Zia dishes gourmet pizza without the guilt

by John Anderson

Maura Ochoa, Staff Photographer
Maura Ochoa, Staff Photographer

Khaled Waleh, owner and operator of Zia Gourmet Pizza, believes food is more than just nourishment. He believes eating is a deeply intimate and emotional experience that helps define some of the most important relationships and events in life. This attitude is reflected profoundly in his food. Just one bite of The Eggplant or Cinnamon Pear pizzas and it becomes clear, Zia is about quality, innovation and, above all, taste.

Nestled in the heart of Normal Heights on Adams Avenue, a street bursting with eye-catching establishments, Zia is easy to overlook despite a colorful banner that sets it apart from the surrounding storefronts. Simply put, an unfamiliar eye may pass the small pizzeria.

However, while relatively inconspicuous from the outside, the interior provides ample seating and a quiet environment to enjoy a slice. The counter is often staffed by Waleh himself, ready to recommend pre-made slices or whip up a pizza to order.

Years of experimenting at the now-closed but one-time San Diego State favorite Café Zia has led to a fantastic menu. Zia offers 14-inch “bambino” pizzas, 17-inch “grande” pies, calzones and pizza by the slice. The menu is also vegan-friendly and incredibly diverse with unique creations and thoughtful twists on tradition. Highlights include the Sweet Southern French, a lemon garlic chicken pizza combined with feta, caramelized pears, walnuts and mozzarella. As previously mentioned, The Eggplant is another standout, complete with oven-roasted eggplant, scallions, tomatoes, a variety of herbs, cranberries, fresh garlic mozzarella and drizzled with savory yogurt sauce. Perhaps most alluring, the Cinnamon Pear is a dessert pizza featuring juicy baked pears, light cream cheese, walnuts, sesame seeds and ricotta cheese, drizzled with a trademark cinnamon pear sauce. The menu speaks for itself, and the end product is as good as it sounds.

Ultimately, Zia Gourmet Pizza stands for delicious pizzas made from quality, healthy ingredients — in that order. Waleh stresses the importance of delivering a superior product that excites diners and makes them want to come back for more. He hardly does any advertising and believes his pizzas are good enough to attract customers through word of mouth. After trying Waleh’s creations, it is hard to argue with this business model.

Pizza lovers will pay more at Zia than they would at a more traditional pizzeria, however this difference in quality makes the extra dollar or two worthwhile. Parking is limited on Adams Avenue, so look for a spot on side streets.

Make sure to stop by any time from 5-10 p.m.

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