This is an excellent time to be hungry for pizza in Los Angeles.
More top-notch pizzerias flourish across our region than ever before, in practically every style conceived across America in the last century — and some still in evolution. Thick and plush or thin and crisp; minimalist or maximalist with sauce and cheese; plain and pepperoni, or creations that are basically salads with crusts: Los Angeles has become a clearinghouse for all manner of pizza.
It’s a relatively recent phenomenon.
Even a dozen years ago, L.A. wasn’t much of a pizza town. Our stake in the genre was the designer pie. Ed LaDou, who died in 2007, is credited as a chief architect: In 1982, he was the first pizza chef at Spago, working alongside Wolfgang Puck as the soon-to-be-omnipresent smoked salmon creation came together, and a few years later LaDou created the barbecue chicken pizza (among other ideas) for California Pizza Kitchen. In the new millennium, Nancy Silverton’s squash blossom and burrata beauties gifted Los Angeles with pizzas worthy of magazine covers.
Also, as in every American city, L.A.’s neighborhood pizzerias took cues from New York’s wide, made-for-slices prototypes or the pan-baked variations that flourished in the Midwest and made them their own. For as long as they operate, places like Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock (a crackery pie crowned with sausage and breaded eggplant is a longtime favorite of my editor Laurie Ochoa and her family) and Zelo in Arcadia (where the cornmeal crust pies pleasantly veer just shy of Chicagoan deep-dish casseroles) will always have their adherents.
Plenty of fantastic pizza has appeared over the last decade: Daniele Uditi’s neo-Neapolitan standard-bearers at Pizzana; the consistent and smart combinations at Cosa Buona, Ronan and Jon & Vinny’s; and the exceptional square slice at Apollonia’s, to name a handful.
Now we’ve arguably reached a pinnacle, spurred by pandemic-era pop-ups establishing more permanent bases of operation and an ongoing local and national appetite for Detroit-style square pies and, well, because it’s time. I have eaten enough pizza in the last few weeks to test my undying love for the stuff. I wholeheartedly recommend each of the following 10 pizzerias, but for fun I ranked them.
10. La Crosta
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)
In 2019, after working at L.A.-area restaurants and hotels for 15 years, Jason Raiola started his own business, making neo-Neapolitan pizzas from a mobile unit. During the pandemic he held pop-ups at local craft breweries, including a residency at Whittier Brewing Company, before settling into a stall at the new BLVD MRKT in downtown Montebello in April. Look out for rotating specials like the Double Dragon — a saucy, spicy meatball pie — that showcase the smoky, char-dappled crusts he consistently achieves.
L.A. native and veteran chef Mario Alberto draws his experience working at restaurants like Gjelina, Lazy Ox Canteen and Gracias Madre into the vegetarian menu at his new Koreatown bistro. Among salads and appetizers unnecessarily labeled “crispy chicken” (they’re fried oyster mushrooms, which Angelenos can embrace without meaty pseudonyms, and they’re worth ordering), pizzas take centerstage. Alberto shapes pies so the wide brims bake into bready crusts; they enclose panoramas of pesto and mozzarella dotted with summer corn, dollops of ricotta and squiggles of amaranth leaves, or red sauce made from kimchi covered in gouda, chives and sliced jalapeños. Vegans have options too: The one with English peas rolling across macadamia ricotta and pesto-oat cream sauce is a standout.
Executive chef David Rodriguez and his team craft two styles of pizza: thin, chewy, Neapolitan-style hybrids baked whole to order and wide, crisper New York-inspired slices on display behind glass. Rodriguez previously worked alongside Daniele Uditi at Pizzana, an influence that’s easy to trace in options at Ghisallo, like the take on cacio e pepe with garlic confit and ricotta. I might be happiest asking for a couple of pepperoni pizza slices to go and heading down to the stretch of Santa Monica beach where Ocean Park Boulevard ends. That said, it can be just as enjoyable to stick around: The restaurant has a backyard oasis of a patio, with plenty of shade and piles of blankets for when it cools in the evening.
