Mike's Pizza in Encino was probably one of the most famous family restaurants in Valley history. From the 1960s to the '80s, patrons from all over the San Fernando Valley would come to eat traditional pizza, spaghetti and the famous chopped salad.
My family lived close to Mike's Pizza, so we were regulars. I fondly remember the sight of the pizza chefs through the front window with the aqua-colored borders.
The pizza chef would knead the dough and then start spinning it wildly in the air until the pizza crust was ready for sauce and cheese.
The most famous, and memorable, items at Mike's Pizza were the fresh, homemade, pizza-dough garlic rolls. They were absolutely delicious, and marvelously dense. Mike's devotees from back in the day write lovingly of these rolls on retro-themed websites. It turns out, Encino's own restaurant has rolls very similar to the Mike's garlic rolls!
When Mike's Pizza's first location opened on Van Nuys Boulevard near Roscoe Boulevard in 1957, the pizza rolls hadn't yet been invented—they would come a few years later. I learned this trivia tidbit from the former owner of Mike's Pizza, Paul Green. Green and his wife, Stephanie, were the host and hostess at the Van Nuys location, which stayed in business until 1993.
Green had photos of Ferrari automobiles up on the walls at Mike's, and he kept his own red Ferrari parked in the back, which he would show you with pride while your pizza cooked.
The Encino Mike's Pizza, also owned by Green, opened in 1959 and was an immediate success in the neighborhood. It was really Encino's first "family" pizza parlor, and the food was sensationally carb-heavy. The pizza-dough garlic rolls were served in a gold wicker basket, and as Encino customer Robert Kiek remembers, "They encouraged you to use a lot of butter. The menu had a slogan on it that said, 'Don't spare the butter, we get it for nothin'!' "
"I remember one time when I was in high school, going to Mike's Pizza and having butter wars at the table. We got kicked out, but they cleaned it up pretty easily by just sweeping the sawdust off the floor where we threw our butter bombs!" Kiek said, laughing. "I went to Catalina Island one time and had dinner at a restaurant where the rolls tasted just like Mike's Pizza. Turns out the chef was a guy named Chris who had worked at Encino Mike's Pizza and he was one of the pizza flippers I remember!"
Michael Jackson and his family would eat at Mike's Pizza regularly. I was friendly with Randy Jackson, Michael's brother, for a while in the 1990s and we would talk about all our favorite "old time" Encino memories. Mike's Pizza was one thing we agreed was sorely missing from Encino now.
Mike's Pizza had sawdust floors, and pictures of dogs and monkeys playing poker by the cash register. A plastic-coated menu featured the Mike's Pizza logo, which was a cartoonish pizza guy reminiscent of Terrytoons characters like Heckle and Jeckle and Deputy Dawg (see the attached photos). At Mike's Pizza Encino, a heavy-set guy would answer the phone and give you your take-out food at the front cash register.
I visited Mike's Pizza so many times I can smell, taste and feel myself inside there and in the wood-paneled dining room that was added on sometime in the 1960s. I fondly remember getting pitchers of root beer with our dinner. After Encino Little League games, Mike's Pizza was a go-to spot for further team revelry.
Around 1984, Green sold the Encino Mike's Pizza. It did business under new ownership and the quality slipped dramatically.
went into the Mike's space and is still in business today. The original Mike's Pizza stayed open in Van Nuys for several more years, but eventually closed as well.
Trivia experts will note that the outdoor sign at Maria's Italian Kitchen is the same Mike's Pizza sign (notice the shape), painted over. But for any baby boomers who lived in Encino in the late '50s, '60s or '70s, Mike's Pizza is an incredible culinary memory that conjures up pretty much the same response from everyone you ask about it...
"I loved those garlic rolls!"