Let’s get this out of the way: California-style pizza is as much of a real thing as its New York-, New Haven-, and Detroit-based cousins. While purists might scoff at the notion of a west coast contribution to America’s robust pizza culture, they’re wrong. The topping-heavy pies that legendary chef Alice Waters and Chez Panisse invented, and chef Ed LaDou and California Pizza Kitchen popularized, have helped us reconsider what pizza can be, showcasing that anything -- especially healthful and top-shelf foodstuffs -- can be served on a pie.
With that being said, it was LaDou, alongside CPK founders Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, who were responsible for spreading these unique pies around the world. Founded in 1985 in Beverly Hills, CPK can now be found in 30 US states and 11 countries and boasts pizzas that harness the power of everything from BBQ and Thai chicken to carne asada steak and tostadas. With great variety comes a great amount of decision fatigue for the diner. Which pie is best? Which pie should they really order? That’s why we’ve sampled all of the chain’s 19 pies on both the original hand-tossed and crispy thin crusts to find out which pizza is truly California Pizza Kitchen’s greatest.
Here’s how we specifically rated each individual pizza:
- Ingredient interplay: When it comes to toppings-focused pizzas, it’s crucial that each element works with one another.
- Ingredient distribution: When there are many components on one individual pizza, it’s crucial that every ingredient is evenly proportioned.
- Utensil-bility: You should be able to eat pizza with your hands. This maxim can sometimes be difficult to reconcile with the fact that California-style pizzas have lots of ingredients piled atop them. Pizzas that score high in this category have crusts that are structurally strong, allowing customers to eschew silverware.
- Pizza resemblance: Crucially, each California Pizza Kitchen pizza should resemble, you know, pizza. Sometimes good intentions in boundary-pushing can lead to flatbread-like foodstuffs or straight-up disasters that no one needs on their plate.
And now, without further ado, let’s rank some pizzas.