When most people think of Chicago pizza, they think of the deep-dish pies with cheese on the bottom. But the best pizza restaurants in Chicago make all kind of pizza. You’ll find organic, designer pies with gourmet pizza toppings, Neapolitan pizzas baked in wood-fired ovens, and square-sliced tavern-style pizzas covered in Italian sausage.
No discussion of Chicago Pizza is complete without mentioning Pizzeria Uno. The first Chicago-style pie was served here in 1943, and it was an immediate hit. So much so that they opened Pizzeria Due on the next block. The dough is made each morning, and the sauce-to-cheese ratio is just right. They make healthy, flatbread pizzas here too. You can choose multi-grain crust and top it with roasted eggplant, spinach, and feta. But why bother? If you come to Chicago and want to try a Chicago-style pizza, go to Pizzeria Uno, order a deep-dish with “the works” and repent later.
Lou Malnati’s is the other legendary Chicago deep-dish pizza restaurant. Lou’s dad, Rudy Malnati, was the chef at Pizzeria Uno, and some even credit him with inventing the deep-dish pizza when he worked there in the 1940s. The first Lou Malnati’s opened in Lincolnwood in 1971. Today, there are 30 Lou Malnati’s in the greater Chicagoland area. But if you don’t live in Chicago, no problem. They ship pizzas on dry ice to anywhere in the United States. The buttery crust travels pretty well.
Bacino’s specializes in stuffed pizzas, and several of them are pretty healthy. The owner, Dan Bacin, is committed to uses the freshest ingredients, and everything here is made from scratch. Spinach, broccoli, and mushroom are popular selections, but plenty of meat toppings are available. Bacino’s has been the top selling pizza at the Taste of Chicago for the last 30 years. The wine list is also a cut above.
Bricks Chicago has been serving gourmet, thin-crust pizzas since 1997. Try a Creole Shrimp Pizza with spicy shrimp, pesto, red peppers, mozzarella, and gouda or a Sweet Heat with chicken breast, bacon, diced jalapeno, smoked gouda, barbecue sauce, and mozzarella. If you don’t like any of the specialties, you can create your own with interesting pizza toppings like Maytag bleu cheese, pureed artichokes, or banana peppers. Bricks has a good selection of microbrews on draught and in the bottle.
Fans of Neapolitan pizza should head to Coalfire. The coal-burning oven here reaches temperatures up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, which produced a crispy, yet chewy crust with a little bit of charring. In a departure from the Naples way, the pizza is topped with cheese first, and then tomato sauce. Three topping or fewer are recommended — the crust can’t hold up to more than that. The white pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, Romano cheese and fresh basil is delicious. And the Pizza Margherita may be the best in Chicago. Coalfire used to be BYOB, but they’re now serving beer and wine.
The first certified, organic pizza restaurant in the Midwest, Crust serves inventive flatbread pizzas that are cooked in a wood-burning oven. Try a cocktail made with one of their vodka infusions. Start your meal with brussel sprouts with crispy bacon, tapenade, roasted peppers, kalamata olives, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, goat cheese, and flatbread pieces, or a winter beet salad. Then try a pizza with slow-cooked beef brisket, house-made barbecue sauce and pepper jack cheese, or a Carbonara with bacon, béchamel, caramelized onions, peas, and a sunny-side up egg.
Famous for its stuffed pizzas, Giordano’s has been in business since 1974. Two brothers from a town near Torino, Italy, named the restaurant after their mother, who made a double-crust pizza that inspired the pies served here. The flaky, buttery crust is what set Giordano’s apart — that and the prodigious amounts of stringy, mozzarella packed inside it. For something different, try the shrimp pizza.
One of the other great places in Chicago for Naples-style pizza is Sapore di Napoli. They import many of their ingredients from Italy, including Molino Caputo 00 flour, Bufala Mozzarella, and Calabria salami. Although the tomatoes aren’t the traditional San Marzanos from Campania, but Stanislaus from California. In keeping with Neapolitan tradition, toppings are simple and few. Try Quattro Formaggi with mozzarella, Italian gorgonzola, fontina, and Parmigiano Reggiano or Patate e Rosmarino with sliced potatoes and rosemary. Save room for some of their delicious gelato — there are more than a dozen flavors nightly.
The Art of Pizza serves deep-dish, thin-crust, and stuffed pizzas. They also serve Italian-style subs on yummy bread, ribs, wings, and pasta. But the deep-dish pies, voted best in the city by the Chicago Tribune, are the big draw. Try the Southwestern stuffed pizza with barbecue sauce, ground beef, onions, and bacon. Or the special with sausage, onions, mushrooms, and green pepper. For dessert, have a creamy, ricotta-filled cannoli.
Members of all the Neapolitan pizza associations, including Associazione Pizzauoli Napoletani and L’Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, Spacca Napoli makes authentic Naples-style pizza in a custom-made, wood-burning oven. In business since 2006, they import their flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil. There’s an assortment of novel appetizers like new potatoes, tuna, cucumber, and capers or white anchovies over arugula, cherry tomatoes, and olives. A nice selection of Italian wines, and some lovely desserts. When the weather’s nice, you can dine outside on the terrace.