Pizzeria Portofino is as hot as its ovens, busy from open to close. Is it the sun-drenched and airy location on the Chicago riverfront and incredible views from the patio? Yes, but the hand-stretched pizzas made with stone-ground Midwestern grains have much to do with its popularity, too. Even if you're attracted to menu items like antipasti and salads, spaghetti limone or grilled Mediterranean Branzino, you must try cup and charred pepperoni pizza or an earthy black truffle and three cheese; spicy salami with hot honey; or a Pugliese pizza that features spicy fennel sausage from a local purveyor, Calabrian chili flake, rapini, Parmesan and green fennel seed. Count on high quality ingredients like imported tomatoes and hand made burrata of Famiglia Andreotti in Monee, Illinois. Finish with dark chocolate espresso cake and a Limoncello or linger with a glass of coastal wine or a refreshing spritz and you have an easy entry in your gratitude journal.
Recommended for Pizza because: Pizzeria Portofino shines with hand-stretched pizzas, solid Italian dishes and an expansive patio that locals and visitors can't help but love.
Jacky's expert tip: There's boat docking daily from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. in partnership with Downtown Docks, so sailors can pull up, order anything from the full menu and carry out food for a day on Lake Michigan.
Piece brought New Haven-style pizza to Chicago and a happy-go-lucky attitude to the restaurant scene. Piece may have been among the first in town to offer unusual toppings (mashed potatoes, seafood, honey butter fried chicken, among the options). New Haven-style pizza is made with a proprietary red sauce and topped with garlic and Parmesan cheese and finished with olive oil. No mozzarella. You can also get plenty of iterations with cheese, barbecue sauce or brushed with olive oil (white pizza). The craft beer list is stellar and you can't lose with any of the award-winning Piece brews. If you're in a group, consider ordering an array of different small pizzas for a tasty adventure - like red pizza with pepper jack cheese, caramelized onions and Hot Doug's famous Atomic Sausage. Pizza fans return for tasty thin-crust pies, cheery service and reasonably priced craft brews.
Recommended for Pizza because: Since 2001, Piece has been the heartbeat of Wicker Park with award-winning brews and sassy pizza pies.
Jacky's expert tip: Be prepared to wait on weekends or show up in the early evening.
Formerly Pizza D.O.C., owners Carol and Dianne Himmel kept the pizza oven and the D.O.C. standards and added European (specifically German) dishes to the menu and everything is wúnderbar. Pies emerge sturdy, crisp and just slightly charred from Chicago's first wood-burning pizza oven. Try the delicate balance of a simple Pizza Estive (Mozzarella, fresh sliced tomato and basil; a surprising Pizza Patate & Rosmarino, redolent of rosemary and thinly sliced potatoes; or a rustic sausage and mushroom Pizza Boscaiola, among the dozen choices. You can go all Italian (pizza plus chicken Parm or spaghetti and meatballs) or head in a Teutonic direction - steak tartare; smoked salmon on freshly made pretzel bread; plates of German sausages and cheese; liver dumpling soup; schnitzels; and homemade spätzle baked with Swiss and Gruyere. Count on charmingly old-fashioned decor, plentiful German beer on tap, plus outdoor seating and occasional live music.
Recommended for Pizza because: When you're craving a perfectly executed Roman-style pizza AND a Bavarian pork shank with pretzel dumplings, head to Himmel's.
Jacky's expert tip: A gently reheated slice or two of Pizza Silvio & Gabriele, piled with arugula, prosciutto, sliced tomato and Parmigiano, makes a light, fresh breakfast or lunch the next day.
