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Sep 3, 2008 10:10 AM


This, with pics at: And please advise as to other faves!

Cheese and bread. Bread and cheese. Pretty much the platonically ideal food combination. There's bagel with cream cheese. There's brie and baguette. There's munster cheese stuffed into pita bread and microwaved (one of the best things you'll EVER eat, I promise, something about what the microwave does to the munster is sexually good). And of course there's the ultimate... pizza. Yesterday I had pizza for lunch (Petrillo's, yum!) and pizza for dinner (left over Trader Joe's Meat Combo Pizza from the fridge, yum!). And I felt so good and slept so soundly. Bit of carbs, bit of protein, a complete food. Pizza nourishes and comforts body and soul in a way even a hamburger cannot. I really, really love pizza. I'm 42 and I love pizza more than ever. And ... here are some places in L.A. where I love to eat it most.

1. MOZZA — When you don’t say "greasy" you say "oily" and you mean "olive-oily" and part of you is thinking you SHOULD have said greasy -- because it is -- but the “grease” is so good you want to lick it up -- it’s like 10 bucks an ounce grease -- and you’re psyched to see big pools of it on the next pie that arrives at your table -- you're at Mozza. The fennel sausage pie is quintessential. I also the love egg and guanciale pie. Plus, it's a restaurant, you can hang here and eat the great food (from Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton) and drink excellent wine at fair prices (thank David Rosoff, GM and wine guy), and do it till midnight. Order any wine and you will be happy -- it will be thoughtfully chosen and a perfect example of its type (and it will be Italian). Get the beet and horseradish salad to start and get the budino for dessert -- genius and already an LA classic.

2. VITO'S — The best slice pizza in the universe -- or in L.A. Floppy crust that vanishes into the thin air of the mouth. Great plain slice, great meat combo slice, and a mind-blowing Mediterranean Veggie slice with fresh spinach, broccoli, ricotta cheese. In a way, this pizza is so quintessential it's hard to put into words why it's so great. But wait, Vito has no such problems: "I've got the best product in the whole city, by far. Nobody does what I do. I’m here 5 in the morning making dough. I make my own yeast. Most guys out there don’t even make their own dough, I make my own YEAST. Nobody does that. Where else have you tried?" he wants to know. I tell him Mozza is pretty delicious. He raises an eyebrow, “Well, I wouldn’t use that word. I’d say it's ‘okay’, that’s a word I’d use, 'okay'. You think Nancy Silverton makes her own yeast, I don’t think so.” (??) “By the way, put me back in the kitchen with Nancy for 20 minutes, I'll make her pizza ten times better. She doesn’t have her crust just right, and the way she puts her toppings on…” he shakes his head, pitying her use of toppings. "I use the best ingredients. I care. Nobody out there cares, I’m embarrassed by the other Italians out there, they just don’t care. I care. I consider my customers my friends, I’m cooking for them, I use the best, I’m not trying to get rich off of them.” Well, he definitely talks the talk, but his pizza definitely walks the walk.

3. RED BALLS PIZZA: So first you're super-stoked to find the best pizzerias in all of LA. Then, after three or four disappointments, you get cynical and don’t want to drive all the way to Woodland Hills to check out yet another version of “the best NY pizza in LA” -- because it probably isn’t. You learn the place was opened by the guitarist from the Clash and his buddy, who both live in Woodland Hills, and who were one day bemoaning the lack of great NY pizza in their area. (Same old story.) On the walls are guitars, and hundreds of rock and roll posters, including a huge, awesome poster of a young Bob Dylan (which does make you very happy). Snare drum lamps hang over each table from the ceiling. You order a plain slice. It's got a couple of those random crunchy crust bubbles. The cheese is good and fresh-tasting, the sauce is a little bit sweet in that NY way you romaniticize, the crust is thin, and best of all, the whole slice has a great chewiness. It’s almost odd (and excellent) that the crust is so thin and yet so chewy. You drive home in the rain and excitedly bring a slice to your wife. She has to admit, it’s exquisite.

