Eat a Giant Polenta Feast On Your Table
Authentic Neapolitan pizza fueled by regular "research" in Italy
Jonathan Goldsmith knows maybe too much about Neapolitan pizza, having spent considerable time in Italy developing his craft. Using the best possible ingredients (pecorino gran cru, San Marzano tomatoes), and taking great care with his dough, Goldsmith’s Ravenswood pizza restaurant is rightfully well revered. Any of the hard-to pronounce offerings will treat you right, but if there’s one must-try pie on the menu it would be the Bufalina featuring blended San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala and basil. Then again, the Salsiccia (with sausage and basil) is no slouch either. They also offer gluten-free options.
The gold standard of Chicago thin-crust pizza 85 years running
You don’t get more South Side than Vito & Nick’s. Around since 1932, this pizza institution feels unchanged by time (it's still cash-only and doesn't do delivery), and that goes double for the pizza itself. The spot still get its cheese from Joliet’s Mancuso, still uses that South Side staple of fennel in their sausage -- the key to what makes pizza great in these parts -- and it’s still a destination for families and neighborhood folks. You can’t get much better in the city than a thin-crust sausage from this delightfully simple pizza establishment.
Your go-to hang for New Haven pizza and spotting Dave Grohl
You wouldn’t expect a slice of New Haven to be found inside the limits of Wicker Park, but Piece Brewery and Pizzeria (co-owned by Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen) has been dishing Connecticut’s favorite pizza style (with red tomato sauce and mozzarella) there to great acclaim for years. Dave Grohl and his fellow Foo Fighters cohorts visit every time they come to town, and even Anthony Bourdain is a fan (having gone on record as being against Chicago’s deep dish), calling it: “really, really delicious.” Try the BBQ sauce slice if you’re feeling adventurous.
A thin-crust oasis hidden in an unassuming strip mall
Tucked away in a strip mall, this hidden gem is so old-school, as of 2017, it still doesn’t even have a website. But who needs fancy technology when you’ve got simple pleasures like thin and deep-dish pizzas that locals have been praising for over 40 years? The thin crust is the move here (you can never go wrong with a basic pepperoni), and they throw in a free liter of RC Cola with every 14-inch or 16-inch pizza. Which is nice.
West Town & Lakeview
Perfectly charred crust coal-fired at 1,500 degrees
This coal-burning pizzeria earns high marks for its perfectly charred crust and easy foldability, a tremendous base for which any toppings are perfect. Coalfire’s oven burns at up to 1,500 degrees, giving it that signature crispy, bubbly texture, perfect to pile on a load of specialty meats (prosciutto, mortadella, and Calabrese salami, perhaps?) on top. If that’s not enough for you, try the lasagna pizza or their vodka meatball pie with vodka sauce and grass fed veal-beef meatballs.
A delicious pie joint with a checkered history amidst the Stickney smokestacks
Villa Nova’s thin-crust beauties are the stuff of southwest suburban lore, and the late owner’s alleged mob ties only add to the allure for those seeking a more “authentic” Chicago pizza-eating experience. Hidden among the smokestacks of Stickney, the no-frills joint ain’t much to look at from the outside, but their square-cut tavern-style classic sausage and pepperoni thin-crust pies are nothing short of beautiful. You could get an Italian beef pizza if you’re looking to get a little crazy, but why mess with a good thing?
Hipster-approved, edible works of art in Logan Square
Logan Square is blessed with A-plus pizza makers including Boiler Room and Dante’s, but Reno is a cut above the competition with deliciously Instagrammable works of art including wood-fired delicacies with crazy toppings like the Lambeau (with bratwurst, Wisconsin cheese curds, sauerkraut, and beer-cheese sauce) and the Hog, which is topped with pork belly carnitas. While these creations work better than expected, as usual, simpler is better, and you can never go wrong with the namesake Reno, which starts with a mozzarella, basil, and red sauce base.
