Everyone who comes to Pizzeria Bianco at the Row DTLA for dinner wants a piece of Chris Bianco, whether it’s a couple congratulating him on his recent inclusion in the new Chefs Table: Pizza series on Netflix or a young woman who admits to the Phoenix-based pizzaiolo that she drove up from San Diego just to try the restaurant. With his shock of wild gray hair, raspy Bronx-inflected voice, and calming presence, Bianco took it all in stride on a recent Thursday night, giving out hugs, signing cookbooks, and posing for pictures — even pausing to take a photo with three Instagrammable shiba inus who sat perched in the restaurant’s open front windows.
“I’m always surprised that anything I do is interesting; I bear witness to things,” the effusively philosophical Bianco says of his turn on Chef’s Table and the attention it’s brought from a new generation of pizza fans. “We opened the first Pizzeria Bianco in the back of a grocery store in Phoenix in 1988, then the sit-down one in 1994 — and here we are. It feels like one long day.”
Pizzeria Bianco’s Los Angeles outpost, the first outside Arizona, has been open for lunch since June. The daytime menu of New York-ish slices and a few salads attracted long lines since day one for what Bianco says was “meant to be a pop-up, but people dig it.” Dinner service, which quietly opened in late August, is a sit-down affair with a laser-focused menu of whole wood-fired pies, a handful of starters like spiedini (skewers of fontina wrapped in prosciutto) and farinata (a traditional chickpea pancake), a few no-frills salads, and a seasonal gelato for dessert. “Growing up in the era of chain restaurants, I’m always looking for restaurants that have focus,” Bianco says. There’s certainly a clear intention at Pizzeria Bianco: to keep things simple, but do them really, really well.
For pizzas, the chef is serving the six signature blistered pizzas from the original Bianco in Phoenix, including the soppressata and Gaeta olive-topped Sony Boy and the deceptively simple Rosa with Santa Barbara pistachios, wispy slices of red onion, a light touch of rosemary, and Parmesan. His affinity for working with local farms is on display on an antipasto plate served with colorful piles of pickled and wood-roasted vegetables, soppressata, and wedges of cheese. The Jimmy Nardellos, tomatoes, mushrooms, and the like come from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
“I want to do what we’ve done before, but at the highest level,” Bianco says. That also means no takeout: “If you’re here and want to take some home I’m not going to be a dick about it, but I don’t want someone to drive down from Fresno and throw some pizzas in the car, then stop at the dry cleaners on the way home. You want people to experience the pizza as you intended it to be.”
Some may be surprised that Bianco chose to return to the Row after the failure of his two restaurants, Tartine Bianco and Alameda Supper Club, which opened at the expansive Tartine Manufactory in 2018 and flamed out in less than a year. “It wasn’t clear enough; it wasn’t what I do,” says Bianco. “As musicians, we don’t believe people want to hear the same songs. I’ve made these pizzas a million times, but maybe people do want to hear those songs. I blame myself only for any failures in this life. Plus, I love this place, I love this part of LA.”
Bianco adds that he has an enormous level of respect for Los Angeles chefs and is happy to just “be invited to the party,” as he puts it. “LA doesn’t need me. I don’t know if there’s a better food city in the world. Coming to California was a real inspiration for me, just walking through Santa Monica on a Wednesday and seeing jaw-dropping, ‘all-I-can-do-is-fuck-this-up’ produce,” he says.
Pizzeria Bianco at the Row is off to an impressive start. Reservations to dine in the industrial space, outfitted with a few good-luck cacti and adorned with paintings by Bianco’s father (who was featured on Chef’s Table but passed away a few weeks after filming), are booked through the end of November. But despite the challenges he may have faced before, Bianco is proud to be back at the Row and to finally put his stamp on LA.
“Usually people don’t go back to the scene of their own crime, but I was the criminal. I didn’t do something that was enough [before],” Bianco says. “Knowing who you are, and people telling you that what you do is enough, is really helpful.”
Pizzeria Bianco is open at 1320 E. 7th Street #100 for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.