Expert Picks: Chicago’s Best Pizzas


Chicago is often synonymous with its famed deep-dish variety, famously likened to “lasagna in a bread bowl” by some. However, the Windy City boasts a rich pizza landscape beyond deep-dish, encompassing three distinct and iconic styles: deep-dish, stuffed, and Chicago thin, affectionately known as tavern style.

Steve Dolinsky, a well-regarded local food reporter and author of “Pizza City, USA,” has been instrumental in illuminating Chicago’s diverse pizza scene. He emphasizes that while deep-dish pizza garners much attention, it wasn’t the city’s first pizza creation. That distinction belongs to the taverns of the 1940s,thin-crust pizzas were born out of a need to complement post-work drinks with a salty snack. These early pizzas were cut into squares, perfect for sharing among patrons on cocktail napkins.

The evolution towards deep-dish began in 1943 when Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, operating in Chicago’s bustling River North, developed a revolutionary pizza concept. Using cake pans from the bar’s previous tenant, they created a deep-dish pizza characterized by its thick, bread-like crust pressed into a pan, layered with cheese, toppings, and chunky tomato sauce. This innovation eventually led to the opening of Pizzeria Uno, later renamed Uno’s Pizzeria & Grill.

The innovation did not stop there. In 1971, Rocco Palese introduced another Chicago staple: the stuffed pizza, inspired by his mother’s Italian pizza rustica. This pizza, crafted at Nancy’s Pizzeria, features a second layer of dough enclosing copious fillings beneath a thick layer of sauce. Despite its deep-dish roots, stuffed pizza stands as a distinct category in Chicago’s pizza pantheon.

These varied styles underscore Chicago’s pizza diversity, ensuring that residents and visitors alike have ample options beyond the deep-dish stereotype. Here are some of Dolinsky’s top picks for quintessential Chicago pizzas :

  1. Pat’s Pizzeria on North Lincoln Avenue
  • Specialty: Thin-crust pizza
  • Description: Established in 1950, Pat’s Pizzeria quickly gained popularity on Chicago’s North Side for its rendition of thin-crust pizza. Dolinsky highlights Pat’s iconic dough, which undergoes a meticulous process of overnight proofing, sheeting, and curing to achieve an exceptionally thin and crispy crust. Topped generously with sauce, cheese, and crumbled fennel sausage, Pat’s thin-crust pizza offers a savory and crunchy delight reminiscent of “a salty cracker dipped in tomato sauce.
  1. The Original Vito & Nick’s Pizzeria
  • Specialty: Cracker-thin pizza
  • Description: Dating back to 1923, Vito & Nick’s Pizzeria on Chicago’s South Side stands as a testament to traditional thin-crust pizza craftsmanship. Originating as a tavern and evolving into a pizza hotspot by 1946, Vito & Nick’s pizza features a distinct cracker-thin crust adorned with a thin layer of tomato sauce, raw bulk Italian sausage, and whole milk mozzarella. Baked directly on a stone deck oven, the pizza develops a textured “undercarriage” with charred spots, adding to its appeal. Served in squares, it offers patrons a choice between the crispy edges or the gooey center.
  • History: Founder Nick Barraco’s decree in 1965 to never offer delivery still stands, preserving the authenticity of their original recipe and dining experience.

Beyond these standout pizzerias, Dolinsky underscores the importance of less-is-more philosophy when it comes to Chicago pizza. Key toppings like raw fennel sausage and giardiniera (pickled vegetables) are celebrated for enhancing flavor without overpowering the essence of the pizza.

the Chicago may be globally renowned for its deep-dish pizza, the city’s pizza culture encompasses a rich tapestry of styles that cater to every palate. Whether indulging in the hearty depths of a stuffed pizza, savoring the crispy simplicity of tavern-style thin crust, or exploring the decadent layers of a classic deep-dish, Chicago offers a pizza experience that transcends its stereotypes and delights pizza aficionados and novices alike.


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