Los Angeles: A Trip Down the Mr. Pizza Rabbit Hole
3881 Wilshire Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90010 (Map); 213-738-0077; mrpizza.co.kr
Pizza type: Korean?
Oven type: Conveyor
The Skinny: Authentic Korean pizza with odd crusts and flavor combinations
Price: Beselo, $26; Grand Prix, $20.50; Greek Gold, $13; Bulgogi $13.50
People seem to like train wrecks. It's why Britney Spears has more money than the city of Detroit, and why we all have the misfortune of knowing that the Real Housewives exist. It's also why few of us can turn away when we see a pizza (usually made by a foreign division of Pizza Hut) that closely resembles what Shelley was trying to get at in Frankenstein. What I'm saying is that people like a circus. And when it comes to cheese on dough, Barnum & Bailey ain't got nothin' on Mr. Pizza.
A popular South Korean chain, Mr. Pizza has graced the pages of Slice on more than one occasion thanks to oddball pies and a legitimately funny video on the dubious origins of pizza. They're expanding now, but there's only two shops in America, both in Los Angeles.
For gawkers who just want to do a drive-by on the pizza freak show, feel free to skip the nitty gritty and check out the slideshow above ». There's a crab, bacon, salsa and blue cheese dressing (among many other things) combo. There's cookie dough crust. That kind of stuff. But there's a lot more going on at Mr. Pizza than crazy food.
Check out the front of the menu. I can't fully explain Mr. Pizza's mantra ("Love for Women"), but it appears that women in Korea voted Mr. Pizza their favorite and he's doing his very best to reciprocate. I implore you to poke around their website. No doubt some of the fun is getting lost (and produced) in translation, but it's beyond fascinating to see how pizza gets marketed in faraway places.
Getting back to the food, you don't necessarily need to order something crazy like that shrimp-potato-cookie dough pie above. You're fully capable of ordering a boring pepperoni pizza if you wish, but all the signature pies all come with a heap of toppings. Before I dug into the Besolo (a pizza split into four varieties with, oh, 20 different ingredients), part of me was hoping that Mr. Pizza had cracked some ancient code and made art out of what looked to be a random collection of food items. Maybe Korea had found a way to mix components like Cajun shrimp, ground beef, chillies, bacon, corn, and olives into a bold and coherent new vision of pizza. To their credit, nothing was that bad individually...but together they tasted like scrapyard.
There are literally five different crusts available, but the big selling point of Mr. Pizza—at least according to the only two avowed fans I know (one of them being Kelly Bone)—is the "gold" crust. It's a relatively thin, hand-tossed(!) pan pizza with lumpy edges that are topped with cheddar and filled to the brim with sweet potato mousse. Though the mousse has a slightly disturbing yellow-green tint, it's ridiculously sweet and therefore fairly pleasing to the general population. Kelly's argument for Mr. Pizza is that you get a pizza (a Greek in her case) with relatively fresh vegetables (true) and then at the end you get dessert (also true, I guess). My counter-argument is that I will not sleep until she is safely committed to an institution. Also, since bread is the single most important part of the pizza equation, the fact that you can't eat the sweet potato crust with any portion of any other topping without tasting chemical weapons probably means that hundreds of years of splitting courses was a good idea.
Is that too harsh? Here's another argument against Mr. Pizza. After lunch there I felt like Bruce Willis in the The Last Boy Scout (or maybe the guy who got dropped through helicopter blades at the end). Haven't seen the movie? Okay, suffice it to say I was in bad shape. Could it just be because I ate a ton of pizza? I've done that before, so I doubt it. Perhaps it had something to do with the mix of sugar and the surprisingly large amount of oil leaking off the bottom of the pan pizzas. Regardless, if you make the trek, don't be a hero and finish the last slice.
Even my one stab at semi-normalcy, a Bulgogi (tomato, mozzarella, ground beef marinated in a traditional korean bulgogi sauce, onion, bell pepper, mushroom) on a "screen" crust was a disappointment. I was initially confused by what screen pizza was, but it turns out it's just a regular cardboard/conventional chain-style dough cooked on a screen in a conveyor oven. Nothing revolutionary. And though you could definitely taste plenty of soy in the ground beef, making it rather unique for a pizza, it didn't necessarily mesh with the other traditional ingredients. Ultimately, it was just a chain pie with a strange, salty kick.
There were other dark alleys I didn't get to stroll down. None of my dining companions would go for the stuffed cream cheese crust or the Seafood Island, featuring potato-wrapped shrimp, calamari, scallop, and ground beef. But from the crazy pizzas I did try, one pizza with a dozen different toppings didn't taste all that different from another.
I want to be a pizza relativist and say that that Mr. Pizza is just targeted towards another culture, a different palette. But if you go through the slideshow you're definitely going to see an annoying touch of pizza snobbery. I can't help it; I hardly even have a memory of the basics, like the barely-there tomato sauce or the bland mozzarella, because they're basically afterthoughts.
Of course, there must be a legitimate reason why they were able to open up another shop downtown, and why their stated goal of world domination is slowly coming to fruition in Asia. I simply can't comprehend it. However, just because I won't be running off to join the circus doesn't mean it might not be a fun place for you to visit. The service is great. Just know that you're paying for an experience, and not an actual meal.
About the author: Lance Roberts is a writer in Los Angeles who's still waiting for The Last Boy Scout Part II.