As the home of In N Out Burger (and a few other fine establishments too) Los Angeles is one of the world’s best places to go for a bite. From the countless Double Double’s to tacos, ramen and sushi, we’ve had some the best meals of our lives right here in the city of angels. But when it comes to pizza, it isn’t the obvious choice. Today on The Journal, we show you why it should be.
To set the scene, the West Coast doesn’t have a set of pizza “rules” as strict as in New York for example. This gives California a bit more wiggle room to innovate and experiment with toppings and style, which often translates into some delicious pizza. Check out our three favourite spots below.
When it comes to iconic Los Angeles restaurants, there’s one name that jumps out above the rest: Chef Wolfgang Puck’s legendary Beverly Hills haunt, Spago. Anyone living on the West Coast should thank Puck for pioneering California cuisine in Los Angeles, putting it on the map as a real culinary city and paving the way for the restaurant Utopia we enjoy today.
More importantly, we can also thank Puck for Spago’s smoked salmon pizza. The signature dish, created in 1982 and famously served at Oscar after parties, is enjoyed by celebrities, and said to have been a sort of “happy accident” created one night when the kitchen ran out of bread. Spago serves the decadent pizza slathered with garlic chili oil then smeared with dill crème fraîche, in-house cured smoked salmon and topped with caviar. The combination of the hot crispy crust with cold dill cream, salmon and salty sweet caviar is a revelation that has lasted through the decades.
if you’re lucky enough to eat there, order it as a starter to share or eat the whole thing. The latter is more likely, by the way.
As you might know from Netflix series Chef’s Table, it’s hard to overstate the importance and influence of Nancy Silverton in the grand story of Los Angeles dining – and you needn’t look farther than her three restaurants on the corner of Highland and Melrose to understand why her cooking is both admired and imitated. Pizzeria Mozza, which was the first of the three to open, is still one of the best pizzerias in the world, each pie lovingly crafted from Silverton’s now-famous dough and topped with the best Italian and Californian ingredients.
At Mozza, the crust has a very high lip (what the Neapolitans call the cornicione) that comes with a lovely crisp exterior, slowly but surely giving way to tender bread. When it comes to the toppings, they are sparse and absolutely delicious. Our personal favourite is the Yukon Gold Potato, but there’s also bacon-and-egg pizza, white clam pizza, wild nettles pizza and a whole lot more.
When it comes to eating at Mozza, you have to book way (weeks, sometimes months) ahead. But considering the Los Angeles Times describes it as “a master class in the art of making pizza” and Serious Eats says “it might be the best pizzeria in the world”, it’s well worth the hassle. You come here for the pizza, but there’s so much more to love: the boisterous, convivial room, the fantastic antipasti and now-iconic butterscotch budino.
Steve Samson and Zach Pollack are the chefs behind Sotto, a Southern Italian restaurant on the edge of West LA that definitely qualifies as the “up and comer” on our short list. And whilst Sotto is undoubtedly Neapolitan, they’ve also very clearly turned some of the more unique characteristics of the pizza up to eleven. If regular pizza is soda and Neapolitan pizza is beer, Sotto is probably Guinness – an increase in flavor and complexity that’s not for everyone, at least when they try it for the first time.
To be clear, this isn’t an attack on Sotto’s pizza, which is actually (and obviously) really good. It’s simply not your traditional (err, trendy) Neapolitan pizza place. There’s one pizza, glazed with house-cured pig cheek, glopped with ricotta and sprinkled with a truck load of fennel pollen, that is among the piggiest pies in town, perhaps rivaled only by another on the same menu with mozzarella, potatoes and melted lardo. The crisp, sauceless calzone, the size of a Celine bag and stuffed with escarole, olives and a slug of creamy burrata cheese, is named “Homage to Caiazzo” after an old town outside Naples with several famous pizzerias, and is perhaps the best calzone we’ve ever tasted.
The menu is powered by reasonably priced sharing plates and incorporates both local produce and sustainable, artisanally produced meats. The cocktails, as sophisticated as nearly any in the city, are overseen by the omnipresent Julian Cox and executed by the amaro-fixated Kate Grutman, whose résumé includes the Doheny, Mozza and Terroni, and who is not above flavoring rum with a tincture of Sex Wax, normally used to rub down surfboards.Zach and Steve readily admit they’re shooting for the 80/20 ratio, as in that they’d rather have 80 percent of people die (in a good way) for the pizza and 20 percent hate it rather than 100 percent merely like it. According to us, that’s a very wise decision, but then again, we’re part of the 80 percenters. Of course, chances are that you’ll be too.