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It’s been three years since we last put together our best pizza list, and in that time the landscape for pie lovers has changed dramatically. Fast-casual pizzeria 800 Degrees has grown from an upstart shop in Westwood to a rapidly expanding chain. A couple of Italian dudes from Nashville started making really good Neapolitan pizza in an East Hollywood warehouse. The team that brought Bludso’s to West Hollywood began serving East Coast–style slices to Fairfax skater punks. The deep-dish pizzas of Hollywood Pies, previously available only through an odd carry-out system, finally got a legitimate home in Mid-City. And, of course, the chefs behind Animal and Son of a Gun finally turned their attention to the craft of pizza.
Choosing just 10 pizza places is harder than ever — a list of 25 would still be filled solely with winners — but choose we must. Worthy pies were bumped from the list in order to make room for notable newcomers, but one thing remained the same: The wonderfully complex pizza that led the pack three years ago retained its top slot. At least for now.
10. Prime Pizza
By design, the pizza-slice joint will always emphasize convenience over quality. Only a magic oven can fully revive a slice of pepperoni that’s been sitting under a heat lamp. Prime Pizza on Fairfax, the new-wave slice joint from the team behind Cofax Coffee and the Golden State, just might have that magic oven. The thin, New York–style slices come out crisp but pliable, paved with a layer of mozzarella that actually resembles and tastes like, well, cheese. The sausage pie, topped with onions, peppers and sweet-smoky sausage, is even better when ordered whole and baked to order — perfectly foldable and spread with just enough sauce to keep the golden-brown crust moist. It’s the kind of pizza you dream of when a house party stretches into the wee hours of the night and the fridge is empty. The garlic knots — twists of over-baked cardboard at most pizza joints — are soft and chewy here, tasting of warm sourdough and buttery garlic. The young sneakerheads loitering outside the streetwear shops along Fairfax couldn’t be happier. 446 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District; (323) 852-1188, primepizza.la.
9. 800 Degrees
Not since Bill Walton led the Bruins to a 30-0 record have UCLA students had such good reason to rejoice. Westwood's newest pizzeria, a fast-casual concept dreamed up by Umami guru Adam Fleischman, is open until 2 a.m. nightly, serving up sub-$7 Margheritas in less time than it takes to make dorm-room ramen. Your unbaked pizza works its way down an assembly line, ready to be loaded with a plethora of high-quality toppings: Fra' Mani salami, pickled peppadews and charred broccolini, to name a few. (Expert tip: Go with fewer than three toppings in order to reduce chances of a soggy pie.) Your customized creation slides into the wood-fired oven just long enough to develop a considerable chewiness, a hint of char underneath and a soft crust rising just over bubbling patches of molten cheese. Would any Neapolitan connoisseur worth his flour have a few technical critiques? Sure, but there's no argument on this point: The world would be a better place with a few more 800 Degrees outlets around. 10889 Lindbrook Drive, Westwood, and other locations; (424) 239-5010, 800degreespizza.com.
8. Hollywood Pies
For a couple of years, Hollywood Pies operated in an odd purgatory state, offering only delivery with no fixed physical space. If you ordered takeout, an employee would shuffle out to your car when you arrived and hand over a hefty box with all the furtiveness of a paranoid drug dealer. Of course, Chicago expats were more than willing to deal with these idiosyncrasies in exchange for what is probably the best deep-dish pizza ever found outside the Windy City: crispy cornmeal crust as thick as your iPhone is wide; several ladles of oregano-heavy, sausage-studded marinara; and a great ivory slab of molten mozzarella. Once Hollywood Pies expanded into a full sit-down restaurant — sparsely decorated as it is — there became no better place to dig into the manhole-sized, knife-and-fork behemoths that require 45 minutes in the oven. Perhaps the best endorsement of the restaurant came when it first debuted and a few inflammatory Yelpers speculated that the owners of Hollywood Pies must be shipping over frozen pies from famed deep-dish chain Lou Malnati's. 6116½ W. Pico Blvd., Mid-City; (323) 337-3212, hollywoodpies.com.
7. Olio Pizzeria & Cafe
Remember that guy in high school who could always be counted on for a perfect set of notes from chemistry class? It turns out he became a pizza chef, and a damn fine one at that. Bradford Kent — who earned a graduate degree in food science from Cal State Long Beach — spent several years perfecting his dough recipe, which consists of three separate dough types fermented at different times and temperatures. When combined with a powerhouse oven fired to 1,200 degrees by a combination of olive and almond wood, the result is a crust modeled after a French baguette: bubbly and chewy, with a bready interior latticed like a cathedral window. The classic Margherita is sublime, especially the “D.O.C.” version made with certified buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes. But Kent has a flair for off-kilter combinations as well (he used to make a mean Thai curry pizza during his days as a street-cart pizzaiolo at the Manhattan Beach farmers market). Daily specials often include seasonal toppings such as figs drizzled with thickened balsamic vinegar, or roasted butternut squash. 8075 W. Third St., Beverly Grove; (323) 930-9490, pizzeriaolio.com.
6. Mother Dough
Of all the pie shops in town that adhere to formalized, Neapolitan-style standards of pizza making — and there is no shortage of them these days — none does so with more canonical fervor than Los Feliz's Mother Dough. The menu is obsessively restrained. There isn't so much a kitchen as a long counter where pizzas take shape, buttressed by a bell-shaped oven radiating heat across the room. The restaurant's name comes from a special, hypersensitive strain of sourdough starter that owner Bez Compani developed and tweaked for years. The oven runs hot enough that a fascinating ring of carbonization develops around the pie, even though its stay in the belly of the beast lasts no more than a minute. Toppings are intentionally minimal: a thin layer of sauce, a whiff of basil and a few bits of mozzarella, or perhaps a handful of arugula and some transparent shavings of buttery prosciutto. This is fork-and-knife pizza at its most elegant. 4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 644-2885, motherdoughpizza.com.
