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Chicago Lands the Best Pizza on the Planet



A Chicagoan's favorite pizza place used to be the closest one in the neighborhood but the proliferation of restaurants has expanded the palate and the pies. These days pizzaiolo are piling everything from arugula and fried eggs to pears and figs onto their pies insuring one could actually eat pizza a couple of times per week and not bore the palate. Pizza is no longer something you settle upon ordering but can get excited about with all of the crusts, toppings, baking methods and pizza parlors calling Chicago home. 

Every tourist knows s/he must try a Chicago style deep dish and a tavern style - a thin crust pie cut into squares with a flavorful sauce and lots of cheese (a la Aurelio's, Marie's and Vito & Nick's. With more than 50 locations in the Chicago area, you're never far from some of the best Chicago style deep dish at Lou Malnati's.  It's continued expansion across the city and suburbs has not affected the high quality of each handmade pizza (and a new restaurant opens on the Mag Mile in the Wrigley Building in fall of 2019). The unique caramelized crust of Pequod's has south siders driving all the way to Morton Grove (but you can get it at the Lincoln Park locale, too).  

Deep dish pizza has its fans and detractors but the pan style at Burt's Place changed Anthony Bourdain's mind about Chicago's gift to the culinary world.  Neapolitan, with its charred, bubbly crust is everywhere and don't allow the taste buds to miss a top-notch Roman rendition at Bonci. Chef Jeff Lutzow cold ferments his crusts before baking in a brick-lined oven resulting in uniformly charred exceptional crusts at Pizzeria Bebu, which, by the way, earned a place on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list in 2019. Abbondanza, indeed, and pass a glass of the red. 

 

 


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This is pizza before pizza got all fancy. Marie's Pizza & Liquors effortlessly zaps you back to the 1950s with charming waitstaff, jazz trios entertaining, Italian beef and salads plus tavern style pizzas with a cracker-thin crust and an easy price tag. The fact that you can buy a bottle of grapes at the liquor store and have it with your pizza is a plus. Seven decades on the northwest side and employees working there for 20-30 years means Marie's must be doing the pizza business right. Not to mention that in the 21st century, you can get a large Marie's Special - sausage, green pepper, onion and mushroom on a cracker thin and crispy crust for $20. Come out on a Thursday for live jazz and martinis for a way-too-easy $5.50. Marie's has a parking lot and there's street parking, too.

Recommended for Pizza because: Revisit the mid 20th century at Marie's for inexpensive tasty pizza and an adjacent liquor store for adult beverages.

Jacky's expert tip: The pizza lover's lunch (until 4 p.m.) includes a small salad or soup and a personal sized one-topping pizza for $6.95.

Read more about Marie's Pizza & Liquors →


Burt's Place


After founder Burt Katz' passing in 2016, the new owner's effort to replicate Katz's pizza received the stamp of approval from the family. Burt's Place still turns out impressive deep-dish pies, not belly-busting thick but crispy and caramelized with a one-of-a-kind flavorful sauce. Do yourself a favor and call ahead and pre-order your meal. It's small and can get crowded when the kitchen is slammed - ergo the reservation suggestion. The pan pizza is lighter on the sauce and cheese than at other places but perfectly balanced with fresh toppings and just made dough that doesn't skimp on the butter. Don't miss a pie with house-made sausage and giardiniera. There's a bigger selection of beer and wine these days, too.

Recommended for Pizza because: The pizza at Burt's Place changed Anthony Bourdain's deep dish loathing mind about the Chicago culinary institution.

Jacky's expert tip: Call to make a reservation and order your meal to cut down the wait.

Read more about Burt's Place →




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 miss with one of the award winning Piece brews (Piece is Chicago's most award-winning brewpub). If you're in a group, consider ordering an array of different small pizzas for a tasty adventure - white pizza with broccoli and goat cheese, for example. Pizza fans return for the generously sized and 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: Weekends are packed so be prepared to wait or show up in the early evening.

