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 pizzaioli are piling everything from arugula and fried eggs to pears and figs onto their pies insuring one could actually eat pizza a couple 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. With 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. Armand's has a long familial pizza history in this town, too, so get to Armand's Victory Tap for an excellent rendition of the Chicago tavern style pizza (and fantastic Chicken Vesuvio - another Chicago creation). 

Deep dish pizza has it 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 coal-fired pizza like the one at Slyce and the Roman renditions at Bonci.  You can also sample Chicago's interpretation of Quad Cities, New Haven and Detroit style pizza around town. Abbondanza, indeed.

 

 



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Roots uses a dark-roasted malt that results in a tender, chewy, slightly sweet and complex crust you won't find anywhere outside of the Quad Cities. The dough's malt-heavy "spice jam," spicy red sauce dotted with chili flakes and cayenne pepper and scissor cut strips of pizza make a trip to West Town or Lincoln Square a must. The dough is hand tossed, the sausage is made in-house and cheese covers the toppings. Interesting choices include a short rib pizza and Roots Chef Series Specialty Pizzas such as a chili cheese curd number from Antique Taco's main guy. Choose among more than 100 Midwestern craft beers, select bourbons and cocktails, wines by the glass and bottle, and the signature Roots Root Beer.


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After founder Burt Katz' passing in 2016, the new owners 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.


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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 and broccoli 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 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..


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Outside the city


 

The city doesn't have a corner on locally grown and hormone free products atop coal-fired pies. When on the North Shore or northwest 'burbs, stop in for a perfectly charred pizza at Slyce. Farmers providing fresh produce are hyper local in Slyce's case and you can taste it on pizza or concentrated in a massive salad - try the Farmers Market that changes daily or the Sicilian with greens, toasted pine nuts, shaved Parm, nubs of salty prosciutto and sweet vinaigrette. Winning starters include coal roasted lemon basil chicken wings or hand-rolled meatballs bathed in a three-day Sunday gravy. You schlepped here for the pie and since all are 12 inches, order two or more because they reheat nicely. You can certainly be a know-it-all and build-your-own but you can't miss with #8 among the 16 red and white pizzas. It stars diced pancetta, garlic, spinach, Calabrian chili and mascarpone.


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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 is identical to the stuff used on the thin, crisp pizza in the mid 60's (when this location opened). From the strips of carpet panelling the walls to the neighborhood folks celebrating team wins and birthdays, Vito & Nick's is truly a slice of old Chicago. 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.


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You have to admit - she had you at the name. Marie's Pizza & Liquors effortlessly zaps you back to the 1950's with charming waitstaff, jazz trios entertaining, delicious 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 under $20. Marie's has a parking lot and there's street parking, too.


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Armand's pizza is sold at three locations in Chicago proper, as well as suburbs like Arlington Heights and Elmhurst. The South Loop's Armand's Victory Tap is the only location that offers the perfectly executed tavern style pizza as well as Italian American favorites from Rosebud's former executive chef. Old timers know and love tavern style pie for its thin, crispy crust, hearty sauce, deep flavors and square cuts. Armand's adds a dusting of corn meal providing extra crispiness and delicious mouthfeel. The Elmwood Park Combo features Armand's tasty Italian sausage, Italian beef and Armand's own Hot Giardiniera. It's hard not to order "Chicago's Best Thin Crust Pizza," but you can also try pan style (thick and crisp); interesting 10-inch olive oil and tomato based appetizer pies; a rectangular Yardstick pizza for 8-10 people; or nostalgic Italian American dishes like Chicken Vesuvio and home made lasagna.


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Lou Malnati's Pizzeria - Gold Coast
Photo courtesy of Official Facebook


 

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 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 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. Start with the robust Malnati salad: Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, salami bits and Gorgonzola cheese with sweet vinaigrette and Romano cheese. 


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Pizano's is also a Malnati family joint producing stellar 'za. Rudy, Lou's half brother, was the big cheese at Pizzeria Uno when deep dish was born. Rudy Jr. opened Pizano's in 1991 as an homage to his dad's innovation and 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. Visit any of the six locations for the same incredible quality.


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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, argula. Moisten the pipes with single-serve beer, wine and canned cocktails. The place is small and gets mobbed at lunch time.


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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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