Prediction: 800 Degrees Will Be Bigger Than Umami Burger


I wasn’t here in L.A. for the opening of Umami Burger in 2009, but I was here for most of the aftermath.  The popularity.  The expansion.  Being named “Burger of the Year” by GQ.  The backlash.  The backlash to the backlash.  But through it all there is one thing that has always been undeniable (even though many burger snobs don’t want to admit it): Umami is a great concept. It’s a great burger.  But there are other great burgers to be had in L.A. and around the country- many of them cheaper than the $10-12 creations at Umami. In other words, it’s not going to be anything that anybody hasn’t seen before in some form.

But you know what you can’t get anywhere else in the country?  A real neapolitan pizza for $6.  And that, my friends, is why 800 Degrees- the latest concept from the Umami braintrust- will be a true game changer.  The first location of what they hope will be many opened Monday in Westwood Village, and considering how smoothly it was running on day 3 I feel confident saying that the place is completely genius. The concept.  The food. And most importantly, the price.  And what makes it even more amazing is that I completely expected it to be a shitshow.

After seeing the menu for 800 degrees you could probably describe my mood as cautiously ecstatic.  As somebody who is willing to pay the ridiculous prices being charged for Neapolitan pizza these days (I blame this all on you Una Pizza Napoletana!) I was pretty excited to see that the base price for their pizzas was $5 and $6.  Toppings are all mostly $1, with some of the more expensive items clocking in at $3 (like proscuitto, artichokes and rock shrimp).  I’ve always been a fan of Pitfire Pizza, which does something similar for around $10.  But Pitfire isn’t true Neapolitan pizza.  Their pizzas stay in the oven far longer than the Neapolitan pies that have become critically acclaimed around the country recently.

The ovens at 800 degrees, on the other hand, are…well… 800 degrees (natch?)  The pizzas only take around a minute to cook, so what you should end up with is a slightly charred, soft, but every so crispy, very fresh tasting crust.  Una Pizza Napoletana (which started in NYC and is now in SF), has one guy making each pizza by hand, one at a time. They’re also only open a few days a week, and only from 5pm until they run out of dough.  To stay in business they have to charge a ridiculous amount for each pizza.  What makes 800 degrees genius is that they flip the equation on its side.  If the pizza only takes one minute to make, let’s pump out as many of these pizzas at one time as we possibly can and charge less money.  The ultimate in fast food pizza.


Considering the location, smack dab in the middle of Westwood Village, we weren’t surprised to find the place completely packed when we walked up 12:30pm yesterday- the start of the Westwood office lunch rush.  The line was (scarily) out the door, but you only have to make it to the front of the counter to begin the ordering process (which is only about 8 feet in from the door.)  Once you get there things move surprisingly fast.


First you decide which type of pie you want.  There are 10 already constructed pies for you to choose from, but they’re more like suggestions to speed the process along, rather than giving you any kind of price break (like a combo at In N Out Burger.)  They cost exactly what they would cost if you were to order each of the ingredients separately, so you might as well customize your pie with what you like. Once you decide between the margherita (tomato, mozzarella, parmesan, olive oil, basil for $5), bianca (white pie with fresh mozz, garlic, oregano, olive oil and sea salt, $5) or pizza marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano, olive oil, no cheese, $5) the pizza gets slide down a foot to the topping station.


Hello Chipotle of pizza!  The most amazing part of 800 degrees is that you could stop right there and have a delicious margherita pizza for $6.  Sure, they’re expecting you to load up with toppings.  But you don’t have to.  And $6 for a plain pizza has got to be the steal of the century.  But considering that all the meats, vegetables and cheeses are only $1 each it’s hard not to pile on the toppings.  And considering that the base price is only $5-6, a Midtown Lunch’er can really pile them on before hitting the $10 ceiling.  Want a bianca meat lovers?  Fra’mani ham and salami plus sausage, meatballs, and bacon?  That’s a $10 pizza!  Prefer veggies instead?  There’s broccolini, olives, eggplant, arugula (which gets added after cooking), mushrooms, carmelized onions, and more.  All for $1.  Also one buck?  A fried egg.


Once you finish building your pie, they slap your name on it and whisk it off to the oven while you move down another few feet to the salad station.  There are four typical salad options for $4-5, as well as a large salad option that starts at $5 and allows you to add as many ingredients as you want for $1 each.  If you used to work in Midtown Manhattan, and miss the build your own salad bars, this will be your new favorite spot.  There’s also burratta available (we are in L.A. after all!) in four different permutations, 3 of which are $5.


