10 Best Pizza Restaurants in Los Angeles

From our 2012 Restaurant Issue, celebrating everything pizza in L.A.

pizzas at 800 Degrees

Anne Fishbeinpizzas at 800 Degrees

10. 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 paved with a plethora of high-quality toppings: Fra' Mani salami, pickled peppadews, charred broccolini and many more. (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, Wstwd.; (424) 239-5010,

Zelo Pizzeria

Anne FishbeinZelo Pizzeria

9. Zelo Pizzeria

The very fact that Zelo's bizarre cornbread deep-dish creations haven't attracted angry pizza purists brandishing oven paddles and one-star Yelp reviews should serve as a testament to just how talented the folks behind this Arcadia cult favorite really are. With what black magic does a pizza studded with roasted corn, Andouille sausage, balsamic onions and smoked mozzarella achieve such an unlikely level of harmony? The cornbread crust is entirely of its own genre: crumbly, crunchy and dense. The outer shell is slightly blackened by soot from the well-seasoned, 3-inch-deep pan it's housed in, while the toppings tend to come overstuffed. The vegetarian (or vegan) version has baked eggplant, roasted peppers and mushrooms; the carnivore's version carries enough cured meat to start a small butcher shop. 328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia; (626) 358-8298,

Urbano Pizza Bar

G. SnyderUrbano Pizza Bar

8. Urbano Pizza Bar

It may draw scoffs from traditionalists, but this downtown hangout is quietly serving up what is probably the best gluten-free crust in the city at the moment. And the original Neapolitan-style pies are even better -- the dough develops an intense sourdough tang and a slight smokiness after its journey through a glowing wood-fired oven. Founding chef Brad Winnaman, known for his stint at Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery, developed a crust that navigates a happy medium between texture and flavor. Current chef Bruce Kalman, who decamped from Santa Monica's Misfit early this year, amped up the selection of toppings, introducing a daily-rotating market vegetable pizza, one with spicy house-made sausage and barely poached egg, and another with Weiser Farms potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts. The best part? All pizzas are half-off during happy hour. 630 W. Sixth St., dwntwn.; (213) 614-1900,

Turn the page for picks 7 through 5...

The pizza at Milo & Olive

Anne FishbeinThe pizza at Milo & Olive

7. Milo & Olive

The heart of the kitchen at this 24-seat restaurant is undoubtedly its wood-fired oven, a wide-mouthed Mangini so thoroughly utilized that not a second seems to go by without something passing through its stone archway: pies topped with melted Oregon morels, braised chard, oregano-rubbed shrimp, butternut squash or homemade pork belly sausage. There are also delectable pastries crafted by Zoe Nathan, as well as vibrant seasonal salads and fresh pastas, but it's the pizzas you'll see on every table. The crust is what you might expect from a rustic bakery, a yeasty wheat and rye that transforms into a chewy wholesome plane of bread. You will inevitably endure a long wait for a table -- there are subway cars with more seats than this place -- but it's impressive how quickly angst fades with the loud, crackling sound of a pizza slicer shearing through crispy crust. 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 453-6776,

Stella Rossa

G. SnyderStella Rossa

6. Stella Rossa Pizza Bar

The first thing you notice if you happen to glance into the kitchen of Stella Rossa are rows of tall glass jars filled with pale dough. Chef and partner Jeff Mahin, who famously worked at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck (named the world's best restaurant in 2005), uses the jars as a built-in barometer: When the dough rises to the container's top lip, it's ready to be stretched, shaped and finally slid into a gas-powered oven. Stella Rossa pizza is distinctive for its puffy, golden-brown rim, a circle of inflated bread that manages to be moist and dense on the inside but cracker-crisp on the bottom. Most weekends, the wait for a table extends to the better part of an hour -- the place is proving a favorite of Santa Monica's young-and-chic crowd, who happily gather around a central bar for globe-spanning wines, local beers and bespoke cocktails. The Margherita, painted with specially sourced Chilean olive oil, is fine, but the combination of crisp purple kale, wilted spinach and shaved pecorino steals the show. 2000 Main St., Santa Monica; (310) 396-9250,

The pizza at Gjelina

Anne FishbeinThe pizza at Gjelina

5. Gjelina

There are many things to dislike about Gjelina: the servers more concerned with their post-shift art show, the sheer impossibility of scoring a patio table during brunch, a no-substitutions policy that even Gordon Ramsay finds too strict -- but dammit if that pizza isn't bewitchingly tasty and, dare we confess, downright sexy. Like the American Apparel model sitting at the table next to you, the sheer visual impact of these pizzas -- glowing mosaics of vibrant ingredients -- is enough to have you swooning before the first bite. Chef Travis Lett has a way with mushrooms that would make a Portland forager green with envy; his version topped with Hen of the Woods, beet greens and melted Taleggio is hauntingly good. The crust splits the difference between traditional and new wave: earthy and a bit sour, soft and pliable underneath but charred and bubbly on top. Thank goodness for the convenience of Gjelina Take Away -- even if that means munching slice after slice while squatting on a small section of curb along Abbot Kinney. 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 450-1429;

Keep reading for number 4 on...

pizza at Mother Dough

Anne Fishbeinpizza at Mother Dough

4. 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 uncooked arugula and some transparent shavings of buttery prosciutto. This is fork-and-knife pizza at its most eloquent. 4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 644-2885,

The pizza at Olio

Anne FishbeinThe pizza at Olio

3. Olio Pizzeria

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 an upscale "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., L.A.; (323) 930-9490,

pizza at Pizzeria Mozza

Anne Fishbeinpizza at Pizzeria Mozza

2. 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 pizza 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 a Italian poem transcribed for California palates. Six years later and 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 someday. 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; (323) 297-0101,

And for our top pick...

The pizza at Sotto

Anne FishbeinThe pizza at Sotto

1. Sotto

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 last year, chefs Zach Pollack and Steve Samson were lauded for their rough-and-ready Southern Italian fare, and rightfully so -- but 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. Like 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., L.A.; (310) 277-0210,

From our 2012 Restaurant Issue, celebrating everything pizza in L.A.

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