I'm married to a New Yorker who hails from Staten Island, home of some of the best Italian food in the country - at least according to my husband. While he loves Chicago, his home for more than 15 years, he still misses true New York-style pizza. To him, it's the best-in-class standard for all pizza - and greatly differs from many of the options available in Chicago, including our own "famous" stuffed pizza.
And, then there's me. I was born and raised in west suburban Oak Park and worked my way through high school and most of college at our local Giordano's. I started as a cashier and rose up the ranks to waitress. In doing so, I built up my upper arm strength thanks to carefully balancing and carrying hefty stuffed pizzas on my arms all day long. The reward for my hard work was pizza at break times and then more pizza to bring home to my family for dinner. At that time, it seemed to be stuffed pizza all the time - but my family and I didn't complain at all.
Searching for the best pizza in Chicago - for a Chicagoan and a New Yorker
While I fondly think of my husband and I as a match made in heaven, we are still working to find our favorite pizza place in Chicago - according to both of us. That's why we're always open to suggestions for new places and pizzas (or pies as my husband says) for us to try.
In honor of October being National Pizza Month, I put together a list of the best pizzerias in the Chicago area - thanks to our own experiences and recommendations from other pizza-savvy Chicagoans, too.
Here is our current list of the best pizza in the Chicago area:
1737 N. Harlem Ave., Elmwood Park
(with other locations at 953 W. Willow St., Chicago and 3150 N. Aurora Rd., Aurora)
Whenever Angie Jolie comes back to Chicago for a visit, she makes a stop at her favorite local pizza place - Amato's. She attributes the secret of their pizza success to the delicious sauce, great ratio of toppings, and the fact that they cut their pies into squares - like any good Chicago pizza. (Of course, my husband needs pizza cut into triangular slices. How else would a New Yorker be able to fold it in half to eat it?)
500 Lark St., Geneva
Sunyi Turoff suggests heading to Antonio's in west suburban Geneva for the best double-dough and gluten-free pizza. She also gives high marks to the amazing crust and sauce of their pizzas, and the welcoming owners and staff at the restaurant.
1633 N. Halsted St., Chicago (Lincoln Park)
Along a busy strip of Halsted St. across from the Steppenwolf Theatre is Balena, a popular "Italian-inspired restaurant." And, according to Jenna North, the place to go to have pizza with a nice char on the crust - and enjoy a selection from the restaurant's fantastic wine list. Balena offers a small list of 12'" pizzas with unique topping combinations like the one with grilled peaches, speck (an Italian cured meat), tropea onion, chevre (goat cheese) and arugula.
Barnaby's of Northbrook
960 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook
Before moving back to the city from the suburbs, my family spent a few years in the northern suburbs. While we were there, we heard time and time again that we had to try the thin, crispy, corn-meal crust pizza at Barnaby's of Northbrook - and we happily obliged. The self-serve pizza place, serving up pies for more than 40 years, has a great ambiance. We love that you order at the counter and bring your own pizza to your own table as soon as it's ready, making it a great casual, pizza option - especially when dining with young kids.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company
2121 N. Clark St., Chicago (Lincoln Park)
For years, I've heard stories about people indulging in individual-sized "Pizza Pot Pies" at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder in Lincoln Park. But, being that I'm married to a New Yorker, who views stuffed pizza as "quiche," it was never a viable dinner option for us. But, I just might have to reconsider trying this one out - at least on my own. According to Tracy Rinker, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder serves up awesome pizza that can't be missed. Plus, she likes that it's located across from one of Chicago's most infamous sites - the garage where the St. Valentine's Day Massacre happened on February 14, 1929. Can you think of a more uniquely Chicago experience?
2548 N. Clark St. (Lincoln Park)
Hannah Bloom said the magic words when recommending Cafe Luigi to me - "the best New York-style pizza in Chicago." So, of course, my New Yorker and I are destined to dine there soon. Cafe Luigi offers Neapolitan thin, Sicilian thick, and stuffed pizza - and even slices - which is sure to please Chicagoans and New Yorkers alike!
