What makes Chicago pizza great? Let’s call it diversity of crust. You've got thin, Neapolitan, tavern-style, deep dish, stuffed, double decker, pan, and, a true original, pot pie. No other city can boast as wide a pizza portfolio. Here are Chicago’s 13 best pizzerias, separated -- we'll spare you the existential "what counts as pizza" debate -- into thin crust and deep dish categories.
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Thin crust pizza
Jonathan Goldsmith knows maybe too much about Neapolitan pizza, having spent considerable time in Italy researching and developing his craft. Using the best possible ingredients (pecorino grand cru, San Marzano tomatoes), and taking great care with his dough, Goldsmith’s Ravenswood pizza restaurant is rightfully well revered. 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.
You don’t get more South Side than Vito & Nick’s. Around since 1932, this pizza institution feels unchanged by time (they’re still cash only and don’t do delivery) and that goes double for the pizza itself. They still get their cheese from Joliet’s Mancuso, still use 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 pizza icon.
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 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.”
West Town & Lakeview
This coal-burning pizzeria earns high marks for it’s perfectly charred crust and easy foldability, a tremendous base for which any toppings are perfect. Coalfire’s oven burns at 800 degrees and up, giving it that signature crispy, bubbly texture, a perfect base to pile on a load of specialty meats (prosciutto, mortadella, and Calabrese salami, perhaps?) on top.
Another old-school Chicago classic. If you ever wanted to feel like you had walked into the spot where Billy Batts gets his infamous beat down in Goodfellas, Marie’s is as close to that as you can find in Chicago. It’s like a time machine – one that thankfully serves delicious tavern-style thin crust pizza as good as any other in the city. The crust holds up particularly well under the sauce, cheese, and assorted ingredients (note the fennel seeds in the sausage).
The sheer number of pizza specials at this revered Logan Square pizzeria are staggering, but easier terrain to explore than the prospect of building your own from their mind-boggling 53 available ingredients. The eponymous Boiler Room features their signature sauce, mozzarella ,and provolone blend, PBR meatballs, and homemade giardinera. The pizzas are big. REAL BIG. 20” BIG. The sort of size you need friends to go in with you on (lest you want to be eating pizza for days, which... wouldn't actually be that bad). The folks at Boiler Room are serious about their dough, too, giving is no less than two days to rise to it's pristine crispy encirclement.
Open since 2011, owners Tim Murphy and Aaron Butts have been making NY-style pizza with a punk rock/metal vibe to much local love. The crust is strong enough to tackle the numerous toppings it holds -- as is the case with the Minotaur (garlic sauce, Italian beef, giardineria, peppers, provolone, and mozzarella -- but pliable enough to fold. Like the pizza shop’s atmosphere, the flavors come at you fast and strong as well, delivering a potent punch that elevates it from the sheer number of choices this city has to offer.
Deep dish pizzas
River North (& other locations)
There’s just something about a deep dish pizza that allows for something as simple as plain cheese to still be fantastic. This is especially true of this iconic chain’s pie, featuring a flaky, buttery crust with plum tomato sauce. The veritable “first family of deep dish,” the Malnati clan continues to expand within Chicagoland area, never straying far from the Lake Michigan water that Rick Malnati (Lou’s son) swears by.
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). 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.
The Loop (& other locations)
Another Malnati, this time it’s Rudy Malnati, Jr., who opened the first Pizano’s 25 years ago (his father, Rudy Sr. was an original partner at Pizzeria Uno). Rudy uses the same ingredients that were originally found in the pizzas at both Uno and Due, giving customers a unique ability to eat history. The “Hey Hey” Jack Brickhouse special (sausage and mushrooms) is your go-to option.
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.
Nestled in an idyllic part of Lincoln Park sits this venerable pizza institution, which has been serving up its “pizza pot pies” for 44 years now. These adorable stuffed balls of 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, but you absolutely must also order the Mediterranean bread, which is quite addictive. You may not want to share.
Just outside the city limits, this old-school pizza joint has been slingin’ pies in the South Suburbs to the delight of generations. The pizza gets all the raves and for obvious reasons. Its deliciousness stems from flakey crust walls damming in the pool of sauce and melty cheese that will string out with every slice you pull.
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Brett Hickman is a local freelance writer whose dying wish is to be buried in a pit of fried chicken. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
1. Spacca Napoli1769 W Sunnyside Ave, Chicago
2. Vito & Nick's Pizzeria8433 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago
3. Piece Brewery and Pizzeria1927 W North Ave, Chicago
4. Coalfire1321 W Grand Ave, Chicago
5. Marie's Pizza & Liquors4127 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
6. The Boiler Room2210 N California, Chicago
7. Dante's Pizzeria3028 W Armitage Ave, Chicago
8. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria439 N Wells St, Chicago
9. The Art of Pizza3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago
10. Pizano's Pizza61 E Madison St, Chicago
11. Pequod's Pizza2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago
12. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.2121 N Clark St, Chicago
13. Nino's Pizza4835 W 111th St, Alsip
Neapolitan-style pies might get overlooked by the deep-dish big names in Chicago, but Spacca Napoli is the place to go for authentic pizza made the Naples way. Owner Jonathan Goldsmith did intense research on the art of pizza-making in Italy, and this Ravenswood pizzeria is proof that he's perfected his craft. Spacca Napoli uses the best possible ingredients (pecorino grand cru, San Marzano tomatoes) and tends dough daily. The simple menu is split into three categories: antipasti, pizza, and dessert. It's hard to choose just one pizza on the menu, but the simple Bufalina is a must.
