Some say that L.A. is having its pizza moment. Big Al's Halal Pizzeria entered the pizza fray on Saturday, Feb. 2 with a grand opening block party. Although, you might ask,"What exactly is halal pizza?"
The second question you may ask is "Why halal pizza and in Maywood of all places?"
Halal means permitted or lawful according to Sharia (Islamic) laws. Halal pizza is actually a pretty common fast food item in North Africa and Turkey; and their diasporic communities in Europe. North Africans and Turks have a range of traditional flat breads with various toppings such as Algerian-Spanish cocas and Turkish pide. And of course, there's Lebanese Manakish, flat bread topped with thyme, cheese or spiced ground meat. The culinary leap to pizza is not very far.
Partners Ali "Big Al" Chaheen, Michael Chaheen and Mussa Saleh all grew up in Maywood and Bell. The Chaheen brothers are Lebanese, Mussa is half Lebanese and half Mexican, and Al's wife is Mexican-American. Yes, the menu incorporates Arabexican elements like chorizo (halal of course) and a Lebanese meat lovers pizza with kafta (skinless fresh sausage). And yes, just like at Al Salam Polleria in Boyle Heights, you'll hear the staff fluidly shifting from English and Arabic to Spanish.
Big Al's Pizzeria is very much a neighborhood restaurant catering to local tastes and budgets. The menu overall is geared towards American fast food pizzeria fare, although using much fresher ingredients. Standard toppings such as mushrooms, black olives and pepperoni are available. Specialty pizzas include barbecue chicken, Hawaiian and veggie. Big Al's also serves subs, pastas, and chicken wings. The smoked beef brisket and barbecue beef ribs on the menu are prepared at Big Al's BBQ and Halal Meat Market a few blocks down the street. It's not the sort of place that will be on any pizza pundit's radar, but the pizzas here are infinitely fresher and cleaner tasting than the chains they're trying to compete with.
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Susan Ji-Young Park wrote three articles for Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia. Follow her on Twitter at @SParkThis. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.