pizza. Though I still make pilgrimages to my childhood pizzerias when I'm back in NYC for the very best, the recent years have given the Los Angeles pizza-scape a gentle roiling of hope. I see on the horizon a growing movement of authentic and delicious pizza culture for the City of Angels, and I couldn't be more pleased. Here is a list of some LA spots of note.
LAPM has already given some lowdown on Antica, but I'd include it in my list, too. As LAPM points out, Peppe Miele boasts the enviable tile of president of the American chapter of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana—one of only two chefs in Los Angeles to have a VPN certification (the other being his former apprentice, the very talented Gloria Felix of Reservoir). L.A. Pizza Maven has given the full breakdown on Antica (which he quite likes), but for me, a genuine Napoletana is such an ongoing struggle against the chaos of the chemistry and physics of cooking, that it needs an obsessive hand to make it consistently good. Miele might have one, but the guys he's got making pies day-to-day have missed the mark for me on more than one occasion. The crust chews nicely and the ingredients are fresh, but this very good pizza doesn't quite rise to the elite levels. Antica Pizzeria: 13455 Maxella Avenue, Marina Del Rey CA 90292; 310-577-8182; anticapizzeria.net
Avanti has been around for years, so I am a little embarrassed to say that it's relatively new to my pizza rotation. It's been a longstanding Pasadena favorite, but doesn't get much mention in the best of LA conversations. The oven is wood-fired and makes for a very nice crust, and that is the strength of their pizza. A totally solid pizza that deserves a little more attention. Avanti Café: 111 North Lake Avenue; Pasadena CA 91101; 626-577-4688; avanticafe.com
Haven't heard of Bottega Louie? That won't be the case for long. The folks behind this restaurant are planning a major and rapid expansion across the country. This massive restaurant—one that is housed in a beautiful space in downtown LA that used to be the flagship store for Brooks Brothers (really)—is the biggest success in the LA restaurant scene since, well, Mozza. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner draw hundreds of downtown business types and hipsters alike. The very good pizza here may not be on the radar as among the best in the nation, but c'mon, we're in L.A. Bottega Louie: 700 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90017; 213-802-1470; bottegalouie.com
Casa Bianca is celebrating its 50th year in business on the main drag of Eagle Rock. It reminds me of something that my father used to say when I'd ask him to take me to some of the old Italian restaurants from his Brooklyn neighborhood, "Just because it's been there a long time, doesn't mean they know how to cook." People still say they love Casa Bianca and, truly, I am at a loss to understand why. The crust is wan, the cheese isn't particularly good, and it's heaped on a sauce that is over-seasoned. Oh, and you are pretty much guaranteed to wait on line for a table on a weekend night. I proudly wave the minority opinion flag on this place. Casa Bianca: 1650 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90041; 323-256-9617; casabiancapizza.com
What does a punk rock kid from Colorado know about pizza? Turns out, a lot more than many Los Angeles pizzerias. The crust is tossed thin, the sauce is sweet, and if the cheese was of a higher quality, I'd give these mountain men the title of the best pizza purveyor in my neighborhood. A tip from my girlfriend: ask them to undercook your pie... just a bit. Garage Pizza: 4339 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90029; 323-668-1190; garagepizzala.com
Yes, Gjelina is the cool kid restaurant on the premiere Bohemian chic street in Los Angeles (Venice's Abbot Kinney), but that doesn't mean the pizza can't be excellent. Chef Travis Lett makes some of the best food in L.A. and his pizza is part of the reason I say that. He talks about Mario Batali's Babbo as being the inspiration for his take on how to prepare a meal at a restaurant, and you can taste it. The supremely delicate pies get a fantastic smash of heat, making for a bubbled and charred crust that is matched with superior toppings. Heirloom spinach, garlic confit, Asiago, and olive oil anyone? These may be self-conscious and mannered pizzas, but they are also delicious. Gjelina: 1429 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice CA 90291; 310-450-1429; gjelina.com
Il Dolce Pizzeria
Roberto Bignes has brought some serious pizza bona fides to the belle époque beach culture of Costa Mesa. Bignes, his wife, and his VPN certification make proper Neopolitan pizza in one of the newer (and worthy of mention) pizzerias in Southern California. They make their mozzarella in house, add a little almond wood to the gas oven, and the crusts bubble with the complexity disguised as a flat bread that can make pizza so amazing. 1902 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa CA 92627; 949-200-9107; ildolceoc.com
When I crave the pizza of my New York City childhood (which is everyday), I am confronted with one of the few (that's right, few!) things about my adopted hometown that leave me truly homesick. In recent years, we've seen a high-end pizza movement in LA, but when my craving is for the simple pleasure of a salty, chewy slice, there just aren't that many options. Joe's—yes, the Joe's from New York City—has opened two outlets in Los Angeles. While I as a kid, I easily passed up a slice walking along Bleecker in the knowledge that a subway ride meant a better option closer to home (Sal & Carmine's, anyone?), my adult strides along Sunset or in Santa Monica invariably mean a detour to Joe's for a very solid New York-style slice.
