The Pie's the Limit
Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors out there, each of them touted as the best in the Southland, one of them actually has to be the best. And I'm pretty sure that the Casa Bianca pizza pie is the one. Especially the sausage pizza: speckled with sweetly spiced homemade sausage, shot through with mellow cloves of roasted garlic (if you order them) and topped with plenty of stringy mozzarella cheese. Tomato sauce is sparingly applied, a bit of tartness to cut through the richness of the cheese and the sausage. The cheese and sauce reach nearly to the edge of the crust, which lets you avoid the touchy problem of what to do with all those leftover pizza edges. The crust is chewy, yet crisp enough to maintain rigidity as you maneuver it toward your mouth; thin, yet thick enough to give the sensation of real, developed wheat flavor, and with enough carbony, bubbly burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Leftovers taste superb with your morning coffee. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 256-9617. Open for dinner Tues.-Sat. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Cash only.
Danaian's Bakery/Uncle Jack's
Over in East Hollywood, Uncle Jack's lahmajune is a wafer-thin round thing, about the diameter of a hand-patted tortilla, smeared with a few grams of a garlicky tomato-meat stew. The edges of the pie are slightly burnt and crisp, with a faint matzolike flavor. The stew is spiked with a still-crisp bits of green pepper and onion, and has a clean taste of fresh vegetables. There's a wholesome, handmade quality to this pie, like something somebody's mom could be famous for whipping up for PTA meetings. Zahtar bread, also known as manaish, is more of a pizza sort of deal, bubbly, thick round crust spread with a lemon-tart mixture of thyme and ground sumac berries, dusted with sesame seeds, chewy and crunchy as a good bagel, pungent with a spice fragrance unique to the Middle East. Armenians usually eat zahtar bread for breakfast, and in the Arab world it is customarily consumed as a snack. The bread - crisp, consistent and complexly flavored - tastes especially good with hot tea. 1108 N. Kenmore Ave., Hollywood; (323) 664-8842. Open Mon.-Sat. 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Lahmajune 50 cents apiece. Takeout only. Cash only.
At Guelaguetza you'll find the sort of Oaxacan dishes you've only read about in travel magazines: the dense, banana-leaf-wrapped tamales filled with pungent mole, the unstuffed enchiladas sprinkled with cheese and bathed in a musky red-chile sauce, the homemade drink tejate, served in a gourd, or the rice drink horchata, garnished with chopped pecans and topped with an inch of a syrup that may remind you of melted Popsicles. When you show up late in the afternoon, everybody is sipping horchata and eating clayudas, sort of pizza-size Oaxacan tostadas smeared with black beans, sprinkled with lettuce, topped with crumbles of white cheese and a few squirts of smoky chipotle salsa. On top of the clayuda, more as a garnish than anything else, is a bit of meat: the salt-dried beef called cecina, the salt-dried pork tazajo or four tiny spheres of mellow Oaxacan chorizo. 3337* W. Eighth St.; (213) 427-0601. Open daily 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9-$12. No alcohol. Street parking only. Cash only.
It's less surprising that an Indian restaurant would have great pizza - tandoor-baked flatbreads have always been renowned - than that nobody thought of trying it before. If a Spago lamb-sausage pizza is like a Whitney Houston ballad, brassy, powerful and impeccably recorded, an India's Tandoor pizza with, say, tandoor-baked shrimp, bell pepper and tomato is lush and supple as Marvin Gaye: maybe a little underproduced, but bursting with subtext. The pizza topped with tandoori chicken sings with the bittersweet spiciness of the tart chile sambal that appears where you might expect tomato sauce; the little cubes of chicken serve almost as comforting islets of blandness. All the pizzas, even the vegetarian one, are garnished with cute little rounds of California black olives, a homey touch. 5947 W. Pico Blvd.; (323) 936-2050. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m. $4.95 lunch specials. Dinner for two, food only, $13-$20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
The pride of Valley Village and the toast of greater North Hollywood, Joe Peep's is often called the best pizzeria in Los Angeles, particularly by Long Island expatriates. One section of the paper menu is labeled "5,969 Calorie Pizzas." Another lists everybody's least favorite pizza fish as "anchovies (ugh!)." There is something for everyone - although I can't see a sane man ordering a large with meatballs, sauteed onions and extra sauerkraut. The sauce on a Peep's is garlicky, rough-textured stuff with a hint of caramelized sweetness and more than a hint of cheese. This is a brawny pie, solid as steel plate, dusted on the bottom with burnt bits of cornmeal, distinctly undoughy but thick enough to hold its heat and crunch for hours. You could possibly fold a slice of Peep's in half in the ritual so beloved by New Yorkers . . . but only if you had the upper-body strength of Sammy Sosa. 12460 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 506-4133. Open Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-mid., Sun. noon-10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$14. No alcohol. Takeout and delivery. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
A smallish place up the street from the strip malls and office buildings of the Sawtelle-Olympic corridor, Sawtelle Kitchen is tastefully rustic right down to the patinaed walls and the weathered hutches that hold the bowls for cafe au lait. The tables are covered with sheets of copper, and little fiaschi hold homemade chile-flavored olive oil. The salads are pretty much a toss of greens, though the dressings are spiked with exotic things like lavender and balsamic vinegar. Pizzas use flour tortillas instead of crust, two of them glued together with a layer of melted cheese, and topped with delicious things such as prosciutto and mushrooms, duck sausage, or a modified puttanesca made with anchovies, capers and sliced hard-boiled eggs. They're pretty good in spite of themselves: crisp, light and easy to eat. 2024 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 445-9288. Open Mon.-Thurs. 6-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. till 9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$40. No alcohol; own wine okay. MC, V.
Okonomiyaki, sometimes called "Japanese pizza," is perhaps the most popular of Japanese street foods, a thick, circular pancake the size and shape of a small stack of 45s, made from eggs, vegetables, meat and ghost-white batter: crisp on the outside, substantial on the inside, the local equivalent of an Italian frittata or a Spanish tortilla. A lot of the fun in okonomiyaki comes in tending your pancake, patting it flat with a big metal spatula, sliding it to a cooler part of the griddle when you sense it is starting to scorch, glazing its surface with a sticky syrup flavored with Worcestershire sauce. When the mass is done, or at least brown and crisp on the bottom, you cut it into wedges, squirt it with mayonnaise and hot mustard from squeeze bottles, and season it with a thick dusting of powdered seaweed and bonito shavings. (If your pancake looks as if it has been tarred and feathered, it should be about right.) The standard okonomiyaki comes with three added ingredients - say, oysters, kimchi and pork - but you can get more elaborate custom combinations. 2106 Artesia Blvd., Torrance; (310) 324-5190. Open Tues.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m.; Sun. 5-9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $14-$20. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
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