Restaurant Review #270: D'Amore's Famous Pizza, Thousand Oaks

Margherita slice and meat-lover's slice

D'Amore's looks like a hole in the wall in a busy strip mall on TO Blvd., but it's actually a small Southern California chain with nine restaurants from Tustin to Camarillo and one location in Vegas. The hook is that it's a Boston-style pizzeria owned by 100% Italian Joe D'Amore, who relocated from Boston to SoCal.

D'Amore's claims to have been importing its water from Boston since 1987 in order to make the crust crispy, and that it's now importing water from the Italian Alps. I'm not sure I buy that the water would make all the difference, but the crust is indeed crisp, quite unlike your typical thin-crust slice.

They say the other secrets to their success are using extra virgin olive oil, not lard, in the crust, and only using July tomatoes, the sweetest of the year with no added sugar, in their sauce. Too bad my entire slice had maybe one teaspoon of sauce, so I couldn't taste it. They also use a low-moisture, low-salt, part-skim mozzarella made in Wisconsin and cook their pizzas in a brick oven.

D'Amore's also claims to be the No. 1 rated pizza in America, according to a 2002 Citysearch poll that has it handily beating institutions like Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, and Ray Romano has called it his favorite pizza in LA. And D'Amore's has done a nutritional analysis of its pizza showing that a single cheese slice has just 166 calories and is remarkably low in fat, quite an accomplishment for a piece of pizza.

Slices are $4 each, which sounds like a bargain, but one slice of margherita pizza wasn't nearly enough to fill me up, and I'm a light eater. Whole pizzas ($19 to $26) seem pricey by fast-food pizza chain standards, but are typical of pizza parlors and are a much better value. You can choose from one of their specialty pizzas (also sold by the slice) or build your own at the usual hefty price per topping (45 cents each on slices, up to $2.35 each on a jumbo pie).

If I'd ordered a lunch special that came with a garlic knot and a full-sized plate of salad (romaine, mozzarella, tomatoes, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and olives), I would have been fine. They also serve a few soups, salads, pastas, chicken dishes, calzones, and desserts, but the focus is clearly the pizza.

I enjoyed the crispness of the crust, the flavorful cheese, fresh basil, and lack of grease, but the tomatoes were mealy (they almost always are at restaurants, but that doesn't make it okay) and the sauce was almost nonexistent. The toppings on the meat-lover's slice were generous and the quality was above average, though it could have used more sausage. I waited at least 10 minutes for my order, which seemed like a long time for a simple slice of pizza.

The restaurant is long, narrow and dark with a TV tuned to a sports channel on the back wall, so D'Amore's is best for a casual bite or takeout. The service was fine, but you just order and pay at the counter and they drop your meal off at your table, so there isn't much to judge. If you ask for water, you get only a tiny plastic cup, which doesn't generate goodwill (or make me want to pay for a soda). Overall, the experience was fine, but it wasn't anything I would go back for.

D'Amore's Famous Pizza
2869 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
D'Amore's Famous Pizza menu
D'Amore's Famous Pizza website


Restaurant Review #269: Chego, Chinatown

The beefy T, $9

How can a bowl of fried rice be so addictively delicious, especially to someone like me who doesn't care for rice? Put Roy Choi in the kitchen and load up that rice with high-quality meat, spices, fresh herbs, fried shallots, garlic chips, and a fried egg.

Chego's rice and noodle bowls are a much-needed reinvention of the sad chicken teriyaki bowl and its bland, mushy rice topped with overcooked veggies and processed chicken and dressed with not enough bottled sauce. Here, you can get a bowl with veggies only, fried tofu, spam, pork belly, prime rib, or grilled chicken and an explosion of carefully selected condiments. If you want a snack or a side, there are also meatballs, seasonal veggies, cheese fries, and salad.

The portion sizes are generous, too: I only got through half of my beefy T bowl for lunch. (If you have leftovers, eat them soon; the stuff gets mushy after a couple of days in the fridge.)

The restaurant is super casual. Order at the counter and get a number, then grab a seat on a stool at the bar-style tables indoors, or outside at a picnic table in the courtyard of the Far East Plaza.

