Pizza is something that invariably inspires heated debate. Lately, it seems only one other thing invites such passionate argument: gluten. The gluten protein is what gives wheat dough its structure, loft and elasticity. Which is why trying to find a really good gluten-free pizza has always been like looking for unicorns. Until now.
If New York-style is your jam, you're in luck because the nature of gluten-free dough means every pizza is thin crust. But they lack the soft, bubbly rim and flexibility of a N.Y. slice, existing instead as their own species — a hybrid of chewy N.Y. and extra crispy Roman style, often with a telltale sweetness that implies extra sugar added to give the yeast a boost.
Given the time it takes to develop a workable gluten-free dough and the challenges of doing so in a kitchen where wheat flour reigns supreme, most restaurants source theirs from a handful of outside bakeries to ensure a quality product and less cross-contamination. This is why the majority of GF crusts in L.A. are strikingly similar. But pizza is more than just a crust; it's the sum of all its parts. So, for this roundup, we looked at the balance of crust, sauce, ingredients and artistry to really decide the favorites.
10. Z Pizza
Forget Pizza Hut and Domino's — as far as national pizza chain restaurants go, Laguna Beach-born Z Pizza does it better and more healthfully than the rest. One of the first pizza joints in L.A. to offer a gluten free crust, Z Pizza really takes care to alleviate any concerns as to what is and isn't safe to eat. They provide a separate menu listing the ingredients of their crust (rice, tapioca, potato flours), as well as all GF toppings which include organic tomato sauce, fresh produce and Daiya soy-free vegan cheese. Unlike most other pizzerias, they offer a choice of small or large GF crust, which emerges with a browned, cracker-like outer edge and firm, chewy middle. The combination of a well-calibrated sauce topped with an abundance of their Wisconsin mozzarella, mushrooms and additive-free Italian sausage make Z Pizza a deeply satisfying, classed up version of your favorite childhood party pizza. Multiple locations; www.zpizza.com/locations.
9. Blaze Pizza
From the Wetzel's Pretzels folks and chef Brad Kent of Olio Pizzeria in West Hollywood, Blaze stands out among the trend of speedy, assembly line, personalized pizzas by delivering a quality of ingredients that belies the low price tag. Blaze has offered gluten-free pies since opening their first location two years ago, and their rice flour crusts are made in-house from a dough that's fermented for 24 hours. Stand in line and choose one of their signature pizzas or DIY with as many toppings as you want for a flat $7.65 (plus the $3 GF crust up charge). After "180 seconds" in a "blazing hot oven," you get 11 inches of the thinnest of thin crusts, all charred and smoky at the edges. A slice of the signature Red Vine is soft enough to fold in the middle yet still holds together under the judiciously applied toppings, resulting in a pizza that is delightfully light and saucy. Multiple locations; www.blazepizza.com.
8. Lucifer's Pizza
This is the first GF crust that our gluten-eating companion said tasted like "real bread." Rice flour clings to the bottom of the well-charred, neutral-tasting dough. This crust requires a stronger contrast from the sauce, so don't pull any punches when they ask what level of spiciness you want — we recommend medium to "fiery." And don't be afraid to pile on the fixings; the crust can take it. Order a Greek salad, grab a table outside at the Melrose location to catch some late afternoon rays, and then — bonus! — pick up Babycakes treats for dessert at M Cafe next door. 7123 Melrose Ave., W. Hollywood. 958 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 906-8603.
7. Two Boots Pizza
For downtown L.A.'s gluten-free denizens, there are a few GF pizza options in the neighborhood, but only one passed muster for our list: Two Boots. The pies at this offspring of the NYC East Village original distinguish themselves with an herby Italian seasoned dough and a toothsome bite. The ends are oiled and lightly crisped. The zesty marinara is thick and layered with mozzarella, making for a hearty, well-spiced slice. And that's before you factor in the the toppings. Opt for the Grandma Bess, with organic San Marzano plum tomatoes, fresh chiffonade of basil, garlic, olive oil and Parmigiano, or blow your wad and channel your inner dude with the Cajun bacon cheeseburger pie called (what else) The Dude. 828 S. Broadway, Downtown L.A.; (213) 623-2100. 1818 W. Sunset Blvd.; (213) 413-2668.
6. EVO Kitchen
At this West Hollywood, family-owned joint, sister and brother team Michelle and Craig Orlando have devised a menu of California-influenced comfort food with vegan and allergen-free options aplenty. In fact, EVO might be the only place in town where you can grab a GF beer and some GF baked hot wings to go with your GF 'za. Pies are offered in a slew of creative flavor combinations, such as Pear and Gorgonzola and Blue Cheese Steak, and cooked in a rotating stone oven (GF crusts have their own shelf) to produce a lightly charred and crispy crust with a good chew. Our classic cheese and pepperoni came out with a uniform coating of marbled mozzarella and tangy family recipe sauce that balances the slight sweetness of the rice, potato and tapioca flour crust. Save room for a GF, vegan dark chocolate brownie a la mode. 7950 Sunset Blvd., Suite 104, West Hollywood; (323) 375-3390.