1321 W. Grand Ave. (West Town)
My husband, inspired by my forthcoming post on the best pizza in Chicago, took it upon himself to find the best pizza in his adopted hometown - and I think he did it. Coalfire in West Town serves up "an American spin on the traditional Neapolitan pizza" - made in "Chicago's original coal oven." The pizzeria touts that its pizzas come out with a distinct char - and that it does. We tried their margherita and Italian-fennel sausage pizzas and were won over by the charred crust, the taste, the fact that there isn't too much cheese, and there was zero grease left over on our plates. We were in love at first bite! Plus, as a nice touch, they package a cup of fresh basil for any margherita pizzas ordered for take out, making sure it's fresh and ready for you as soon as you sit down to dine.
31 S. First St., St. Charles
Sunyi Turoff also recommends Neo Pizzeria in west suburban St. Charles. She declares that it has the best wood-oven pizza in the Chicagoland area. Like with Antonio's, Sunyi attributes their culinary prowess to their pizza crust and sauce, and relishes the owners and staff who go out of their way to keep customers happy.
Various locations throughout the city and suburbs
Back in the day, we could always count on enjoying Lou Malnati's at annual fundraisers for my sister's former employer. That's part of the reason Kim still recommends it to anyone asking to be steered to a good pizza place that and it serves up tasty, authentic Chicago pizza. She's also quick to point out that their new-ish location at 1120 N. State St. offers visitors a great vantage point to enjoy real Chicago pizza in the heart of the Gold Coast.
Janet Rothkopf is also quick to give it a thumbs up, opting to take out-of-town guests to Lou Malnati's for the real Chicago pizza experience.
8520 Fernald Ave., Morton Grove
I credit my cousins, Jeff Schwartz and Karen Cielo, for introducing my husband and I to Pequod's in Morton Grove. The rustic place, seemingly hidden on a residential side street, packs people in all day long - and makes sure they leave pleasantly stuffed with pizza. While there also is a Pequod's in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood (2207 N. Clybourn Ave.), Jeff insists the Morton Grove location has the better crust. Regardless, the pizzeria's well-deserved claim to fame is its pan-style pizza with a "caramelized crust" edge. At Pequod's, the darker the better - as my cousins always told us.
Pizzeria da Nella
1443 W. Fullerton, Chicago (Lincoln Park)
Mary Anne Ellis recommends the authentic Neapolitan pizzas at Pizzeria da Nella in Lincoln Park. She insists the pizzeria, which proudly displays its membership in the Associazione Pizzaivoli Napoletan, has the most divine thin-crust pizza, which can be enjoyed on a lovely secluded patio. Mary Anne also shared the fantastic fact that kids eat free at Pizzeria da Nella on Tuesdays.
2827 N. Broadway St., Chicago (Lakeview)
My sister-in-law, Julie, a fellow New Yorker, spent many years in Chicago before making the move back to the Big Apple. While she was here, Julie made Renaldi's Pizza one of her pizzas of choice in the Windy City. The 30-year-old pizzeria serves up thin-crust, pan and Sicilian-style pizza - even as late as 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
1769 W. Sunnyside Ave. (Ravenswood)
Yelena Spector always steers me in the right direction when it comes to Chicago foods. So, I can't wait to give her favorite pizzeria, Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood, a try. The pizzeria serves up individual-sized authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. You can choose from a variety of pizzas that are either Pizze Rosse (traditional red sauce) or Pizze Bianche (made without red sauce, but topped with olive oil) - with some of my favorite toppings like the one with mozzeralla di bufala, arugula and basil.
What other Chicago pizzerias would you add to the list? Please share your recommendations and I'll be sure to keep a running tally for those of us who are constantly on the hunt for the best pizza in Chicago - that Chicago and New Yorkers alike would love!
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