LA’s 12 Best Pizzas
The idea of writing an article on LA’s best pizza absolutely terrifies me.
Wars have been started over less intense debates! Who am I to tell anyone that their favorite thin crust is not as good as this other guys’ beloved deep dish? One man’s Pizzeria Mozza is another man’s Pizza Hut (and vice versa).
I knew I had to do some in-depth research before I started putting fingers to the keyboard. No pizza left uneaten. No pizza stone left unturned. I had to consume them all before I could legitimately give any sort of educated opinion. This, of course, put an immense amount of pressure on me, and I began scouring the web to make sure I had been to or would soon visit every single well-reviewed pizza place in Los Angeles. My stomach and cholesterol were going to take a beating.
When I first moved to LA fourteen years ago, I always heard people say that the best pizza could be found at Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock. Of course, I ate there all those years ago and have little memory of it, so I knew I needed a refresher to see if it was still list-worthy.
Having just revisited Casa Bianca last week, I can safely say that it is the pizza of a past generation. It reminded me of a good frozen pizza, complete with cardboard crust. Pizza has evolved so much since the ’50s when this place opened; time for a remodel.
There are four major pizza genres in LA: New York thin crust, Chicago deep dish, Neapolitan/artisanal wood-fired, and takeout/delivery (Domino’s will not be on my list, sadly).
Perhaps ten years ago you couldn’t find many great pizzas in LA, but there have been enough East Coast ex-pats who have finally brought us some tasty and authentic thin slices and deep dish delights. I think it’s time everyone lay off with the snide “not as good as NYC” comments. By the way, California has been doing the artisanal, wood-fired thing ever since Wolfgang Puck rolled into town in 1982, so you can put that in your 1000-degree brick oven and smoke it.
Neapolitan-style is fast becoming the rage as almost-officially certified pies are popping up. What makes a pizza Neapolitan as opposed to plain old wood-fired? Neapolitan pizzas are only cooked for 60-90 seconds in ovens heated to at least 900 degrees, and they are always hand tossed, no rolling pins allowed. If you visit a place like Stella Barra or Pizzeria Mozza, you’ll find the crust is more uniform and baked for longer. Neapolitans will be more chewy and often covered in little charred patches. Official Neapolitan pizza is approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples, founded in 1984. There are some strict guidelines these restaurants must adhere to, and there are only a few pies in LA that are certified legit.
There are two very popular Neapolitan-style pizzas that I will be keeping off my list (Sotto and Mother Dough), because I’ve recently tried a better version of them. DeSano Pizza in East Hollywood is the new big man on campus.
I realize that putting this list in any sort of order wasn’t going to work. Pizza is so subjective and they can’t be compared in the same way so I won’t even try. I’m probably going to leave your favorite place out, and you’re probably going to think one or several of my choices is a travesty. I can live with that. Just keep the death threats to a minimum.
I’d like to get this one over with. Pizzeria Mozza is probably LA’s most overexposed. Does its annoying popularity detract from its deliciousness? It does not! Mozza has some of the best crust out there and whether you’re eating the specialty Squash Blossom and Burrata or just a plain ol’ Margarita, you’ll be hard pressed to find fault with what you’re devouring. The fact that the only reservations available are probably 5:00 pm and 11:15 pm, however, you’ll have no problems bitching about.
Lamonica’s NY Pizza
Lamonica’s near UCLA calls itself LA’s only authentic New York pizza (it get its dough from Brooklyn), and I can’t really argue. It’s pretty awesome, even though a New Yorker would never use that word. I love the thin crust, but I always make sure to order a slice of Sicilian as well. It’s not as thick as others out there, and it’s saucy and cheesy, just like a New Yorker. They would never say that, either.
Stella Barra (formerly Stella Rossa) had been wowing folks in Santa Monica for a while before it opened its Hollywood location. I visited during its opening week, and was in love at first sight. I ate like I was carb-loading for a marathon. Similar to Pizzeria Mozza’s style (but larger in size), these beauties have the perfect balance of chewy and crispy and since you asked which kind is my favorite, it’s the Shaved Mushroom with black truffle.