Read more about Piece Pizzeria & Brewery →


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The family biz served the south suburbs and Chicago's South Loop for 59 years before opening a northside location in 2018 just a few blocks from Wrigley Field. The original family recipe for thin crust pizza has earned Aurelio's a spot on many "best" lists over the years. Regulars rave about the proprietary sauce that gives the pie a unique "zing" and newbies are thrilled with the boulders of sausage. Expats bypass famous deep dish pizza havens to get a nostalgic taste of Aurelio's whenever they return for a visit. The original location in Homewood is very family oriented; the South Loop caters to college students, business people, residents of the burgeoning neighborhood, museum campus visitors and Lollapalooza patrons in the summer. In addition to thin crust, Aurelio's offers a satisfying antipasto salad; stuffed and thick crust pizza; Mama Aurelio's Calabrese™ - a calzone kind of dish; pasta; and dynamite sandwiches including homemade sausage, meatball and Italian sub.

Recommended for Pizza because: Aurelio's was a pioneer in the family pizzeria concept in the US and still serves its satisfying Chicago thin crust tavern cut pizza.

Jacky's expert tip: Aurelio's in Wrigleyville has 25 60-inch HDTV's playing every Cubs game, an open-air patio and pregame food and drink specials.

Read more about Aurelio's Pizza →


Vito & Nick's Pizzaria
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Vito & Nick's


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.

Read more about Vito & Nick's Pizzaria →




Pizano's is also a Malnati family joint producing stellar 'za. Rudy, Lou's half brother, was the big cheese at Pizzeria Uno when a deep dish was born. Rudy Jr. opened Pizano's in 1991 as an homage to his dad's innovation and a stickler for quality. Pizano's thin crust pie sufficiently impressed Oprah Winfrey (when she lived and worked here) that she dubbed it her favorite. No wonder - the thin crust stands up to a barrage of toppings without losing its crunch. Even Rudy's Special - cheese, sausage, mushroom, onion, and green pepper - doesn't compromise the crust. The deep dish is a fragrant, bubbling thing of wonder, too, with its buttery crust - try Mark's Special. a heady combo of sliced tomatoes, basil and fresh garlic and you won't miss the meat. In that case, sample Mama Malnati's Homemade Meatballs. All six locations offer the same incredible quality.

Recommended for Pizza because: It's not "just pizza," when that satisfying, flavorful pie with an abundance of toppings emerges from Pizano's ovens.

Jacky's expert tip: Fowl fans will also go for traditional Italian chicken dishes from Vesuvio and Marsala to Parm to Cacciatore and Parm.

Read more about Pizano's Pizza & Pasta →




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 more than 50 locations in the Chicago area and two in AZ (Cubs' spring training fans have to eat somewhere). 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, 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.

Read more about Lou Malnati's Pizzeria - Gold Coast →




Pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci chose Chicago as his first pizzeria location outside of Italy and the throngs 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 cured meats, cheeses and seasonal produce. Recent choices include hummus and mortadella; spinach, ricotta and anchovy; spicy eggplant; and mushroom, prosciutto crudo, mozzarella, arugula. Moisten the pipes with single-serve beer, wine and canned cocktails. The place is small and gets mobbed 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.

Read more about Bonci Pizza →


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Lincoln Park


Whereas most purists go for a cheese and sausage, the combinations at Pizzeria Bebu are so appealing, diners usually order more than one pizza because deciding is a welcome conundrum. Whatever you order - the Peter Piper; a Hot Daisy; a house-made meatball with giardiniera, ricotta, Parmesan - know that ingredients are lolling atop a perfectly charred yet nicely chewy crust. Another great feature? Pizzas, all 14-inch, can be done as half and half. The market pizza changes often, salads are generously sized and seasonal veg - like asparagus with fennel crema, breadcrumbs and lemon zest - make a nice addition to a pizza feast. By the way, Bebu earned a spot on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list in 2019. Bebu serves brunch weekends until 2 p.m. It's closed on Tuesday and Wednesday so calm your pizza jones for the other five days of the week.

Recommended for Pizza because: Chef Jeff Lutzow cold ferments his crusts before baking in a brick-lined oven resulting in uniformly charred exceptional crusts.

Jacky's expert tip: Weekends can be busy so make a reservation. If you're thirsty after all that cheese, Off Color Brewery's taproom is a block away.

Read more about Pizzeria Bebu →


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Morton Grove


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 for a truly sensational pizza in an unpretentious 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 propriety recipe made especially for the two restaurants) and the weekday lunch special at both outposts is phenomenal:$4.95 for a 7-inch cheese and an extra buck gets you a fountain drink. 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.

Read more about Pequod's Pizza →


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Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky

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