The Ten Best N.Y.-Style Pizza Joints in Los Angeles
The myth that you can’t do N.Y.-style pizza outside of New York because of the tap water was debunked by every owner featured in our guide, written by a former New Yorker. The pizza here represents much more than a tasty, convenient slice. They represent New York grit.
11:53 AM PST on November 6, 2023
There are a handful of technicalities that earn a slice of pizza the designation of “New York-style.” Hand-tossed dough; thin, crispy crust, often with a burnt bubble or two; an even amount of tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese; and of course, cut into eight large triangle slices begging to be folded in half.
But as a New Yorker-turned-Angeleno, it’s really the feeling of home, more than anything for me, that makes a slice of pizza N.Y.-style.
When I walk into a pizza place, I want to see pizza boxes stacked up against the wall. I want my slice dripping in oil, and I may blot it with a flimsy napkin if it’s particularly oily. I want my slice served to me on a white paper plate with parchment paper and there needs to be grated parmesan, garlic powder, chili flakes, and Italian herbs ready to be shaken onto my plate, whether I use them or not.
And when I take a bite, I want to have a flashback to all the times I grabbed a slice in Penn Station while running to catch my train on the Long Island Rail Road. A great N.Y.-style slice takes me back to sitting around the kitchen table with my family with the Yankee game on in the background.
That said, not every technicality is necessary. Tradition is timeless, but I embrace the courage to evolve. In L.A.’s N.Y.-style pizza scene today, we have pizza patriarchs who have ushered in the ultimate New York street food, while a new generation of pizza shop owners add a contemporary spirit.
Lombardi’s Pizza in Manhattan’s Little Italy is highly regarded as the first pizzeria to serve pizza by the slice (now they sell Neapolitan). Many Italian immigrants in New York in the early 1900s would assist each other in getting their pizzerias off the ground, which has led to the homogenization of pizza in NY. But in L.A., each pizza joint has a signature identity that makes them stand out from the rest.
The myth that you can’t do N.Y.-style pizza outside of New York because of the tap water was debunked by every owner I spoke with. They all agree that quality filtered water will do the trick. But most of all, it’s understanding the science and nuances of creating thin-crust pizza dough that makes for a great slice of pizza.
In my journey around L.A. to find this city’s greatest N.Y.-style pizza, what resonated with me most is that all of these owners have genuine connections to the New York area and often have roots in pizzamaking. Maybe that’s not surprising, but it tells me that they’re not attempting to replicate something. Rather, they’re just bringing some East Coast love to the West Coast. They all understand that this pizza is much more than a tasty, convenient slice. It’s the nostalgia of being with friends and family. It represents New York grit. But the dispersion of pizza to California gives these pizza makers permission to incorporate West Coast flare.
Now, all that these places have to do is stay open late into the early morning hours to really give you a taste of New York. But that’s an L.A. pipedream.
These are the ultimate N.Y.-style pizza joints in Los Angeles…
Tomato Pie Pizza Joint - Multiple Locations
Tomato Pie transports you to a simpler time… when all you needed was friends, music, and an amazing slice of pizza. This joint’s retro theme is an homage to the pizzerias that Owner Garrett Policastro would visit growing up in Upstate New York. His past life as an architect gifts him with the eye to put an extra emphasis on the environment in which you eat his spectacular pizza like the bright colors and sprawling patio.
Policastro’s experience making pizza with his grandparents in New York City and Syracuse influences his belief that there’s no such thing as the “best” slice because it’s brutally subjective. That said, there are few elements he believes are necessary for a N.Y.-style slice. “You want a nice crack on the bottom. The oil's going to leak out, drip down your arm. And when you're actually going across the undercarriage, you actually see all these little crumb structure things.” He’s referring to the blistered texture and stretched fibers throughout the dough. “If it's a strong pizza and it has more of these, now you're really onto something.”
Policastro views his kitchen as a laboratory. The recipes slightly change at his three locations because of the different microclimates in each area. He even got the LA DWP to install a reverse osmosis filtration system in his pipes which adds alkalinity to the water and balances its pH levels.
