The Best Pizza in L.A. and at Home

Piled with veggies or pepperoni, most people enjoy great pizza pie.

By Kevin RR Williams

DINING I have vivid recollection of my first day at pre-school. No, I'm not claiming to be one of the 12 known persons with hyperthymesia. Rather, everyone has the capacity to retain long-term memories of significant events through a neural process called memory re-consolidation. [1] When an event conflicts with prior concepts and triggers strong emotion — pleasurable or otherwise — we relive it through sleep recollection, conversations and persistent memories. The thought thus makes inroads within synapses in our brains to become permanent a memory.

Remember Your Last Pizza?

We may eat pizza at dozens of restaurants but few leave an indelible impression. What's the difference between Dominos, Pizza Hut and Chuck E Cheese? One might be a bit dryer or sweeter but they all basically use the same processed meats, cheeses and sauces. In many cases, some franchised pizzas may be little more than deconstructed frozen pizzas. The slight advantage being that thawed ingredients are sprinkled atop before baking rather than being pre-bonded to the crust in a shrink-wrapped freezer bag.

After tasting the best pizza in your life, it will make a lasting impression. Conversely, if you can't recall whether the pizza was good or bad, or whether those were chicken or pork bits there was no memory re-consolidation. It was, therefore, mundane or forgettable.

It requires a bit of naiveté to map out the best pizza in any city. By visiting dozens of restaurants, I have only scraped the surface. Honestly, it's a pursuit that could not be completed in a lifetime — but it's pretty fun to try. My multi-year quest for the best pizza in Los Angeles began before becoming a vegetarian and has continued afterwards. There are places that are absolutely forgettable, others with such negative experiences that I wish I could forget, and a few that stand out as spectacular.

Types of Pizza

Just as America is a melting pot of other nations. Los Angeles is fusion of various states and cultures. Immigrants have brought pizza recipes from Chicago, New York and Italy. Each style of pizza has its own characteristics. Perhaps your own town is known for a particular type of pizza.

Fascati NYC

With a thick crust along the rim, Chicago-style has a distinctive deep dish that is filled with fresh ingredients in the center. In Chi Town, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is a prime example. Classic New York pizza traditionally has a crispy thin crust with a well-seasoned sauce and your choice of toppings, as offered by the slice at Fascati. Sicilian style is a deep-dish square pizza with thick bread and cheese covered with sauce and spices. [2] With minimal tomato sauce, dollops of fresh mozzarella and basil accents, Margheritta pizza is more indicative of a traditional Italian pizza.

Artisan, Neopolitan-style or Bistro pizzas are generally regarded as handcrafted attempts to emulate, or excel above, tradition — sometimes with exotic toppings and obsessive attention to bubbly perfected crust. California style has emerged from a combination of these and other anti-traditional techniques. Many states, countries and provinces claim their own take on the modern pizza pie.

Best Slices in Los Angeles

After tasting everything from the traditional chain restaurants and Costco to the Momma-and-Pappa and artisan restaurants I have come up with a short-list of places you must visit when you're in Los Angeles.

  • Olio Pizzeria & Cafe. After five dozen iterations, Bradford Kent has perfected his signature artisan crust that is the standard by which others can be measured. The sterile restaurant houses a wood burning oven. Though toppings can get quite expensive, even his minimalist Margheritta is delectable.
    8075 W 3rd St, Ste 100, Los Angeles, CA 90048 4.5 of 5
  • Masa. Complete with quaint mismatched tablecloths and walls covered with knick-knacks, Chicago-style deep dish has landed in Echo Park. The crust is immaculate, toppings are fresh and seasoning doesn't require modification with condiments. (Pretend their thin-crust bistro pizzas aren't on the menu. Seriously, they should be removed. I nearly didn't return after ordering one but decided to give Masa another chance since I broke my rule by not trying the house specialty.) Be patient and wait 40 minutes for the deep-sith pie. It takes correspondingly deep pockets to load your favorite toppings at $3 to 4.50 each.
    The small California Vegetable with spinach and sun-dried and crushed tomatoes went so quickly at our table for three (with a second small pie for carnivores), that I was only able to photograph the last two slices. Three visits so far. Saving up coins for custom toppings.
    1800 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90026 5 of 5

Honorable Mentions

  • Pizzanista. Hands down, the best New York style cheese pizza I've ever tasted — Fascati included. I will relive that first bite into perpetuity. The sauce favors oregano and basil over salt — a notch above Masa. There was literally no way to improve it. This would have ranked the top of my list. Unfortunately, of the three pizza slices purchased (Cheese, Sicilian, and Vegetable), two had uncooked crust in the center. The 33 percent chance of satisfaction may not be worth some of the highest prices in the city for full pies. Three varieties are featured each Tuesday for $2 per slice.
    2019 E 7th St, Los Angeles CA 90021 3.5 of 5
  • Maximiliano. For an Italian restaurant not specializing in pizza, this place has many exciting vegetarian pizza options — Marinara, Margheritta, Potato, Burrata, Mushroom, Eggplant, and Vegan. At $13 for a 13-inch pie, the Potato Pizza was both reasonably priced and quite tasty. There are many well-plated entrees for non-vegetarians like Pan Roasted Chicken or Pork Chop, and Organic Scottish Salmon Piccata.
    5930 York Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90042 4 of 5
  • Urbano. I just had to try the Farmers Market and Margheritta pizzas, which are a spectacular bargain at half price (about $7) during happy hour (until you factor downtown parking fees). The biggest disappointment with the beautiful artisan pizzas is that by the time they make it to the table, the slices are cold. Perhaps the crust is too thin. They should definitely include on-table pizza warmers. You expect chilling to occur over the course of the meal. But the first slice should be piping hot!
    630 W 6th St, Ste 16 B, Los Angeles CA 90017 3.5 of 5
  • Susan Feniger's Street. As mentioned in a prior review, Street serves a flavorful pizza. However, the selection is limited to one variety that changes daily, making it difficult for a fair comparison. It would take at least a full week of pizza ordering to make an assessment. But frankly, there are too many other great dishes to limit oneself to pizza at Street.
    742 N Highland Ave, Hollywood CA 90038 4 of 5
  • BJ's. As a nation-wide chain restaurant, this one gets mixed reviews. I have dined at four different locations. Half the time the order is wrong. There are extremely high sodium levels in most entrees. I nevertheless have fond memories of a specialty pizza loaded with meatballs, pepperoni, Italian sausage: BJ's Favorite: Substitute black olives for Kalamata. Comes with thick crust to support all the toppings.
    Multiple locations 4 of 5

