Pizza Al Forno ($3.00)
It’s fancy in name only, the slices hang limply over the edge of a heated display tower. The crust is soft, loose, and oddly pastry-like. In and of itself, the crust is not so terrible—it's what is or isn’t on top that ruins it. A pale pink hue is the only indication that sauce was ever near this slice. For some reason, as you’ll soon see, Hollywood Blvd slice joints seem terrified of letting any of their sauce show through the cheese. Oh, and the cheese. At Pizza Al Forno it’s thin and hard, like a dried layer of Elmer’s glue. This floppy slice has no place near me, you, or anyone we know. If you see the Pizza Al Forno sign, run away (but do feel free to send your worst enemy here).
Pizza Al Forno: 6541 Hollywood Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90028 (map); 323-962-8903
Asparagus Pizza ($3.00)
This is probably the most depressing slice. Not because it was bad, but because it could have been good. If someone takes the time to care, Asparagus Pizza can actually put out a pretty decent pie.
The crust seemed wimpy, hanging loosely as I tried to pick it up. But the dough tasted clean like a simple homemade crust. The crisper area near the outer edge was extremely promising—the thin profile holds a delicate and chewy crumb. I could taste the acidic tomatoes and the light touch of dried herbs in the sauce throughout the bite. Oddly, it looked like the pizza had been pre-made with sauce only—the cheese was clearly applied before reheat. That cheese is what sells the slice. It’s saltier than most and applied judiciously, drawing out the subtle flavors of the dairy and tomato.
Some might find this slice’s salty finish too much, which would be a perfectly fair assessment. Sitting there, eating this near-miss slice, I noticed everyone else was ordering from the newly expanded Mexican menu...so if you don’t want to risk a salty slice, have a burrito instead.
Asparagus Pizza : 1809 N Cahuenga Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90028 (map); 323-962-3036
Village Pizzeria ($2.45)
My highest hopes rested on Village Pizzeria. The Larchmont location is widely considered to churn out solid pies. But I was dumbfounded by their by-the-slice pizza—the paper thin dough was rolled out so gauntly that my slice was actually translucent. Half the slice tasted like someone smeared sauce and cheese on the bottom of an oven and served the congealed result. Which, oddly enough, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it tasted more like a cheese crisp then a slice of pizza. At least the outer end had a suggestion of dough, albeit a stingy amount…I don’t even know what else to say. If I were this slice’s parent, I’d schedule a parent-teacher conference to figure out how it strayed so far from the mark.
Stefano's: Two Guys From Italy ($3.00)
With an armful of small pizza boxes, I entered the "The oldest pizzeria on the Boulevard." I immediately drew the attention of Stefano’s very vocal fans. Crowding around the counter, a wiry woman—who tells me she’s been coming here “forever”—sings the praises of Stefano's fresh dough and “real cheese! None of that frozen crap from the other places around here.” As I order my slice, a bubbly blond on break from the gift shop next door walks in and orders “the usual.” It feels like the entire restaurant is watching as I take my first bite. The crust is solid, with the somewhat dense and Wonder Bread-like crumb. It’s lightly slathered with a sauce that tastes 99% of dried herbs and 1% of tomato paste.
The woman calls out “It’s good, right!” Not sure if she is asking a question or making a statement, I respond with a noncommittal grunt. But all eyes are on me, so I smile and pretend not to notice that the glossy translucent “real” cheese tastes more like lard then a dairy product.
I can only surmise that Stefano's has survived 50+ years on the love of its feverish fans. It’s worth a visit just to meet the historic Hollywood locals; but your money is be better spent at their pinball machine then at their kitchen counter.
Stefano's: Two Guys From Italy: 6705 Hollywood Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90028 (map); 323-463-0715
Greco's New York Pizzeria ($4.96)
Late at night, the charmingly weathered 1970s signage of Greco’s beckons the Hollywood Boulevard crawlers who yearn for their share of urban grit. Which is what drew me in on this post’s inspirational night. With the proper beer goggles, it not hard to pretend this is an ‘authentic’ NYC slice joint...until you actually get your slice.
While this is a type of pizza found in New York, it is nothing like a classic NYC slice. The ginormous mutant cousin of the slice had patrons bewildered and requesting that their slice be re-sliced, party-ish style!
The crust is cooked all the way through, offering the fine complexities of a piece of styrofoam. The sauce is decent, notably sweet with a muddy undertone that admittedly tastes better than the nothing-at-all of many other nearby pizzas. It’s a filling slice and not a bad as I remember, but leaves behind a cloying aftertaste that is only acceptable after the 2am mark.
Leila's Pizza & Deli ($4.09)
A bright eyed tourist asks, “This is good pizza, right?” to which the counter guy lazily nods in agreement. But at the end of the night, I too nod in agreement.
This is the most horrific looking slice of the crawl. Pale crust and puffy white cheese doesn't normally get my mojo rising. But this pizza is different from the others, and it’s this difference that makes me finish it. This is nothing like a New York style slice, nor does it attempt to be. Instead, it’s a collection of ingredients that actually taste good… in a guilty pleasure kind of way. It’s a thick moist crust, a cushy mattress for the layers of sauce and cheese. The sauce is rich, with pulpy acidic tomato paste and a touch of herbs and sweetness. Finished with puffy fingers of bleach-white cheese, it very similar to Trader Joe’s Bambino Pizza Formaggio. In other words, it looks and tastes like a frozen pizza—which, in this case, is better than a “fresh pizza” made by someone who has no idea what they're doing.
The only truly offensive thing about this slice? The price.
Leila's Pizza & Deli: 6760 Hollywood Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90028 (map); 323-978-0238