Whether you like thin crust, deep dish or artisanal pizza, it’s time to celebrate National Pizza Day, which is Friday, Feb. 9. While those from New York City and Chicago think they live in pizza paradise, for Angeleno foodies, Los Angeles is its own pizza mecca.
L.A. Weekly talked with pizza artisans about their earliest pizza memories, their favorite slices and what inspires them in the kitchen.
Maximino Luna, executive chef, DeSano Pizza Bakery
My favorite pizza memory is the first time I had a classic margherita. It was here in Los Angeles where I first started working in an Italian kitchen, and thus my love and passion for pizza was created.
We try to respect the authenticity of classic Italian pizza while adding our own unique twist. The San Gennaro is a perfect example; it’s all about experimentation and finding which flavors work well together. The taste and color of the pizza is extremely important. There needs to be a balance in ingredients.
I love our Nutella pizza, an easy and simple Italian dessert. It incorporates the pizza dough, which adds a nice blend of saltiness to the sweetness of the Nutella. The powdered sugar tops it off and adds an extra kick.
We’re really hoping to expand our special pizzas. Right now, we are working on getting a black truffle pizza together. We try to stay true to classic Italian pizza, but we know it is extremely important to push the boundaries. In the foreseeable future, we would love to incorporate local ingredients, in order to bridge the gap between the American and Italian pizza.
4959 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 913-7000, desanopizza.com.
Price Latimer, co-owner, Pizzanista!
My earliest pizza memories are of ShowBiz Pizza, which was an offshoot of Chuck E. Cheese. It offered pizza, arcade games, coin-operated rides and animatronic stage shows by an animal band; it was clearly the most incredible place to have one’s birthday party as a child in the early 1980s.
We see pizza as the ultimate blank canvas — essentially almost any recipe ingredient tastes good on top of pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza for breakfast, along with a perfectly complementary bloody mary or mimosa?!
I have been a vegetarian for 25 years, so it is important to us as business owners to offer a multitude of tasty meatless options for ourselves and our vegan friends. That said, we are all about inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, so our goal is to hopefully offer something for every palate and preference.
Macaroni and cheese is our all-time favorite comfort food. We had tasted and were inspired by pizza slices on NYC’s Lower East Side covered in baked ziti, so we thought, “Why not take it to an even more over-the-top level and pile a slice with mac and cheese?!” So we developed a recipe based on my Southern roots (with five different cheeses), and slathered it on top of our hand-tossed sourdough crust with homemade marinara sauce. And voilà, our infamous macaroni and cheese pizza was born!
We have several vegan pizzas on our menu; there are so many fantastic vegan options these days, we simply experimented with replacing the traditional cheeses and cream with non-dairy ones and formulated a recipe that mimicked the comfort, savoriness and creamy indulgence of the original.
2019 E. Seventh St., downtown; (213) 627-1430, pizzanista.com.
Giuseppe Manco, executive chef, the Restaurant at Mr. C
I grew up on a farm with my grandparents, and the first food I was exposed to was brick-oven pizza. We would make pizza and bread three times a week. Mom taught me how to make a square margherita pizza with cherry tomatoes, which was always so good.
It was during those times as a kid that inspired Pizza Mr. C and the house-made pizza of the day. I really enjoy serving pizzas from my hometown in Naples, Italy, where pizza was invented. At the moment, our house-made pizza includes mozzarella, taleggio and house-made sausage. Other pizza variations I like to make include pesto with sweet dry tomato or eggplant with ricotta cheese. I like to play seasonally with ingredients like truffles, artichokes, baby kale and pesto.
1224 Beverwil Drive, Pico-Robertson; (310) 226-6245, mrcbeverlyhills.com/dining.
Billy Leckie, manager, Luchini Pizzeria
After a basketball game, my parents and I would swing by the local pizza place. Not much was open, so we always would look forward to pizza! There is so much nostalgia when you think about your pizza memories.
I like a classic round cheese slice, with crispy edges and pepperoni. There are a lot of crazy craft pizzas popping up now but I like to keep it simple. We get a late-night crowd who go to the clubs and then come in for our vegetable pizzas. We pickle our own jalapeños and roast our own mushrooms in-house every day — nothing comes out of a jar. We make 50 pounds of dough and let it sit overnight; then when it rises it’s really nice.
1607 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 593-7771, luchinipizzeria.com.