Parking in Chinatown is easy on weekdays but chaotic on Saturdays. There are plenty of $4 parking lots, but if you keep your eyes peeled you can find the narrow entrance to the Far East Plaza's underground garage. Chego validates parking for 1 hour with a $10 minimum purchase. I was there a little over an hour and only paid 60 cents.

Chego's food is incredible and costs the same as the food at those fast-casual chains you're tired of. Go.

727 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Monday closed
Tuesday through Sunday 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Chego website and menu


Restaurant Review #268: Bollywood #3 Indian Restaurant, Westlake Village

Sag paneer, $11.95

I've got an Indian food itch that I can't scratch. I'm in search of something mind-blowing and can't seem to find it despite all the Indian restaurants with four-star reviews on Yelp. Bollywood Indian Restaurant at the Water Garden in Westlake Village was my latest attempt to satisfy my craving, but unfortunately, it mostly fell short.

Chicken tikka jalfrezi, $12.95

The restaurant was very busy at 8:30 on a Saturday night, which I took as a good sign. Fortunately, several diners were on their way out, so we didn't have to wait for a table. The seating includes lots of booths and plenty of space between tables, so there's none of that uncomfortable overcrowding that you find in a lot of Los Angeles restaurants. Despite the good layout, we found it very noisy and difficult to hear each other due to several large groups and less-than-ideal acoustics.

The chicken tikka jalfrezi didn't taste much like Indian food and almost seemed like a vegetable dish. It had little chicken in large, unwieldy chunks that weren't particularly tender or juicy. The vegetables were slightly overcooked, but did taste good with the spicy sauce, probably thanks to lots of butter. 

Lamb vindaloo, $12.95

We tried four dishes and ordered all of them medium hot. I like my food quite spicy, but you never know what a particular cook's definition of "hot" is, so I like to play it safe rather than risk blistering my lips and having tears streaming down my face. The sag paneer (creamy spinach with cheese cubes) was the standout for its rich flavor and surprising amount of paneer cut into perfect, bite-sized pieces. It was not spicy at all, but I'm not sure it was supposed to be.We also liked the lamb vindaloo and thought the medium heat was plenty. The lamb could have been more tender, but the potatoes were perfectly creamy.

Shrimp curry, $12.95

The shrimp curry had a thin sauce, closer to a soup consistency than a typical curry consistency. It didn't have many layers of flavor, but it did contain a generous number of shrimp. The side of basmati rice was also a generous portion, but the grains were barely aromatic and there were scant, barely yellow grains of saffron-infused rice. It also cost $3.95. I hate the a la carte pricing of rice that is so common among Indian restaurants--it makes me feel like I'm being nickeled and dimed. Basmati rice isn't expensive, especially purchased in bulk, and who doesn't eat rice with their curry? Restaurants should include it for free or build the cost into each dish that should be eaten with rice.

The service left us wanting, too. It took quite a while for anyone to take our order and quite a while to get to-go boxes and our check. Not that we were in a hurry, but things were a little too slow. At least our waters were refilled frequently.

Overall, the meal was fine, but there was nothing about the food, atmosphere, or service that would be worth going back for.

Bollywood #3 Indian Restaurant
860 Hampshire Rd. #Z
Westlake Village, CA 91361
Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Closed Sundays
Bollywood Menu
Bollywood Website


Restaurant Review #267: Horse Thief BBQ, Downtown LA

Authentic Texas-style barbecued brisket in Downtown LA? Believe it. Located in a sleek edifice just outside Grand Central Market, Horse Thief BBQ serves beef brisket (pictured, 1/2 lb., $12), pulled pork, spare ribs, chicken, and rib tips. Some of the sides are more upscale takes on down-home classics: jicama cabbage slaw, blue cheese and bacon potato salad, aged white cheddar macaroni and cheese. There are also braised greens and black beans, and a sole dessert: banana pudding. The drink menu consists of lemonade, iced tea and water.

Everything is essentially to go, but you can enjoy your food on the premises (they even serve it on butcher paper!) at one of the many outdoor, shaded, bench-style wooden tables if you can't wait to get it home. If you're a homesick Texan, or anyone else who likes good barbecue, don't miss Horse Thief. (Then go across the street and work off your meal on the stairs alongside the Angels Flight.) If you're making a special trip, go early, because they do sell out.