Located on the Ogden Slip, Robert's Pizza & Dough Co is a tasty and relaxing respite in an otherwise busy Streeterville. Robert Garvey is a New York native and certified Pizzaioli from the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli so one would expect his pies lean east coast rather than Midwest. Combining science and artistry, he worked on his dough recipe for decades resulting in a pretty perfect combo of crunch and chew. In addition to a classic cheese, the menu is so diverse you could have a brick oven-baked, thin-crust pizza pizza daily without your tastebuds growing weary: seafood (clams, shrimp, calamari, EVOO and white wine sauce); fennel with braised fennel, fennel fronds, fennel salami & pollen, fresh mozz, honey; chicken and artichoke; artisan Soppressata and Calabrian chile; and cup & char pepperoni, among the many options. There are also small plates like mussels, arancini and meatballs; soup and salads; a couple of pasta entrees; and four sandwiches from which to choose. Enjoy riverside patio and indoor seating for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
Recommended for Pizza because: Whatever Robert piles on his pies, that crust is the basis for an exceptional pizza experience.
Jacky's expert tip: Take home house made dressings and giardiniera or a loaf of Robert's fresh bread.
The northernmost pizzeria in the city of Chicago, Candlelite has been a neighborhood fave for tavern-style pizza since 1950. The sign outside evokes as much nostalgia as the thin and crisp crust with homemade sauce and fresh toppings. In fact, Candlelite is exactly the kind of place that influenced this sort of pizza to be dubbed "tavern-style." Of course, the best pizza anywhere is what has just emerged from the blazing oven and landed on your table. If you're in the neighborhood, by all means, set the GPS to get to Candlelite. The menu lists more than 20 starters from Tailgate chili to poutine tots as well as wraps, sandwiches, burgers and eight salads. Move onto specialty pies (like an "Angry Hawaiian); and white pies including the Candlelite White with garlic oil, fresh mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan and goat cheeses, caramelized onions and roasted garlic. Otherwise, build your own tavern-style just the way you like it. The popular pizzeria that has been serving customers for more than 70 years in Rogers Park has spent months perfecting the ultimate frozen pizza recipe so you can get one delivered no matter where you're planted.
Recommended for Pizza because: Tavern-style pizza is what Chicagoans actually eat on the regular and Candlelite was there from the beginning.
Jacky's expert tip: Check the website for daily specials like half-off wine or buy one pizza, get one pizza free.
Pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci chose Chicago as his first pizzeria location outside of Italy and locals are loving his Roman-style pizza cut with scissors and sold by weight. Bonci offers only fresh, natural ingredients primarily imported from Italy and considers "Agriculture as culinary art" so expect ever-changing toppings on the Roman-style crust. You probably won't experience the same pizza twice since options can change hourly and Bonci has more than 1,500 recipes that have emerged from the Italian ovens. Expect a mix of meats, herbs, cheeses and seasonal produce. Recent choices include zesty sausage and mushroom; caramelized onion; smoked salmon and burrata; zucchini ricotta; spicy eggplant; and meatball Parm. You choose the size of your slice so it's easy to try more than one. Moisten the pipes with single-serve beer, wine and soft drinks. The place is small and can get tight at lunchtime.
Recommended for Pizza because: Bonci chose Chicago as his first pizzeria location outside of Italy and you can't get fresher ingredients since daily toppings are unpredictable.
Jacky's expert tip: Bonci accepts plastic for payment so save the cash for your cabbie.
Step into 1965 at Vito & Nick's, a South Side institution in the Ashburn district. The specially seasoned sausage, tasty sauce and dough are identical to the stuff used on the thin, crisp pizza in the mid-'60s (when this location opened) - the family has been spinning dough for 90 years in total. From the strips of carpet paneling the walls to the neighborhood folks celebrating team wins and birthdays, Vito & Nick's is truly a slice of old Chicago. Don't be surprised to see hungry diners toting luggage on their way to or coming from Midway airport. Good bets include Italian beef and giardiniera pizza, egg and pepperoni pie or Vito & Nick's House Special, which is a sausage, mushroom, green pepper and onion pizza. The menu also has meatball sandwiches, pasta dishes and the Friday special is all-you-can-eat smelt.
