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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.
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.