Pizza Leila’s by-the-slice counter is open in the Dallas Arts District—and it’s exactly what the neighborhood needs.
The Arts District is home not just to museums and performing arts venues, but to numerous office buildings. Seemingly dozens of law firms keep their offices here, as does D Magazine. As the neighborhood aspires to become an all-day destination, its casual dining options remain limited. For tourists, museum guests, and operagoers, the area is a pleasant, leafy area to walk around. But where exactly do you eat?
Near the Meyerson Symphony Center, Winspear Opera House, and Wyly Theater, ultra-expensive restaurants dominate the scene. On the office-tower side of the neighborhood, options include chains like Mendocino Farms and Snappy Salads.
Pizza Leila joins a culinary middle class that also includes the Playwright Irish Pub and Sloane’s Corner. (That’s no accident: the pizzeria began inside Sloane’s Corner and shares its head chef, Ji Kang, who also revamped Dakota’s Steakhouse and could therefore be called the official chef of the Arts District.)
The new space is a long counter of Sicilian-style pizzas by the slice on one side, and on the other, a long counter of bar seating facing the front window. Unless you ask otherwise, your pizza will be quickly reheated in the oven for immediate (or back-at-your-desk) consumption. You can also take slices home and reheat them in your own oven; since the dough is fairly thick, I set my oven to 375 degrees and heated the slices for about 10 minutes. Finally, whole pizzas are available, which you’d be wise to order ahead.
I visited twice last Wednesday, Pizza Leila’s second day in operation, and counted a baker’s dozen of topping choices. At lunch, I sat outside and tried a slice on the patio; at dinnertime, I brought a variety box home. Each slice is $4.50 to $5, and in my experience, a single slice is enough to keep you full for a few hours. One slice and a pre-packaged salad or order of meatballs is a very well-rounded meal.
Among the hits: a gooey spinach artichoke pie that practically melted after heating up, the Butcher pie (think meat lover’s: chopped ham, salami, pepperoni, and sausage), and a sausage and pepper slice with mild, creamy vodka sauce. Some of my coworkers are already swearing by the Grandma’s Square, a simple number dressed with basil, roasted tomato sauce, and mozzarella.
I did expect more from the Queso Fundido slice, which is mostly Oaxacan cheese with a small crumble of chorizo and strips of poblano pepper. And in general Pizza Leila has some sweet sauces, especially the barbecue sauce base of the brisket jalapeño pizza. You will want to stop by the counter and get a healthy shake of red pepper flakes, and maybe even use the handy shaker of powdered garlic.
On a Korean-inspired slice with marinated short ribs and kimchi, the kimchi was so mild I couldn’t tell it was there. I added a trusty gochujang condiment and transformed an OK pizza into a damn good one.
Another quick observation for any take-home chefs out there: the warmer the pizza gets, the better. That might be because of its Sicilian style, which employs a thicker, almost focaccia-like base crust. The crust is great: airy, bubbly, flavorful, and crisp on the bottom. It reheats in ovens marvelously.
As always when we publish a First Bite column, remember, it’s early days at this new spot. But Pizza Leila seems primed for unusual success. For one thing, the staff tested these recipes during an initial run at Sloane’s Corner last year. (Leila even made our best pizzas feature.) For another: man, did the Arts District need this. I can imagine stopping in for a casual slice before or after seeing a play. If out-of-town visitors hit up the Dallas Museum of Art and need a quick snack, it’s an easy recommendation. And for a quick get-out-of-the-office work lunch, it is a good casual option.
If anything, my problem with Pizza Leila is that now it has sparked my imagination. Why isn’t downtown Dallas full of little lunch counters like this that put serious care and heart into their food? Some still exist at the Exchange food hall and the Farmers Market. Salsa Limón has its fans. Newcomer Starship Bagel offers some outdoor seating.
But a solid slice shop? What a win.
Pizza Leila, 2111 Flora St., Ste. 120. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.