Add sand to taste

A view of the surf, a bowl of chili, and a slice of pizza on a perfect sunny day day. Photo by Richard Foss

Dining decks have changed the experience at Manhattan Pizzeria, mostly for the better

A view of the surf, a bowl of chili, and a slice of pizza on a perfect sunny day day. Photo by Richard Foss

Once upon a time there was a little hole in the wall that made very good pizza. They qualified as a dine-in restaurant on the basis of a few tables in a dark corner in the back, but on any given day most of their business was take-out. Most of those pizzas were eaten piping hot because they were consumed on the beach, half a block away.

Then came the pandemic, which put the little restaurant in a dire situation. With the beach closed, their location was less excellent, and many patrons wondered whether the little hole in the wall would survive. Then the street dining decks were approved, and the restaurant and all of its patrons lived happily ever after.

Anyone who spends much time in downtown Manhattan Beach knows this story, because after a near-death experience at the beginning of the pandemic Manhattan Pizzeria is now a high visibility establishment. Their dining deck has a great view of the ocean, and is packed on weekends.  And the to-go business seems to be roaring as summer crowds arrive. The view of the water isn’t as close as it was when those pizzas were eaten on the beach, but the odds of crunching windblown sand or fighting over crusts with a seagull has gone way down.

But how does a place that used to serve dine-in customers by twos and threes handle dealing with them by the dozens? Based on several experiences since the dining deck opened, there is a bit of work to do. The system that worked so well for the old model is a bit creaky when it comes to handling the crowds. Some of this is structural, because customers placing orders often block the corridor that is also used by servers trying to deliver orders and customers picking up takeout. It might be sensible to install an online ordering app so people could use an iPad from the decks, and free up the space.

Once you place your order, it can take a while for things to be made. Slices of pizza or simple salads are quick, but at peak times it can take an hour for a whole pizza or calzone. This is great if you plan on sipping a beverage and watching the waves, less so if you’re in a hurry. If time is of the essence, then grab that slice and a salad, or maybe a cold sub, and if not then chill out, and wait for a staff member to bring out your order.

In my experience the wait has been worth it. This isn’t the place for anything fancy, but what they sell, they do well. The salads are fresh and varied and generously proportioned for dine in, slightly smaller when taken to go due to the limits of the container. I recommend the Italian chopped salad over the Caesar because it’s a particularly good mix of flavors, but both are good. The hot wings had a crisp crust and a sauce that isn’t kidding around – my wife saw the shade of red that I turned when eating the first one and decided not to risk it.

If the pizzas people are having at those outdoor tables looks like too much food, you might decide to get one of their sub sandwiches instead. But I have news for you – those are hefty too. The veggie hot sub involves sauteing all the vegetables in the kitchen and then stuffing them into a big crusty roll and topping that with cheese and mozzarella. That’s served with some spicy pickled vegetables on the side, and we actually laughed when it came to our table because it was such a huge meal. It would make a nice meal for two along with a salad, unless you have a gargantuan appetite.

One thing to know is that some items listed as hot subs really aren’t. The sausage roll “sub” is one of these. It’s not a sandwich by any stretch of the imagination, but pizza dough wrapped around sauteed sausage and peppers with cheese. Another name for that is calzone, and they have a separate section of the menu for those, but this isn’t in it. Nobody was able to explain why. Apparently, you can get the sausage and peppers in a roll if you ask, but they don’t mention that on the menu. Whatever you call it, it’s a good meal – dip the thing in their fresh-tasting marinara sauce and enjoy.

Manhattan Pizzeria makes American sandwiches and hot dogs too, but I haven’t tried them. The only non-Italian item I’ve tried was their chili, which was quite decent. It has a little chili heat and a nice cumin and spice flavor, and a big bowl of it will take the chill off of a cool evening with an ocean breeze.

What people really come here for, though, are the pizzas, and they’re exactly what they’re supposed to be. The crust is thin and a little crisp on the bottom when it arrives, sturdy enough to eat New York style where you fold it in the middle. Their tomato sauce has a fair shot of onion and garlic and a little pepper, and it’s good enough that you’ll enjoy a plain cheese and mozzarella slice. I recommend the white pizza with vegetables too, because the mix of spinach, tomato, and purple onion is fresh tasting, and harmonious.

Soft drinks are offered, as are a limited selection of wine and beer, but if you order by the glass, you’ll have to stand in line again to get a second drink. Order what you expect to actually have during the meal and save the hassle.

Manhattan Pizzeria has thrived through hard times and has kept the loyalty of their fans. You may wait a bit for your order, but should take that as an opportunity. Clear your mind and watch the view of the surf, the people enjoying the beach, and the environment around you. Live in the moment, and sometime soon a fine meal will come your way.

Manhattan Pizzeria is at 133 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Manhattan Beach. Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Beer and wine served. Online ordering, delivery available. (310) 455-8892. ER


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