Pizzanista! is probably downtown LA’s best pie, especially if you’re hanging in the Arts District fending off the hipsters and homeless. I love a good pizza-by-the-slice joint and Pizzanista’s Meat Jesus is a good combo of NY foldable, thin crust with plenty of pepperoni, sausage and bacon to ward off any unruly vegans that may be standing too close.
Union Pizza Company
There aren’t many Chicago deep dish places in LA (Echo Park’s Masa and Hollywood Pies are probably the most popular) but I think a drive to Manhattan Beach would do the deep dish starved soul some good. What sets Union Pizza Company apart are the high quality toppings (meats are 100% natural and nitrite-free) and the crust is on the lighter and thinner side. Not so much a gut bomb as Chicago pies can often be if one decides to overindulge.
I think Olio Pizzeria has LA’s best margarita pizza. Just make sure you order the “Margherita Plus” because you get a ton of burrata on top, tomato sauce that extends to the edges and who wouldn’t want that? Olio is elegantly casual but on the smaller side, so it’s good for a quiet, wood-fired pizza with that special someone. Or just a friend. Or anyone standing within close proximity, really.
If you’re looking for a 1950s pizza parlor vibe but want a better pie than Casa Bianca, Larchmont’s Village Pizzeria will hit the spot. As excellent as the thin crust is, I love the Sicilian just as much. Fresh toppings, plenty of sauce, high quality dough, this place feels like home. If my mom actually knew how to make good pizza.
Delancey Pizzeria & Bar
I’m not sure if many people know just how truly excellent Delancey‘s pizza is. I must admit, I was shocked myself. What makes the pies at this Hollywood hangout stand out for me is the spicy Calabrian sausage and the crispy yet airy crust, brushed with olive oil on the edges. I would avoid the pastas; they’re kind of a mess. Come here and order the pizzas and nothing else, and then tell all your friends about this hidden gem that no one seems to be talking about.
Milo & Olive
Santa Monica’s Milo & Olive makes a killer gourmet, wood-fired pizza decadently topped with such sumptuous options such as butternut squash, sage and brown butter, or potato with rosemary cream. Come hungry and in the mood for a thicker crust, don’t mind sharing a communal table with strangers, and you’ll be completely at peace with your unsightly pizza belly in tow.
Maximiliano of Highland Park
If you don’t know where Highland Park is, you aren’t alone. Wherever you live, these pizzas are worth the trek. Each wood-fired creation is perfect for one person. Even if you think you should split it, don’t. My favorite is the old-school Deluxe (sausage, pepperoni, peppers and mushrooms). As a bonus, the service is super friendly and the interior is upscale and spacious. Highland Park is an up and coming neighborhood and Maximiliano’s is a great way to put it on the map.
DeSano Pizza Bakery
Nashville’s DeSano Pizza is a brand new addition to LA’s Neapolitan pizza market. While its pizza isn’t officially certified, DeSano sure fooled me with its enormous, 900 degree ovens and ingredients sourced from Campania in southern Italy. Pizzas are lightly sauced, perfectly crisp and chewy, and served to you on large cookie sheets. DeSano is located in an enormous warehouse in East Hollywood with an even larger free parking lot. That beautiful oasis alone would bring me here; I wouldn’t care if they were slinging Hot Pockets!
I think Vito’s is the best NY-style thin crust on either side of the LA River. I think most people order Vito’s for delivery but if you’re in the mood for dinner in a strip mall, you will not be disappointed. Vito’s pizza is super thin, offering a light crisp with every bite. Vito’s makes a lot of specialty pies, but my two favorites are the White Pesto with heavenly dollops of sweet ricotta and the Fresh Mozzarella. I didn’t intend on putting these 12 pizzas in any order, but maybe I did save the best for last?