Americans love pizza. In fact, we eat 3 billion pies a year. To satisfy that craving, here are 5 places in Southern California that dish up excellent pizzas.
901 E. Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara; 805-845-6789
Located in the Santa Barbara Inn across from the palm tree–lined ocean, Convivo has carved out a loyal local following. Chef and co-owner Peter McNee describes the seasonal menu as “nomad Italian,” using Italy as home base to explore flavors from Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and the Middle East. Servers ferry flatbreads and pizzas from the wood-fired oven, house-made pastas, fresh crudo and salads, and roasted seafood and meats in the casually sophisticated dining room and on the heated patio. Though the menu changes often, you might start with Santa Barbara uni, harvested just a seashell’s throw away. The spit-roasted chicken is a standout. Save room for a chocolate caramel bar with house-made salted caramel gelato. —Nancy Ransohoff
2. Leonardo’s Ristorante and Pizzeria
632 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang; 805-686-0846
Chef Leonardo Curti has a lot of well-fed fans from his 20-plus years as co-owner of Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez. They’ve now followed him to his new place just a few miles away. They come for the family-style atmosphere and the consistently excellent Italian food that includes comforting pastas, fresh fish and veal, and pizza served piping hot from a gas- and wood-burning pizza oven. Swing by for a late lunch after wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley (Leonardo’s is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner) and try the beautiful New York grilled steak with arugula, tomato, red onions, and pecorino. Dinner mainstays include the tender and tasty veal scaloppine and Penne Leonardo’s with sausage and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce with truffle oil.—Nancy Ransohoff
3. Dough Girl
16851 Victory Boulevard, Van Nuys; 818-373-7300
Owner Mar Diego worked her way up from the projects and a stay in a penitentiary to create this pizza shop that has a higher purpose: to rehabilitate troubled youths by giving them jobs and responsibilities. Some have criminal records and addictions; others have mental health challenges. Many come from broken homes, and a few are homeless. Diego learned how to make pizza when she apprenticed at restaurants in Rome, and she finessed her skills while working in New York pizzerias. At Dough Girl, the pizzas are a New York–meets–Southern California hybrid that utilize fresh, never-frozen ingredients and hand-sliced mozzarella cheese. The vegan pepperoni and sausages are house-made. Best sellers include The Mobster, with lobster sauce and tiger shrimp, and the Animal-Style, a thin pie piled high with french fries and American cheddar. Diego’s mentees help dream up other concoctions, such as ravioli pizza, that add a humorous touch to Dough Girl’s eclectic menu.—Eddie Lin
4. Fuoco Pizzeria Napoletana
101 N. Harbor Boulevard, Fullerton; 714-626-0727
At Fuoco Pizzeria Napoletana, it’s all about the crust. The restaurant’s Neapolitan pizza crust strikes that rare balance between overly airy and densely chewy, the crust just substantial enough to support a handful of toppings without overwhelming them. The affumicata pizza smolders with the taste of a summer barbecue, pairing smoked mozzarella with umami-rich roasted mushrooms and bright basil. The diavola brings a bit more heat—spicy salame is made even more devilish by crushed red pepper. And the namesake Fuoco pizza is a tomato-free alternative, with prosciutto, arugula, Parmesan, and truffle oil. For dessert, try the Nutellamisu: lady fingers soaked in hazelnut espresso and layered with vanilla cream, Nutella and hazelnuts.—Miles Clements
5. Officine Buona Forchetta
2865 Sims Road, San Diego (in Liberty Station); 619-548-5770
Located in Liberty Station, Point Loma’s one-time Naval Training Center San Diego, you'll find the clever Officine Buona Forchetta, an auto-themed place whose name translates clumsily as “Body Shop Good Fork.” Two prominent local chef-restaurateurs have endowed this lively, breezy restaurant with a vast menu. Guests hungry for pizza have seven varieties and a total of 47 pies from which to choose. Besides daily ravioli and pasta specials, there are mix-and-match options with five pasta types and seven sauces. Meat dishes include a crisp veal chop Milanese and a massive Florence-style T-bone for two. Some desserts entertain, notably the Moka Mi Su, a creamy tiramisu variant served alongside an enameled espresso pot.—David Nelson
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