Tomato Pie’s pizza lineup features some of the most textured crust you will find in L.A. The sauce used in the award-winning grandma slice at Tomato Pie is Policastro’s grandmother’s recipe. Its hallmark is the hearty, chunky tomato sauce smothering the slice, which still manages to stay erect when all the sauce is loaded on. The fileted plum tomatoes are marinated in garlic and olive oil for days before they get hand-crushed into the sauce. The butter fat from large hunks of mozzarella cheese melts and flows into the sauce while the pie bakes.
Policastro tells me, “you'll never truly make real New Yorkers completely happy because they're not in New York. You can never duplicate what it took to get to that shop, to get on the train… and to sidestep the traumas that you deal with on New York Streets.”
Original location in Silver Lake. Other locations in South Pasadena and Woodland Hills
Danny Boy’s Famous Original Pizza - Downtown L.A.
With Daniel “Danny Boy” Holzman entering the city’s pizza scene, L.A. can finally be deemed a pizza destination. Holzman trained to become a chef at the Culinary Institute of America on a James Beard Foundation scholarship. Since then he’s authored cookbooks like “Food IQ,” and became the head chef and owner of several restaurants in NYC, San Francisco, and now, L.A. Danny Boy’s, which is an homage to the nickname his dad would call him, sits in the heart of Downtown L.A. and adds to the liveliness of the Bunker Hill area. Danny says he loves the location because all of the skyscrapers remind him of being home in Manhattan.
While the OG pepperoni slice is the best-seller at Danny Boy’s, the white slice with mushrooms and the meatball ricotta slice are standouts. The roasted mushrooms on the white slice are so supremely fresh I nearly thought they were truffles. And when it comes to meatballs, Danny is your boy. He’s an expert on all things meatballs, having opened several meatball-centric restaurants on the East Coast, so the meatballs on this slice (and on the meatball subs) are first-class.
Danny is no historian, but being a proper chef means knowing the history of what you’re doing in a kitchen. He could give a lecture on the food of the Roman Empire and how Italian immigrants arrived in New York and impacted its culture. “Just being from New York, you might eat a lot of pizza, but you don't know anything about pizza unless you study it,” he tells me. Danny always remains a student. He holds a book in his kitchen with the recipe for every single batch of dough he’s ever made. He’s meticulous. For now, he’s settled on a 61% hydration ratio for his dough and to ferment it for four to five days.
One of the best aspects of the pizza at Danny Boy’s is the charred fat lip with a hearty bite around the pie, otherwise known as crust. But it’s clearly more than just a crust, it’s the most difficult but important technicality to achieve on a pizza pie. Holzman believes that the reheating aspect of a slice gives it that extra New York taste. It cools down while it sits in the window, and when a customer orders it, that extra minute or two in the hot oven adds an extra crunch and a flavor you can’t replicate.
At HALO inside Wells Fargo Center - 330 S. Hope St, Los Angeles, CA. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro A and E Lines - “Grand Av Arts/Bunker Hill Station.”
New location is coming soon to Westwood
Denino’s Pizzeria & Cafe - Thousand Oaks
It’s slightly out of L.A., but Denino’s is worth the drive and too good not to include here. Nearly a century after this Staten Island mainstay tossed its first pizza pie, Denino’s is now making its mark on the West Coast, opening shop earlier this year. Denino’s honors the New York tradition of a simple walk-up pizza shop where you order through a window.
“My chemical makeup is chaos,” says Owner Gregory Leone. “We bring that chaos here, which makes it an N.Y.-style place.” Before he opened Denino’s, Leone conducted an experiment to prove that N.Y.C. tap water is not necessary for an amazing slice. He shipped a tank of California tap water to the New York location, and the pizza tasted identical. That gave him the confidence to open up a West Coast iteration of the restaurant. He says the water myth started because “it’s the easiest thing to blame” when others don’t know the tricks to make great pizza.
The chicken parm slice at Denino’s hits different. Out of all the pizzas I’ve eaten for this article, this is the slice that I keep going back to. The breaded bits of cutlet, plus the extra spoonfuls of chunky tomato sauce, add a layer of comfort that had the back of my mouth tingling.
