Dear Mr. Gold:
Have you discovered near-authentic New York thin-crust pizza in the Los Angeles area?
–C Afe, Pasadena, via Facebook
The words “authentic,'' “New York” and “pizza” in conjunction mean nothing but trouble around here. The pizza that makes expatriate New Yorkers weep tears of nostalgic grief was more often than not made at a slice place named Ray's — Ray Bari, Original Ray's, Famous Original Ray's, World Famous Ray's — notable mostly for shirt-cardboard crusts and heroic amounts of dubiously sourced cheese. (When I lived in Brooklyn, my apartment was around the corner from a joint called Not Ray's, whose pizza was unfortunately less not-Ray's than it might have been.) There is some great old-guy pizza in New York, at places like John's, Di Fara and the original Patsy's up in East Harlem, but these are rarely the pizzas that the wistful have in mind. If you ask me, the best New York pizza is made 90 miles north at Pepe's in New Haven, but as a Californian I don't have a vote.
My favorite non-Mozza pizza in L.A. is probably Eagle Rock's Casa Bianca, which took its inspiration from Southside Chicago bar pies instead of NYC: New Yorkers have never forgiven it for that transgression. Joe Peep's in North Hollywood does something like a perfected version of a Ray's-style pie — heavy on the sauce and the cheese, but not bad. Vito's in West Hollywood does a very nice slice. The chef/owner of Giovanni's in Malibu worked for years at Grotta Azzura in Little Italy — if his pizza isn't authentically New York, I don't know what is. That being said, the pizza at Joe's in Santa Monica, an offshoot of a place that occupied the corner of Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue for as long as anyone can remember, not only resembles a New York slice, it is a New York slice.