Bay Area’s most innovative sushi chain opens pizza restaurant

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There’s a new Bay Area pizzeria crafting pies with an unexpected ingredient: soft mochi.

Mochiko Mochi Pizza, the first of its kind, opened Saturday in Burlingame after a soft opening phase early last month. Inside Mochiko, customers will find a selection of rare pizzas with an unexpectedly soft, chewy center reminiscent of mochi desserts.

“People stop in their tracks when they hear mochi pizza,” co-owner Ty Mahler told SGATE. “It’s something about the two words together. We go through great lengths with the dough.”

Sushirrito founders Mahler and Peter Yen, who operate 12 locations around the Bay Area, have been working on their newest restaurant for the past two years while Mahler developed his unique spin on pizza made with a proprietary rice flour blend. After the business partners closed their Sushirrito outpost at 283 Lorton Ave. earlier this year, they decided that the space would be an ideal home for their unique pizza concept.   

To start, Mochiko will offer a limited menu with four pizza toppings that feature cheese, pepperoni, chicken Japanese curry made with chicken karaage, and a spicy pork pizza made with a pepper cream sauce. Asian toppings will be a huge focus at Mochiko, and later, the partners hope to launch spam and pineapple pizzas as well as a Korean beef pie made with a kimchi sauce.

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So far, the response from customers has been a mix of curiosity and shock when they first learn about the mochi pies, both Yen and Mahler shared. Yen said it has been amusing watching customer reactions when they take their first bite.  

“People don’t know what to expect and then when they try it, they’re pleasantly surprised,” he said. “People usually view mochi more as a dessert, but what we wanted to do was make it more savory.”

He added, “I think most people like pizza by default, but people are intrigued by combining the two.”

Co-owner Ty Mahler preps and cooks a mochi pizza cooking inside Mochiko Mochi Pizza on Lorton Avenue in Burlingame, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2023.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
Co-owner Ty Mahler preps and cooks a mochi pizza cooking inside Mochiko Mochi Pizza on Lorton Avenue in Burlingame, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2023.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

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Similarly, I was intrigued by trying the unusual pizza, having only ever tried sweet mochi desserts in the past. So I took the short drive up to Burlingame and ordered a pizza to try it for myself. I grabbed a slice from the box and lifted it above to reveal the golden brown crust on the bottom. The first thing I noticed was the crunchy edges and gooey cheese followed by the unmistakable texture of soft mochi. Unlike mochi muffins, which can have a gooey consistency, the mochi pizza had a sturdier texture that somehow held its shape with each bite. 

While Mochiko pizzas lean on the smaller side, Yen said that adding mochi makes the dish quite filling. An 18-inch pie is priced at an average $18 and can be shared between two or three people. Recently, Mochiko added pizza by the slice for $5.

The idea for Mochiko started two years ago when Mahler and Yen had an epiphany. During a conversation, they realized the Bay Area didn’t have designated Asian pizzas beyond toppings alone. Yen said that the conversation got them thinking about pizza dough specifically. Around the same time, both Yen and Mahler’s children were huge fans of mochi muffins, doughnuts and other mochi treats. That’s when the business partners connected the dots.  

Ty Mahler boxes a freshly baked mochi pizza with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni at Mochiko Mochi Pizza in Burlingame, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2023.

Ty Mahler boxes a freshly baked mochi pizza with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni at Mochiko Mochi Pizza in Burlingame, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2023.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

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“Basically [Mahler] just started playing around with different mochi dough recipes,” Yen said. “He must have gone through a couple hundred over the years.”

“I have a list of iterations of tweaking everything,” Mahler added. “There were so many times that we said, ‘Scrap it. It’s not going to work.’”

But Mahler didn’t give up until he found the right combination of ingredients that helped create a balance of crunchiness on the pizza exterior and soft chewiness on the inside.

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Making mochi pizza is a time-consuming endeavor that begins with a secret blend of rice flour that’s formed into a tacky dough. Unlike traditional pizza recipes, mochi pizza dough doesn’t need to rise, according to Mahler. The dough is scooped and placed onto a special flat aluminum baking pan to help shape the base of the pizza in the making. After the first round of baking, the partially cooked pizza dough is transferred into a deeper aluminum pan that resembles the square pans used to make Detroit-style pizza. 

Ty Mahler holds a freshly baked mochi pizza with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni at Mochiko Mochi Pizza in Burlingame, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2023.

Ty Mahler holds a freshly baked mochi pizza with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni at Mochiko Mochi Pizza in Burlingame, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2023.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Thick cubes of low-moisture mozzarella cheese are placed over the dough, followed by a drizzle of a sweet tomato sauce blend made with Japanese ingredients. Mahler starts at the edges before he moves his way across the center, creating a zig-zag design. He adds pepperoni cups to the top before the long, deep pan is transferred inside a deck oven for an additional 10-minute bake at 650 degrees. Once it’s fully cooked, Mahler grabs a pizza slicer to cut thick squares into the rectangular pie. He gently lifts a slice to reveal the dense mochi center inside.

Opening Mochiko has been a positive shift from Sushirrito for Mahler, who shared that he loves experimenting in the kitchen and has always wanted to make pizza. Now he’ll get to do that at Mochiko.

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“I just wanted every aspect to be different,” Mahler said.

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