Casa Bianca Restaurant Features Chicago-Style Pizza

Amy Hirsch

The legendary thin-crust pizza keeps bringing in the crowds to the ever-popular Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock.

Despite being located on a quiet stretch of Colorado Boulevard among somewhat faded buildings, this restaurant continues to pack patrons in, particularly on weekends.

The main attraction here is the pizza, although standard Italian pasta dishes are popular as well.

Established in 1955 on old Route 66, the restaurant remains in the original building, and appears to have been minimally updated since it opened.

Extended families have been coming here for years, passing the tradition of enjoying the same dishes year after year through generations.

Moving west from Chicago to join family in 1955, Sam and Jennie Martorana opened Casa Bianca in a corner storefront with Sam’s brother Joe.

Sam had learned early skills from his father, who was a butcher and market owner. Additionally, he picked up thin-crust pizza techniques while working as a young man at Tony’s Pizza in Chicago.

Until his death at 83 in 2007, Sam guided the restaurant on a steady path and was personally responsible for the special sausage, made with a unique blend of herbs and spices.

Jennie still works in the kitchen, though daughter Andrea is now in charge of the operation. Andrea’s children are working in the restaurant as well.

The pizza here is made with a thin crust, quite different than the heavier, chewy crust now more widely used. In addition, garlic, herbs and spices are added liberally, with moderate cheese and light tomato paste.

Pizza toppings are offered in a wide variety, however the house-made sausage is favored by most regular customers.

Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and food critic, has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the reputation and popularity of the restaurant. Writing for the LA Times in 1991, he enthused about the pizza, naming Casa Bianca the best neighborhood pizza restaurant in Los Angeles.

Gold, now restaurant critic for the LA Weekly, recently wrote that he has been eating at Casa Bianca nearly once a week for years, having brought along his children as they grew up. By his estimate, he has ordered his favorite pizza with sausage and batter-fried eggplant topping 100 times since he discovered the restaurant in the mid 1980s.

Located near Occidental College, Casa Bianca has been a favorite of students taking a break. In fact, President Barrack Obama was said to have frequently enjoyed pizza with his favored Hawaiian pineapple topping while a student at Occidental.

The restaurant exterior is non-descript except for the prominent blue and pink “Pizza Pie” neon sign, acting as a beacon at night.

Inside, adjacent to the front counter are walls covered with photos, many with autographed messages from celebrities who have visited over the years. Jay Leno, Ed Asner and Teri Hatcher are but a few.

The dining area consists of upholstered booths along the walls with a row of tables in the center. Red and white checked tablecloths and numerous old travel posters with overhead Victorian lighting add to the appropriate atmosphere.

Service is prompt and friendly. The young wait staff move efficiently, wearing shirts carrying the message “The Country is Going to Pizzas.”

Besides pizza, the menu includes a wide selection of typical Italian pastas as well as chicken, veal and shrimp dishes. Starters include various appetizers, plus minestrone soup and antipastos. Desserts such as spumoni, cannoli and tiramisu complete the menu. Beer, both domestic and imported, is offered in addition to the house wine.

Prices are very reasonable. A large pizza pizza with one topping is priced at $13.90 with additional toppings $1.95. Most entrees are in the range of $9 to $14.

In keeping with tradition, Casa Bianca continues to accept no checks or credit cards, only cash. No delivery is offered, though there is a brisk business in pizza for carry-out.

Those who prefer to avoid waiting for their dinner should arrive early, particularly on weekends, as the restaurant fills soon after opening at 4 p.m. and an hour wait for a table at 7 p.m. is not unusual. Reservations are taken only for parties of six or more.
Casa Bianca is located in Eagle Rock at 1650 Colorado Blvd. The phone number is (323) 256-9617. Hours are from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Thursday and from 4 p.m. to 1 a..m Friday and Saturday.