Ebert gave this one two thumbs up
This family-owned neighborhood spot has been slinging critically acclaimed thin-crust gems since 1950 (the late Robert Ebert was a huge fan), making it a prime destination for local pizza enthusiasts on the thin-crust-pizza touring circuit. Known for their cracker-thin crust and mouth-watering house-made sausage, the Pat’s Special (sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions) will make you a believer.
River North (& other locations)
The first family of deep dish needs no introduction
There’s just something about a deep-dish pizza that allows for something as simple as plain cheese to be all you need in life. This is especially true of this iconic chain’s pie, featuring its famously flaky, buttery crust with plum tomato sauce. The veritable “first family of deep dish,” the Malnati clan continues to expand with 49 Chicagoland area locations (and one in Phoenix), rarely straying far from the Lake Michigan water that Rick Malnati (Lou’s son) swears by.
This crust proves "stuffed pizza" has more than one meaning
Stuffed is the way to go here, and, since the format is already the pizza equivalent of lasagna, it’s probably best with a healthy dose of vegetables inside like the Art’s Special (sausage, mushroom, onion, green pepper). But then again, this is Chicago, so you could also go whole hog with the Art’s Meaty Delight packed with sausage, bacon, ground beef, pepperoni, and sliced beef. Eating a couple of slices of something this ginormous is quite an undertaking, so bring a friend to help you out. The secret is in the herbed crust.
Lincoln Park & Morton Grove
The best spot for impressing out-of-town pizza enthusiasts
It’s hard to mention Pequod’s without referencing the recent passing of its founder, Burt Katz, who started the restaurant in 1970. Katz eventually sold it, and then started up Burt’s Place in Morton Grove, but not before creating its signature caramelized crust (the upper rim of blackened mozzarella). It’s a rich circle of dough, cheese, and sauce that begs to be made richer with sausage and pepperoni. If we had to pick one pizza place in Chicago to send our friends when they come to town, this would be it.
Massive, doughy pizza pot pies are your newest addiction
This venerable pizza institution, which has been serving up its “pizza pot pies” since 1972, sits nestled in an idyllic section of Lincoln Park. Its adorable stuffed balls of triple-raised Sicilian dough are filled with a house-made sauce (olive oil, fresh garlic, onions, green peppers, plum tomatoes), a mix blend of cheeses, whole fresh mushrooms and sausage. You’re gonna get the pizza pot pie, obviously, but you absolutely must also order the addictive Mediterranean bread. Careful, you may not want to share.
Longtime suburban slinger of affordable deep dish
Just outside the city limits, this distinguished pizza joint has been cranking out no-frills pies in the South Suburbs since the Truman years. The pizza gets all the raves from die-hard locals around these parts, and for obvious reasons. Its flavors chiefly stem from flaky crust walls damming in the pool of sauce and melty cheese goodness that string out with every slice you pull. It’s deep dish the way deep dish was meant to be done.
This omnipresent chain will never be too far away
As one of the founding fathers of Chicago deep dish (using an Italian recipe they claim dates back 200 years), this big boy pizza chain with 50 Chicagoland locations and outposts in eight states often endures marks against it for its sheer scale. But the pies are popular for a reason. These monster stuffed pizzas are known for their flaky, almost pastry-like crust, yours to enjoy in basic cheese format or via the Chicago classic with pepperoni, mushrooms, green pepper, and onions. Silence, hipsters. Sometimes it’s OK to go mainstream.
A local phoenix rises from the ashes
The Chicago pizza world suffered a massive loss after the passing of legendary pizza maker Burt Katz in 2016, but his fabled deep dish institution lives on as Burt’s Place reopened in spring of 2017, following a 2-year hiatus. The famous caramelized crust, call-ahead policy for dine-in orders, and funky log cabin-style atmosphere remain in place -- as does, most importantly, the quality of the pizza. Katz trained his successors in his techniques, and they employ the same ingredients and pans to recreate Burt’s incredibly fresh, larger-than-life pan pizza bombs. Don’t think too hard; every pizza on the menu is good.