Last year, Eater published this headline about Mega Pizza & Grille’s opening in Culver City:
Prepare to Be Disappointed: Zam Zam Market Replaced by Generic Pizza Parlor
And Eater was completely right because Mega Pizza & Grille is an unbelievably generic name for a restaurant that serves pizza. But Eater was also wrong. Because when Mega Pizza moved into the former location of the (recently relocated) Zam Zam Market in Culver City, that seemingly generic restaurant with the ordinary name served some of the most unique and inspired takes on pizza in Los Angeles. And pizza is just part of the story.
Mega Pizza & Grille is owned and operated by the husband and wife/chef and chef team of Sam and Sofia Holm. They were both born in Iran (where Sofia learned to cook in her family kitchen), then immigrated to Denmark, where Sam attended culinary school) They opened two successful restaurants in Copenhagen, then brought their concept to Los Angeles; first in a Koreatown strip mall, with the somewhat less generic name of Mega Pizza Kabab, and then to their current location in Culver City.
The influence of these different cultures can be seen throughout the menu, with halal meats and hummus, "Americanized" pepperoni pies, Scandinavian style pizzas with toppings like gyro meat and salad with a yogurt-based garlic sauce. But nothing encapsulates this marriage of cuisines (and the spirit of Mega Pizza as a whole) better than the gyro pizza sandwich ($9.95).
At first glance, this "sandwich" looks like something you could get at any Middle-Eastern restaurant. Most of the ingredients, though all excellent, are also exactly what you would expect in a typical gyro: halal meat (a blend of grass-fed lamb and beef), garlic sauce with a yogurt base, hot sauce, lettuce, tomatoes — but it is the two unexpected ingredients that truly set this dish apart.
The first ingredient is the "pizza dough” that is the base for the sandwich. Even though the wrap for the gyro pizza sandwich looks, tastes, and is sometimes even mistaken for baked pizza dough, it is actually a special lavash of Sam's design. While the doughs make for a great base for pizza, they work well as the traditional lavash for their wraps. He modifies the lavash to make it perfectly designed for this sandwich — crisp on the outside with a nice chew beneath that’s absorbent enough to soak up the flavors of meat and sauce.
More than anything, the wrap is reminiscent of the "medium thickness" dough that took hold when pizza was first brought to America, and still clings to many run-of-the-mill Italian restaurants and pizza chains. The lavash is reminiscent of this kind of pizza, but infinitely better because the gyro pizza sandwich proves that "medium thickness" dough was never meant to be a largely underwhelming platform for pies at Domino's and Round Table. Instead, it was destined to be the ideal bread for this sandwich.
The second unexpected ingredient in the gyro pizza sandwich is mozzarella cheese, but only a pinch, enough to tie the many flavors together, but not so much as to make this a gastronomical parody.
Mega Pizza also serves an excellent meat sauce canoe pizza ($12.95). You may have already tried other canoe pizzas in other restaurants (even ones that call the bread vessel for meat, cheese, and eggs by the traditional Georgian name of khachapuri), but as excellent as the canoe pizza is in this restaurant, the best part of the dish is the meat sauce. The sauce is rich and savory, and is perfect on this khachapuri, but might be even better over a plate of tagliatelle.
The pizzas (and the things like pizza) are fantastic at Mega Pizza & Grille, but the “& Grille” part of the place might be better. This restaurant also offers traditional Persian plates like beef koobideh ($9.95 for one skewer or $12.95 for two), which comes expertly seasoned with a strong char from the grill.
If you come for lunch on Mondays, when Mega Pizza only serves a limited Persian menu, you can even order a bowl of head chef Sofia's family recipe ghormeh sabzi ($12.95).
This hearty stew of tender lamb, black-eyed peas, and parsley was not a flavor explosion like some of the other items on the menu, but it was something arguably better — it was comforting. The ghormeh sabzi tasted like something your mom would make you on one of those especially cold and challenging days of childhood, even if your mom never made ghormeh sabzi, even if your mom is not Iranian, even if the only lamb your mom ever cooked was in chop form.
Mega Pizza & Grille makes great food, but beyond how the food tastes, what it represents is arguably even more exciting. Because Mega Pizza Grille shows everything that can be (and is) great about the exchange of cultures.
These two chefs learned to cook Persian food in Iran, learned to cook Italian food in Denmark, and created something that was not entirely Persian, not entirely Italian, not entirely Danish, but entirely unique.
These two chefs have blended the influences of so many cultures and cuisines into something entirely new and entirely exciting, while still offering dishes that are faithful to the family kitchens of their homeland. And they chose a somewhat ordinary name for their extraordinary restaurant. They should be forgiven for this very slight and insignificant misstep.
Mega Pizza Grille
11028 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232