By PETER YOON, Rafu Digital Editor
When considering the finest gastronomic offerings Little Tokyo has to offer, it would be perfectly normal to imagine ramen, sushi, or even mochi, but a wagyu sausage pizza? Fuggetaboutit.
But, as unlikely as it sounds, Prime Pizza in Little Tokyo has been a mainstay in the Little Tokyo community. Since it opened in 2017, Prime has been slinging pizzas from its South Central Avenue location with no signs of stopping, enduring the pandemic, and coming out swinging in 2023.
I had a one-on-one with one of the co-founders of Prime Pizza, James Starr, about launching in Little Tokyo, being part of the community, and their successful new collaboration with Champion’s Curry.
Peter: You first launched Prime Pizza on Fairfax. While that location was a clear winner, why did you choose Little Tokyo as your second brick-and-mortar? What drew you to the Little Tokyo community?
James: I’ve always loved Little Tokyo since I was a kid. I would come to Sushi Gen, Kagaya and Fugetsu Do. It reminds me of Fairfax in that there is a healthy blend of old and new.
Peter: Have there been any specific challenges or changes made to the Prime Pizza formula for the Little Tokyo location?
James: The formula remains the same. We believe simple, delicious, and affordable food transcends all areas of LA.
Peter: Can you talk about the process of creating the Wagyu Sausage Pizza, and the collaboration with Champion’s Curry? How did this collaboration come to be?
James: It really happened organically. I have been a fan of Chef Yoya (Takahashi) for many years. I am also a big fan of Champion’s Curry and we always love connecting with and supporting our neighbors, so it just made sense. I reached out to Yoya and he immediately responded in a positive way. I was so happy. Yoya and our Chef Brett (Cooper) worked together to come up with the recipe and it was a home run. The rest is history.
Peter: How do you balance maintaining traditional pizza recipes and experimenting with new and unique flavors?
James: Our goal was to build an L.A.-style pizzeria on the shoulders of the great pizzerias of New York. So while we honor the traditions of the New York pizza shops we love like Best Pizza in Williamsburg, we are also not afraid to try some new things. We will always have the classics like cheese and pepperoni but we are excited to experiment like with the Champions collaboration. We would like to do more collaboration pizzas in the future.
Peter: In an interview with The L.A. Times in 2014, you stated that the sausage pizza best represented Prime Pizza. Do you see the Wagyu Sausage Pizza becoming the representative of Prime Pizza Little Tokyo?
James: I definitely think the Wagyu Meatball Pizza could become the iconic pizza of Prime Little Tokyo. So far the response has blown us away. Customers are really digging it. Our intention was to make it a limited-time offering but you never know, it could become more permanent.
Peter: Do you have any plans to collaborate with other Little Tokyo restaurants? Perhaps ramen or sushi pizza next?
James: We would love to do more collab pies!
Peter: Can you talk about any unique or off-menu items that customers can request or look forward to trying? Perhaps your favorite topping combination?
James: A lot of customers are not aware that we offer an arrabbiata sauce. They can request that instead of just plain tomato sauce which gives our pies a bit of a spicy kick! I love a mushroom, garlic, and olive pie with arrabbiata sauce.
Peter: You mentioned connecting with and supporting your neighbor. How do you involve and give back to the Little Tokyo community?
James: We are always looking to get involved and give back. We have donated pizzas to many good causes in the neighborhood like the Aratani Theater and the Little Tokyo Service Center.
So it’s clear that Prime Pizza is dedicated to quality and keeps a close relationship with the Little Tokyo community, but how’s the pizza?
The wagyu sausage is rich, tender, and bursting with beefiness. A departure from your typical Italian sausage fare, the wagyu sausage supplied by Champion’s Curry melts in your mouth with a pronounced meaty taste.
The mild curry sauce and pickled onions also supplied by Champion’s Curry turn the thin, crispy crust of Prime Pizza into the ultimate curry delivery system. Each bite hits your palate with a combo of spicy, not hot, curry, tart pickled onions, and a heavy blow of beefy umami. But it doesn’t stop there, Prime Pizza delivers a one-two punch with a side of Champion’s curry. Dipping the pizza into the rich curry sauce allows you to drench your slice without turning the crust into a soggy mess. It’s a simple, but effective, method of maximizing curry flavor without compromising that crispy New York-style crust.
The pizza wasn’t the only knockout available. An order at Prime Pizza isn’t complete without a side of garlic knots. Soft and buttery with just the right amount of chew, they’re also lightly seasoned which is such a refreshing change from many of the salt-drenched knots I’ve had in the past. They come with a side of marinara that cuts through the rich butteriness, but I chose to dip mine in the curry sauce. The combination of the garlicky knots with the Champion’s Curry was reminiscent of a freshly fried curry pan or even garlic naan and curry (please forgive me, curry purists).
The Prime Pizza x Champion’s Curry collaboration was only scheduled for one week, but according to Joe Yousif, kitchen manager of Prime Pizza Little Tokyo, the demand for the item has convinced them to extend its availability. “If all goes well it may even become a permanent item,” said Yousif. “Each Prime Pizza has something unique to its location, and we’d like the Wagyu Curry Pizza to be ours.”
Have you tried Prime Pizza before? Would you like the Prime Pizza x Champion’s Curry Wagyu Sausage Pizza to become a permanent part of the menu? Let us know in the comments below!