I experienced some intense nostalgia when I met Leone at Leone’s Italian Ices, which he opened up a few years ago next to what is now Denino’s. Classic New York pizza places sell Gino’s Italian Ices—with flavors like vanilla chip and rainbow, so Leone’s ices shop feels all too appropriate here. There was a long line of kids with their parents waiting for Italian ices in a squeeze cup (crucial) in the classic flavors and also signature ones like Hawaiian Blast and Strawberry Oreo (Leone makes them all himself). It brought me back to waiting on line on a hot summer evening at the N.Y.-area’s beloved Ralph’s Italian Ices—which Leone describes as “the granddaddy of them all.”
I noticed how interactive he was with all of his customers, or as he refers to them, his neighbors. He had just come from giving a lecture at Thousand Oaks High School about being an entrepreneur. Leone makes an effort to be an active member of his community through his pizza and ices.
1710 Thousand Oaks Blvd,. Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 161 - “Thousand Oaks/Erbes.”
Apollonia’s Pizzeria - Mid-City
No one does pizza like Apollonia’s. The pizza here is bold, eccentric and loaded with different flavors. Co-owners Justin and Linda De Leon don’t pigeonhole their pizzeria into the N.Y.-style category, but there’s no doubt it’s inspired by the East Coast. The couple opened up shop in 2012 just a few blocks away from where Justin grew up. He began his pizza career when he was 13, getting his first job at a pizzeria on L.A.’s east side. It was there where he learned the art of pizza making, and he has taken pizza to a whole new level ever since.
Don’t look past the trusty original cheese slice, because it’s one of the best you will find. But when most people head into Apollonia’s, they’re looking for something a little more exuberant. The pepperoni slice with globs of burrata drizzled with Mike’s Hot Honey is a twist on a classic flavor combo, but it’s done on another level here. A saucy vodka slice is often a staple at a N.Y. pizza shop, and it’s a staple of Apollonia’s too, embellished with large peppercorns adding a spicy kick to the dripping vodka creaminess. The vodka slice here is an homage to the N.Y. pizza icon Andrew Bellucci, who passed away earlier this year.
Several years into the business, Apollonia’s began to sell their now-famous square slices. Their signature feature is the frico edge crust, where the toppings go all the way to the edge, meeting a crispy, caramelized cheese lace that wraps around and shoots up. The combo of the burnt and salty cheese lace topped with freshly-chopped garlic and additional pecorino romano instantly makes Apollonia’s one of the most innovative pizza joints we have in L.A.
As Justin puts it, “It’s healthy because it makes you feel good.”
5176 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 20 and 720 - “Wilshire/Cloverdale” or Bus Line 212 - "La Brea/Wilshire."
Secret Pizza - El Sereno
Like many pandemic projects, Secret Pizza started out of a musician’s apartment kitchen in 2020. Unlike many pandemic projects, Secret Pizza has evolved into a brick-and-mortar business and shows no signs of slowing down.
“A pizza menu at its core is simple,” says Sean Lango, Owner of the Monterey Park pizza pop-up, which is open for just 9 hours each week. Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs of N.Y.C., Lango always felt some sort of pull toward pizza culture. But it wasn’t until he got a little older and learned to make it on his own, thanks to pizzamaking.com. Yes, you read that right. There is clearly some gospel on the site because Lango has made Secret Pizza a go-to spot. Friends were rightfully obsessed with his creations and urged him to allow the masses to try his pristine pies. He quickly outgrew his apartment kitchen, so repurposed a welcoming corner space outside Downtown L.A. to make Secret Pizza a little less of a secret.
Secret Pizza’s simple menu features a square slice, although it’s not quite the puffy, doughy Sicilian slice New Yorkers relish. Lango was inspired to create this “upside down” square slice by one of his favorite pizza parlors in Brooklyn, L&B Spumoni Gardens. He flips the sauce and the cheese, sprinkling the cheese on the dough first, and then the tomato sauce on top. I agree with Lango when he says his pizza “tastes like home.”
Pop-up open Thursday - Saturday, 5-8pm
3501 Monterey Road, Los Angeles, CA 90032. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 78, 179, 182, and 665 - “Huntington/Monterey.”
Esco’s Pizza - West Hollywood
Esco’s is New York personified. Start a conversation with Esteban “Esco” Gutierrez himself and you’re taken immediately to 125th Street in Harlem, where he was born and raised. Pizza is in his blood, growing up at his father’s pizzeria, Sal’s, in Westchester County, N.Y., then helping run the place once he got older. When you eat a slice at Esco’s, you’re having a taste of Sal’s.