4. ZELO: Oh, Zelo! Oh, corn! I'm loving corn right now and this is one the ultimate corn treats around: cornmeal pizza with fresh corn and caramelized onions. The crust is made of cornmeal and has that great corn bread flavor, not as sweet as a corn muffin, but plenty of the same flavors. And made into something somewhat resembling the texture of pizza dough (though not quite) Get it with corn and caramelized onions, and the sweetness is so wonderful, yet it's still quite savory. I reported to my wife and she said "But that's not pizza". And I said, "I hear you, but somehow, it is." This is top notch, worth the trip to Arcadia any day. Special and exquisite.

5. PETRILLO'S : This was yesterday, remember? This place has been around forever. It's a San Gabriel institution. A school principal in line in front of me was picking up 4 large pies for her teachers, "My teachers will do anything I ask if I feed them Petrillo's". Crust on the thicker side, great texture, good chewiness. (Good, positive chewiness in the crust is becoming my top criterion for excellence in pizza, thick or thin.) The plain pizza is just a tad bland, the cheese could be saltier, but the "special" -- sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, etc -- is perfect, good ingredients giving that needed extra saltiness, making for a damn near perfect 'za.

6. ANTICA PIZZERIA In 1984, some dude in Naples started the “Verace Pizza Napoletana Association” (VPNA) to promote the pizza of Naples. He worked tirelessly (and unsuccessfully!) to have Naples pizza recognized as a DOC (like wine) by the Italian government – as if Naples had some kind of special "pizza terroir". This failed quest aside, now the VPNA goes around the world and grants certificates to pizzerias who make a “true” Naples pizza – with the right oven, and all (or most) of the ingredients flown in from Naples. Antica has this certification. And ... whatever. Let's try the pizza. It's my first time here, even though I lived in Venice (California) for 5 years. (I only went to Abbot's.) Cool space, open, airy, bright, big mural I assume of Naples -- I could drink wine here, a nice bottle with a friend. And the pizza ... is gorgeous. The ingredients are beautiful; the sauce tastes of tomatoes rather than “tomato sauce”. The cheese is soft and delicious and unevenly spread because it’s not the sprinkled-on version of mozzarella. The crust is bubbly and chewy and crunchy all at once. I was amazed by how quickly the pizza got cooked, too. I imagine it’s because the oven is outrageously hot – and you get these great bubbling crusts. I second the certification by the VPNA.

7. ABBOT'S PIZZA : And here it is. Abbot's on Abbot Kinney in Venice. A great neighborhood joint that’s become justifiably famous outside the neighborhood. A pizza unlike any other pizza. Bagel crust. Some of the crusts are poppy seed, others sesame seed, others onion, etc. And great toppings. I was addicted to the 5 onion for a couple of years, the wild mushroom is great, the one with fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese is awesome ... I made the mistake the other day of telling my sister-in-law that Abbot’s is all about the great toppings. She looked really offended and said, “I get a slice of the Margarita every week after the acupuncturist and I love it." Great. Perfect. Didn’t even know they had Margarita. Last time I was in the owner was waxing poetic about neighborhood joints and how easy it is to compromise on quality, especially in a down economy, but he won't do it.

8. TERRONI -- really fun, I really really like this place. I’ve tried several of their pizzas and they’re all good, but there's one that kind of gave me the "ah ha" moment for pizza at Terroni. It’s got tomato sauce, some strips of zucchini and squash, some garlic, and some parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. No mozzarella. No melted cheese. Just the crust, the sauce and a few veggies. The pizza is uncut, which may annoy people who don’t want to grab it and rip it, but I love grabbing and ripping. The crust is extremely extremely thin, which is probably why they don’t cut it -- it really wouldn’t be “presentable” if cut. It’s just so simple. I like to add a healthy portion of hot red peppers (not dried, wet) to each bite of pizza. They serve the red peppers in oil in a little bowl on the side -- and they're genius. Great wine selection. And the bartenders happily let you taste every single wine they're pouring by the glass, if you so desire. I desire.

9. D’AMORE'S : Absolutely love this place, it wins over Mulberry Street and Lamonica’s hands down -- at least on this round of pizza trolling. Love that soggy floppy still slightly crispy crust with that sand-like substance on the bottom side of the pie -- it’s cornmeal -- which gives it texture and flavor and takes it from good to great. It's a small chain and I can vouch most strongly for the one in Westwood where I've been frequently and had really good pies and slices. Started by yet another dude who wanted to make an east coast style pizza and who supposedly ships in water from Boston. Really???

