SoCal's Best Pizza: A Little Slice of NYC in L.A.
By Jenny Peters
Los Angeles Local Expert
When it comes to finding great pizza in Los Angeles, there are two ways to go. Head to places that emulate the best pizza that New York City (which we all know is Mecca for pizza) has to offer; or make your way to the restaurants that have created a completely different sort of pizza pie, one that is uniquely Californian. For that New York-style slice, there's no better place to begin than Lucifers Pizza, for they even ship their dough in from the Big Apple, then add farm-to-table ingredients to make pizza that celebrities and us regular folk both adore. Meanwhile, Mulberry Street Pizza, Vito's and Joe's Pizza are all run by guys who migrated from the East Coast, bringing their trademark N.Y. taste with them. On the California side, Wolfgang Puck built his food empire based on the pizzas he created so long ago at the original Spago on Sunset Boulevard; those same delectable, slightly chewy bites are still to be had at Spago Beverly Hills, more than 30 years later. California Pizza Kitchen began in 1985 in Beverly Hills and it, like Puck's empire, has spread SoCal pizza all over the world. And of course, there's the relative newcomer to the game, Pizzeria Mozza, where chefs Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali create award-winning wood-oven pies that keep the crowds forming, proving that no matter what your pizza palate craves, you're sure to find it in Los Angeles.
Lucifers Pizza is devilishly good. That's why, at both the Los Feliz and Melrose Avenue locations, the lines can sometimes go out the door. Chef-owner Adam Borich insists on only top-quality ingredients, starting with the dough, which he has shipped in from New York City every week. Next, he hits local farmers' markets for the freshest tomatoes (all the sauce is handmade daily) and toppings, including the famous pumpkin that adorns their best-selling Roast Pumpkin and Prosciutto Pie. The sausage and lamb are cooked fresh daily and all meats are hand sliced. All that results in thin-crusted, crispy pizzas that are some of the best in town, especially after you add in the fascinating flavor combos on offer and set the spice level to your personal palate. There are gluten-free and vegan options here, too. The only thing missing is liquor; note that there are only soft drinks served. (323-906-8603)
Sit in an inside booth or out at a garden table, there's not a bad seat in the house at Spago, the jewel in Wolfgang Puck's culinary crown. Now in Beverly Hills, the restaurant began its life in West Hollywood in 1982 and for more than 30 years has delivered consistently delicious, innovative dishes. Puck, who recently received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, led the way in creating "California cuisine" -- the fusion of different ethnic foods (Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, Mexican) all made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to taste the signature dishes: the Spicy Tuna Tartare, the Pizza with House Smoked Smoked Salmon, the Hand Made Agnolotti and the massive Grilled Veal Chop. And be sure to look around, too, for there's likely to be a famous star sitting at a nearby table. (310-385-0880)
When Guiseppe (Joe) Vitale moved to New York City from Sicily in 1978, he never imagined that he'd become one of Los Angeles' most-loved pizza-pie makers. He honed his skills for years in Brooklyn, working as a pizza maker, then opened his own pizza parlor in Brooklyn in 2003. But when the lure of sun and palm trees became too much, Joe and his son immigrated to L.A., bringing his authentic New York-style pizza with him. Now he's got five locations, from Hollywood to WeHo, Century City and Downtown, all serving up his famous slices and whole pies, too. His pizza is thin-crusted and crispy, with a tangy marinara base, mozzarella cheese and traditional toppings with like pepperoni, sausage, chicken or meatballs. Joe's also serves classics like chicken parm sandwiches and calzone. Close your eyes, take a bite and you'll think you're back in Brooklyn. (323-467-9500)
Mulberry Street Pizzeria
When Richie Palmer, along with his partner, "Raging Bull" actress Cathy Moriarty, opened their first Mulberry Street Pizzeria in Beverly Hills over 20 years ago, Richie knew just what kind of pizza he wanted to make. It would taste exactly like the pizza he had made in his New York place, with a thin crust, tasty mozzarella and your choice of toppings. Try the pepperoni for a traditional taste, or go for a more California-influenced taste with the pesto sun-dried tomato pie. Like all good New York-style joints, you can order a piece of pizza by the slice here. Grab a Caesar salad on the side and you'll really feel like you're having a N.Y. experience right in the heart of Beverly Hills. (310-247-8998)
California Pizza Kitchen -- Beverly Hills
California Pizza Kitchen began at this location in Beverly Hills, and the rest truly is history. Now you can find this pizza in 30 states and 11 countries, in airports and sports stadiums, and even in the freezer of your grocery store. Launched in 1985, this pizza place marked the beginning of gourmet pizza with an international flavor. Anyone who hasn't tasted their Thai Chicken pizza, the Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizza or the all-time classic Original BBQ Chicken version is really missing out, as those flavor combinations are delicious. The company celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2015, which, since this is L.A., it means it's time for a facelift. This original restaurant and 20 more have already been renovated, into a more warm and relaxed space. (310-275-1101)
Pitfire Artisan Pizza
Pitfire Artisan Pizza is doing exactly what an artisanal pizza place should, starting with their homemade dough, adding fresh, locally sourced toppings and finishing in a wood oven that cooks the pie to perfection. All that explains why Pitfire now has nine locations in Southern California, places where you can sit and stay a while, have a beer (or wine) with your pie and just enjoy the ambiance of the cool design elements in each location. Plus, they offer gluten-free pizza dough if you're so inclined; and let you build your own special pie combination. They do all the traditional pizzas, as well as specialty gourmet pies; and don't miss the seasonal farmer's market specials. (424-835-4088)
Legend has it that when Vito Di Donato migrated from New Jersey to Los Angeles, he brought along the starter yeast for the dough. That may explain why so many people (including celebs like Halle Berry and Sylvester Stallone) go out of their way to grab one of the 18-inch pies that have made Vito's Pizza one of L.A.'s most-frequented joints. The thin-crust pies are crispy and slightly chewy, topped with traditional items like pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms or offered up with more modern combos. Try the "Sophia Loren," a white cheese pizza topped with goat cheese, arugula, pine nuts and caramelized onions, for a typically L.A.-style pizza taste sensation. You can also just grab a slice here, just like at any N.Y. pizza place. There's calzones, salads and classic Italian entrees here too, including Baked Ziti and Eggplant Parmigiana. (310-652-6859)
When Chef Jeff Mahin opened Stella Barra a few years ago in Santa Monica, it was actually called Stella Rossa. We're not sure what prompted the name change, but one thing has stayed the same -- the pizza. It's so good you'll be texting your friends to come join you for some at this convivial place on Main Street in Santa Monica, where the chef uses a traditional oven to make spectacular pizza. His dough is handcrafted daily, then fermented for at least 18 hours to give it a unique flavor. Then Mahin adds market-fresh ingredients (think butternut squash, charred cherry tomatoes, calabrian chilies) onto that crispy, yet chewy crust, resulting in a seriously great pizza. It's so good that there are now three other Stella Barra locations, one in Hollywood and others in Maryland and Illinois. (310-396-9250)
Cecconi's is an Italian place with an inside track to L.A.'s the rich and famous, since it is the sister restaurant to the private club SoHo House (there's one in London, too, where SoHo House began). That means you're very likely to see movie stars and studio heads dining here, people that can afford any restaurant in town yet continue to flock to Cecconi's. It could be simply because of the thin-crust flatbread-style black-truffle pizza, eaten piping hot with your fingers, but there are many other exemplary dishes on this menu reminiscent of one you'd see in Venice or other parts of Northern Italy. Go for lunch, when the prices are more reasonable, or stop in from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. when the Aperitivo menu is in effect, with food and drinks from $4 to $7. (310-432-2000)
Pizzeria Mozza is known to have the best pizza in town for good reason. In 2006, celebrity chefs Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali teamed up with restaurateur Joe Bastianich to launch this notable pizzeria where lines still run out the door seven days a week. Known for handcrafted crusts that are both airy and crisp, the pizza offerings range from the traditional "Margherita" to the eccentric "Squash Blossom." Take a seat at the counter to witness the pizza magic in the making or grab a table, but be sure to order dessert, which is just as amazing as the pizza. For once, the Los Angeles hype is real when it comes to Pizzeria Mozza. (323-297-0101, 323-297-0100)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
Read more about Jenny Peters here.