We're not here to stoke the flames of the deep dish/thin crust debate (we believe in a world where they can coexist), but rather to highlight the unheralded pizzerias around Chicago that're pounding out quality pies.
Oh, and when we say they're under-the-radar, we mean they're legitimately under-the-radar: none of these slice-houses appear on any of the most recent "Best Chicago Pizza Places" lists from Chicago magazine, Time Out Chicago, or Zagat.
Having grown from a carry-out/delivery spot into a full-service restaurant (with BYOB), super-thin, brick-oven pizzas are the norm for this place. Look for simple staples like the bruschetta pizza or Mexican variants like the pizza la ranchera (w/ chipotle sauce, beans, mushrooms, onions, and chorizo).
Swimming in the wake of giants like Giordano’s and Malnati’s, My Pie can be an afterthought for deep dish pizza, as evidenced by the fact that its multiple locations are now down to one. It's not for lack of effort, though -- with fillings like sausage, pepperoni, and pesto chicken, the deep dish pizza runs on the thinner side, so you can have multiple slices without going catatonic.
Owned by Bosnian natives who worked their way through Milan’s pizzerias, their art of pie-making involves a quick-cooking, wood-burning oven and 12in pizzas topped with the likes of four cheeses, seafood, house-cured smoked beef, or prosciutto di Parma topped with olives. It's also BYOB with no corkage fee, so we call that a win-win... -win-win-win-win-win-win.
On the other end of Lincoln Square, I Monelli offers Southern Italian fare with crispy, thin crust pizzas, like a house special with sausage, chopped pepperoni, sautéed onions, and green peppers. The pizza lineup is backed up by appetizers like suppli (rice, mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce rolled in breadcrumbs and fried), and desserts like tiramisu or cannoli.
Italian for "The Gondola" (I know, we were totally shocked too), this restaurant outdoes its strip mall surroundings with generous slices of oily, thin crust pizza. Fill up on toppings like BBQ chicken, bolognese, and puttanesca.
File through the liquor store door and hang a right to find Marie's retro dining room. Sit down for some of the greasiest, quality pizza around -- blot with a napkin and you better hang your head in shame -- including Marie's special (sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms). And be sure to pit stop at the liquor store on the way out for some road sodas.
Just when you thought you'd conquered the entire pizza landscape (deep, thin, Sicilian, pan, frozen), here comes Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. with a pot pie pizza. Resembling a giant door knob, the pies are made up of light Sicilian bread dough that encapsulates gooey cheese and sausage made from prime Boston butts (aside from Big Papi's), and the piping-hot heap is actually spooned out of a bowl tableside.
Having grown out of its original storefront across the street, this Italian eatery's pie menu is split between traditional (margherita, marinara, bianca) and non-traditional (ham with pineapple and jalapeños, rosemary potato slices). Be on the lookout for patio seating and daily blackboard specials.
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Sean Cooley is Thrillist's Chicago Editor, and he hopes to one day sing backup vocals for The Pizza Underground. Follow him @SeanCooley.
1. Pizza By Alex5040 W Montrose Ave, Chicago
2. My Pie Pizza2010 N Damen Ave, Chicago
3. Pizza Art Café4658 N Rockwell St, Chicago
4. Pizza Rustica3908 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago
5. I Monelli Trattoria Pizzeria5019 N Western Ave, Chicago
6. La Gondola2914 N Ashland Ave, Chicago
7. Marie's Pizza & Liquors4127 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
8. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.2121 N Clark St, Chicago
Having grown from a carry-out/delivery spot into a full service restaurant (with BYOB), super-thin brick oven pizzas are the norm for this place. Look for simple staples like the bruschetta pizza and Mexican variants, as well.
My Pie opened their first pizza shop in 1971 and the haven't quit crafting quality pies since, and they still use same delicious ingredients and old-school recipes today at their Bucktown location.
Owned by Bosnian natives who worked their way through Milan’s pizzerias, their art of pie-making involves a quick-cooking wood-burning oven and 12in pizzas topped with the likes of four cheeses, seafood, house-cured smoked beef, and more.
If you're looking for something that is exactly what it sounds like, then this is your spot. Rustica is a true option for good Chicago pizza, wine, and ambiance.
Right off Lincoln Square, you'll find Southern Italian cuisine including appetizers like suppli (rice, mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce rolled in breadcrumbs and fried) and crispy, thin-crust pizzas.
La Gondola has high quality pies that bely its strip mall surroundings: fill up on generous slices of oily, thin crust pizza topped with BBQ chicken and bolognese.
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.
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.