Dishonorable Mentions

Grey Block Pizza

A surprising disappointment was Grey Block Pizza in Culver City. I read an indifferent review on Slice [3] and decided to compare their spinach with sun-dried tomato pie to the top-ranked Masa. For all its beauty, Grey Block failed on the flavor. The tough outer crust was rimed with acrid dried onion bits. (Other options are available.) Dried tomatoes were too chewy.

Food stylists may pull anything from lacquer to hair spray from their bag of tricks to make meals look appetizing in photos. Grey Block could put stylists out of business with its gorgeous looking pizzas straight from the oven. Unfortunately, like the product of food stylists, the pizza I tasted wasn't fit for consumption. 2 of 5 The mediocre, though abundant, pizza slice at Costco is a better tasting and far less expensive option. 3 of 5

Pitfire Pizza

Judging by all the stamps on my customer loyalty card, it seems that Pitfire Pizza ranks high on my list. At one time, I was willing to drive from Long Beach to Studio City (near Burbank) for a serving of their artisan pizza with toppings and crust grilled over a wood-burning pit. I even had lunch with an investor there and discussed opening a franchise. But something quite unexpected happened as Pitfire expanded to locations in Westwood and Culver City. Gas grills replaced the wood burning pits. This had a depreciating effect on the product. During my last visit to the Culver City location, a pizza loaded with spinach, cherry tomatoes, artichoke, feta cheese and kalamata olives (Can you tell I like kalamata?) was surprisingly bland. Any one of the last three ingredients should have been bursting with flavor. 2.5 of 5

I love the decor inside Mohawk Bend but the two vegetarian pizzas we tried pleased neither my wife nor me. The flavors were non-cohesive — forgettable. So much so that my wife, who spent a year in Italy and has been a vegetarian more than 25 years, asked that we not return. Truxton's in Westchester has a friendly staff and decent veggie burger. But after four visits, I can recommend a few things not to order: French fries, sautéed vegetables, and pizza; in all fairness, the server warned me that they were not known for the latter.

Excluded Locations

There are many other promising places to try like Mozza, Mother Dough, Gjelina, Two Boots, Cowboys and Turbans, Pica Enoteca, Cruzer Pizzeria, and Folliero's. They are mentioned so you know they have not yet been taken into consideration when naming the current best. It will require quite a bit of incentive to sample Two Boots Pizza when it's just a few doors West of Masa. As mentioned, because of cost and carbohydrates, this is a multi-year undertaking. The face of restaurants can change over time (i.e. Pitfire) so it seems appropriate to share the progress while still applicable. There are enough remaining establishments for a separate post in the future.

Quick "Gourmet" Pizza At Home

At age 12 I made my first Bisquick pizza. A valuable lesson was learned — bacon should be fried beforehand. Since then, I have tried frozen bread dough, Bobolie ready-made pizza crust and learned to make dough from scratch. It's not too difficult. It just takes time to allow the yeast to activate.

Cheap is my second favorite food next to good. After hectic morning appointments without breakfast followed by shopping at three grocery stores, I was desperate for a quick food fix by 3PM. The grocery store end cap freezer displayed Tombstone pizzas on sale for $2.50 each. In a state of delirium, I did the unthinkable: Two packages found their way into my shopping cart. The ideal product placement supplanted traditionally high standards.

What's the worst thing about frozen pizza? Usually it's a combination of two or more: bad tasting crust, high-sodium sauce bonded to the bread or freezer-burned cheese that doesn't bubble when heated. Tombstone's had non-bubbling cheese and the dough wasn't exactly artisan. But if cooked well, it didn't have that Tino's cracker-crust taste. This in no way compares to the top restaurant picks. But it may put you ahead of the dishonorable mentions.

By purchasing a plain frozen pizza and adding fresh toppings, it's possible to mask many of the inherent faults for a cheap, decent slice. At the risk of losing all credibility, read how this lowly store-bought frozen pizza was transformed into an, ahem, "gourmet" delight in the sidebar.

Let Me Know What You Think

I am slowly making my way through a growing Pinterest board of over 200 Mouth-Watering Veggie dishes. You are welcome to follow along as I share my progress there. Your comments there are appreciated as well.

Is your state or province known for a particular style of pizza? Have you been to Los Angeles, Chicago or New York? If so, where is your favorite place to buy a pizza slice? When cooking a pizza at home, do you make all ingredients from scratch, microwave a frozen pizza or dress one up? Share your thoughts below.

Click any image for larger version. Then click left or right to advance through them. Inset 3-photo column of pizzas are from Grey Block, Masa and enhanced Tombstone.

References
  1. Memory Consolidation. human-memory.net ^
  2. Slice - Sicilian style. slice.seriouseats.com ^
  3. Daily Slice: Grey Block Pizza, Los Angeles. slice.seriouseats.com ^
  4. Photography by author.