8539 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood CA 90069; 310-358-0900
111 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica CA 90401 (at Broadway); 310-395-9222
Mulberry Street Pizzeria
Mulberry Street is one of the original attempts to make a New York slice here in Los Angeles. Celebrity owner, Cathy Moriarty, claims that the water—the long thought missing link ingredient to a proper crust in Southern California—gets trucked in from New York. The pizza isn't as good as the New York pies to which it aspires, but certainly it's a far better than average slice (for LA).
240 South Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills CA 90212; 310-247-8100
347 N Canon Drive, Beverly Hills CA 90212; 310-247-8998
17040 Ventura Boulevard, Encino CA 91316; 818-789-6861
Nicky D's Wood-Fired Pizza
I probably wouldn't mention Nicky D's if I didn't have to continually broker compromises about it with my better half. My girl, like me, understands the balance of pizza and life, so I trust her judgment. (That and when I order a pizza, I am usually splitting it with her, so I better learn to like some of her preferences if I want to go the distance.) For me, Nicky D's is definitely a good pizza, but rarely does it evoke more than a simple satisfied nod. The cheese often seems a bit heavy handed so as to thumb the balanced scales of flavors that make for a great pizza. One thing she will admit is that it can be inconsistent. She recommends to offer up a little advice about how they can fashion it to your tastes, and the thick chewy crust can be one worth coming back for. 2764 Rowena Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90039; 323-664-3333; nickydspizza.com
Pavich's Brick Oven Pizzeria
San Pedro is home to the most developed Italian-American community in Southern California, and that means that you can find a number of eateries that pass the sniff test, but when it comes to pizza, you might be best served to head to the Croatian joint. Pavich's has developed a following with a real brick oven and some authentic ingredients. The owner, Zdenko Pavic, makes a very good, straight-forward pizza along with impressive Croatian version that comes with strips of smoked beef. 2311 South Alma Street, San Pedro CA 90731; pavichspizza.com
Pizza Per Tutti
This little storefront a few blocks down the road from Universal Studios is one of the few pizzerias in town run by an Italian national. He was born in Italy and as a young man, shipped off to various locations around Europe to work in hotels and restaurants. He finally made his way to Los Angeles and decided to open up a pizzeria. All of the components taste spot-on to my palette, but the fact that he rolls his crust with a bit robs it of the airy texture that would make this among the best places in the city. 4143 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood CA 91602; 818-760-4030
Another pizzeria by another famed chef? Yes, it's that, but it's also something more. Nancy Silverton made her reputation as the queen of bread with La Brea Bakery, but after selling off that brand and taking a well-deserved leave from the food scene in LA 9with some extended stays in Italy), she decided to jump back into the fray with a proper pizzeria and a proper wood-fire pizza oven. She enlisted Mario Batali as a partner (which doesn't hurt) and opened an instant pizza sensation. Mozza is one of the few LA pizza spots that commands national attention, and with good reason. The pies are excellent and have a taste unto themselves. Silverton's bread bias is clearly in effect when coming up with her chosen dough recipe. 6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90038; 323-297-0100; mozza-la.com
Doubtless you've heard about Alan Richman's top 25 pizzas in the United States and the controversy which it sparked. I can't weigh in on the accuracy of the reporting on all of Richman's favorites, but I certainly know a bit about Tomato Pie. The Silverlake outlet, the one at which Richman dined, is actually the second Tomato Pie in L.A. and happens to be about a minute drive from my house (yes, we drive in LA even if it's only a minute away). The first store popped up on the eastern end of the Melrose teen-shopping strip after transplanted New Yorker Garrett Policastro decided his mission would be to bring a quality, New York-style slice to LA. Tomato Pie makes a perfectly serviceable pizza, and certainly the Grandma-style that Richman ranks seventh in the nation is your best choice, but, sadly, I have to inform you that it's just OK. When considering the eye-rolling, perfect pleasure of devouring a superlative slice, I am hard-pressed to understand what made Richman rate this one so highly. It's good, sure, but I'd wager that like me, you wouldn't rate it among the nation's best.
2457 Hyperion Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90027; 323-661-6474
7751 1/2 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90046; 323-653-9993
I know a lot of people say a lot of nice things about Vito's, but I feel like it's consistently overrated. This is a pizzeria aspires to a be a higher-end New York-style pizzeria and their dough (made from a New Jersey aunt's recipe) is actually very good. The problems I've run into are consistency. Often the quality ingredients are handled with care and you get a very good slice. Other times, I've been served a dried out, aging wedge of a slice that was long past its prime. When it's good, it's very good and that's most likely when you get a fresh pies so treat yourself and order a whole one. 846 North La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood CA 90069; 310-652-6859; vitopizza.com
Update and Apology to Non-L.A. Residents of SoCal
There's been a lot of very justified criticism in the comments section that the title of this post says "Southern California" but that this is in fact a guide to L.A. pizza with a couple non-L.A. places included.
I have heard your rage and would like to apologize. I have changed the misleading title and appreciate the intel you're dropping in the comments here, which is going partially to rectifying the situation.
Part of the reason we have little intel outside of L.A. is that both our Slice correspondents are Angelenos. We totally welcome reports from all over SoCal (and the country). If you want to add your favorite pizzeria to Slice, here's how: Review Your Favorite Pizzeria on Slice. —The Mgmt.