131 N Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004
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7751 1/2 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
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4745 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91602
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As I expected, my last post about New York style pizza in Los Angeles generated a mini-firestorm. Not so many comments here, but a record number of daily hits on the site, a nice link from la.eater, and recommendations from half a dozen friends about their favorite NY style pie in town. Your dedicated Food Crazy is nothing if diligent in following up recommendations, particularly if by doing my culinary duty I can escape my low-carb diet for a day or two. So here are the latest entries, and the current standings.
Village Pizzeria I've been up and down Larchmont Blvd. dozens of times in the past decade. I get my hair cut there, I go to Le Petit Greek every now and again, and there's some great Italian bistro food. But somehow I'd never noticed Village Pizzeria until my friend Terry (who cites his NY pizza faves as Grimaldi's in Brooklyn and Lombardi's in Manhattan) sent me here. It's very much in the same mode as Lamonica's. The walls are covered with sports memorabilia from New York and (oddly) San Francisco. It took me a while to figure out why photos of Jerry Rice adorn the walls of a Brooklyn pizza parlor: apparently, the first Village Pizzeria outpost opened in SF. It has the feeling of a step-up-and-order-a-slice place, but it isn't. It's table service, and after standing unnoticed at the counter for a bit I was told to take a seat. The slice that arrived is what I, before I began this quest, imagined to be classic New York pizza. Ultra thin, floppy crust. My friend oB told me, if you can't fold it in half lengthwise, it's not New York pizza. Village Pizzeria fits the bill.
My slice featured spicy, ultra thin sliced pepperoni, curled up around the edges like Quisp cereal, and with a little puddle of grease in each one. The mozzarella was unusually tangy. My Coke came in a classic, logoed red plastic cup. Jerry Rice says, "two thumbs up, this is good NY pie, go Niners." Another branch is scheduled to open in December, 2007 on Yucca and Ivar in the heart of Hollywood.
Tomato Pie My friend Tom sent me to his favorite, Tomato Pie on Melrose. Tom extolled the owner's obsessive chemical analysis of Los Angeles vs. NYC tap water in his effort to recreate that elusive dough. Again, this is a fine slice.
The dough thickness is somewhere between Vito's and Village. The sauce is tangy, the slice is foldable; but the vaunted crust, chemically analyzed though it may be, didn't work for me. It was slightly undercooked, and a little chewy for my taste. But I'll go back to give it another try. It's worth the trip if for no other reason than to sit at a sidewalk table and watch the fashion parade that accompanies the end of classes at Fairfax High across the street. I note that a goodly number of students sally forth from their studies and charge immediately into Tomato Pie.
Little Toni's Little Toni's is really in a different category from the other joints here. It's a classic, old school, red naugahyde and red sauce sit down Italian, complete with Shakey's style stained glass in the windows. I worked for three years less than a quarter mile up Lankershim from this spot. How did I not know about it? This is the old school Italian of your dreams, kicking all manner of ass over Miceli's, Antonio's, and the like.
Yes, it's dark. Yes, the bottles of house chianti are cheap and drinkable. Yes, there is as much crust on the waitresses as on the pizza. But the pizza is simply sublime. I was with a group, so we had a big combo of sausage, onion, garlic, mushroom and olive.
Even with all the toppings, the crust managed an almost supernatural combination of crispness and lightness, equally so from the tip of the slice to the outer rim. This would not pass oB's fold-in-half-test; the crust is too firm. But for me, the pizza is greater than the sum of its parts, an eluctable and indivisible whole that includes the comfort of the surroundings, the beverage that washes it down, and the capacity to share it all with friends in a big comfy booth. And Little Toni's delivers, pardon the pun. It's my new favorite VENUE for "NY Style" pie in town.
But my favorite NY style pizza... just the pie itself? It's still Pizza Bella, the odd little booth at the back of Whitley Heights market on Franklin and Highland. I reviewed it here. It's not perfect... it can take 10-15 minutes to get your slice, delivery takes forever, the puchasing process (get tag here, go to front of market to pay, return with receipt) is arcane, and you have to endure the gaze of those Star Wars standees while you wait. But the slice itself is, for me, unbeatable.
The current standings (until I get another must-try recommendation) for best NY-style pizza in Los Angeles:
1. Pizza Bella
2. Little Toni's
5. Village Pizzeria
6. Tomato Pie
NOTE: I wrote this yesterday to post today. I see in today's obituaries that Sam Martorano, the founder of Casa Bianca in Glendale has passed away. I love Casa Bianca, though I can't see categorizing its unique style as being "New York." But I do plan to go have a pie there, just to pay my respects.