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The LAist Pizzapedia, Vol. 1: An In-Depth Guide To LA's Many Varieties of Pizza And Where To Find Them

Three kinds of pizza.
(Unleashed Agency/Unsplash)
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Los Angeles is not having a pizza renaissance.

There has been no revolution in local tap water, no magic-fingered transplant bringing new knowledge. We haven't crossed some imaginary rubicon beyond which we are now, finally, worthy of a clap on the back from a flour-dusted, thick-calloused hand. The "Not bad, kiddo" ain't coming. Here's the thing, it's not worth a damn, anyway. Regardless of what you may have heard, Los Angeles has had good pizza for a very long time.

What has happened, however, is a broadening of our collective pizza consciousness. Round or square, thick or thin, hot or cold, old school or futuristic, subtle or flamboyant, emerging from a restaurant, truck, car, house, wagon or damn near anywhere else, the full spectrum of pizza permutations has opened our minds.

Whether you've just awakened to The Way Of The Pizza or you're a long-suffering seeker, it doesn't hurt to have a spirit guide. Or, in this case, a Pizzapedia. That is, a detailed senso-historical enumeration of the most popular pizza styles, and where to find them in L.A.

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New York — Prime Pizza

In the beginning, every SoCal pizza joint wanted to claim New York roots. They flaunted Statue of Liberty logos, tiled their walls with subway-style motifs and made grandiose claims about 500-year-old starters. We have, thankfully, outgrown our Big Apple fetishism but there's still something magical about a great NY slice — crisp but not hard, doughy but not soft, greasy but not indulgent. Right now, Prime Pizza, another exercise in simplicity from the folks behind Golden State (RIP) and Cofax, is the best place to find a supremely foldable slice, little pepperoni grease cups and all.

  • 446 N Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District. 323-852-1188.
  • 603 N Hollywood Way, Burbank. 818-736-5120.
  • 141 S Central Ave., Little Tokyo. 213-256-0011.

Sicilian — Pizza Wagon of Brooklyn

Although they have legitimate roots in Sicily, the slices known as Sicilian have taken on a life of their own in New York and the Northeast United States. Instead of a round focaccia loaf with toppings, modern Sicilian slices are thick rectangles, crisp on the edges with a tender center. They're not as well known as other styles but Sicilian slices have cachet. Ask the nerdiest pizza nerd and it'll likely be their favorite pizza. Although acclaimed NYC import Prince Street recently opened a WeHo location, our heart belongs to San Fernando Valley staple Pizza Wagon of Brooklyn. Their Sicilian slices are balanced and consistent, always the right weight, less greasy than Pizza Wagon's thin-crust pies but no worse off for it. Toppings are generous and good quality, and their slice setup is on point for a quick pandemic pickup.

  • 14522 1/2 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 818-616-1492.

Chicago — Masa Of Echo Park, Dough Box

Chicago-style pizza is called deep dish for a reason. It's baked in a tall, round pan and with a buttery crust that runs up the sides and looks almost like a jumbo savory crisp. Unlike Sicilian and Detroit styles, the crust leaves room for an avalanche of cheese and ingredients to fill its cavernous midsection, then a wash of tomato sauce laid over the top to keep it moist. Between the sturdiness of the dough and that pile of stuff in the middle, deep dish is among the heartiest pizzas. It's also one of the most time-consuming to bake, often requiring 40 minutes in the oven, instead of 90 Neapolitan seconds. Masa of Echo Park, owned and operated by a pizza-crazy Chicagoan, has been cranking out excellent deep dish for more than 15 years, and it remains a stalwart of the genre. When El Sereno's Dough Box re-opens after a winter kitchen upgrade, it will retake its place among the city's finest deep dish purveyors, with a bright and chunky tomato sauce and a butter-kissed, never soggy, supremely sturdy crust.

  • Masa of Echo Park: 1800 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. 213-989-1558.
  • Dough Box: 2734 N Eastern Ave., El Sereno. 323-346-6811.