Horse Thief BBQ
324 S. Hill St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Hours: 11:00am to 4:00pm daily
Horse Thief BBQ menu
Horse Thief BBQ website


Restaurant Review #266: Yozen Frogurt, Westlake Village

I decided to try Yozen Frogurt because I was feeling burned out on Yogurtland, my usual froyo shop of choice. There was also a bit of a Hollywood glam factor in my decision--I've seen either this location or the West Hills one (I'm not sure which) in more than one episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the show I most love to hate.

At 9:30 on a Saturday night, the store was nearly dead, but it was immaculately clean and the two employees were both friendly. I was only given two sample cups, which hardly seemed adequate when there were 16 self-serve flavors to choose from, none of which I had ever tried before. I put two samples in each cup so I could try more, though it occurred to me later that I probably could have asked for more sample cups. I get that they don't want people to just come in and eat samples and leave, but I'd think that the more samples you let people try, the more delicious flavors they'll want to buy.

The store's layout is a bit awkward, with toppings in more than one place, not enough room between the secondary topping bar/checkout station and frozen yogurt machines, and the large yogurt cups in dispensers against a far wall where I didn't even see them until I checked out (with two small yogurt cups containing less yogurt than I wanted to purchase but as much as I could carry). Also, some of the toppings are in dispensers that make it difficult to control how much comes out--it would be better if they were in containers with spoons.

Despite these gripes, Yozen Frogurt is my new favorite frozen yogurt place because the flavors are a cut above. Supposedly they have just 12 to 20 calories per ounce, which is hard to believe given how sweet and rich they taste and how creamy their texture is. Of course, I obliterated the low calorie count by topping my froyo with peanut butter syrup, marshmallow syrup, butterscotch syrup, caramel syrup, Oreos, and cinnamon Cap'n Crunch. The prices are similar to those of other frozen yogurt shops. Of the flavors I tried, I didn't think the butterscotch or no-sugar-added vanilla had much flavor, but I loved the peanut butter, dulce de leche, and horchata and I'd highly recommend Yozen Frogurt.

Yozen Frogurt 
2900 Townsgate Rd.
Westlake Village, CA 91361
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:00am to 10:00pm; Friday and Saturday, 11:00am to 11:00pm
Yozen Frogurt flavors
Yozen Frogurt website


Restaurant Review #265: Wildcraft Pizza, Culver City

I am a pizza aficionado. I make pizza from scratch once a week. And most restaurant pizzas let me down--I don't think they're as good as my homemade version.

Wildrcraft in Culver City is an exception. They distinguish themselves from other pizza places by using a sourdough crust (which is now on my to-bake list) and a 900-degree oven (not something I can replicate at home, unfortunately). They also use fresh ingredients, which of course many other pizza joints do as well but with less spectacular results.

I went to Wildcraft for lunch on a very calm holiday Monday when the restaurant was nearly empty (I imagine that's not typical). The rest of my party wasn't there yet, but the waitress seated me on the patio where I'd be able to see them walk in and served me water while I waited. Our service was great throughout the meal.

I ordered the O.G., the least expensive option at $11.00, but also my favorite type of pizza: oven-roasted tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil and garlic. Half the pizza was enough for a light lunch. Most of the other pies are in the $12 to $15 range and have more unusual ingredients like porchetta, treviso, pistachios and clams (not all on the same pizza). Also on the menu are salads, a few veggies, and panini, but why would you come here and not order pizza?

The sourdough flavor is subtle; more noticeable is the crust's chew, slight crispiness and hint of char (none of the gigantic burnt bubbles that mar many a hot-oven pizza). Finding a mozzarella that melts properly, especially at high temperatures, without turning to mush or burning is a challenge; the chef has gotten it just right with fior di latte. In lieu of red pepper flakes, Wildcraft serves house-made chili oil with pepper flakes in it, plus real grated parmesan. And sitting on the patio is a great way to enjoy the ambiance of downtown Culver City on a warm, sunny day. They also have an extensive craft beer menu and carefully selected wine list.

I had a great experience at Wildcraft and I'd definitely go back. Despite being a trendy Westside joint, it doesn't feel pretentious at all. The pizza is worth driving out of your way for.

Wildcraft Pizza
9725 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Open daily at noon
Wildcraft Pizza menu
Wildcraft Pizza website