But here’s where the true magic happens.  In the time you take to decide about the salads and move down to the register to pay, your pizza is ready!  No numbers.  No waiting at the table for 20 minutes for your food to come out.  It’s done.  You’re done.  Take your food to a table and enjoy.  Amazing.  So that long line you saw when you first walked in?  Inconsequential.  Because in the 5-10 minutes it takes you to navigate through the assembly line, your lunch is ready- likely in less time than you would spend waiting at any other pizza place in the city, including Pitfire.  It’s the kind of genius that can only be fully appreciated during the lunchtime rush.

But how’s the pizza itself!?  The simple answer: good enough.  The topping bar will bring automatic sneers from Neapolitan purists, as will the dough which a nitpicker will have to point out doesn’t puff up around the edges as much as some of the best pizzas in the genre, and is a bit too floppy in the middle.  Maybe they’ll work out some of these kinks, and maybe they won’t. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t even matter. For the price, it can’t be beat.


The bianca we ordered with carmelized onions, mushrooms, fried egg, and arugula ($9) was near perfect.  It had nice bits of charring on the outside, and held up fairly well for its upskirt.


It really should be a bit darker on the bottom. And you don’t get as many mushrooms as you do on, say, the $13 wild mushroom pizza at Urbano. And it’s not nearly as flavorful as the mushroom pizza at Milo & Olive.  But for a $1 add on, what do you expect. Need more?  I’m guessing you can double up the toppings if you want.


The margherita, on the other hand, was definitely a bit too floppy/mushy/undercooked.  Not sure if it was the addition of the tomato sauce, or the extra cheese (I added ricotta to this one, along with proscuitto to create a $10 pie) but it probably could have spent another 20-30 seconds in the oven.  Of course it didn’t stop me from scarfing it down.  Even with the little things that some people might  complain about, it’s still a tasty enough pizza.


The salads were nothing life changing but for the price they were both good enough as well.  We tried the gorgonzola with butter lettuce, walnuts and dried cranberries for $4.  And the burrata with beets and balsamic for $5. Like everything at 800 degrees, they make it cheap enough for you to say “why not!” and load up.

Finally, I didn’t get a photo of it but they have one of those crazy movie theater soda machines that spit out over 100 different flavors of soda and lemonade.  If you’re into that sort of thing, this machine will make you very excited.

All in all the only thing at this point that could derail 800 degrees is a big price hike.  Their business plan is clearly based on volume, but even then it still seems too cheap for them to make money.  They tout their quality ingredients, but then only charge you $1 each.  And a $6 margherita with fresh mozzarella just seems too good to be true.  Once this place becomes packed 7 days a week for lunch and dinner (and mark my words, it will happen) I’d look for them to bump up prices a little bit on some of the more costly items.  I suppose an extra buck for the pizza bianca, or fancy meats and cheeses isn’t going to raise any eyebrows.  But if they bump it up too much, let the backlash begin.

As is, though, this one is a real winner.  The price and the set up alone make it a surefire lunchtime hit- one that I think will easily eclipse Umami Burger. And if it works in a high rent place like Westwood Village, you’ve got to think it could probably work anywhere.  (Midtown Manhattan should only be so lucky!)

Umami Burger isn’t taking this lying down though.  This year they’re going fast casual with a new concept called U-Ko (Umami Ko) which will have much of the same menu as Umami, but will supposedly bring the check average down to around $10. Yes please on that. Let the inter-company battle begin!

THE + (What somebody who loves this place will say)

  • A fairly authentic Neapolitan pizza for $6?  I must be dreaming.
  • And the white pie is only $5!?!  That must be a typo.
  • I can’t believe that most of the toppings are only $1.  You can easily make a kick ass pizza with a ton of toppings for under $10
  • Taking the Chipotle concept and applying it to Neapolitan pizza is a real master stroke.  (Who’s laughing at Kramer now?!)
  • Don’t let the long line discourage you… things move relatively quick considering your pizza is done by the time you get to the cash register and pay.

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t love this place will say)

  • In this world, you get what you pay for.  $1 cheese tastes like $1 cheese.
  • They’re probably going to have to raise their prices.
  • If you have a topping bar, you’re not allowed to call yourself a Neapolitan Pizzeria
  • The eating area is a bit tight… might get messy if it gets any busier.
  • The pizza is waaaaay too floppy in the middle.  The oven needs to be closer to 900 degrees (or you have to leave the pizzas in a bit longer.)
  • Remember when Chipotle seemed revolutionary?  Now it’s just another boring fast food place.
  • I’d rather pay a couple bucks more and get a better pizza… and there are way better pizzas in L.A.

800 Degrees, 10889 Lindbrook Drive. 424-239-5010



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    Actually, 800 degrees is kind of low. Dominic diFara, the perpetual #1 pizza maker in Zagat’s New York, claims to run his oven at 900 degrees. Of course he gets $5.00 for a plain slice and $28.00 for a Margharita pie. And the line goes around the block.


  • I really need to try this place. love the breakdown, Zach.

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