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Detroit — Dough Daddy

This year, Detroit-style pizza, baked in deep rectangular pans so the crust grows tall and thick with crisp edges, has crescendoed in popularity. Maybe in times of hardship, we want something to stick to our ribs. The Detroit pizza, one of the heaviest possible assemblages of dough, sauce and cheese, has an appropriately blue-collar backstory. It was supposedly inspired by focaccia but baked in surplus steel drip trays from the auto industry. The cheese runs down the edge of the pan to burn and crisp, and the order of operations is inverted so the toppings are pressed into the hefty crust, then hit with cheese and dashed with parallel racing stripes of tomato sauce. You now have a wealth of Detroit options in L.A. but it's hard to beat Dough Daddy, a pop-up serving a limited number of pies each week. The pizzas are absurdly good and absurdly filling, made with Wisconsin brick cheese, sauce artfully sliding down the middle and hefty enough that carrying it to your car should count as the first leg of the strongman's Atlas Stone event.

Carneval Pizza from DeSano Pizza in East Hollywood. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Naples — DeSano Pizza

For many pizza connoisseurs, the pies coming from century-old ovens in Naples are the purest expressions of the form. True Neapolitan pizza is governed by strict regulations set forth by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. You must use a wood-burning oven, 00 flour, fresh basil, tomatoes from the San Marzano or Vesuvius regions and mozzarella from the states of Campania or Lazio. Neapolitan pies are thin and delicate, with a bready, risen cornicione and a slightly droopy center. There are only two official styles — margherita and marinara — and even pizzerias that branch out tend to keep toppings simple and clean. There are only a few AVPN-certified pizzerias in the area — Settebello in Pasadena, Ugo in Culver City and Angelina's in Orange County. But certification be damned. The pies from DeSano Pizza in East Hollywood hit all of the technical and spiritual notes. There's also offer the truly special Carnevale pizza, a miracle of dough-shaping with eight ricotta-filled crust points ringing the classic Neapolitan center. It was taught to the DeSano folks by master pizzaiolo Attilio Bachetti of Naples' Pizzeria da Attilio on a 2016 visit to Los Angeles and it remains a striking achievement.

  • 4959 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood. 323-913-7000.

Bonus Neapolitan — Pizza Fritta at L'antica Pizzeria da Michele

There is another Neapolitan specialty pizza that is sadly uncommon in Southern California — Pizza Fritta, or deep-fried pizza, which is typically street food in in Naples. After the crust is deep-fried, toppings are added before it goes in the oven. The result is a crisp crust that manages to eat light despite the frying thanks to internal pockets of air underlined by shots of sharp tomato sauce and mozzarella. The Montanara, a style of Pizza Fritta originating in the mountainous region outside Naples, is on the menu at Neapolitan pizza specialist L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. It's a licensed offshoot of a celebrated 150-year-old shop in Naples, and its Montanara lives up to the Vesuvian original.

  • 1534 N. McCadden Pl., Hollywood. 323-366-2408.

Rome — Triple Beam Pizza

For a minute, it seemed like Roman-style pizza al taglio was poised for a takeover. Caput Mundi import Bonci set their sights on the U.S., a Roman Pizza Academy opened in Miami and Triple Beam landed with a star-studded splash in Highland Park. But the Eternal City's favorite pizza style has yet to achieve ubiquity here in L.A. In its purest form, pizza al taglio is defined by medium-thick square slices with a light, bubbly crust, often topped with an assortment of meats and vegetables that are as crucial as the sauce and the cheese. Triple Beam is one of few contenders left but it uses the Roman original as inspiration, not tracing paper. Their pizza is thin, crisp, packed with flavor (and oil and salt) and topped with a killer tomato sauce. They sell square slices and ring them up by weight, with an ever-changing array of vegetable-focused toppings. It scratches the itch.

  • 5918 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park. 323-545-3534.
  • 1818 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. 213-281-9753.