Caroline D’Amore, owner, D’Amore’s Pizza
Sadly, my mom died when I was little. My father, who owned our pizza restaurant, raised me and my sisters there. We would do our homework every night and help make the pizza. Dad was a mad pizza scientist — I have always thought he was a genius. I learned so many life lessons from the chefs we worked with.
I grew up eating and loving our bianco, which is our spinach pizza sautéed in garlic oil with ricotta cheese and roasted red peppers. Following in my dad’s footsteps, I love making special pizzas on a whim. It’s fun to make slices off the menu; we just created a “weed is legal/munchies” pizza, which has crunchy, homemade potato chips, and a baked ziti pizza. And we just created a turkey bacon breakfast pizza, which was delicious.
D’Amore’s Pizza has locations in Malibu, Westwood, Canoga Park, Tarzana and Los Angeles; damorespizza.com.
Martin Orozco, manager, Rocco’s Pizza
My very first word out of my mouth when I was a toddler was "pizza"! My family loved it and we had it all the time. And to this day, it’s still my favorite food.
People can’t get enough of pizza — we try to make pizza out of everything, like French fries. We even make our cheesy garlic bread to look like pizza. We just opened in Westwood and will be opening a West Hollywood pizzeria, right across from the Abbey, later this year.
I love our salad pie — it is not as heavy as normal pizza pies. It really caters to the L.A. atmosphere and lifestyle. You can have the taste of a pizza but you don’t have to feel guilty about eating it! It’s a lighter alternative; there is spinach, romaine lettuce on top of marinara and a crispy crust.
Rocco’s has locations in Studio City, Culver City, Pasadena and Westwood; roccostavern.com.
Vito Iacopelli, co-owner, Prova Pizza
I started making pizzas with my father and grandma. I grew up in our pizzeria. I started when I was 6 years old making pizzas there. We never had family time because we were very busy, serving our fantastic customers!
We import our ingredients from Italy: flour and tomatoes and olive oil. We don't do food for business, we do food for passion; we make everything in the morning, fresh every day. All the vegetables are local from California and organic. I like organic, as it is more flavorful.
We make all the pizzas with my grandma’s 100-year-old recipe, cooked in our wood-burning oven. We just changed our menu, adding pizza fritta, which is fried pizza. This is a very typical street food from my city in Italy. I really like the idea of importing more types of unique pizzas to Los Angeles.
8729 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 855-7285, pizzaprova.com.
Alfonso Sanna, executive chef, Casa Barilla
My first pizza memory was the very first time I made the dough myself when I was 16 in Sardegna, Italy, baking in the wood-fired oven. I remember that first bite — it tasted like the best pizza in the world.
I like to use fresh ingredients and experiment with new combinations to find the right balance. With our Ortolana pizza, the vegetables and basil make for a nice combo. I’m already working with the team to have a new summertime pizza, playing with our basil pesto, cherry tomatoes and some more ingredients that I love in my summer meals.
Since we opened in November, Casa Barilla at USC Village has gotten a lot of attention, from students who want to reward themselves with pizza after class.
3201 S. Hoover St, University Park; (323) 797-8933, barillarestaurants.com.
Craig Towe, chef de cuisine, Sotto
Since I was a child, I have always associated pizza with happiness. I had my birthday at a place called Pistol Pete's Pizza. It was every 5-year old's dream — they had tons of arcades, skee-ball, an indoor playground and, of course, pizza! Also, almost every Friday night, my dad and I would go pick up pizza to bring home. This was a long-standing tradition, and we would try different places, to see which we liked best.
It’s really hard to be upset when you have pizza in front of you. I once had a chef tell me that "pizza is like sex — even when it's not that good, it's still pretty good." I would have to agree with that statement.
We recently added a funghi pizza to the menu. We wanted to do a mushroom pizza that you couldn't get at any other pizza place. To make the flavor stand out, I made a mushroom puree with onions, garlic, rosemary and a little cream for the base of the pizza. I topped it off with roasted oyster mushrooms and onions. To amp up the smokiness of the mushrooms, I used scamorza, a smoked mozzarella. After tweaking the recipe a couple times, I knew we hit the jackpot!
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9575 W. Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson; (310) 277-0210, sottorestaurant.com
And on the pizza horizon…
Factory Place Hospitality Group (Officine Brera + The Factory Kitchen) is about to open its first pizzeria, sixth+mill, in March.
And opening this week, Triple Beam Pizza in Highland Park will be serving long, thin Roman-style pies.