Not All Pizza Is Created Equally
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’s? 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 patience to map out the best pizza in any city. By visiting dozens of restaurants, I have only scratched the surface. Honestly, it’s a pursuit that could not be completed in a lifetime—but my waistline can testify 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.
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 in Brooklyn. Sicilian style is a deep-dish square pizza with thick bread and cheese covered with sauce and spices. With minimal tomato sauce, an airy light crust, dollops of fresh mozzarella and basil accents, Margheritta pizza is more indicative of a traditional Italian pizza. Having 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.
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.
- Maximiliano. For an Italian restaurant not specializing in pizza, this place has many exciting vegetarian pizza options—Marinara, Margheritta, Potato, Burrata, Bianca-Verde, Mushroom, Eggplant, and Vegan. The 13-inch 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
- Two Boots Echo Park. Purchase massive New York style slices with a variety of toppings or have a pizza made to order. Either way is certain to please. But when you are craving a New York slice, go for it.
1818 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026
- Gjelina. Something interesting happened here. I historically avoided mushrooms—it was mostly my wife’s aversion mixed with a silly childhood fear that they were poison. I went here with with someone who loves mushrooms so ordered a pizza with a half dozen types of sautéed fresh mushrooms. I was offered a slice that had no cheese or sauce. The mushrooms were so full of flavor that it erased my mushroom fears and I now routinely purchase and cook with them.
1427 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
- Pizzanista. Hands down, the best New York style cheese pizza I have ever tasted—Fascati included. I hope to relive that first bite into perpetuity. The great tasting sauce favors oregano and basil over salt. There is literally no way to improve it. This would have topped 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 bucks each.
2019 E 7th St, Los Angeles CA 90021
- 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. Sodium levels are quite high. 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.
A surprising disappointment was Grey Block Pizza in Culver City. I read an indifferent review on Slice and decided to give the the spinach with sun-dried tomato pie a try. 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 everything 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 human consumption.
The mediocre, though abundant, pizza slice at Costco is a better tasting and far less expensive option.
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—better for the environment perhaps—with a depreciating effect on the product.
During my last Pitfire 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.
I love the decor inside Mohawk Bend but the two vegetarian pizzas 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 20 years longer than me, 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.
Best Slice in Los Angeles
After tasting everything from the traditional chain restaurants and Costco—the 15th largest pizza chain in America—to the Momma-and-Pappa and artisan restaurants, I bestow the award of best Los Angeles pizza to…
- 🍕 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; sauce is made from whole stewed tomatoes with fresh toppings and seasoning doesn’t require modification with condiments. (Pretend their thin-crust bistro or vegan 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-dish pie—or order in advance so it is ready when you arrive. 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. Save up coins for custom toppings.
1800 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90026
There are many other promising places to try like Mozza, Mother Dough, 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 pass up Masa for Two Boots Pizza two doors down. The cost and amount of carbohydrates makes this is a multi-year undertaking. The face of restaurants can change over time (i.e. Pitfire). Some I tried have since been shut down.
Let Me Know What You Think
Keep up with the growing Pinterest board of for Pizza Lovers. You are welcome to follow along. 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? Do you agree with my assessments? When cooking a pizza at home, do you make all ingredients from scratch, microwave a frozen pizza or dress one up? March 14 is Pi Day. Share your thoughts below.