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LaRocco’s Pizzeria in Culver City

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Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.

The last time I went looking for good pizza in Culver City, it didn’t quite work out all that well (though I did get a nice chicken parm sandwich out of the whole deal). After that incident, I had a few readers suggest LaRocco’s Pizzeria for a real, New York-style slice. And nearly six months later, here I am.

The place certainly looks the part of a good pizzeria. There are plenty of customers coming in for slices to go on a Saturday afternoon and the small patio is full. Inside, the narrow storefront’s dining room is accented with exposed brick and filled with the requisite vinyl chairs and Formica tables. Seven pies are available by the slice today, topped with vibrant veggies or heavy handfuls of meats. There are the traditional choices – plain cheese, pepperoni – along with several jazzier variations, like the puttanesca pizza with artichoke hearts, black olives, and a garlic-oil sauce. There’s also an ever-changing seasonal farmers market pie, only offered a couple days a week, including Tuesdays, when the Culver City Farmers Market is in full swing literally outside the door. Right away, however, I’m disappointed that there’s no official margherita slice here, only something called “Paul’s Special” (Paul being owner Paul LaRocco, originally from Brooklyn), a white pizza with fresh tomato and basil, but, sadly, no sauce. The woman behind the counter tells me that people from Italy consider a plain cheese slice to be margherita. And while that may be true, I know what I’m looking for and it’s not this. Still, there are plenty of other types to try, and in addition to a plain, I get a spinaci e pomodoro (I translate this myself) on the employee’ s recommendation in order to take advantage of the $6.95 two-slice-and-a-soda deal. Sure you could sub out one of the slices for a salad, but c’mon.

I’m happy to report that the pizza’s most important component in my opinion -- the crust -- is really good. It’s nice and thin for a straight-up slice place (especially in Los Angeles) with just the right amount of salt, and the thicker crust around the edge stays so crispy it has a touch of crunch. While I would go a little lighter on the cheese if I had my druthers, the mozzarella definitely doesn’t overpower, and the slice manages to keep its structure The sauce isn’t anything to write home about, but ties everything together just fine. As for the veggie slice I got, LaRocco’s doesn’t skimp on its toppings. The halved bright-red cherry tomatoes look like they’re on steroids and the spinach and basil have been cooked just enough to stay bright green and far from obliterated.

But it’s a note on the menu that gives this place its most authentic New York trait. We East Coasters know that when you order a pizza back home, you just tell the guy what you want. Pepperoni, for instance. Or maybe a half plain, half mushroom, if you want to get fancy. But leave the Northeast and you’re suddenly faced with a plethora of size choices – small, medium, large, extra large, extra extra large. I’ve never quite mastered the art of figuring out just how big a pizza I’ll need. Is it better to get two mediums or one extra large for a group? Should I put the toppings on the bigger pie if the additional cost is the same for all of the sizes? I’ve been told a calculator isn’t necessary when ordering pizza, but out here I often feel like it might be, given we’re dealing with circumference equations here. Thankfully, LaRocco’s proudly touts the fact it only offers one size. And that’s all I need to hear to love this place even more.

310-837-8345; website

Slices: $2.95
Whole Pies: $16 to $20.50
Salads, Sandwiches, and Calzones,: $3.95 to $8.50
— Lizbeth Scordo

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