5. Stella Barra Pizzeria
Say you're headed to Arclight Hollywood to catch the latest Tom Cruise vs. aliens flick and grab a bite to eat, but you don't want to be the one who just orders a side of Brussels sprouts because you can't have anything else on the menu. Enter Stella Barra. Literally. Located at the front of the Arclight complex, chef Jeff Mahin's pizza bar doles out what you might call "fancy" pizzas, loaded with ingredients sourced weekly from the farmers market and local purveyors. Ask about their gluten-free crust and you'll get a refreshingly transparent answer — they use Udi's brand. Cooked in the kitchen's gas-powered, triple-stacked Baker's Pride oven, the pizzas emerge with a golden brown crust that has a nice crunch and noticeable lack of oiliness. Try the aromatic shaved mushroom pizza with added organic housemade pork sausage. Its confluence of gooey cheese, mushrooms, fatty pork, rosemary, caramelized onions and black truffle creates such an umami explosion in your mouth that once it's all gone you'll be tempted to order another round. 6372 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 301-4001.
4. Apollonia's Pizzeria
On an overlooked stretch of Miracle Mile, Apollonia's Pizzeria is an under-the-radar spot which has been quietly garnering accolades and winning fans (Fred Savage among them) since it opened in 2012. Owner Justin De Leon's approach to pizza is as soulful as his dedication is evident — he's behind the counter tossing dough every day and thoughtfully discusses options with indecisive newbies without a hint of impatience. Organic, locally-sourced toppings range from traditional to exotic and signature pizzas have cheeky names like the Mayor's Mistress (pepperoni and sausage) and the Dirty Agent (rattlesnake or alligator sausage, red onion and tomato). We tried the Acapulco Gold (a new menu addition) on the 10-inch gluten-free crust, which arrives at the table with a fragrant waft of truffle oil. The crust is crispy with a good chew and a delicate, nutty flavor that complements the sweetly acidic yellow tomatoes, bitter arugula, roasted garlic and creamy dabs of ricotta cheese. 5176 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile; (323) 93-SAUCE.
3. The Luggage Room
This hidden gem in Pasadena opened by the La Grande Orange team occupies what used to be the luggage holding room of the historic Del Mar Train Station. The interior is a bit like a Gothic barn, with its red walls, crystal chandeliers, and dim lighting — great for canoodling over dinner — while the patio is lovely on a sunny day. The gluten-free crust is made on site daily from a recipe of rice and garbanzo flours, olive oil, rosemary, fennel seeds, oregano and sea salt. Each crust is kept carefully segregated until it's removed from the olive wood-burning oven and delivered to your table as a gorgeously rustic, uniquely crisp and chewy pie, their molten three-cheese blend and robust tomato sauce spreading like lava all the way to the charred, free-form edges. This type of pizza, without a breadier crust to mitigate its intensity, benefits from the cooling contrast of creamy Haas avocado and fresh basil leaves. But what really sets it off is the bright citrus perfume of grated lemon zest sprinkled over the top. 260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 356-4440.
2. Vito's Pizza
If you've lived in L.A. long enough, you've no doubt heard of Vito's, the West Hollywood institution with a cult following. Stepping inside Vito Di Donato's bustling shoebox pie factory practically transports you to the East Coast, complete with a friendly waitress zipping around, delivering pies and chatting in her Jersey accent. Vito's New Jersey-style pies famously come in only one size — BIG — but the gluten-free pizzas are six inches less gut-busting (if you do the math, that's a 12-inch crust).
The GF crust is not made in-house, but what sets it apart from the rest is the ethereal crunch of the upturned, rice flour dusted rim, and the springy-chewy texture which resembles a flatbread and is probably the closest a gluten-free pizza will ever come to being called doughy. Even better, it tastes surprisingly like fresh baked bread, which certainly helps when ordering a crust-showcasing pie like the white pesto pizza with its dollops of sweet, soft ricotta, generous swaths of oily, herbaceous pesto and garlicky overtones. It's an ensemble of flavors that is at once addictive and downright soothing. 846 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 652-6859.
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1. Tomato Pie Pizza Joint
At the back of a quiet little strip mall in Silver Lake hides a patio which you could easily imagine belongs to The Jetsons. It's a thoroughly retro-modern vibe befitting the retro-modern experience you're about to have: A gluten free pizza that tastes like the real thing. Owner Garrett Policastro taste-tested several par-baked crusts before finding one that mirrors their own homemade crust from a local bakery which apparently no one else in L.A. has yet discovered. His fastidiousness paid off — they now sell 150-200 GF pizzas a week.
The pizzas are cooked "the traditional mid-century authentic N.Y. way" on the 2-inch thick hearth of their Marsal pizza oven for ten to twelve minutes at 575 degrees. The inexplicably light, infallibly crispy crust has a buttery flavor we assume is due to plenty of olive oil in the dough. The crust rises in millimeter layers: a crunchy, golden bottom, a chewy, minutely porous middle, and the softened top layer, paved with melted pecorino romano. It's topped by a light layer of crushed tomato sauce, carbonized mozzarella, garlic, oregano, fresh basil and more romano — all in evenly distributed, harmonious balance, which Policastro says is the key to "a legit N.Y. pizza." 2457 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; (323) 661-6474.