10 great L.A.-meets-Naples Margherita pizzas
It’s hard to write about Los Angeles pizza without getting a little defensive. Non-Angelenos love to hate our city, and after they exhaust the topics of traffic and Hollywood, they accuse us of having no pizza. This is a preposterous accusation. Los Angeles may not have a storied regional style of pizza, but we have enough delicious pies to overwhelm any glutton with a Yelp account. The scene has become almost crowded with quality in recent years, with several new restaurants boasting wood-burning ovens and buffalo mozzarella. At these serious pizza shops, the standard is not the cheese but the classic Neapolitan Margherita, bearing the colors of the Italian flag in its toppings of mozzarella, tomato and basil. This list represents 10 of the best Margheritas in Los Angeles. Two of them owe a debt to New York, but the rest are straight from Naples. One thing I know about our city -- we can import with the best of them.
Tomato Pie Pizza Joint
Tomato Pie is the best by-the-slice and delivery pizza you’re likely to get in L.A. It’s a cheerful, casual spot offering New York-style pie, founded by a New York transplant who saw a niche that needed filling. The atmosphere is hip and comfortable. The pizza is fantastic -- the Grandma is an immensely delicious Margherita, with a juicy, acidic crushed tomato sauce and a liberal dose of garlic. $14.50 to $20.50 for a family-sized pie. 2457 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 661-6474; 7751 1/2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 653-9993; www.tomatopiepizzajoint.com
Vito’s is an unassuming pizza joint in a strip mall on La Cienega, more Naples by way of New York. There’s a Margherita on the menu, as well as a fresh mozzarella pie that costs roughly double. The fresh mozz is the truer Margherita, with beautiful hunks of cheese, but the cheaper version is also good, if closer to a basil-spiked cheese pizza. $19.50 for the Margherita, $38 for the fresh mozzarella, also available by the slice. 846 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 652-6859; www.vitopizza.com
800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria
800 Degrees’ menu is big, with a lot of specialty pies in addition to build-your-own options. The price point is budget friendly, though you can spend a lot if you feel like it. There are two Margheritas on the menu, the classic Margherita and the Margherita DOC. The classic is the most affordable personal pie on this list, a great little pizza with fresh mozz and a decent chewy crush. The DOC is good, if not worth the mark-up. It’s a no-sauce pie with buffalo mozzarella, shredded basil and a ton of lovely halved cherry tomatoes. $6.65 for the Margherita, $12.85 for the Margherita DOC. 10889 Lindbrook Drive, Westwood, (310) 443-1911; 120 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 566-0801; additional locations forthcoming; www.800degreespizza.com
Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza
This is another build-your-own pizza concept, a popular chain that offers a handful of signature pies and a ton of individual topping options. The pizzas get thrown in a blazing hot oven, where the crusts cook up crispy and cracker-thin. Blaze’s Margherita is called the Red Vine, and it features soft blobs of mozzarella with sauce and cherry tomatoes on top. $7.45 for a small personal pie. Several Los Angeles locations; see www.blazepizza.com
DeSano Pizza Bakery
If this place were in Silver Lake, it would be mobbed at all hours and customers would shell out for valet parking. Instead, DeSano provides excellent affordable Neapolitan pizza in a repurposed warehouse in East Hollywood, with free parking in a giant lot. The Margherita D.O.P. is a pleasure, with fresh ingredients and a nice char to the crust. If you must add a topping, I’d recommend the spicy peppadew. $12 for a 10-inch, $18 for an 18-inch. 4959 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 913-7000, www.desanopizza.it
Olio Pizzeria & Café
Olio is a perfect place for that lazy weekend dinner, where you want a little atmosphere without paying out the nose. It’s cute and intimate, and you can have a glass of wine with your pie. The pizza comes hot out of a wood-fired oven, and the crust is fantastic. The Margherita is top notch, and for an extra $2, you can get the Margherita Plus. This one cheats a little because it uses basil-infused olive oil, Grana Padano and soft milky spoonfuls of burrata. $11.95 for the Margherita, $13.95 for the Plus, both personal size. 8075 W. 3rd St., Beverly Grove; (323) 930-9490, www.pizzeriaolio.com
Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana
For quality Neapolitan pies in Pasadena, Settebello is probably your best bet. It’s a nice sit-down restaurant with a large bar and a lot of space, right in the thick of that downtown stretch of Colorado. The pizza is great, blistered in wood-burning ovens. There are two Margheritas on this menu as well, a basic version and the Margherita DOC. The difference here is in the pedigree of the ingredients -- the DOC uses buffalo mozzarella, and it’s quite worthwhile. $11 for the Margherita, $14 for the DOC. 625 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 765-9550; 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina Del Rey; (310) 306-8204; www.settebello.net
You can’t have an L.A. pizza list without a spot for Nancy Silverton and the gang. The Margherita may not be the headliner at Pizzeria Mozza, but it’s a winning pie. It’s hard to beat the signature crust, with its thin center and tall, pillowy edges. The Mozza is as close as we may have to a proprietary brand of pie in our town. The Margherita is a ubiquitous classic, but the Mozza version is unmistakeable. $14. 641 N. Highland Avenue, Hancock Park; (323) 297-0101, www.pizzeriamozza.com
Bestia is the only restaurant on this list that isn’t specifically devoted to the art of pizza, and with good reason -- serious pizza takes infrastructure, and most restaurant kitchens don’t allocate space to maximize secondary parts of their menus. I’ve had some mediocre Margheritas at plenty of restaurants that should know better. Bestia offers a range of quality Italian fare that encompasses pizza, and the Neapolitan pies get blasted in proper 900-degree ovens. The resulting crust is charred and flavorful with a good amount of chew, puffy at the edges and cardboard-thin in the middle. The Margherita is a beauty, all bubbly mozz and bright tomato sauce, with fragrant basil on top. $16. 2121 E. 7th Place, Los Angeles; (213) 514-5724, www.bestiala.com
The best Margherita in town comes from this artisanal pizza operation on Hollywood Boulevard. Mother Dough is named for an involved process of dough-making that yields a beautiful crust -- yeast, charred and flavorful; thin and barely burnt, with a delicate crisp yielding to a tender chew. The tomato sauce is sweet and acidic, and it combines with the buffalo mozz and basil in a way that makes you close your eyes. $15. 4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 644-2885, www.motherdoughpizza.com
Conclusion: You can get a pretty decent pizza in Los Angeles. And we haven’t even started talking toppings.
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