This family-owned South Side institution has been making legendary thin-crust pizza since 1932. The square-cut, crispy-like-a-cracker pies can be topped with a variety of toppings but the crowd favorite is the sausage pizza topped with fennel-seasoned sausage. It's hard to miss Vito & Nick's red, white, and green awning, and the interior is as old-school basic as the exterior. Heads up: it's cash-only.
Chicago might be known for its deep-dish pizza, but this bustling joint in Wicker Park makes phenomenal thin-crust pizza. The paper thin, New Haven-style pies are topped with red sauce, parmesan, oregano, and toppings that run the gamut from BBQ sauce and goat cheese to peppers and Italian sausage. Piece brews award-winning craft beer in its seven-barrel brew house. There's probably no better place to go in Chicago if you're in the mood for pizza and beer.
This thin-crust pizzeria in West Town (with a larger location in Lakeview) takes its name from the 800-degree coal-fired oven that cooks its perfectly blistered pizzas. Every pie comes out of the oven with a charred crust and a myriad of topping like pepperoni, whipped ricotta, stracciatella, and sausage. Coalfire is a quintessential family-style joint where the pizzas are meant to be shared and devoured.
Marie's is an old school Chicago Italian in Albany Park known for its tavern-style thin crust pizza. To enter, walk through the liquor store entrance and turn right to find the retro dining room that's hasn't changed much since the 1970s. The menu is filled with Italian-American staples like chicken parm, lasagna, and Italian beef sandwiches, but the wonderfully greasy pizza is the star. The namesake Marie's Special pie, topped with sausages, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms, is a classic.
This industrial restaurant-slash-bar in Logan Square does pizza, beer, and general comfort food (fried cheese balls, poutine, mac & cheese) really really well. The pizza options are staggering: aside from simple cheese, pepperoni, and sausage pies, there are more than 15 specials and a build-your-own options. The Boiler Room's real claim to fame is its PB&J special: a slice of pizza, PBR tall boy, and a Jameson. There's plenty of communal tables and a great outdoor patio, and if you couldn't tell from the aforementioned PBR and whisky special, this place is a hipster destination.
This Logan Square pizzeria -- with another location in Avondale -- serves New York-style pizza with a quirky punk rock/heavy metal-themed vibe. Available in extra-large 20" pies or by the slice, the pizzas are made with a notoriously strong and foldable crust ready to handle an abundance of toppings. Though cheese, sausage, and pepperoni pizzas are on the menu, Dante's speciality is unusual pies topped with anything from shrimp and prosciutto to sausage and broccoli rabe. Your best bet is to trust whatever the kitchen is cooking up and order the slice of the day. The spot is super laid-back and has some old-school arcade games to play while you wait for your pizza.
With more than 40 locations across the greater Chicago area, Lou Malnati's is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, not least because of its signature buttery and pie-like crust, exclusive sausage blend, and mozzarella that's been sourced from the same Wisconsin dairy farm for more than 40 years. According to pizza lore, Lou's dad probably invented deep-dish pizza and even if he didn't, the chain's reliable pan pies are pretty close to what the original deep-dish tasted like.
This simple and unfussy counter-serve pizzeria in Lakeview serves quality deep-dish pizza without the tourists and crowds. The Art of Pizza gets everything right, from the flaky crust to the brightly spiced tomato sauce on top, and even serves pan pizza by the slice for those who don't want to commit to the entire thing. Even though the spot is known for its deep-dish pies, it also makes thin-crust and stuffed pizzas.
This Chicago mini chain comes from a line of pizza royalty -- as the story goes, Rudy Malnati Sr. is one of the people credited for inventing deep dish at Pizzeria Uno, and his son Rudy launched Pizano's while his other son Lou founded Lou Malnati's. Pizano's uses a recipe similar to that of the original Uno -- the pies are made with a biscuit-like shortbread dough and topped with cheese then chopped tomatoes. If a thousand calorie slice of deep-dish isn't what you're in the market for, you'll find just as satisfying a meal in Pizano's thin-crust pies and pasta specials.
Pequod's should be on everyone's bucket list for deep-dish pizza in Chicago. The Lincoln Park mainstay specializes in cast-iron pan pizza with a caramelized cheese-topped crust. The lacy and blackened edges are a Pequod's signature, and the crust is crunchy and dense, while the cheese is sharp and tangy. The Clybourn Ave restaurant is open until 2am, so it's got your late-night pizza needs covered.
Located in an old brick townhouse in Lincoln Park, Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder is a cash-only Italian eatery famous for its pizza pot pies. Available in half-pound or one-pound portions, each pie is made of triple-raised Sicilian dough and filled with house-made tomato sauce, a blended mix of cheeses, whole mushrooms, and sausage. The menu also features oven grinder sandwiches stuffed with Italian meats, and if you're scared of carbs, don't worry, there's a whole category of salad dinners as well. You should definitely get the pot pie though -- you can't say you've conquered the Chicago pizza landscape without it.
Few pizzas on Chicago's far South Side are more dramatic than the deep-dish served at Nino's, which has been honing its reputation since 1948. Deep-dish pies, featuring a tall, flaky crust, thick and gooey cheese, and sweet tomato sauce, are certainly Nino's specialty, but the thin-crust, stuffed, and pan pies aren't bad at all.