I had the luck to visit Italy a few summers ago, and while I probably left with some level of appreciation for Renaissance sculpture, what I really took away was such a deep love for high-quality pizza that I couldn’t eat the lowly, unrefined, unpurified American version for several months. And when I did, it was grudgingly—like watching the Lakers this season.
Italians are scientific about how refined their food must be to in order for it to be deemed acceptable. Vera Pizza Napoletana (literally, “Real Naples Pizza”) is a legitimate social movement started by deadly serious human beings who fight each and every day to ensure that lowly, unrefined, unpurified American pizza is not mistaken for authenticity. The movement awards a “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” (DOC) certification to pizza that is true, genuine Pizza Napoletana.
According to the Vera Pizza Napoletana website, there are several guidelines that must be followed for a pizza to be DOC-approved: (1) the pizza must be made in a wood-burning oven; (2) it must have Tipo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, all-natural Fior di Latte or Bufala mozzarella, and fresh basil, salt, and yeast; (3) the pizza dough must be kneaded by hand; and (4) the pizza baking time cannot go over 90 seconds. All ingredients must be fresh, all-natural, and nonprocessed.
This is not a joke. This is actually how Italians think about their pizza, their pasta, their wine, their gelato, and their coffee. In Naples, I saw an Italian mother give her four-year-old child a steaming mug of high-quality cappuccino. The child drank the entire thing. Obviously, Italian children are bred from a young age to accept only the best ingredients (and have the enormously high caffeine tolerance that allows Italians to have a cup of coffee in hand seemingly all day), and that’s why Italy has such incredible food.
So where does this leave a college student living in Claremont, California? Well, there are exactly 15 distinguished pizzerias in the United States that Vera Pizza Napoletana has awarded a DOC certification, and one of them, Settebello, is in Pasadena, a mere 35-minute drive away on the 210 highway. If you want my advice on what to order, I guess I recommend the DOC-certified pizza. Despite importing all of their ingredients from Italy, Settebello sells a DOC pizza for a manageable $14.
While the DOC certification is certainly nice, what I really look for is pizza modeled after the Naples style: thick crust on the outside, thin crust on the inside, and fresh mozzarella (preferably, of course, Bufala mozzarella). Settebello does this excellently, and so does Los Angeles’s most famous Neapolitan pizzeria, Pizzeria Mozza.
Side note 1: If I had to choose a third place in L.A. to eat Italian, I would go to Santa Monica and grab a sandwich, a loaf of fresh Italian bread, and a container of fresh Bufala mozzarella (imported from Italy) from Bay Cities Italian Deli. Then I would go to the beach. The cheese is imported once a week, so you should call to see when it’s coming in.
Side note 2: Unfortunately, there’s no Vera Pizza Napoletana in Claremont, but there are a few decent Italian spots. Tutti Mangia is a popular choice, but it does not, to put it kindly, have college-friendly prices. Aruffo’s is a little more manageable, but it’s also too expensive for its quality. The best place to go in the village is La Piccoletta, a tiny, adorable spot located in the middle of, well, a parking lot (across from Yogurtland). The pasta type changes every week, but it’s always fresh, and on Thursdays they offer college students two bowls of pasta for $22.
Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery. 1517 Lincoln Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 395-8279.
Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana. 625 E Colorado Blvd. Pasadena, CA 91101. (626) 765-9550.
Pizzeria Mozza. 641 N. Highland Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 297-0101.
La Piccoletta. 114 N Indian Hill Blvd. Claremont, CA 91711. (909) 624-1373.