By Andy Cheng
We all know that if we want delicious, authentic Italian pizza, we call Domino’s and tell them to shove it. Papa John’s too (but not Pizza Hut because it has deep-fried crusts. Mmm . . . ). When it comes to flabbergasting pizza, you want to go for quality, and you can bet you won’t find it in knockoff franchises that deliver pizzas cold and soggy (because who likes soggy pizza anyway).
If you’re in the area around UC Riverside, consider dropping by this delightful, cozy little restaurant for the bee’s knees in the most genuine New York style pizza (thin crust and loaded with delectable toppings) you can get on the West Coast. Situated on the corner of a row of otherwise mediocre restaurants, Jafang’s Pizza, an exception to the mediocrity, isn’t a particularly large pizzeria, nor does it harbor an enticing aesthetic from the outside. Upon entering, there is a predominant feeling of a sports bar inspired by IKEA—stock wooden tables, a couple of couches in claustrophobic positions and six stools beside the long counter like a bar. Two large flat-screen TVs are hung along the bright red walls tuned to the same channel (TLC on my visit. Hook, Line and Sisters looked interesting, but was dominated by the obnoxious electro music that was playing). Typically, those TVs would be tuned to sports on a game day, which incidentally constitute its busiest days. Being in such close proximity to the university with the bar-like décor and affinity for ESPN, you can surmise that the bulk of its customers are football-loving students that just happen to live in the apartments upstairs.
Despite the somewhat miniscule ambiance of the restaurant, its pizza is undoubtedly the best in the area. For starters, all of its pizzas are made with either white dough (conventional style) or the healthier alternative of whole wheat. The restaurant uses seasoned olive oil as sauce—a healthier base that also trumps tomato sauce in flavor—but also offers tomato sauce upon request. It offers a variety of California Pizza Kitchen-esque pizzas with otherworldly toppings like the Cheeseburger pizza, a flawless blend of ground beef and bacon topped with diced lettuce and tomatoes that have it packing a mouthful of flavor like In-N-Out meets Digiorno’s. In the multiple times I have visited this pizzeria with friends, this has been a favorite. But if you’re in the mood for wildly atypical but equally exquisite pizza, take a gander at the BBQ Chicken pizza, which is loaded with chicken bits and bacon, and slathered with barbecue sauce.
Then again, you’re not here to have CPK holding hands with Ray’s Pizza; what is unique here? A fan favorite, according to waitress Aleah Jarret, is the Whoa Mama! Pizza. The vague appellation is exactly the reaction you’ll have with one bite into this pizza loaded with everything that makes a supreme pizza supreme: pepperoni enveloping the entire pizza, sausages, red and green peppers, mushrooms, onions and spinach (trust me, it mixes well), all covered with Jafang’s special “Matticus” sauce (ranch dressing and Frank’s Red Hot). This, combined with its incredibly crispy thin crust that’s also tender on the inside, creates the sublime elation from one bite into the freshly baked, topping-overloaded pizza. Indeed, the toppings constitute more of the pizza than the dough.
But wait; there’s more! Despite having an array of outrageously piquant pizzas, Jafang’s Pizza has recently conjured its Jafang’s Turkey Sandwich, a beautiful and tasty mix of turkey slices, lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, jalapeno and mayonnaise wrapped in a calzone-like fashion baked to crunchy perfection. It’s a wonderful, healthy addition to an individual-size pizza, but a fair warning, the portions are generous for its prices. The restaurant also offers hot wings and a variety of alcoholic beverages to add to the sports-bar like atmosphere. The only inconvenience to eating at the restaurant is the pizzas overwhelm the miniature tables (or perhaps because the pizzas are rather large in diameter).
Forego the Pizza Hut next time you order pizza for a party. Order over $15 worth of food from Jafang’s Pizza and delivery is free. Whether you dine in and enjoy the cozy ambiance or eat in the comfort of your own home, this pizza just makes any party or dinner so much better.
Jafang’s Pizza, 1400 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 788-8880; www.jafangpizza.com. Sun-Wed, 11AM-12AM. Thurs-Sat, 11AM-1AM. AD, D, M, V.