Eating the World

La Bella Pizzeria in Phoenix Serves Kosher, Vegetarian Italian Cuisine

I paused for a moment outside La Bella Pizzeria last Friday afternoon. Oh, no. I thought. I heard this was a kosher Italian restaurant. Yet nothing among the many signs posted outside this neat-as-a-pin strip mall diner indicated that one could eat here without busting Kashrut.

Then I stepped inside and saw the sea of yarmulkes, and knew I’d heard correctly. La Bella is a kosher vegetarian pizzeria that offers a varied menu of authentic Italian food without combining the milk of the mother with any kind of meat—because none is served here. Which my Jewish husband, who accompanied me to La Bella, explained to me for what he swore was the twentieth time.

So, no meatballs smothered in mozzarella for Jews who keep kosher. And, you know. No pork, ever.

For anyone not interested in Jewish dietary laws, this is simply a vegetarian Italian restaurant—a superior one, to be sure. Foodies looking for a fusion experience will be disappointed, because kosher Italian doesn’t mean calzones stuffed with gefilte fish; it means that the meat dishes served here are pareve, a Yiddish term describing food made without meat or dairy. So, any meat you’ll be consuming here will come from the sea, and if it’s fish served with sauce, it’ll be made from a white wine reduction or, as with the grilled red snapper, a “crème” sauce made from coconut.

That snapper was delicious, by the way—moist and crispy-skinned and creamy with that coconut drizzle. We came for pizza, which we’d heard was superb, but there were so many delicious choices, we opted to order from the case filled with by-the-slice pies. The crispy-crusted pesto margarita achieved that tricky balance between flavors of tangy marinara and a creamy pesto sauce, and the margarita pizza offered just the right combination of fresh tomato and basil. A pesto margarita was nice, although its classic oil-based pesto trumped flavors of sauce and cheese. The real stunner here was the stuffed vegetable pizza, a gorgeous, calzone-like slice crammed with onion, broccoli, and tomato and sprinkled with oregano.

On a dare, I ordered the manicotti. La Bella’s is the only properly-prepared manicotti I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant; it was as good as my Italian mother’s—and she made her crepes by hand, as does La Bella. None of those weird, store-bought macaroni tubes here. Light, creamy ricotta filling and paper-thin crepes were slathered in a tomato-rich marinara that made my eyes water with joy.
Entrees were offered in hearty servings, and the kingly portion of eggplant parmesan was another classic that La Bella got right: garlic-intense, crisp-sautéed slices of eggplant were just thick enough for a good chew, and the layers of melted mozzarella and red sauce blended brilliantly. I made a pig of myself (can I say that?) over this excellent dish.

There was also a bright blue slushy machine. “Is this a Jewish thing?” I asked my Jewish husband, who was distracted by La Bella’s vast menu of dessert options. (We opted for almond-crusted brownies, which were just okay. ) “No,” came his reply. “But this iced tea tastes like it was sweetened with U-Bet Syrup, and that is very, very Jewish.” There was no separate flatware for meat and dairy at La Bella, but there was a torah on the condiments station. No, really. Wedged right between the paper napkins and the drinking straws, the Old Testament in Hebrew. Go see for yourself—and while you’re there, check out the Frank Sinatra, a mushroom and green pepper pizza that’s tasty and okay with g-d, besides.

La Bella Pizzeria 
6505 N. 7th St.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela