San Giovanni: A Halal Lot of Slices
If you want to know how much Anaheim—in the news much of this year for police violence, corrupt officials and an ACLU lawsuit alleging Latino voter disenfranchisement—has changed, a great case study is the area around the corner of La Palma Avenue and Euclid Street. Twenty-five years ago, when my family bought a tract home near the intersection, the area was mostly white—but they were getting the hell out of town, as Latinos, Arabs and Filipinos started moving in. Over the years, the Alpha Beta turned into a Dearden's, the working-class dive bar for Chicago expats made way for an Arco station, the baseball-card shop that wouldn't buy my Will Clark rookie card turned into a Laotian market, a mortuary turned into a Coptic church, and Korean signs bloomed everywhere. The only thing that didn't change was the iconic La Palma Chicken Pie Shop. Oh, and the business across the street still sells pizzas—but instead of a Little Caesar's, it's now San Giovanni, one of the county's few halal pizzerias.
In this Balkanized part of Anaheim, San Giovanni (but call it San Gio, as the hip Muslims do) is one of its few communal places, a restaurant that mostly attracts Latinos, but also draws in Muslims of all ethnicities and the last of the gabachos in the area. Don't expect such Middle Eastern flatbreads as sphihas and boreks—this is an honest-to-goodness pizzeria, where you can get any pizza offered by your local Italian restaurant, except with a better crust, tangier sauce and meat bought from local grocery stores, prepared in accordance with Muslim standards. Go ahead and order one with bacon—it's made with turkey. Ask for extra pepperoni or ham—it's beef. And while the halal preparation is definitely important to Muslim eaters, it's beside the point for the rest of us infidels—San Gio is just great pizza. In fact, only hint this place is different from any other pizzeria is the Arabic script on the marquee and the promise of three special pizzas: a chicken tandoori one that finds the hen's spiciness finely at home in a sea of cheese, a Turkish variety that replaces tomato sauce with juicy soujok, and a beef tikka pizza that would play well in Karachi.
All the other pizzas are the tried-and-true Southern Californian favorites—meat lover's, veggie, Hawaiian, even Greek. For chrissakes, even spaghetti and hot subs are sold here—though I do wish the chefs would be more adventurous with the latter. Imagine the beauty of a Philly cheesesteak prepared beef nihari-style!
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.