The first introductory paragraph is the same in all articles in this series. Please feel free to skip it if you've already read it.
Read the rest of my Soul Pizza Series.)
(Cheese Pizza and Sausage Pizza.)
My wife, Cat, is a staunch proponent of what she calls "soul pizza". It's her name for the type of unabashedly Italian-American pizza found in little neighborhood joints across the States. American GIs who returned from World War II had acquired a taste for Italian pizza during their tours on the European front, and made Italian-America pizza popular in the 50's as they sought out at home a dish they'd so enjoyed in Italy. Every city has one of these culinary time capsules, usually family-run and dishing up this simple, all-American favorite at very affordable prices. Timeless and comforting, these are local, mom & pop institutions with deep ties to the surrounding community. As Cat says:
Soul pizza is by definition not corporate pizza. Someone IN THE SHOP decided what the food was going to be like, and probably had to eat a lot of it if it wasn't very good at first. Having strict rules other than the one above regarding what can and can't be considered soul pizza seems inappropriately dictatorial, but the following are at least general tendencies of the species.
- The owner is around pretty often, and is likely to be doing some cooking/cash registering/schmoozing.
- The menu is straightforward and doesn't change much. No fad toppings and no side dishes with cutesy names. You can't get Cin-a-Min Curls or Fiesta Veggies at a soul pizza joint. You can have Sausage and Mushroom Pizza with Salad.
- The decor is somewhere between minimal and haphazard. If everything matches, it's because the owner just hasn't collected enough stuff yet.
- Somewhere in the place is a picture of the owner's kid, a picture by his kid, or his kid.
Hidden underneath the belly of a large office building across the street from UCI, Ray's Pizza fits Cat's requirements perfectly. Mock campaign banners proudly proclaim "Ray's Pizza FOR LUNCH" and "Bad Pizza is Bad for America!" A few old arcade and pinball machines are tucked away in corners. Framed photos, neon signs, and pictures drawn by children line the walls. Hand-made posters from Ray's neighborhood fans are up on the counter, and depict him as a trenchcoat- and fedora-wearing secret agent fighting off evil ninjas out to steal his pizza recipes. Local residents, college students, professors, and office workers are frequent visitors. Ray works in the shop almost every day and knows many of his regulars, including my wife, by first name. His daughter attends a dance class a few doors down, and can sometimes be seen hanging out at the shop after a lesson. In short, Ray's Pizza exudes a character instantly recognizable to anyone who grew up in America.
The menu is straightforward, without gourmet pretensions of any type. You won't find any Garlic Tandoori Tofu Pizzas or Meat-lover's Supremes here. Instead, you'll see traditional Italian-American pizza toppings; pepperoni, sausage, hamburger, Canadian bacon, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, olives, anchovies, and tomatoes. Pizzas come in small, medium, and large sizes. The crust is crisp and honest, neither dripping with oil not drowning in sauce. This is simple, pure food, before mass-market fast food chains or faddish upscale restaurants warped it into something unrecognizable.
There are a few non-pizza dishes on the menu as well. Salads made with iceberg lettuce, cold cuts, shredded carrots and cabbage, tomato slices, pepperoncinis, and lots of mozzarella cheese. Spaghetti, another favorite added to the standard American repertoire by WWII vets, is cooked soft, piled, high, and smothered with tomato sauce just like mom used to make. Crusty rolls filled with cold cuts or the ever popular meatball sub (shown below) are available as part of "lunch" specials with chips and a drink that can be ordered at any time of day. You won't find a better breakfast anywhere, particularly if you're a panda suffering from a night of over-inebriation.
There are a lot of reasons that Cat and I like Ray's Pizza for a quick after-work dinner or a leisurely weekend lunch. The food isn't revolutionary, but it's hearty, reminiscent, and doesn't leave me groping for a defibrillator. The atmosphere is fun. I like playing the old arcade games and doing poorly on the Terminator pinball machine as our governor's face glares grimly at me from behind the faded plastic backing. Cat loves chatting with Ray, who calls her a "good girl", and cautions me to take care of her. The hand-made posters crack us up. Everyone is nice. It feels like home.
Ray's Pizza, and Ray, are part of our neighborhood. That's what soul pizza is: a sense of neighborhood.
Ray's Pizza - Vote early, vote often. Check out the website!
Antipasti - 6.95
Meatball Sub - 6.50
2 Slice + Drink Special - 5.50
Small Pizza - 11.95
Medium Pizza - 12.95
Large Pizza - 14.45
XLarge Pizza - 16.95
$1.50 per topping.
4199 Campus Dr # D
Irvine, CA 92612
Ray's Pizza website