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Gnarly Girl Pizza trades in garlic knots, beer, and nostalgia

The new addition to El Cajon boulevard breaks a long Mutant Ninja Turtle streak

A slice of white pie, topped with cheddar, ricotta, bacon, and dollops of tomato sauce
A slice of white pie, topped with cheddar, ricotta, bacon, and dollops of tomato sauce

I made it nearly nine years and a thousand Feast stories without ever having to reference the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that all ended the moment I walked into Gnarly Girl Pizza.

Place

Gnarly Girl Pizza

2302 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego

The New York style slices and sandwiches counter recently took over a corner suite on the Boulevard in North Park. Some may remember the location as the original home to Georgian restaurant Pomegranate (now occupying a larger space two doors down), then later Twisted Taps and Tacos La Mezcla. With due respect to all those eateries, the property looks more colorful than it ever has, covered inside and out with cartoonish mural work.

Sponsored
Sponsored

And at first glance, the interior is all about those pizza-loving heroes in a half shell, and other characters from their universe. I’ve never read the comic, never watched the cartoon, and never sat through any generation of movies, and yet still somehow recognize the woman in the yellow outfit as the turtles’ journalist friend, April O’Neil. Cultural osmosis never taught me an accurate thing about world history, yet somehow this I know.

Teeneage Mutant Ninja Turtle characters are all over Gnarly Girl

Fortunately, the counter shop does offer alternative whiffs of nostalgia to go with the aroma of baked dough and pepperoni. I feel a little more in my element when I notice both high- and low-top dining tables are surfaced with rock and hip-hop album covers, including Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads, and Run DMC. Above the entrance, I spot a collection of vintage boomboxes.

More important is what’s on display inside the glass pizza counter. New York and Sicilian style pizzas are available as whole pie orders, usually for $22-25. But for drop-ins, it’s about 3 or 4 bucks a slice, featuring usual suspects such as pepperoni or any of Gnarly Girl’s cleverly named originals. Ham and pineapple get dubbed “The Controversy Pizza,” while “The Fred Flintstone” features five kinds of meat. On the veggie side, the “Rabbit Food Pizza” manages seven kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, while the “Betty Boop” boldly adds cranberries to a white pie with spinach and gorgonzola.

A cheesesteak with thinly shaved beef and light cheese

That seemed too kooky even to write about, so I stuck with a slice of the “Forgettaboudit,” a white pie with bacon, cheddar, ricotta, and splashes of tomato sauce. It reminded me of something I might eat at Pizzeria Luigi, the decades-old pizza counter only two blocks away. For those already in the habit of ordering at Luigi’s, I honestly don’t see a lot of reasons to switch — toppings aside, the pizzas are pretty similar, meaning good.

There are a few more beers to choose from, and there are hot sandwiches ranging from chicken parmesan to Philly cheesesteak, but judging by the ho-hum cheesesteak I ordered, the $9-11 sandwiches are more snack attack remedy than lure to walk an extra couple blocks.

Buttery garlic knots, eaten over a Talking Heads album cover

If you’re looking for a non-turtle related reason to drop by, I could point you to the garlic knots. When this shop was originally announced a year ago this month, it was slated to open as Knotty Girl Pizza, presumably to emphasize its utterly snackable garlic knots. At a buck apiece (or six for $5.50), they’re great, chewy fodder to wash down with a couple of those draft beers I mentioned, during or after happy hour. The garlicky, buttery knots, dipped in ranch dressing or marinara, prove the ideal appetizer, certain to keep you around long enough to order some 'za, dude.

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A slice of white pie, topped with cheddar, ricotta, bacon, and dollops of tomato sauce
A slice of white pie, topped with cheddar, ricotta, bacon, and dollops of tomato sauce

I made it nearly nine years and a thousand Feast stories without ever having to reference the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that all ended the moment I walked into Gnarly Girl Pizza.

Place

Gnarly Girl Pizza

2302 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego

The New York style slices and sandwiches counter recently took over a corner suite on the Boulevard in North Park. Some may remember the location as the original home to Georgian restaurant Pomegranate (now occupying a larger space two doors down), then later Twisted Taps and Tacos La Mezcla. With due respect to all those eateries, the property looks more colorful than it ever has, covered inside and out with cartoonish mural work.

Sponsored
Sponsored

And at first glance, the interior is all about those pizza-loving heroes in a half shell, and other characters from their universe. I’ve never read the comic, never watched the cartoon, and never sat through any generation of movies, and yet still somehow recognize the woman in the yellow outfit as the turtles’ journalist friend, April O’Neil. Cultural osmosis never taught me an accurate thing about world history, yet somehow this I know.

Teeneage Mutant Ninja Turtle characters are all over Gnarly Girl

Fortunately, the counter shop does offer alternative whiffs of nostalgia to go with the aroma of baked dough and pepperoni. I feel a little more in my element when I notice both high- and low-top dining tables are surfaced with rock and hip-hop album covers, including Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads, and Run DMC. Above the entrance, I spot a collection of vintage boomboxes.

More important is what’s on display inside the glass pizza counter. New York and Sicilian style pizzas are available as whole pie orders, usually for $22-25. But for drop-ins, it’s about 3 or 4 bucks a slice, featuring usual suspects such as pepperoni or any of Gnarly Girl’s cleverly named originals. Ham and pineapple get dubbed “The Controversy Pizza,” while “The Fred Flintstone” features five kinds of meat. On the veggie side, the “Rabbit Food Pizza” manages seven kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, while the “Betty Boop” boldly adds cranberries to a white pie with spinach and gorgonzola.

A cheesesteak with thinly shaved beef and light cheese

That seemed too kooky even to write about, so I stuck with a slice of the “Forgettaboudit,” a white pie with bacon, cheddar, ricotta, and splashes of tomato sauce. It reminded me of something I might eat at Pizzeria Luigi, the decades-old pizza counter only two blocks away. For those already in the habit of ordering at Luigi’s, I honestly don’t see a lot of reasons to switch — toppings aside, the pizzas are pretty similar, meaning good.

There are a few more beers to choose from, and there are hot sandwiches ranging from chicken parmesan to Philly cheesesteak, but judging by the ho-hum cheesesteak I ordered, the $9-11 sandwiches are more snack attack remedy than lure to walk an extra couple blocks.

Buttery garlic knots, eaten over a Talking Heads album cover

If you’re looking for a non-turtle related reason to drop by, I could point you to the garlic knots. When this shop was originally announced a year ago this month, it was slated to open as Knotty Girl Pizza, presumably to emphasize its utterly snackable garlic knots. At a buck apiece (or six for $5.50), they’re great, chewy fodder to wash down with a couple of those draft beers I mentioned, during or after happy hour. The garlicky, buttery knots, dipped in ranch dressing or marinara, prove the ideal appetizer, certain to keep you around long enough to order some 'za, dude.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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