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Get Over Pepperoni: Here’s Where to Order Pizza Topped with Juicy Beef Birria or ‘Esquite’ in L.A.

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]os Angeles County boasts more than 2,000 pizza shops. This begs the question: How does a pizzeria stand out?

Brian Nittayo of Rose City Pizza struggled with this existential business problem but found the winning formula through collaborations that not only brought success to his pizza shop, but also pizzas topped with al pastor sliced from a trompo, spicy beef birria, fresh elote, and Hawaiian musubi to our world. 

I reflect on this as a pizza-loving adult. Nittayo has a valid point. Let’s face it, pepperoni pizzas are often next to the mac n’ cheese in a children’s menu. So why not step it up and advance the conversation on pizza toppings?

At first, it’s easy to dismiss these pizzas as a gimmick or stunt food. Especially nowadays where folks from Belgium can move to San Francisco, fold a croissant, stuff it with avocado, eggs, bacon, “salsa,” call it a taco croissant (aka the TACRO) and then bring it to Silver Lake. What’s keeping Rose City from folding a whole al pastor pizza and calling it a “taquizza?” 

The truth is, for five years, pizza patrons would come into Rose City Pizza and compare the pepperoni slices to other shops until Brian had enough. “I thought to myself, Pepperoni Pizza?!!!” Brian tells L.A. Taco with an annoyed expression. “I don’t want to be compared to Pepperoni Pizza!!” 

Rose City Pizza opened in August of 2009 after Brian was certified a “Pizzaiolo” under Tony Gemignani, a 13-time World Pizza Champion. “My Dad inspired me to be in business because he supported our family with his and I wanted to do the same for mine.” Brian’s father is an immigrant from Thailand and his mother is a second-generation Filipino born and raised in Hawaii. The family also owns and operates the Cold Stone Creamery just two doors down from Rose City Pizza.  

Today, as you walk up to the glass doors of Rose City Pizza, you’ll find a bunch of stickers surrounding the two glass doors.  It’s the only semblance of character in the otherwise stale strip mall that also boasts a Starbucks and H&R Block. Open those doors, walk inside and you’ll find things like birria pizza and lasagna sandwiches surrounded by local artwork. 

“Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, we would look forward to the elote man. We were craving elote one day and I thought we could start selling elote at Rose City. My friend had a better idea and suggested we put it on pizza.” After trying different versions they finally came up with the winning combination of ingredients and created “The Elote Pizza,” one of their signature pizzas. 

Al pastor pizza

Having faith that an elote pizza could work came a couple years before with their first collaboration with East Los Musubi , who are known for their Latinx meets Japón meets Hawaiian cuisine and churning out solid street food eats like spam and musubi in celebration of their mixed heritage. For the collaboration they made spam musubi pizza with sweet teriyaki sauce, mozzarella, crispy white rice, seaweed, furikake, and diced spam. According to Brian, “It was delicious and people look forward to our yearly collaborations with them.”  

However, the main intent of these collaborations wasn’t to create fantastic pizzas, the purpose was for small kitchens to support each other in their small business ventures. “I realized we can collaborate with other small businesses and tell our customers about each other. I felt this was a great idea because it was like a little guy supporting another little guy.” These collaborations worked. Their following on Instagram grew to over 45K and new clientele starting arriving. 

Since the initial collaboration, Rose City has tagged teamed not only with other kitchens, like Grill 'Em All, Poke Party, and Grublife, but also with local artists like Kinda Fit Kinda Fat Apparel. “We host group themed art shows. We love to support our local artists by promoting them through our social media and having their art on the walls. It benefits both of us because they get exposure and we get cool art on the walls every month”

Thinking outside the proverbial pizza box has paved the way not only for the creation of fantastic pizzas that represent the laced seams of L.A.s fabric of food and culture but it has also shown how small businesses can work together to build each other up in the community.  

Their next collaboration is with nonother than Evil Cooks on November 16th. They are bringing the infamous Black Trompo to make a pizza and a second one with fideo and albondigas. If you haven’t been, this will be the perfect occasion to try it out.

Remember, pizza evolves too. 

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