Making fun of L.A.’s bad pizza used to be a popular pastime, particularly among East Coasters looking for a fun and easy way to express their disdain for the city. Usually, the mockery was focused on the dough.
Whether or not it was ever true that L.A.’s pizza is especially bad, about a decade ago the city started to get a little more sophisticated about it. The arrival of Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza introduced us to a more transcendent variety of pie.
As a wider array of pizza places have started serving more nuanced regional styles from the U.S. and abroad, Angelenos have become more familiar with the particulars of different types of pizza: what constitutes the different varieties, what makes some crusts more bubbly than others, and how different kinds of equipment bake pizzas differently. The latest craze is the Roman-style pizza found at Triple Beam in Highland Park (which Silverton co-owns), Il Romanista in El Segundo, and pop-ups like Chad Colby’s Piccolo Antico. Over on Yelp, people are calling any square pizza—like the one at Apollonia’s—Roman.
The confusion makes sense considering “Roman pizza” doesn’t necessarily mean anything in and of itself. “Within Rome, you don’t often hear the term ‘Roman pizza,'” says Meg Zimbeck, editor of the restaurant review site Rome By Mouth. “Instead, people differentiate between the two styles claimed by the city—pizza al taglio and pizza tonda.” Rome-based cookbook author Katie Parla argues that there might be even more. “In Rome there are multiple pizza styles that are distinct to the city and are recognizable to locals and people from other regions as uniquely Roman.” One of those styles, pizza tonda, is known for its extreme thinness (both Zimbeck and Parla described it as being almost like a cracker).
L.A.’s Roman-style pizzerias certainly aren’t aiming for that level of crispiness. Instead, you’ll find sturdy crusts of varying thickness, always well aerated and usually topped with a preponderance of vegetables and meat. It might be more accurately referred to as “Bonci-style,” in reference to Gabriele Bonci, the Roman pizza-maker who put pizza al taglio on the Instagram map and has since opened numerous U.S. locations. “I think Bonci has set the standard that is now being exported to the United States,” Zimbeck says.
Indeed, both Triple Beam and Il Romanista are doing slight variations on Bonci’s pizza al taglio, which essentially means “by the piece.” The rectangular pizzas have thick crusts (Triple Beam’s is heftier) that can support a lot of toppings (the pizza-makers at Il Romanista have a heavier hand). Triple Beam adopts the traditional Roman manner of letting the customer choose the size they want, while Il Romanista currently pre-cuts the slabs. Both offer a product that tastes good—sometimes really, really good. Triple Beam’s asparagus and ricotta and Il Romanista’s zucchini with squash blossoms are both in the running for this summer’s best use of vegetables by a restaurant.
Angelenos always eventually learn that “authenticity” doesn’t mean much. Matt Molina, chef and Silverton’s co-owner at Triple Beam, says of his pizza, “We had to define it in our terms. We’ll see how the definition holds up.”
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