1622 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 399-4060, ghisallo.la
7. Gorilla Pies
“Osher, not kosher,” reads one of the playful signs on the door of Gorilla Pies. After starting his business as a pop-up out of his apartment, chef-owner Benjamin Osher moved into a former kosher bakery in the same strip mall as Cambridge Farms supermarket. He refers to the place as a “Pittsburgh-style pizzeria,” a reference to the city where he was raised. I translate it to mean he’s doing his own thing without need for other labels. He crafts his pies to have wide rims that blister and brown handsomely in the oven, and their centers have the appealing droop of East Coast-style pizzas; you might end up wrestling it into your mouth, particularly when they’re still molten. His take on a supreme pizza — sausage, mushroom, onions, cherry peppers and sliced black olives — is textbook comfort. In a fun nod to the local Jewish residents, he renders a Reuben sandwich into pizza form, complete with pastrami, a smoked cross between sauerkraut and kimchi and caraway seeds generously speckled over the crust. He calls it “the Rabbi,” and you can try it by the slice as a special on Wednesdays.
Ryan Ososky makes the closest faithful rendition of the puffed, rectangular, cheese-fringed Detroit pizza that I’ve found in Los Angeles. For his most traditional take, he blankets dough, spread over a blue steel pan, with a highly meltable mix that includes nutty-sweet Wisconsin brick cheese. Then he adds two red stripes — sometimes called racing stripes in honor of Motor City — down the center. It resembles a sideways Rothko. Snack on the caramelized edges, which snap off in satisfying pieces, before moving on to the airy center. Ososky also dabbles in some outré variations. A stuffed crust situation with meatballs and garlic confit is about as crazy as I’m willing to go; you can tell me your thoughts on the $100 pie covered with A5 Wagyu and truffle oil, my forever nemesis. These sturdy constructs handle takeout exceptionally well, though you can also grab a table at Phorage WeHo, out of which Dtown operates.
I’ve been eating Chris Bianco’s pizzas for half of my life, beginning in 1997 when the first Pizzeria Bianco had been operating in Phoenix for three years. Even then there was national excitement over the Bronx native — about the ways he was melding Neapolitan pizza traditions and New York know-how into something fresh. The Sonny Boy (a sausage pie covered in mozzarella he smoked over pecan wood) and the Rosa (red onion slivers as thin as a new moon, Parmesan, rosemary, crushed pistachios) taught many of us about the elegance of restraint. The ingredients never overshadowed the crisp, bready crust.
The arrival of Pizzeria Bianco in Los Angeles, its first location outside Arizona, has been long in coming. The massive Manufactory at Row DTLA — his previous, short-lived partnership with Tartine that included Bianco’s restaurant Alameda Supper Club — closed at the end of 2019 after 11 months. In June, he returned to the same complex to open Pizzeria Bianco.
Dinner service, which began at the end of August, focuses on Bianco’s classic menu of pizzas. As of this writing, the restaurant was operating only for lunch, during which the team was experimenting with slices in other pizza styles.
Options include wide, sturdy triangles painted with red sauce or, for a fun departure, spinach-cream sauce, and standout Roman-type squares covered with a mix of mild and sharp cheeses and thin circles of Meyer lemon. They hint at Bianco’s greatness, but I’m betting Los Angeles will better understand what makes him a legend when the wood-burning oven lights up at night.
The first time I tried Kevin Hockin’s beautifully pocked and asymmetrical pizzas in mid-2021, they were slipped through a makeshift window carved in the fence surrounding his Altadena home. He and his crew have since moved into a situation that feels slightly more permanent: Phone in your order for a specific time slot, purchase canned craft brews or bottles of orange wine at the Side Pie storefront at 900 E. Altadena Drive, and walk around back to the restaurant’s outdoor dining space. Settle at a colorful table under string lights, and the staff will bring your pizzas — pulled from an oven tiled with a variation of the Grateful Dead’s skull-and-lightning-bolt logo — when they’re ready. I’d consider Hockin’s style deeply Californian: crust with a wheaty, flatbread-esque tang and toppings that lean to seasonal vegetables and fruits and herbs. Try “Kevin Lyman’s Pie,” a garlicky white pizza fragrant with fresh thyme and extra-wonderful with an addition of sausage.
900 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena, (707) 743-3743, side-pie.com
3. Pizzeria Sei
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)
Through a plexiglass window, in a tiny Pico-Robertson dining room that barely seats 15, watch as William Joo crimps the edges of the dough for his neo-Neapolitan pizzas. When they emerge from the black-tiled oven, smoldered by burning oak logs, the circles will have flared into jagged starburst patterns. Ripping into the crusts becomes irresistible, no matter how scorched your fingers will be.
