Korean pizza for the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Korean pizza has little history. Unlike other global creations—the so-called Mexican pizza, for example, has an antecedent in the Oaxacan tlayuda—Korean pizza is a pure product of globalization, and a recent one, at that. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when American flavors crept even farther into Korea, that homegrown pizza chains started reshaping our fast-food traditions to fit the local palate. Artesia’s Pizza and Chicken Love Letter follows this formula, serving American-style pies tweaked to slightly different tastes.
The months-old restaurant isn’t exactly venturing into uncharted territory, however—this Pizza and Chicken Love Letter is another link in a small chain with strange roots in Virginia and Georgia. The Artesia branch (which the restaurant wishfully refers to as its Cerritos location) is just the second in California though, with only an older Garden Grove outpost predating it.
Stationed at the off-ramp-adjacent corner of Artesia and Norwalk boulevards, Love Letter is in the middle of some hot competition—both Domino’s and Papa John’s are set up in the same little strip mall. But bulgogi already seems to be besting pepperoni in this war of attrition. And this is in part because Pizza and Chicken Love Letter, no matter how awkward its name may be, has some untouchable appeal: late-night hours and chilled pitchers of Hite beer.
The restaurant’s interior isn’t much—childlike doodles act as wallpaper, movie posters stand in as art—but in another smart move, Love Letter anchors its space with two huge flat-screen TVs that are perpetually tuned to ESPN. It’s with this dose of sports (the place gets packed for playoff basketball) that the restaurant adds yet another layer to its allure.
Pizza here hovers at a level just above the typical takeout fare, but Love Letter’s ingredients keep its offerings infinitely more interesting. Bulgogi, the marinated beef ubiquitous in Korean barbecue, is the restaurant’s standard. Tossed onto a pizza, the bulgogi is a little overwhelmed (its subtleties are lost when there’s cheese, sauce and crust to contend with), but it’s a solid option nonetheless and a nice break from sausage monotony.
Better is Love Letter’s sweet potato pizza. It’s a busy pie—there are hunks of golden sweet potato, bits of pineapple, onions, ham, sausage and a sprinkling of corn—but it all works. The pizza could certainly benefit from a bit more sweet potato, but it’s so idiosyncratically Korean that its faults (a tad too much grease) can easily be forgiven.
The restaurant isn’t just an ode to pizza though—there’s plenty of fried chicken, too. Here, the Korean-pub standard is put through the fast-food filter and cooked up about as quickly as it gets. The plain poultry is perfect with a swig of beer, but Love Letter also brings the heat. The restaurant’s sweet garlic sauce can be amped up to whatever hotness you like—just know that few humans can withstand the full force of the “extreme hot” option. The chicken is available popcorn-style for easy eating, though you should consider ordering wings for a more true-to-life experience.
You can tell a lot about Pizza and Chicken Love Letter from its menu (pizza, chicken and little else) and what’s on its tables (ketchup, hot sauce, parmesan and a bottle opener). That the restaurant is so dedicated to such a clearly defined vision is its true success. And it’s precisely this clarity—the 22 percent discount after 10 p.m. doesn’t hurt—that keeps it cooking.
PIZZA AND CHICKEN LOVE LETTER 12238 ARTESIA BLVD | ARTESIA 90701 | 562.402.8000 | OPEN MON-THURS 11AM-MIDNIGHT | FRI 11AM-1AM | SAT NOON-1AM SUN 1-11PM | FOOD FOR TWO $10-25 | BEER, SOJU