Esco first worked as Head Chef at a different type of pizza shop that occupied what’s now Esco’s on La Brea. Once that closed, Esco met his now-partners who own a cannabis company, Presidential, and saved Esco from having to move back to New York, allowing him to become his own boss. “I get to go back in time and relive what I did with my father,” he says. “And the pizza tastes just like it.” Esco had opportunities to work at several of L.A.’s pizza shops before opening his own, so while his pizza tastes just like it did at Sal’s, his experiences in the L.A. pizza scene allowed him to elevate his pizza into a new era.
“You can do the style, but to actually get the feeling is different,” Esco tells me. His pizza ignites that feeling. He gets a rush when actual New Yorkers come and feel nostalgic eating his food. I’m one of them. Every slice achieves a desirable crispy crust with a comforting chew to it. But more than anything else, it’s the original cheese slice that serves as a benchmark at each pizza joint; the cheese slice at Esco’s isn’t trying too hard - it knows it’s doing the trick. As is the margherita slice with beautifully sweet tomatoes sitting on a crust that you hear cracking with each bite.
Esco is also a street artist. The name Esco was given to him by his street art community. Back in New York, he would often visit the famed 5Pointz, essentially the Mecca of street art, while visiting his dad at his deli in Astoria, Queens before the beloved building was dismantled a decade ago. In L.A., he’s a member of the art collective The Graff Lab. Members of the Graff Lab painted the recognizable mural on the facade of Esco’s Pizza. Many of the members also stop by to paint in the mock N.Y.C. subway car that’s in the back of the shop. There are films set in New York playing in the subway car too, making it the coolest place in the city to eat a slice of pizza.
615 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 10 and 212 - “La Brea/Melrose.”
Prime Pizza - Multiple Locations
“Fairfax has that New York feel,” says Zak Fishman. The Tarzana native is the Co-Owner of Prime Pizza, which is rapidly expanding throughout SoCal. “People are out here hustling. There are people selling shoes, people reselling all sorts of stuff. [It’s] a bustling street that has a long history to it.” And with the historic Cantor’s Jewish deli across the street, Fishman felt that the Fairfax space was primed for more New York cuisine. “[My business partner and I] have Jewish dads from New York, so pizza was always a big thing for us.”
While it honors a traditional N.Y. pizza spot, Prime Pizza is a new concept chapter. “We're borrowing a lot from the original, and we're also kind of tweaking it.” The original? He’s keeping it simple with the marriage of a raw acidic tomato sauce and a good whole milk mozzarella. The tweaks? He prides himself on using high-quality ingredients, which is something often overlooked in classic pizza-making. Fishman has also made Prime Pizza a recognizable brand and now a go-to spot for pizza connoisseurs of a younger generation.
Aside from making thousands of pizza pies, Zak credits much of his pizza knowledge to his mentor, pizza chef Frank Pinello, Founder of ‘Best Pizza’ in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Pinello has also embraced the modernization of N.Y.-style pizza by making it more than just a slice because you’re hungry, but a full-on lifestyle.
Prime Pizza is starting to roll out a new BBQ slice in partnership with Bludso’s BBQ. It’s a sweet and spicy slice with a strong, crispy crust that props up the slice so that the toppings remain steady as you lift it. You hear the crunch as you fold it in half. The ‘spicy pep’ square slice is one of the most popular here; it’s not a full-on Sicilian, but engineered to pull off a doughy base and a simultaneous crisp, loaded with shriveled pepperoni.
Fishman feels L.A. is finally in good hands when it comes to this beloved style of pizza. “The West Coast was just the last stop on the train,” he says.
Original location in Fairfax District. Other locations in Little Tokyo, West L.A., Burbank, Santa Monica, El Segundo, and Altadena.
Pizza Wagon of Brooklyn - Sherman Oaks
“If you know, you know. If you don’t, you should.”
Eat at the hole-in-the-wall pizza shop on Ventura Boulevard, and you’ll start to understand why this quote is lit up next to its pizza ovens. Husband and wife duo Anthony and Linda Zingaro added to the breadth of restaurants on Ventura Boulevard after moving to the area from Brooklyn in 2018. Pizza Wagon has been a Brooklyn staple since Anthony’s uncle opened the place in 1966. The rest of the family bought it from him once he retired a few decades later, but have kept the same recipes. From the old-school New York building facade to the small railroad-style space that shoots far back, Pizza Wagon of Brooklyn is a slice of New York in the San Fernando Valley.
