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Our picks for pizza with pizazz

November 12, 2003

PIZZERIAS are places where you never need to worry about which fork to use. You eat with your hands. Here are some favorite haunts, fancy and casual, of The Times' restaurant critics and food writers:

New York 90210

While Spago, with its bready pizza crusts topped with a thick layer of cheese and salmon, remains a symbol of 1980s "California cuisine," across the street is a New Yorker's retort: Mulberry Street Pizzeria. This hole-in-the-wall, buy-by-the-slice place is so determinedly East Coast that it even flies in its dough. The formula: thin crust; simple toppings; pizza sold by the slice straight from the oven, Brooklyn style. Staffers are so confident you'll want a second that they leave the tab open as you eat.

Mulberry Street Pizzeria, 347 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 247-8998. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday through Sunday to 11 p.m.

*

Ask, and you'll receive

Vincenti doesn't put pizzas on the menu. You have to know that one of the best Italian restaurants in Los Angeles will do them on request in their wood-fired ovens. The crust, made with fine "00" Italian flour, is paper thin and crackery. Toppings include roasted radicchio with burrata cheese, mozzarella with pork cheeks or porcini mushrooms. Best accompanied with a bottle of Barbera and green salad. Autumn at the beach is never so luxurious, or warming. Expect to pay $50 a head.

Vincenti, 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday, 6 to 11 p.m. Lunch Friday only, noon to 2 p.m.

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Pizza: The institution

There is no need for music at Casa Bianca. It has real atmosphere, generated by people genuinely enjoying themselves. Its jumbled dining room fills instantly after it opens in late afternoon. By 5.30 p.m. there is a line out front. While there is a brisk take-away trade, it's worth waiting for a table: $15 a head buys half a large pizza, two beers and a generous tip. The pizza crust is thin, with a gritty cornmeal finish and toppings so cheesy that oil runs down your chin. Sausage is a specialty. Pass on the salad, which involves half a head of iceberg lettuce with sour dressing and anchovy fillets laid over it.

Casa Bianca, 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Cash only. Closed Sunday and Monday. Open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

*

Higher learning

The Counter Intelligence is that Vito's, the hangout of choice for L.A. City College, makes one of the better New York-style pies in town. If you must order special toppings, Vito's has them, but the artistry is most evident in the tomato and cheese version, where the crust is thin, chewy and full of sweet fresh-bread flavor.

Vito's, 814 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 667-2723. Open Monday through Thursday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to midnight. No alcohol.

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The pie next door

Every neighborhood should have a place like Angeli Caffe (except with a name in English). This is one of the trailblazing 1980s Cal-Ital restaurants. It's still going strong because of its instantly winning combination of rustic food, workaday elegance, affordable prices and sunny service. Pizzas are made in front of diners. Superb Margherita, along with excellent sage, sausage and mozzarella. With wine and arugula salad, expect to pay $20 a head.

Angeli Caffe, 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 936-9086. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m.

*

An honest pepperoni

Buono's, with branches in Long Beach and San Pedro, will never be hailed as a temple of pizza-dom, but it makes an honest pie. The dough is moderately thick and chewy, with good bread flavor. The red sauce is nicely spicy. And when the pepperoni crisps at the edges, the result is, if not art, certainly high commerce.

Buono's, 1432 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro, (310) 547-0655. 401 W. Willow St., Long Beach, (562) 595-6138. Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday to 11 p.m.

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By the yard

The Times' restaurant critic never really reckoned with L.A. pizza until Cheebo. "I love this place," S. Irene Virbila said in her review last month. Its unique selling point is pizza by the yard, but the novelty shape aside, the art is in the dough, which is given a pleasant tang by the incorporation of longer-fermented dough, or biga. Recommended toppings include sausage and fennel, or a combination of mozzarella, goat cheese, fresh tomato and a scattering of slivered fresh artichokes and olives. For pizza dinners with wine, expect to pay $20 a head.

Cheebo, 7533 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 850-7070. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, 8 a.m. to midnight.

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Never too thin

Alessi Pizzeria, the 6-week-old offspring of Alessi restaurant next door, is an authentically Italian place slavishly striving to be American. So salads have iceberg lettuce, and among the 33 different pizzas is one topped with hot dog. But the crust alone, super-thin and perfectly cooked in blazing wood-fired ovens, is reason enough to come. The pepperoni pizza is one of the best in town, and Alessi also serves wine, offers a spinach salad as foil to all that Americana and, in true Italian fashion, manages to be child-friendly without a trace of McCuteness.

Alessi Pizzeria, 641 Highland Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 935-1197. Open 12 to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. daily.

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