5. DeSano Pizza Bakery
You might not equate the idea of proper Italian pizza with a warehouse in East Hollywood, but there it is — DeSano’s Pizza Bakery, equipped with four gigantic wood-fired ovens and a handful of wooden picnic benches. The strange odyssey of DeSano comes by way of Atlanta, where it began as the brainchild of a Naples-born pizzaiolo who later spun off his brand into two other loosely affiliated locations. Whereas many other top-tier Neapolitan pizza restaurants in town can come across as high-minded and haughty, there’s a charming blue-collar vibe here. The crispy, char-crusted pizzas arrive on metal sheet pans, while the crushed garlic and Parmesan sit in serve-yourself caddies just in front of the open kitchen. Order the Margherita D.O.P. — simply dressed with melted buffalo mozzarella, imported crushed tomatoes, basil and a smidge of garlic — and it becomes apparent that this humble operation takes its pizza as serious any other operation in town. Bonus: They have fresh cannoli and one of the largest free parking lots we’ve ever seen. 4959 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 913-7000, desanopizza.it.
4. Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana
Part of an eight-restaurant mini-chain that includes locations in Nevada and Utah, Settebello was founded by a former USC quarterback who threw for 391 yards in the 1996 Rose Bowl. There’s probably an “anyone can make pizza” lesson in there somewhere. But mostly there are stunningly good Neapolitan pies, hand-thrown and cooked in a gigantic, 1,000-degree dome oven for less than a minute. The result is pale, stretchy, thin and covered in tiny black char spots — all signs that connoisseurs prize but many customers would be inclined to complain about. If you weren’t familiar with this particular style of pizza, you might find the application of toppings like finocchiona salami, roasted mushrooms or toasted pine nuts to be downright miserly. The aperitif-centric cocktails and wine list are fine, and the Caprese salad is on par with the Italian spot around the corner, but you’re really here to eat glorious pizza that adheres to Settebello’s particular brand of uncompromising fascism. Once you try the Vico, topped with sausage, fennel and a few dollops of sweet mascarpone cheese, all the rules make sense. After all, you don’t become one of the handful of U.S. pizzerias certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) by going against tradition. 625 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 765-9550. 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina Del Rey; (310) 306-8204, settebello.net.
3. Pizzeria Mozza
It would be sacrilege to discuss pizza in Los Angeles without tipping a proverbial cap toward the Italian temple Nancy Silverton forged with help from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich back in 2006. This materfamilias of pizza showed Angelenos not only what a pie could be but what it should be — dusting the dreams of new-wave pizzaioli with fennel pollen and Calabrian chiles. The simple pairing of Mozza's famous chestnut-colored crust — chewy and dense, undulating with dozens of yeasty air pockets — with vibrant, brick-red tomato sauce and a few gleaming mounds of fresh cheese is an Italian poem transcribed for California palates. Nine years later, it's still a must for pizza enthusiasts nationwide. We wouldn't be surprised if the pizza crisscrossed with delicate zucchini blossoms and layered under fat dollops of creamy burrata ends up with a street named after it. 641 N. Highland Ave., Hancock Park; (323) 297-0101, pizzeriamozza.com.
2. Jon & Vinny’s
Just when you think you’ve tried all the different possible permutations of chef-y pizza in town, along come Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo to totally flip your world. The secret to their pizzas lies in the dough — which rests for 48 hours and develops a satisfying, earthy tang — and in the gas-and-wood-powered stone hearth oven, which creates an extraordinarily crispy crust like those found in coal-oven pies. No floppy, knife-and-fork Neapolitan-style here. While the undercarriage stays thin and crisp, the edges puff up, turning into some of the most wonderful breadsticks in town. The menu also offers an entertaining selection of “crust dips,” including a dynamite ranch dressing made with pickled ramps, but eating the crust on its own is enough of a pleasure. The most popular pizza is probably the L.A. Woman, spread with a layer of sweet tomato sauce and large dollops of soft burrata that create a temperature yin-yang of piping hot crust and cool, light-as-air cheese. In the morning there is breakfast pizza, which at lesser pizzerias could play like a gimmick. Under the guidance of two master cooks, however, the luxuriant combination of roasted potatoes, bacon and Parmesan is just the thing to get you out of bed in the morning. 412 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District; (323) 334-3369, jonandvinnys.com.
Sotto's precarious installation of an imported-from-Italy Stefano Ferrara oven, an odyssey that involved a crane and a couple hundred pounds of Vesuvian dirt, was a sight to behold (and a foreshadowing of LACMA's Levitated Mass transport). When the restaurant opened in 2011, chefs Zach Pollack and Steve Samson were lauded for their rough-and-ready Southern Italian fare, and rightfully so — despite the fact that these dudes hail from Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, the place that O.C. residents gloat about whenever the topic of superior pizza arises. Their pies at Sotto, while great from day one, have actually improved over time (ovens often take time to “wear in”). The chewy crust has that signature leopard spotting — blackened in parts, with an inkling of crispness and a slightly damp center. As with Thelonious Monk or the Mona Lisa, the perfection is in the imperfections. There is the aroma of burnt wood and the mild tang of long-risen yeast. The oozing combination of house-cured beef cheek, gooey ricotta, scallions and a thick dusting of fennel pollen should be accompanied by cherubs humming “Tarantella.” Can a pizza be described as soulful? The Margherita, heavily perfumed with basil and olive oil, is probably one of the most soulful things in town. This is hard-nosed Neapolitan pizza in its most unfettered and glorious state. If you have leftovers, you're doing it wrong. 9575 Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson; (310) 277-0210, sottorestaurant.com.