Zingaro added a few varieties to the menu when he opened here in L.A. “I knew the crowd out here wouldn’t just go for regular pizza, and they don’t.” Now he carries pies with more toppings, including a buffalo chicken slice, which is few and far between in L.A. This buffalo slice is loaded with chicken but not to the point where it’s difficult to eat. The crust bed is strong enough to hold it all, as it should be. The buffalo sauce is just the right amount of tangy and hot.
Zingaro says there are a few variables that are necessary for a true NY-style pizza, like the oven you use, the temperature it cooks at and for how long. But at the end of the day, “You know what we call pizza in New York? We call it pizza,” he points out in his matter-of-fact New York tenor. “We don’t say it’s this style… that style… It’s just pizza. We’re just making good pizza.” Pizza Wagon of Brooklyn is a really good pizza. Now you know.
14522 ½ Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, CA 91403. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 155, 158, 233, 240, and 761 - “Ventura/Van Nuys.”
Vito’s Pizza - West Hollywood
Vito DiDonato is the patriarch of his namesake Vito’s Pizza, and one of the pizza patriarchs of Los Angeles. Pizza is in his DNA. Before he could even remember, his grandmother would make it a game for him and his many siblings to chop garlic and herbs while they made pizza together. His brother moved to L.A. in the 90s for acting opportunities, and Vito followed along, the weather was just too good. Vito’s is one of the only remaining pizzerias from this era. The original location was right by L.A. City College, but he’s been a staple on La Cienega’s Restaurant Row since 2007.
Vito wakes up every day at 4 A.M. and heads over to make a day’s-worth of his tomato sauce and dough himself. He’s used to the early wake-up call, though. His father owned several gas stations in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he arrived after car manufacturer Alfa Romeo sent him to the states from Avellino, Italy; Vito would always arrive at the gas stations before the crack of dawn to help run the businesses.
The pizza at Vito’s is exactly the pizza Vito would eat growing up. All these decades later, it hasn’t changed. That’s why he feels it’s important he makes it all himself. You go to Vito’s for the simplicity, the red brick aesthetic, and the old-school vibe. You go there for good Italian food. The white slice with pesto and ricotta is one of the best white slices I’ve had. I never knew I needed pesto on a white slice, but the flavor combo is beyond compare.
And, yes, Vito’s was featured on Entourage.
At Cienega Center Strip Mall - 846 N. La Cienega Blvd. #4708, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 105 - “La Cienega/Waring” or Bus Line 4 - "Santa Monica/La Cienega."
Second Location at 2455 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 4 - “Santa Monica/26th.”
Joe’s Pizza - Multiple Locations
Joe’s Pizza is arguably the most well-known slice joint in the city. While eating a slice at Joe’s, you’ll notice how most customers who walk in greet Joe because they already know each other. Those who don’t already know him will still be welcomed with a warm hello in his Italian accent.
Joe Vitale is from the coastal town of Cinisi, Sicily, right outside of Palermo. In 1970s New York, Joe was a baker before he made pizza, which gave him the foundation and expertise to make a classic N.Y.-style pizza dough. Since moving to L.A. and opening up Joe’s Pizza in 2008, he has been making all of the dough himself, from the pizza, to the garlic knots, even to the hero rolls. The recipe has remained the same since his days making pizza in New York.
From the white subway tiles to the large mural of the N.Y.C. skyline, Joe’s Pizza is a proper, true to form, old school N.Y.C. corner pizza shop. While a Sicilian slice isn’t NY-style, it’s a puffy, airy, thick square pillow that is beloved by New Yorkers, and every slice joint needs its version of one. Joe’s does it exactly how you would expect. The sauce doesn’t hide behind the cheese; they’re married in a sense where they shine on their own but also sing in harmony. That’s what you get at Joe’s. No surprises. Nothing too fancy. Just pizza you can trust. Joe’s is synonymous with a slice of pizza in L.A. and has become a SoCal institution in its own right.
Original Location in West Hollywood. Other locations in Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Downtown LA, Beverly Hills, Mid-City. New location opening soon in Studio City.
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