Joo is a meticulous craftsperson forging his own style, pie by pie. He fully sidesteps the soupy centers often associated with Neapolitan pizzas; his Frisbee-shaped creations, particularly the tomato-based ones, slide from the paddle to the plate bubbling in the middle. This is a place to start with a Margherita and appreciate its essential character: the exact sweetness of the tomato sauce, the pleasing ratio of the fior di latte, the fresh basil leaves and the sprinkle of sea salt that heightens it all. I’m also fond of the Bismarck. Think of the just-cooked egg on top as a bull’s-eye; pierce the yolk and it bleeds over the surrounding slices of prosciutto cotto.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)
Pizzeria Sei, run by Joo with Jennifer So, opened in February and blossomed into a sensation. There is limited takeout, but this is pizza that should be consumed the moment it’s ready. Reserve for the tiny space as far ahead as you can and expect prime slots to be booked; I’ve made peace with savoring Joo’s handiwork in the middle of the afternoon.
Aaron Lindell grew up in Michigan. When he was sous chef at the outstanding Cotogna in San Francisco, he’d gild pizzas with very California combinations like lamb sausage and seasonal gypsy peppers. His worlds unite in the Detroit-style pies he now makes with both classic red-sauce-based toppings and specials he crowns with sometimes wild, always amazingly cohesive ingredients. The craggy, lacy borders of his rectangular creations approach blackened without ever tasting burnt, and in the best way he has a more generous hand with cheese than many of the Motor City counterparts I’ve tried. Mozzarella tends to slowly flow over the edges, pulling pepperoni cups or snipped basil and Calabrian chiles along with it.
Quarter Sheets began as a pandemic pop-up out of the home in Glendale that Lindell shares with pastry chef Hannah Ziskin, whose complex layer cakes border on otherworldly in their deliciousness. At the end of 2021, they began operating out of a small space in Echo Park that has mostly focused on takeout; the dining room opened recently and a full-fledged menu is slowly filling out with weekly-changing salads and desserts.
All of which is to say: I’ll have more to write about Quarter Sheets not far down the road, but Lindell has nailed his pizza repertoire. If you’re solo, or curious about the breadth of his creations, order an airy, crunchy Sicilian-style slice — but the whole Detroit pie is really the masterpiece.
Sean Lango, a New Jersey transplant who moved to Los Angeles in 2019, began selling pizzas from his apartment via Instagram in September 2020. He had no previous professional cooking experience, but he had tinkered with pizza-making in his home kitchen before arriving in California. He tapped into an immediate audience for what he broadly labeled “East Coast-style pizza” — thin, 18-inch pies with pliable crusts, over which tomato sauce and a blend of mozzarella and pecorino Romano baked into a beautiful mottle.
In July, Lango moved his business into a small space in Montecito Heights that has previously housed pizzerias and a wing shop. Customers continue to book time slots for weekend pickups through Instagram links. Automated text reminders make it clear that Lango urges you to be on time. Upon arrival you understand why: He remains a one-man show, and though he lifts his head from stretching dough or ladling sauce to offer a friendly hello, he otherwise needs to stay in motion.
In the sweep of regional and subregional styles now available to us, it can be easy to discount the pleasure of a generous, floppy slice from an evenly tanned disc — the ubiquitous image of “pizza” that many Americans held in their minds for decades.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Lango’s feats of engineering remind you of the inherent greatness of what I’ll go ahead and call a New York slice: The negotiation of folding the thing in two as you tilt your head to catch the first bite before the ingredients begin sliding off. The surface is neither too weepy nor too brittle. The textures feel alive and mutable as they cool. Pecorino adds salty, almost mysterious oomph to the sweet union of tomato and mozzarella. The topping options are basic by design: I like half pepperoni and half fresh mushroom, or maybe half with extra cheese.
The pie is too spectacular to let steam for long in a box. There are scattered tables and chairs set up in a default patio space in front of Lango’s glassed-in kitchen. I want to plonk down the moment I have my prize in hand. Other people usually have the same idea. We’re an absorbed, happy lot.