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, 800degreespizza.com.
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, zelopizzeria.com.
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, urbanopizzabar.com.
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