800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria: UCLA, You've won this time.
I'm a graduate of USC. While I enjoyed my time there, my biggest gripe was the lack of student-friendly food off campus. One cannot live on Chano's alone, and it brings sadness to my heart to learn there's yet another thing that my former crosstown rival school does better: pizza.
Westwood has its share of cheap and cheerful places to dine, but there's something special about 800 Degrees. It's upscale, but it won't break your budget. It's open late. It checks off all the “great student food” boxes, which is why there's always a long line waiting outside. The line is worth the wait as soon as you can step inside. Housed in an old theatre, 800 degrees kept a lot of the charm of the old space, and the high ceilings keep things from feeling too crowded, while the more-than-ample natural light keeps even the evening hours feeling bright.
And the line at the front should tell you everything you need to know: all of those people waiting will at some point join you inside. If there's one phrase that best describes being inside, it's “excuse me”. The only way to access the dining area from the counter where you order is by walking right past the soda machine, and that quickly forms a bottleneck. Best to get everything you need in one go, and avoid walking through that gauntlet any more than once.
But enough of my feng shui criticism, let's move on to the pizza.
The slices are floppy like a Basset hound's ear, and should really be eaten with a knife and fork. The mozzarella rounds especially have a tendency to slip off the pizza, but the other toppings too will frequently slide onto your plate before they reach your mouth, no matter what form of pizza origami you attempt.
The Piccante pizza punished me, but kept me coming back for more. In spite of being the least user-friendly of the pizzas, it still was a darn fine pie: soppressata, garlic, chili, and my tongue did not a happy marriage make, but boy was it a fun time. It's the kind of spicy where your taste buds are screaming like they stubbed their toes, with the salty soppressata bringing up the rear. The sausage and pepper was far easier to handle, and in retrospect was a lot closer to the sort of pizza I should have ordered.
Which brings me to the joy of a restaurant like 800 degrees. You're allowed the luxury of choosing whatever you want on your pizza from their vast selection. Similar to the way that there are more possible combinations for a Rubicks cube than there are atoms on earth, the sheer number of permutations of pizza toppings here means you can choose the right pizza for you. Which is almost as important as choosing the right university.