Is Sunday National Pizza Day? It may be — depending on who you talk to — although it is definitely not National Pizza With Everything On It (Except Anchovies) Day, which falls elsewhere on the calendar.
We have a complicated relationship with pizza in Los Angeles. Late last year, the travel site TripAdvisor failed to list Los Angeles among the best pizza cities in the country, which upset people more than it should have, considering that New York had to settle for fourth. A little more recently, Zagat announced that the highest-rated pizza in the U.S. was at Michael's Pizzeria, a likable, organic-leaning restaurant in the Naples area of Long Beach.
Is either finding meaningful? Will they point you toward delicious pies? Do they demonstrate anything more than the variability of Internet data? Should you trust an algorithm that tells you the pizza in Cleveland is generally better than the pizza in New York?
Whether a computer program in Arkadelphia agrees with me or not, I assert that Los Angeles has some pretty good pizza — some cooked with wood and others in old-fashioned deck ovens; some made with organic bufala mozzarella and others unchanged since 1953. Here are some pizzas we like.
In the wood ovens of Pizzeria Mozza, Nancy Silverton has more or less reinvented the very idea of pizza, airy and burnt and risen around the rim, thin and crisp in the center, neither bready in the traditional Neapolitan manner nor wispy the way you find them in the best places in Tuscany (detractors, and they are many, often dismiss it as nothing but pizzafied naan). You will be happy eating her crust plain, drizzled with a bit of good olive oil perhaps, but you might as well have it topped with burrata and Van Gogh-bright squash blossoms, cream and crumbles of house-made sausage, or puréed anchovies and fried egg. (The mandatory caveat applies here: Silverton is a family friend.) This is not the pizza you used to eat as a kid back in Philly.
641 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0101, pizzeriamozza.com
It is a cool night, and you have made it past the throng at the bar, and you are out on the patio at Gjelina, not far from the fire pit, contemplating the wonder of a crisp, little pizza with shaved asparagus and egg, or fennel salami and caramelized fennel, or eggplant, green zebra tomato, garlic and Parmesan. There are a lot of vegetables here. The scene may be as crunchy as the wood-fired pizza crust, but relax: It's Abbot Kinney.
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 450-1429, gjelina.com
Casa Bianca Pizza Pie
Of all the old-time neighborhood pizza parlors out there, one of them actually has to be the best. And 22 years after I first wrote about the place for The Times, I'm pretty sure that the Casa Bianca Pizza Pie — red-checked tablecloths, wedge salad and all — is still the one. The pizzas are thin-crusted and crazy-cut like the South Side Chicago bar pies on which founder Sam Martorana modeled them, paved with fried eggplant and sweetly spiced homemade sausage if you're sensible, and speckled on the bottom with enough carbony, bubbly burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. This is a controversial choice among pizza freaks, but I stand by it.
1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (213) 256-9617, casabiancapizza.com
Sotto is a nominally Southern Italian place dedicated to local produce and sustainable, artisanal-produced meat; a shrine to the awesome heat of its 15,000-pound oven insulated with imported Neapolitan dirt. Chefs Steve Samson and Zach Pollack come from Ortica, the South Coast Plaza restaurant that redefined Orange County pizza, and the pies emerging from the wood-burning Vesuvius are soft-centered, elastic and leopard-spotted with character-building circles of char. The standard margherita is excellent, but if you're a fan of the almighty hog you may as well go for the guanciale pizza: glazed with house-cured pig cheek, kissed with ricotta and jolted with what I estimate to be two bucks' worth of fennel pollen. Imagine the sensation of an entire side of porchetta squeezed into a single bite of pie.
9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 277-0210, sottorestaurant.com
How serious is Bez Compani about his pizza? He has been known to close when the dough isn't right, which will happen at a place like CPK approximately at the time when giant pterodactyls return to take over the Earth. The haphazardly arranged dining room has all the feng shui of your downstairs closet, but the Neapolitan-style pizzas emerging from Compani's wood oven are soft and elastic, made from long-rise dough, paler than you think it should be but freckled with bits of char; always made with buffalo mozzarella.
4648 Hollywood Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 644-2885, motherdoughpizza.com
Michael's is a likable pizzeria, with appropriately long lines at the dinner hour and a tendency to use local, seasonal, organic produce. The pies are nominally in the Neapolitan tradition, meaning mostly that they're thin and cooked in a wood oven, and while the combinations tend to be on the rococo side, you won't hear too many complaints about the pizza with sheep cheese and sliced pears. It may not be the best pizza in the United States, but it may well be the best pizza in this area of Southern California.
5616 E. 2nd St., Long Beach, (562) 987-4000; 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, (562) 491-2100; michaelspizzeria.com
Zelo, in a neighborhood that can't quite decide whether it is Arcadia or Monrovia, prepares the outliers among local pizzas, carefully composed, cornmeal-enriched pies that can't quite decide whether they are deep-dish or Sicilian, trashy or farmers market-driven. When you call to order one on the phone, you may be warned that one slice per person is plenty. (It is — those pizzas are hefty.) And while we never planned on craving a thick-crusted pizza paved with corn kernels and roasted torpedo onions, perhaps we should have.
328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia, (626) 358-8298, zelopizza.com
Milo and Olive
At Milo and Olive, the love child of Huckleberry auteur Zoe Nathan, you are going to be eating bread-baker's pie, a lovingly raised crust that remains crisp all the way to the center, full-flavored even without the toppings, with a cornice — that's fancy-talk for a pizza's raised rim — whose wheaty, solid presence may remind you of a decent French baguette. Slap on some braised kale and a few crumbles of pork belly sausage, and you've got yourself a meal.
2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 453-6776, miloandolive.com
Without putting too fine a point on it, the pizza at Settebello is closer to real Naples pizza than any place that has ever existed in Los Angeles: 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, olive oil from Campania and a trip through the 900-degree domed wood-fired oven that typically lasts no more than a minute/minute and a half. Whether the soft, thin, sparingly topped pizza is your story or not is a different question, but the pizza from the Las Vegas-based chain might do fairly well if it were plunked down in Spaccanapoli.
625 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 765-9550; 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey, (310) 306-8204; settebello.net.