10. DAMIANO'S: Greasy but good. Really good. Consistently good. Always good. Never been disappointed -- not when stoned, not when drunk, not when completely sober -- and that's saying something. Slightly on the thicker side for thin crust pizza. Did I mention greasy? But good. An institution on Fairfax. The people sitting at the counter tonight all look kinda East village circa 1981, piercings, tattoos, not quite homeless but with some relationship to heroin, you know, that vibe. The level of darkness in the back is almost a joke. You could do all kinds of things back there with nobody seeing, and that might be the idea. Open really really late. Which is a good thing. Oh, and the house salad with eggplant capanota is genius, yummy yummy yummy.

11. GRECO'S (Honorable Mention) Well, it's my neighborhood joint. Cardboardy in a good way. And HUGE slices.

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  1. Interesting list.

    I'm curious, but don't you think it would be more apt if you separated the pizzas into gourmet (e.g. Mozza) and the basic pies (e.g. Abbot's or Vito's)?

    For me it's really hard to compare a slice from, say, Vito's to something I would get at Mozza. The former is something I would consider "beer food" -- eaten best in front of large plasma TV; while the latter is more properly enjoyed with a glass of wine. But that's just me ...

    5 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Well, to me, right now at least, pizza is always best with wine. In fact, right now it's my favorite food to drink wine with because it's affordable, someone else cooks it, and it pretty much can't be too wrong with wine. (Have had some awesome bottles recently with pizza.) To me it's less gourmet versus basic, and more do I eat it there with wine or home with wine. But that's just me and that's just now.

      1. re: la tache burger

        la tache,

        now thats hard work ( some one had to do it! ) nice photos too. BTW, what awesome wine have you had with your pizza?

        1. re: Foodandwine

          Thanks, Foodandwine. Two recent gems: had a La Fenetre chard with a Damiano's cheese pizza, best chard I've had in ages, truly exquisite. And had my first Two Hands shiraz (wow!!!) with a sausage pizza from Joe Peeps. Food and wine!

      2. re: ipsedixit

        i worked at damores in malibu, which might be better than the one in westwood, and they do ship in that lovely bostonian water

        1. re: ayalHagay

          Wow. Great to know, ayalHagay. How is shipped? In what form? How much and how often? I've always been curious what 'shipping water in for pizza' looks like.

      3. I will give you Mozza, Vito, Petrillo's, Zelo's, Abbott's & Antica but I think you need to add Casa Bianca, Two Guys (Hollywood & Las Palmas), Village Pizza (Larchmont). I have never been to Red Balls, Terroni or D'Amore's. My pics are in no particular order.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Burger Boy

          Never been to Two Guys. I will give you Village but unfortunately it's been slightly inconsistent for me. Still remember my first amazing pie eaten there with friend and daughter, but never been as good since. And I am absolutely in the other camp on Casa Bianca. 3 times, all incredibly disappointing. I know it's been argued about here extensively, and I just do not get it at all.

          1. re: la tache burger

            Get the sausage & mushroom or the sausage, bell peppers & onions or the pepperoni & mushroom at Casa Bianca, that is it! I had not been in years and went a week ago for a party and I ordered a sausage, peppers & onions to go for the next day. I made a pig of myself on the pizzas. Just my 2 cents.

            1. re: Burger Boy

              Ok. I hear the passion. I want to be there. I will try it one more time. I will let you know.

              1. re: la tache burger

                If you had the pizzas already, then maybe not your style. Pizza is the only thing i get there and the sausage and peppers dinner.

            2. re: la tache burger

              Two Guys is very old school LA, it reminds me of Village or Vito's in a very NY City grab a slice on the street way. I just did Village over the weekend and i thought of Two Guys.

              1. re: la tache burger

                We moved right around the corner from Two Guys this summer and, with one caveat, can say it is fabulous pizza. It has thin, drooping, leathery-bottomed crust with a little crisp, doughy-inside round at the edges, zingy sauce and just enough cheese. For the best pie, if you can, order a fresh whole pizza rather than a re-heated slice and you will be blown away by how close it is to old-school NY/NJ.