Recommended for Pizza because: The family-owned South Side institution has legions of fans touting it "the best" since 1932.
Jacky's expert tip: Remember to bring cash! Credit cards are not accepted.
Family-led Lou Malnati's Pizzeria has been turning out the definitive Chicago-style deep dish pizza since 1971 in Lincolnwood and today there are nearly 60 locations in the Chicago area, seven in AZ (Cubs' spring training fans have to eat somewhere) and four each in Wisconsin and Indiana. Practically every neighborhood pizzeria offers a pan-style pie, but Lou's remains the arbiter of Chicago style. Every pizza is handmade from scratch using the family's secret recipe for the flaky, buttery crust but that's not all: the Malnati team hand selects California tomatoes, the exclusive sausage blend covers the entire disc and the fresh mozzarella comes from the same small dairy that has supplied Malnati's forever. If you don't go deep, order a thin and you'll still get a sense of that incredibly flaky crust. Try a robust Malnati salad: Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, salami bits and Gorgonzola cheese with a sweet vinaigrette.
Recommended for Pizza because: Born in Chicago more than 50 years ago, Lou Malnati's remains the model to which all other deep-dish pies must compare.
Jacky's expert tip: Their "Tastes of Chicago" mail-order business will let you ship frozen deep dish pizzas to anywhere in the U.S.
Chicago has all the pizzas: deep dish, tavern-style, New York-ish, Quad Cities, New Haven, Neapolitan and Detroit - what's a French-trained, ex-fine dining chef to do when he has a hankering to turn out unique pies? Matt Wilde created "Pilsen-style pizza" using Old Style beer in the all-important dough instead of water. And the result is fabulous. The hand-stretched 16-inch pizzas lie somewhere between New York-style and Neapolitan and are finished with cheffy touches like sea salt, cracked black pepper and herbs. These are satisfying, substantial pies that you can build yourself with more than 20 options from truffle honey to creamy stracciatella, or go with one of the seven specialty recipes that do not disappoint. Do try Bob's signature specialty - the Pickle Pizza - built with a garlic cream base, mortadella slices, signature cheese blend, sliced pickles, and fresh dill. Spinach Pesto & Stracciatella and Wild Mushroom (onions, brie, garlic cream, house cheese blend, and white balsamic) are other standouts. Stellar starters include Shaved Brussels Sprouts & Arugula Salad and Angus Beef Meatballs served with house-baked soft rolls. Take home a couple of nostalgic oatmeal creme pie cookies, too. Three locations (Pilsen BYOB, Old Town - carry-out and delivery only, and full-service Evanston) mean there's a Pilsen style pizza within reach.
Recommended for Pizza because: Pilsen-style pizza is a definite contender in the battle of the best pies in Chicago.
Jacky's expert tip: Wilde's impressive meatballs star on a secret menu pizza that includes basil, banana peppers, pickled onions and roasted garlic. Just ask for it.
It's not burnt! That crust at Pequod's Pizza is perfectly caramelized and even though the Lincoln Park outpost is also wildly popular, pie aficionados drive to the original in Morton Grove (1971) for a truly sensational pizza in an unpretentious, rustic setting. Inside and out, Pequod's looks and feels like an old Wisconsin bar but the scent is pure Chicago. This is pan pizza made heavenly by a sprinkling of cheese between the dough and the pan which exits the oven looking burnt but tasting like a perfect marriage of crusty bread and caramelized cheese. Pequod's is generous with toppings (the sausage is a proprietary recipe made especially for the two restaurants) and the weekday lunch special at both outposts is phenomenal: $6.95 for a 7-inch cheese pizza. There's also thin crust (same dough and toppings, just flat) but why?
Recommended for Pizza because: There are some Chicagoans who may actually fight you if you don't count Pequod's Pizza as one of the best in the city.
Jacky's expert tip: Call ahead and your pizza will be on your table in no time flat - otherwise, you'll suffer for around 35 minutes watching others indulge.