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

Once upon a time there was a small hole in the wall that made great pizzas. They called themselves an on-site restaurant based on a few tables in a dark corner at the back, but each day most of their stuff was take-out. Most of these pizzas were eaten piping hot because they were eaten on the beach half a block away.

Then came the pandemic, which put the small restaurant in dire straits. With the beach closed, their location was less excellent and many guests wondered if the small hole in the wall would survive. Then the street food tables were approved and the restaurant and all of its customers lived happily ever after.

Anyone who spends a lot of time in downtown Manhattan Beach knows this story, because after a near-death experience at the start of the pandemic, Manhattan Pizzeria is now a high-visibility establishment. Their dining terrace offers a magnificent view of the ocean and is packed on weekends. And take-out things seem to be roaring as the summer crowds arrive. The view of the water isn’t as close as it was when these pizzas were eaten on the beach, but the chances of munching on windblown sand or fighting for scabs with a seagull have considerably decreased.

But how does a place that once served restaurant customers by twos and threes manage to treat them by the dozen? Based on several experiences since the dining room opened, there is a bit of work to be done. The system that worked so well for the old model is a bit squeaky when it comes to dealing with crowds. This is partly structural, as customers placing orders often block the hallway which is also used by waiters trying to deliver orders and customers collecting takeout. It might be a good idea to install an online ordering app so that people can use an iPad from the decks and free up space.

After you place your order, it may take a while for things to get done. Pizza slices or simple salads are quick, but at peak times it can take an hour for a whole pizza or calzone. It’s great if you plan on sipping a drink and watching the waves, less if you’re in a rush. If time is of the essence, grab that slice and a salad, or maybe a cold sub, and if not, relax and wait for a member of staff to bring you your order.

In my experience, the wait was worth it. This is not the place for anything fancy, but what they sell they do well. The salads are fresh and varied and generously proportioned to eat in, slightly smaller when on the go due to container limitations. I recommend the Italian Chopped Caesar Salad as it’s a particularly good blend of flavors, but both are good. The hot wings had a crispy crust and gravy that wasn’t kidding – my wife saw the shade of red I turned while eating the first one and decided not to take a chance.

If the pizzas people eat at these outdoor tables look like too much food, you might decide to have one of their sub sandwiches instead. But I have news for you – this is heavy too. The hot vegetarian sub involves sautéing all the vegetables in the kitchen, then stuffing them into a large crispy roll and garnishing with cheese and mozzarella. It’s served with spicy pickled veg on the side, and we really laughed when it came to our table because it was such a huge meal. It would make a nice meal for two with a salad, unless you have a gargantuan appetite.

One thing to be aware of is that some items listed as hot subs are not really. The “sub” sausage roll is one of them. It’s not a sandwich by any stretch of the imagination, but a pizza dough wrapped around sautéed sausage and peppers with cheese. Another name for this is calzone, and they have a separate menu section for these, but it’s not in it. No one could explain why. Apparently you can get the sausage and peppers on a roll if you ask, but they don’t mention it on the menu. No matter what you call it, it’s a great meal – dip it in their fresh tasting marinara sauce and enjoy.

Manhattan Pizzeria also makes American sandwiches and hot dogs, but I haven’t tried them. The only non-Italian item I tried was their chili, which was pretty decent. It has a bit of heat and a nice flavor of cumin and spices, and a large bowl will take away the chill of a chilly evening with an ocean breeze.

What people really come here, however, are the pizzas, and they are exactly what they are meant to be. The crust is thin and a bit crisp at the bottom when it arrives, solid enough to eat New York style where you fold it in the middle. Their tomato sauce has a good dose of onion and garlic and a bit of pepper, and it’s good enough for you to enjoy a slice of plain cheese and mozzarella. I also recommend the white pizza with vegetables, because the mixture of spinach, tomatoes and purple onions is fresh and harmonious.

Non-alcoholic drinks are offered, as is a limited selection of wines and beers, but if you order by the glass you’ll have to queue again for a second drink. Order what you expect to have with your meal and avoid the hassle.

Manhattan Pizzeria has known difficult times and has managed to retain its fans. You can wait a bit for your order, but you must take advantage of it. Clear your mind and look at the view of the waves, the people enjoying the beach and the environment around you. Live in the moment, and soon a good meal will come your way.

Manhattan Pizzeria is at 133 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Manhattan Beach. Open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Beer and wine served. Order online, delivery available. (310) 455-8892. ManhattanPizzeriamenu.com. emergency


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