Let’s never call L.A. a mediocre pizza town again

Close-up of a white plate with squares of thick pizza charred on the edges, with red sauce on top of the cheese.
Detroit-style pizza from Dtown Pizzeria in West Hollywood.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

“Your order will be ready in 15 minutes!” read the automated text from Secret Pizza LA. “FYI, if you’re not there and I can’t hand it to you, you’re going to have to wait 5-15 min until the next pickup.”

All respect to a pizza pop-up that expects promptness. The point had been taken. Also I was in the middle of a mission: to try as many of the new standout pizza restaurants that had opened in the last year or so as possible. I arrived early.

It was a recent Saturday night, and a month before Sean Lango had moved from baking his “East Coast-style” pies in his apartment oven to operating out of a space in Montecito Heights that had previously housed another pizzeria. I stood outside the restaurant’s gate for a few minutes, chatting with a mother and son visiting from San Francisco who were also waiting for their order. Clearly, Secret Pizza wasn’t much of an unknown anymore.

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At my allotted time, I walked through a small, dark courtyard set with scattered tables and chairs and opened the restaurant’s door. Lango was working alone, as he always does — a one-man enterprise, building, baking and boxing the pizzas. He looked up from the counter with a warm smile, handed me my pie and motioned toward paper plates and napkins in case I wanted to sit and eat outside. I did, and so did others with pick-up times before and after me.

This is a golden moment for pizza in Los Angeles. You can find just about every Americanized style of this globally loved dish: wide, pliant New York slices; individualist variations on the Neapolitan archetypes; Chicago deep dish; the Detroit-style medium-thick pan pizzas laced with edges of caramelized cheese, an ongoing national craze; and the similar “grandma pies” ascribed to Long Island. About the only thing I can’t yet find in Southern California is an outstanding version of the tomato pies and clam pies, baked in coal-burning ovens, perfected in New Haven, Conn.

With so many novel modes of pizza available, I’ve given the least amount of thought and attention to the kind of New York/New Jersey-esque pizza that was omnipresent in my Gen X-era mid-Atlantic upbringing. But whoa. Lango’s handiwork. He’s a New Jersey transplant with no previous professional cooking experience, but he captures the essence of his home state pie. It hits all the marks: evenly bronzed crust, a mix of sweet and acid and umami and tang in its mottle of cheese and sauce. As a kid, I liked this kind of pizza with extra cheese. Turns out I still favor it.

I thought of the moment in the mid-1990s when I was working in restaurants in New York and generally flailing in life. I’d tried being vegan for six months, but one day I was walking by Sal & Carmine Pizza on the Upper West Side and I gave in to the urge for a cheesy slice. It took a while longer to return to meat, but dairy has been back in my diet since then. And a fresh Secret Pizza pie, I dare say, was far better than the stiff, reheated triangles I subsisted on in my early 20s.

 A triangle of cheese pizza with a slight char on the crust rests on a white paper plate.
A slice of cheese pizza at Secret Pizza.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Pizza is multidimensional in its appeal: a summoner of nostalgic memories, and also a canvas by which we experience the imagination of its maker. Tradition and innovation flip-flop freely in the hands of Angeleno chefs, pizza included. Aaron Lindell, the chief pizzaiolo at Quarter Sheets in Echo Park, sometimes spreads Balinese-style sambal — made by sisters Celene and Tara Carrara, who run the Bungkus Bagus pop-up — as a fiery base among toppings of pepperoni, pineapple and pickled jalapeños. Lindell’s wildness with a Detroit-esque template is as welcome as Lango’s faithful, transporting Jersey pie.


I ranked my favorite new pizza restaurants. Secret Pizza and Quarter Sheets are among them, but here is a reminder to be compassionate customers in these ever-insane times. I saw on social media in the last two days that Secret Pizza had some minor plumbing issues and that Lindell came down with COVID-19, though co-owner and cake genius Hannah Ziskin and the rest of the Quarter Sheets team are well. Maybe give them a little space this weekend? And then next week: Descend.

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Attend the L.A. Times Food Bowl launch party

The L.A. Times Food Bowl returns in September with a month of events, beginning with a launch party on Sept. 1 at Grandmaster Recorders in Hollywood. Chefs in the mix for the event’s food tastings include Jon Yao of Kato, Natalia Pereira of Woodspoon, Nicole Rucker of Fat + Flour, Ludo Lefebvre of Petit Trois and Justin Pichetrungsi of Anajak Thai, which is The Times’ Restaurant of the Year for 2022.

Tickets are $150 per person; the L.A. Food Bank is the event’s charity partner. Also check out the month’s other dinners and events.

— Micheladas are having their moment! Stephanie Breijo, Jenn Harris and Daniel Hernandez name their picks across L.A. Daniel also breaks down the five basic types of micheladas (botanera for me, please) and considers when extravagant garnishes for the beer cocktail take things too far.

— Unimpressed by the new Jamaican-style patties being sold at Trader Joe’s, Jenn seeks out “the real thing”: patties with three different fillings — jerk chicken, curry chicken and spinach — at Simply Wholesome in View Park-Windsor Hills.


Jervey Tervalon writes about one of the summer’s must-reads: “California Soul,” the memoir by Alta Adams chef Keith Corbin about growing up in Watts and finding his passion for cooking. Corbin will join the L.A. Times Book Club on Aug. 23 to discuss the book.

Black Restaurant Week returns to Los Angeles Aug. 19-28 ... and other news of the week from Stephanie.

Close-up of a goblet with red liquid, stuffed with fruit and a can of beer.
Mango Michelada from La Chupería.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)