In an alternate teenage universe that I once thoroughly inhabited, skateboarding was bae. My shoes were big clunky Osiris slip ons, my deck was a shortboard hand me down Toy Machine and my days after school were spent working up an appetite at whatever nearby fast food restaurant supervised their grindable patio furniture the least.
If only Pizzanista! existed back then. Not only would it have made finding other street skaters to hit up the park with infinitely easier, but my diet would probably have been made up of Meat Jesus pizza slices instead of all the Cheesy Gordita Crunches I ate.
Pizzanista! (yes, it’s excited all the time) was started in downtown L.A. in 2013 by pro skateboarder and switch-stance extraordinaire Salman Agah, who along with his wife and brother-in-law, envisioned a world where East Coast-inspired pies could be made with West Coast flair.
At the 2-year-old Long Beach location, its second, East Coast style lives on in both the rare selling of individual slices (you can also get a classic 18” one-size-fits-all pizza) and the New York aesthetic of minimal sauce and cheese. The West Coast flair courses through the rest: trendy sourdough-bread crust (with a gluten-free option), a soundtrack of SoCal punk and pizzas topped with white sauce, vegan cheese and house-made meats.
Long Beach’s Pizzanista! was built to cater to the city’s insular and intense skating community, which includes everyone from teenage groms to sponsored adults. It took over a vintage Craftsman house just blocks from the infamous Cherry Park skate spot (which is actually at Bixby Park) and made it into one of the only all-day hangouts where skaters, BMXers, freestyle scooter enthusiasts and more extreme sports advocates can kick it between sessions.
Old timers here might remember the converted house as home to local icon La Rizza’s Pizza House, which stopped serving the owner’s late mother’s imported Italian recipes right around its 50th anniversary in 2010. Agah and company scooped up the corner unit years later and gutted it, painting the exterior jet black and planting stark native landscaping in the front and side yards. Agah also punched out the dining room walls to open up the space, installed a traditional pizza-ordering counter in full view of the baking and prep space, and made an outdoor patio that’s a perfect perch for downing $1 day-old slices, sipping cans of Stone’s NOFX lager and watching the latest crop of skaters grind along the well-worn box rail that sits attached to the side of the house.
The pizza itself is creative beyond anything you’d spot at an authentic NYC pizzeria, pairing spicy sopressata, over-easy eggs, hand-rolled meatballs and more with the tangy house crust, itself a work of art crafted exclusively for Agah by one of his friends (who so happens to be the chef-owner of top-rated pizza purveyors Sotto and Pizzeria Ortica). One downside: sometimes even loaded up slices like the flagship Meat Jesus (all of the meats) and its counterpart Seitan Meats Jesus (all of the vegan meats) lack enough plump and girth to feel substantial. Order two or more to ensure you are fully sated.
Pizzanista!’s weekend brunch pizzas define their own genre and are much more filling. For a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays, specialty toppings like sausage scrambles, smoked salmon, and sweet ricotta and berries get plunked on top of the house’s signature sourdough crust. Sundays are the only day when you can get the popular macaroni and cheese pizza, which also has a vegan spiced cashew-cheese version.
But the success of Long Beach’s Pizzanista! isn’t so much about the food — which is affordable and well made — as it is about community building. Between hosting skate video premieres, collaborating with lifestyle brands on exclusive pies, and giving artists free reign on pizza box and T-shirt designs, Agah is providing a unifying space that’s never existed for the action sports scene here before.
If only there was one in the alternate teenage skater universe I once inhabited myself. Perhaps pizza, and not even skateboarding at all, would have been bae.
1837 E. 7th St., Long Beach; (562) 591-6929; pizzanista.com
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.