                The caveat is that, if you want good, NY style pizza, you want to get your pizza on before night falls. As the night wears on and the alcohol content of the patrons increases the crust gets thicker, as does the cheese. I suspect that whoever has the dough-tossing skills leaves by dinner hour because the pizza we've gotten late bears little resemblance to even slices we've gotten in afternoon or just after knocking off work for the day. Otherwise, they may just be giving the folks with a buzz on what they think they want, bigger more absorbant food. Either way, once the bar crowd is around, it's not bad but definitely not as good.

            3. Nice list...I wish someone would come up w/one for OC....

              1. Do yourself a favor and go back to MOZZA to try the "Bianca with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere & sage." Now that's transcendent.

                7 Replies
                1. re: ReelMike84

                  Haven't tried that yet, sounds divine. BTW the white pizza at Vito's fairly rocks too.

                    1. re: Burger Boy

                      I'm shamed to admit I haven't been to Vito's yet. I'll need to finally hit it up this weekend.

                  1. re: ReelMike84

                    I absolutely, unequivocably, agree about the Mozza Bianca with Fontina, Sottocenere, Mozzarella, and Sage.

                    That IS one amazing pizza, and the sage absolutely makes it. I think I prefer it over the fennel sausage, and that is saying something.

                    1. re: a213b

                      I did a side-by-side comparison last time I was there, so I KNOW I prefer it. I enjoyed the fennel sausage, but I loved the Bianca. It elicited in me that very rare "wow" moment.

                      1. re: ReelMike84

                        Last time we were there, we added fennel sausage to the Bianca, fantastic!

                        1. re: debra

                          Debra, I think you have officially become my favorite person.

                    1. re: Servorg

                      Not such a fan of Joe's. It's Vito's-esque but less flavorful. Interestingly, just today on Serious Eats they post something discussing Vito's versus Joe's with a ittle Mozza thrown in.

                      1. re: la tache burger

                        I am going to second Joe's... it's both light and flavorful. You can have two slices and feel pretty good about yourself and go about your day :) . Plus it reminds me of some good Boston slices.

                          1. re: la tache burger

                            Yup, and I love both. But something about Joe's.. I live right down the street from Vito's so I get there from time to time and dont get me wrong, it is delicious, i just like the simplicity of Joe's for some reason and their sauce. And i love Joe's white pizza too, it's light and crispy and garlicky. But don't get me wrong, Vito's = some of the best LA has to offer.

                            1. re: SecretHeadquarters

                              I thought joe's was pretty good but ridiculously expensive

                              prefer vito's myself

                              1. re: ns1

                                Vito's Cheese Pie is $16.50 - Joe's is $18

                                Vito's White Pie is $24.50 - Joe's is $22

                                Vito's cheese slice is $2.50 - Joe's cheese slice is $2.75

                                Joe's opened up in a more expensive location and consequently some of their prices are slightly more than Vito's. But it's close enough that it doesn't seem to rise to the level of "ridiculously expensive" by comparison.

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  I guess it's been awhile. I just remembered getting not so great value for my money when I was there (4 slices + 2 drinks. I didn't buy cheese though either)

                        1. re: la tache burger

                          I love Vito's too, but Joe's certainly can give them a run for their money. I was just surprised that it didn't even MAKE your list, considering that you have D'Amore's in the number 9 position.

                          1. re: Servorg

                            Only have had Joe's 2 times. My impression both times was the same. A little bland. It has a good crispness to the crust but then the flavor of it was nothing much. Didn't make me a regular even though I'm in the area a lot. So... subjectivity.

                            1. re: la tache burger

                              Bland? Toppings (if any) or sauce - or both? I guess that description, applied to the taste of Joe's pizza, would never cross my mind.

                              1. re: Servorg

                                Crust, sauce, cheese overall effect.

                                1. re: la tache burger

                                  I hear you la tache. I find I need a salty and greasy topping like pepperoni or sausage to really bring out the flavor of a Joe's slice.