Think there aren't any restaurants open late in L.A.? Residents who work late beg to differ. Actor and comedian T.J. Miller took us to his unconventional pick for best pizza in the city.
Rainforest Pizza belongs to the night. With its unassuming sign and tucked-away location, it was seemingly designed to not attract customers. Like a mythical city, it appears almost out of nowhere, every night, and only to people who want to see it.
Once inside, it's a different story. Part pizza joint, part hookah bar, part what looks like an Eastern European dance club, Rainforest Pizza truly lives up to its name: a variety of strange species densely packed into the same spot. Even its pizza fuses disparate elements - New York style on the Mediterranean - with its thin slices punctuated by a sesame seed crust.
That eclectic flair carries over to my escort into this nether world of pizza and happy hardcore dance music. T.J. Miller's career spans the spectrum, from a one-hour Comedy Central special to a Weird-Al-type music album, The Extended Play, satirizing celebrity culture. Add to that a film resumé that includes polar opposite titles like Cloverfield and Yogi Bear, and you have a man who readily admits, "I have had the weirdest film career that anyone has had to date. I would stake it against even Stephen Root."
TJ orders his go-to favorite, a pepperoni pizza, and we take a seat on the patio outside.
Henry: How did you find this place?
TJ: Early on, I used to live in this building on Orange and Hawthorne, and it was this shithole drug den. It looked like drug den, at least. There were guys who all had these prison tattoos, these Russian prison tattoos, who would just smoke and read the Bible or weird, long novels. It was very strange. So I was in this neighborhood, and I would walk around, and one time, I just saw that sign.
He points to the sign.
TJ: They have the shittiest sign in the world. Look at it. It just says, "PIZZA." It's so ugly! And the thing is I didn't like Los Angeles pizza in general. I lived in New York for a little while. I was just looking for a New York-y style pizza, and I came here, ate it, and it was so f***ing good. The crust was awesome.
TJ: Sesame crust. It's a certain kind of dough, it's very good, and I don't know - a lot of people hate it. A lot of people hate that I love it here. They don't want to meet me here. They don't want to come to parties that I have here.
Henry: Has it ended friendships?
TJ: It's ended friendships, definitely. I have two ex-wives because I wanted to eat here.
I bring up the Yelp reviews I've read about Rainforest, and that, in fact, a lot of people literally do hate this place. Sprinkled in with all the raves, there are five separate accounts of people accusing Rainforest of credit card fraud. I even found similar accusations on a site that reviews hookah bars.
TJ: Weird. See, I didn't know about that.
Henry: According to Yelp. I don't know if it's true. It's not like a court case.
TJ: I would believe it though. It is shady place. It's a really shady place. I think that's why I like it. I like places like this because they seem dangerous, but they're not.
The pizza arrives, and all talk of illicit activity gives way to a discussion of the yummy topic in hand.
TJ: I love pizza. I talk about it a lot, and I think about it a lot. I argue with people about whether or not a hamburger is better than pizza. It seems to me - those are the champion bout fighters in American food.
Henry: You will always take pizza over hamburgers?
Henry: Hands down?
TJ: Hands down! And listen to how much I've thought about it: Pepperoni only. I don't even have to be able to switch out. I'll go pepperoni-only against your any kind of hamburger whenever you want.
Henry: Every meal of the day?
TJ: No, no, no, now we're just getting weird with dietary compulsivity. I'm talking about you take away all hamburgers and leave me with just pepperoni pizza, not even different types of pizza, I'll take pizza.
Henry: And this would be the one you get in the whole town?
TJ: Probably. Maybe in America!
I spy three, as of yet unseen dipping cups of dressing.
Henry: Oh my God, is that ranch?
TJ: I believe so, yeah.
Henry: I was so embarrassed to tell you that all I really wanted on this sesame seed crust was ranch.
TJ: Party with it, man! I mean look at these people. They give you hot sauce too. I don't even do the ranch. I just do the hot sauce. That's why I'm worried about them getting busted for credit card fraud.
I bust out laughing at the transition.
TJ: I'm serious! Because I thought about it, and I kind of wanted to talk to you earlier and be like, "Despite all that, they've got a great pizza."
Henry: So you knew about the credit card fraud before?
TJ: No, no, but now that I hear it from you - Here's what it is. Look at this place. Clearly, something's happening. So I kind of want to go to them and be like, "Look, you've got a great f***ing pizza. If you started advertising the pizza, you could make a serious amount of money by only making pizzas."
Henry: Does eating pizza like this weigh you down if you have a set later tonight?
TJ: No way.
Henry: Is it what you normally eat before sets, or do you have a ritualistic meal that you like to have?
TJ: Only if I'm showcasing. If I'm showcasing, I eat very specifically. Usually oysters in the morning.
Henry: Are you being serious?
TJ: Yes, and then like sushi or very light, light Asian shit. A lot of water. Then like a beer or two throughout the day. For a lot of people and for me, having a beer is a thing that puts you in a certain mindset. It's not really about the alcohol. You can drink a non-alcoholic beer. It's really about feeling, "All right, now I'm kind of slowing down, kind of thinking about things." Then for dinner, I usually only eat like seared ahi tuna, and I get real expensive about it. I go to expensive restaurants because I feel like when you're showcasing, that's a real moment. You need to be ready.
Henry: Is there something you like to eat after a bad set?
TJ: Sometimes I'll go home, and I'll eat peanut butter. I always like Totino's frozen pizza.
Henry: Really!? You have no authority anymore.
TJ: Another pizza! I just said another pizza.
Henry: Totino's is that porous, Wendy's hamburger-meat type thing?
TJ: It's the best.
Henry: It's horrible.
TJ: It's the best!
Henry: So bad.
TJ: One of those and a six pack of Blue Moon used to be the best meal I could have.
Henry: I do like the little square pepperoni pieces on it, though.
TJ: I love it! You can eat the whole thing in one sitting. It's terrible for your body. Pizza really is my solace - is I guess what I'm saying.
After devouring his solace with ranch and hot sauce, we parted ways. TJ's fusion cuisine approach to comedy continued that night with a podcast, a stand-up gig, and final tweaks to a music video for his latest single, "T.J. Miller." A day later came the big announcement that he landed the lead in a comedy series at Fox, then two weeks later he was cast in a movie.
T.J. Miller is now officially in the spotlight, even if his favorite pizza joint continues to live in the shadows.
We paid in cash.
1451 North Gardner St., West Hollywood; 323-876-9000
Ed. note: Rainforest has since closed.
[Photos by A.Rios/R.E]
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