Paisano’s, a classic NYC pizzeria, is a South Bay mainstay
by Richard Foss, Easy Reader News
You don’t have to have lived in the South Bay very long to realize how completely our restaurant scene has changed. I have a better perspective on this than most people, because I have been writing about the area for over thirty years and can look back at any given year. Just for grins I looked at a list of reviews from fifteen years ago and found that almost all of them have closed, and the few survivors have changed so much that they’re almost unrecognizable.
Which is an indication how remarkable Paisano’s is. The New York-themed pizzeria opened in 1994 and is still in the same location, and if a time traveler were to hop between then and now they’d see few changes in the décor. Paisano’s had an advantage in this regard, since pictures of old New York are timeless when it comes to decorating a pizzeria. The walls are brick or a convincing imitation thereof, with black and white shots of Yankee Stadium, Katz’s Deli, and other iconic locations.
The menu fits the décor, and in most ways was already behind the times when the restaurant opened. It’s back to basics — a couple of salads, ditto simple pastas, and the pizza that is what ninety percent of the customers come here for. (That last number is unscientific but may be low, as on my most recent visit I saw pizzas on every table and only one pasta served the entire time we were there.)
We started with a salad, a Caesar with a robust garlicky dressing. It was served so quickly that I thought it might have been premade, but the croutons were still sufficiently crisp that they had obviously just been added. Like everything here it was served with plastic forks and paper plates, but if you want stylish cutlery you’re in the wrong place.
Paisano’s has an unusually large variety of pizzas by the slice, which is how you get your quickie meal at anyplace on Mulberry Street in NYC. In the interest of variety we decided to make a meal of four slices, two of them classics — white pizza with spinach, cheese, and garlic, and a classic eggplant and tomato. The other two were innovations, a baked ziti pizza and the Paisano’s house special that involves just about everything in the kitchen stacked on top of dough.
The first two were exactly what you want when you order a classic, a thin crust with some bubbles from the dough rising and a little crispness on the bottom. The tomato sauce on the eggplant pizza had a little garlic and herb accents, and it made a nice pairing with the fresh tomato slices and the slightly peppery fried eggplant. The white pizza topped with roasted garlic sauce, cheese, and spinach was even better, the spinach sautéed and modestly portioned rather than piled on fresh. Lots of places overdo the fresh spinach, which is less flavorful and tends to make the crust soggy. I had been wary of ordering by the slice because I thought a fresh pizza would be better, but both of these were excellent.
The baked ziti pizza was new to me, and I had to look it up to see where it originated. It was invented at a place called Famous Original Ray’s in New York in the 1980s, a period that was notable for excess. And excess is what this pizza is all about, especially if you are watching your carbs. It consists of a regular pizza crust with sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella topped with a layer of boiled mostaccioli noodles – yes, pasta baked on top of pizza. I get the idea, I guess, but I’m not a fan. Some onion or sausage would have added texture and interest, but chewy pasta on top of a crust just doesn’t work as a concept for me.
Those three slices were made in the Neapolitan thin-crust style, but I decided to try the Paisano’s special on the Sicilian thick crust style. Sicilian pizza reminds you that pizza crust is really just bread; it was almost half an inch thick and had a soft, chewy interior. This was topped with pepperoni, olives, onion, bell pepper, Canadian bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts, and in case it isn’t already obvious two chunks of this are a meal. (Sicilian pizzas are square so the portions are rectangular rather than wedges, making these pizzas stand out in several ways.) The mélange of ingredients made every bite slightly different, and though I prefer thin crust pizzas I was glad to have tried this variant.
Paisano’s offers soft drinks and red or white wine by the glass — no fancy varietals on the menu, no producer names. This isn’t a wine snob place, and if you want a special wine you can bring it with no corkage fee. Dessert is offered, New York cheesecake or a black and white cookie, but after ziti pizza and that thick crust monster we couldn’t face another carb.
Paisano’s is an honest traditional pizzeria and a local classic, and regulars hope it will never change. Based on past performance, they don’t have a thing to worry about.
PAISANO’S is at 1132 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach. Open daily 11 a.m. to midnight, street parking only, wheelchair access good. Beer and wine served, some vegetarian items.
VOTED BEST PIZZA in the South Bay 2018 and 2019
Easy Reader News
...and DoorDash Favorite!
“The beachfront setting, friendly service and the divine lasagna makes this little pizzeria a culinary hit”
Eat Out Magazine
“Paisanos' Special Pizza with Homemade Sausage is impeccably authentic and almost shockingly flavorful; the cheese melts off your fork”
The Silver Spoon
"This New York style pizzeria serves great pizza and has a large selection of wines by the glass. Excellent New York cheesecake.“
The HB Taste
"Wish you were enjoying your pizza night at the beach? Paisanos delivers great food with a generous serving of Hermosa charm.....“