California Modern / Neo-Nea — Mozza, Hail Mary, Ronan, South End, Gra, Pizzana

It started at Chez Panisse or maybe at San Francisco's Prego in the 1970s, migrated down here to Spago in the '80s then evolved into its current form with the help of Mozza, which opened in 2006. Yes, California pizza is a thing. No, it's not like the stuff at California Pizza Kitchen (no shade on them). The modern California pizza — or, as we call it, the Neo-Nea — has a puffy, well-risen cornicione often with a sourdough tang and a charred, leopard-print crust that stays thin and a bit droopy in the middle, like a Neapolitan pie. Toppings can be wild but tend to keep seasonality and produce in mind, bouncing between classical Italian simplicity and the chaotic exuberance of a sugar-buzzing toddler strapped to a drum kit. These days, we have a preponderance of options. Aside from Mozza, it's hard to beat the pies coming out of Ronan, South End, Gra, Pizzana and Hail Mary. Pizzana's Amatriciana pizza is an impeccable example of the form, a clever reinterpretation of the classic Roman pasta dish of the same name with guanciale and pecorino-based tomato sauce spread on 48-hour fermented dough instead of tossed with bucatini. Hail Mary works on the other end of the spectrum, toying with seasonal produce (as in a recent special with purple potatoes, crushed olives, house-smoked mozzarella, and lemon zest) to go with their bready, boutique wheat-driven crust. It's a distinctly nontraditional, and delicious, smoky-creamy-salty-sour combination.

  • Pizzana: 11712 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood. 310-481-7108.
  • Hail Mary: 3219 Glendale Blvd., Atwater. 323-284-8879.

Fusion - 786 Degrees

Few foods on earth have a higher Q Score than pizza, so of course it has been endlessly reimagined and reinterpreted, flipped into breakfast and dessert, bagels and cookies, tacos and burgers. As with any fusion fare, it's easy for it to veer into gimmickry, a hat on a hat on a moose. But when fusion pizzas are built with purpose and technique, they can be revelatory. At 786 Degrees, award-winning pizzaiolo Ali Haider cooks with Italian flour and Neapolitan flair in his imported, wood-burning Vesuvian lava rock ovens. The real reason to visit is the fusion. He blends his Indian and Iraqi heritage with a globe-trotting past and an Italian-American sensibility, yielding pizzas like the Bombay Tikka Masala, topped with Tandoor-baked chicken, saffron Tikka Masala sauce, mango chutney, paneer, roasted peppers, cilantro, and lime; and the Istanbul Doner, which comes with chicken doner bites, housemade Turkish haydari yogurt sauce, fresh cucumber, and mozzarella. The combos are wild, the sauces are squeezed overtop in ostentatious neon zigzags and the flavors tap dance along a cliff of rationality looming over a pit of excess. Because Haider's crust is so good, his timing so exquisite and his skills at their apex, the pizzas at 786 Degrees work.

  • 8879 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Sun Valley. 818-939-6566.
  • 1709 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena. 626-460-2786.

Frozen - La Morra Pizzeria

Some days, even ordering delivery is too much effort. For those times, there's one fantastic option: frozen pizza. Grocery stores will offer you dozens of choices, some made specifically for the freezer section by name-brand restaurant chains, some that claim to be decent dinner replacements and some that aim to satisfy 3 a.m. binges. The quality ceiling is low but the floor is high i.e. it's hard to screw up bread, sauce and cheese. In recent months, the newly stationary pizzeria La Morra has transitioned into the frozen pizza game, vacuum-sealing their 11" Neo-Nea discs and freezing them for pickup, delivery or shipping. Results are surprisingly excellent, finally elevating our frozen pizza possibilities. It's the perfect food when you've had one or two or seven lockdown drinks, whether that's at 1 a.m. or 1 p.m. Who's around to judge you, anyway?

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Updated October 11, 2021 at 9:11 AM PDT
Editor's Note: The editor of this story has not tried La Morra and thinks their pies sound delicious but she has no shame in saying her favorite frozen pizza is made by First Street and sold at Smart & Final. To specify, she prefers the basic First Street pizzas NOT the fancier "rising crust" line. These pies are cheap as hell, and that's what helps makes them so great. First Street is probably keeping costs down by using as little dough as possible while maintaining the pie's structural integrity. For the hungry consumer, this means you get the thinnest crust of thin crusts on a frozen pizza. The sauce is bland, like most frozen pizzas, but it's not bad and there's too much of it. You'll probably want to add more shredded cheese and maybe some veggies or meat. Still, the First Street frozen cheese pizza is better than almost any other mass market frozen pizza. Yeah, we said it. —E.S.
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