When the conversation regarding the best pizza in Santa Monica is sparked, Rosti on Montana Avenue, Stella Rossa on Main Street, and the white hot Milo & Olive on Wilshire Boulevard always top the local list. It doesn’t get much better than a brick-oven fired pie and a glass of Beaujolais, but some people aren’t willing to shell out 30-plus bucks for that kind of lunch.
Low and behold, the cheaper and easier alternative is the ready-to-eat slice. But L.A. has always received a bad rap when baking up the New York-style pizza. So what gives? Is it the air? Is it the water? Is there any decent slices to be had right here in Santa Monica? Breaking my glutton-free diet I hit the streets to try every single slice available here in town and the findings were surprisingly good.
Having a well-balanced ratio of bread to cheese to sauce is the key to a good slice. The crust has to be pliable for folding yet retain a suitable crunch. It’s a balancing act tough to maintain. Dining in is the only way to achieve such synergy. Delivery time plus steam created in the box can make a pie lose its edge. Going the way of the regular or plain, which is a slice with just cheese, was the best way to focus on what fundamentally makes a pizza good without getting distracted with a mix and mash of toppings.
Crust being the key, each pizzeria in town had their differences on how to bake their pies to stand out. On the not so subtle side, Grey Block Pizza (formerly Abbot’s) on Pico Boulevard offers up a zesty slice with a crust peppered with poppy and sesame seeds and garlic, mimicking an everything bagel. Staunch slice traditionalists may not go for it, but order a slice with their house dipping sauce and it becomes the slice with a little something extra.
Wildflour on Main Street baked a pie rendering a pan-like crust, but maintained the thin slice with a decent amount of cheese and ample crunch. Not a slice optimal for folding, but everything else followed suit.
Bricola, the sole slicery of Montana Avenue, offered a crust on the softer side, making for an easy folding experience. Not void of all crispness, this pizza was lighter and airier. Along with the standard sprinklings like red pepper flakes and parmesan, Bricola offers an assortment of oils, giving them the edge on accouterments.
Stefano’s on the Third Street Promenade had a deflated crust that did not puff up at all. The results, an over crisp crust resembling perforated cardboard that tasted like Manischewitz crackers.
For sauce lovers look no further than Ocean Park Pizza. This slice pours on plenty of rich sauce bursting with bright basil flavor. The crust is built on the crispier, sturdier side, easily able to accommodate such a saucy slice.
Grease lovers rejoice, Whole Foods has the slice for you! This slice badly warranted a napkin pat down. Afterwards, this folding floppy slice was ready to go.
Dagwood’s will give you the best bang for your buck. Their slice is easily the biggest of the bunch, and at a cost of $2.94, it is a fantastic deal as well. It also tastes pretty good too.
The cheapest pizza ringing in at $2.46 comes from Classic Pizza on Pico. This slice did not do anything glaringly wrong. Conversely, with a pretty plain crust it did not do all that much in the way of standing out.
For a quarter more down on Ocean Park (or Wilshire) Slice has a very good … um, slice.
For a late night slice, Bravo Pizzeria is open well after the bars close on the weekends. Bravo offers a wide variety of slices ready to eat. The super thin slice makes folding mandatory. It is a good slice, but if you go after the bars close down, it may be the best thing you ever ate.
On the other side of town, the late night hot spot is New York & Chicago Pizzeria. Along with Chicago-style deep dish, they slang out a good slice. The one hang up is their menu offers an item called the Chi Town Double Dog. “Chicago Classic, 2 Hot Dogs smothered in cheese.” This by no means is anything close to a classic Chicago hot dog and makes no sense whatsoever.
For the best of the best look no further than Joe’s on Broadway. Not making it much of a secret, L.A. Weekly, Zagat, and L.A. food writing dynamo Jonathan Gold all agree on the greatness of Joe’s. With the exception of a couple of salads, the menu at Joe’s is strictly pizza. Any place that focuses on one specific thing is usually going to do it right. Otherwise they’re not going to last long in the business. I have to agree with the critics, Joe’s makes a pretty damn good slice of pie.
Of course it’s all up for debate. It is natural to pledge allegiance to the neighborhood pizzeria. It’s like rooting for the local sports team. I for one hold a special place in my heart for Santa Monica Pizza Kitchen. It is not much more than a hole in the wall, ma-and-pa pizza joint. But I’ve been going there for years and I love to get a slice or two for lunch. So if some blowhard newspaper writer told me that my favorite place was no good, I’d question his authority.
There are no defined losers. Pizza is good even when it’s bad. You have to do something pretty drastic to mess up what is essentially cheese on bread. The real winner was my wallet. A slice of cheese never cost more than three and change. Plus all the pounds packed on will keep me well grounded with those Santa Ana winds starting to pick up. Eating all that pizza has given me good piece of mind, and I am now a fatter, sweatier, but more knowledgeable person because of the experience.
MICHAEL can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food, or on CityTV hosting his own show, “Tour de Feast.” To reach him visit his website at http://tourdefeast.blogspot.com/ or follow him on Twitter @greaseweek