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Za Pizza

Casual, Comfortable and Low-key

In the generally upscale Russian Hill district, Za Pizza is a no-frills neighborhood pizza joint where dudes and moms rub shoulders while grubbing down. The space is much like any other pizza parlor you may have been to -- neon beer signs mark the entrance; skateboard decks and children’s drawings adorn the walls. It’s this friendly, familiar vibe that’s the appeal here, along with the reliable slices and whole pies they’ve been serving for the past 18 years.

As the cable car rattles by, regulars flow in and out in steady rotation, with as many people sitting down to eat as picking up orders to go. One server attends to the five tables on the floor, while six stools offer seats at the counter. There is often also a table outside.

On the night of our visit we were able to snag a table immediately. A whiteboard at the counter listed the four slices of the day: each day offers one vegetarian and one meat special in addition to pepperoni and cheese. The menu for the whole pies is slightly larger, with seven specialty pizzas ($22/$26) and the option to customize your own. With names like “Da Vinci’s Palette” and “Vincent Van Dough,” the specialty pizzas utilize tried and true combinations. If you follow the menu’s prompt to “Create your own masterpiece,” there's a nice array of toppings to chose from, comfortably hovering just above or below two dollars each.

Not noted on the menu was the restaurant’s beverage list: four beers on tap ($4) and just two options for wine, red or white. Our server couldn’t say where the wines were from -- only that they’re both available by the glass ($5) or bottle ($14). Beer seemed the appropriate and obvious choice.

We began with the Monet's Garden Salad ($6/$8), one of the two salads on the menu. A simple, straightforward salad with assorted veggies and a housemade basil vinaigrette, the “small” salad was enough to feed three as a first course. It arrived at the table nearly overflowing out of the bowl.

Our pizzas arrived shortly after, taking up most of the table space. Two medium pies yielded four slices per person -- big slices, too, with a stiff cornmeal crust that could easily be folded. The gritty cornmeal provided a seriously crunchy counterpart to the slightly sweet dough. Though one diner among us compared the bits of cornmeal to sand getting stuck in their teeth, everyone sincerely enjoyed the pizzas.

The “Potesto” ($22) sported thin but substantial slices of red potato, cloves of roasted garlic, fresh pesto and mozzarella, with ground pepper speckling the surface. The thin dough had no char, but the crust had nice golden color at the edges, slightly springy beneath the perfectly cooked potatoes.

Our second pizza was slightly thicker and with more color on the bottom, but the dough’s flavor stayed nearly the same. As the meat special of the day, the “Sweet Van Damn” ($22) had sausage and thin strips of basil atop a thick layer of red sauce and cheese. The sausage was too finely ground and too crumbly -- more caramelization on more substantial chunks of meat would have bumped up the flavor. Nevertheless, we were pleased to see that the ingredients were scattered evenly over the pizza and up to the edge of the crust.

Our friendly if utilitarian server commended our efforts to finish both pies, but we were happy to have two slices left to take home. Though they were fine the next day, they were unquestionably better straight from the oven.

Za Pizza is everything you’d expect from a neighborhood pizza joint: the atmosphere is casual and low-key, the people friendly, and there’s free delivery to boot. All in all, it is not a pizza worth traveling across town for, but if you’re in the neighborhood -- and in the mood for pizza -- certainly stop in for a slice. Your mind won’t be blown, but neither will your budget, which is a bonus for dining in this neighborhood.

Russian Hill

Reservations Essential? No.