Even those who love and proselytize the buttery, flaky, crust and cheese-and-sauce overload that is Chicago deep-dish style will tell you what you may not know about the city’s pie scene: there’s more nuance to Windy City pizza than cast iron and waiting half an hour for your pizza to cook. There are plenty of tavern-style and thin-crust pies that deserve just as much attention as deep-dish icons like Gino’s, Uno, Lou Malnati’s, Burt’s, and Pequod’s. These and other pizza icons make determining Chicago’s best extremely difficult, but this year’s panel of experts narrowed it down to15 spots that were better than all the rest.
View List: 15 Best Pizzas in Chicago Slideshow
Deep-dish pizza is about 40 years younger than the fare that Gennaro Lombardi started selling in New York City at the country’s first pizzeria. Even so, the 70 years since its invention have been enough time to establish backstories and traditions that are just as complicated as any of the best pizzerias in Gotham. And interwoven generations of pizza families have carried on traditions and created new ones. So as you’d expect, some of those pizzerias, places like Pizzeria Uno (and Due), Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s, Pizano’s, and Pequod’s will obviously be found on this list. But the past decade has shown that Chicago is more than deep dish.
One of the first perception shifts was with the establishment of a Neapolitan beachhead with Spacca Napoli in 2006. The restaurant has garnered a laundry list of accolades, from the 2013 Michelin Bib Gourmand Award to a 27 out of 30 food rating on Zagat. The pizza is consistently applauded for its authenticity, as owner Jon Goldsmith travels to and from Naples regularly to study the flavors of the region. Other Neapolitan pizzerias, like Pizzeria da Nella Chicago by Nella Grassano have followed. So too has the spread of New Haven-style pizza, bringing more nuance and diversity to Chicago’s pizza landscape.
Between evaluating the greatest deep-dish icons, Chicago thin-crust pizza meccas, and Neapolitan newcomers, there are quite a few factors involved in considering a comprehensive list of Chicago’s best pizza. You may have read other sites that admit to a certain subjective arbitrariness in their ranked lists. To avoid that pitfall, The Daily Meal reached out to experts and advocates from the city and the nation to determine this list of Chicago’s best pizzas."Deep-dish pizza is about 40 years younger than the fare that Gennaro Lombardi started selling in New York City at the country’s first pizzeria. Even so, the 70 years since its invention have been enough time to establish backstories and traditions that are just as complicated as any of the best pizzerias in Gotham."
As part of the search for the 101 best pizzas in America, this year, some 33 pizzas in Chicago were considered by 78 panelists; more than ever in the history of our ranking. In addition to The Daily Meal’s in-house Chicago pizza experts and city editors, a number of restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and pizza authorities weighed in. Count among them Esquire and Bloomberg News columnist John Mariani, Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours, Jason Feirman of the blog I Dream of Pizza, and food writer Joe DiStefano of Chopsticks & Marrow, among others. Click here to view the full list (minus those who asked to remain anonymous), which even includes members of The Pizza Underground, the pizza-centric band featuring actor Macaulay Culkin.
Besides classics like the cheese deep-dish at Gino’s, the Numero Uno at Pizzeria Uno, the Chicago Classic at Lou Malnati’s, the cheese pie at Burt’s, and Pequod’s sausage and pepperoni pie, this list of Chicago’s best pizzas includes the sunnyside-up organic egg D.O.P. with fontina from Nellcôte, Falco's sausage thin-crust, Marie's special pizza, and the pepperoni and banana peppers pie at Piece.
This list of 15 pizzas represents The Daily Meal’s final word on Chicago’s pizza scene for this year, but it doesn’t represent an end to the discussion around great pizza in Chicago in general. As has been noted, Chicago’s pizza scene continues to develop. Its neo-Neapolitan pizzas are getting better, its thin-crust pizzerias bloom, and its deep-dish tradition only gets stronger. For now, this represents the list of Chicago’s best pizzas, but there will be more great spots to consider next year.
#15 Pizzeria da Nella, Chicago, Ill. (Diavola: Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Spicy Salami, Red Pepper Flakes, Basil, Olive Oil)
Deep-dish dominates in Chicago, but as Spacca Napoli has shown, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for great Neapolitan pizzas too. There’s similar quality at Pizzeria da Nella in Lincoln Park, where pies are made in a wood-fired brick oven operated by former Spacca Napoli pizzaiolo Naples native Nella Grassano. Grassano has been credited with turning a light on in the city's collective consciousness, demonstrating what New Yorkers have been saying about Chicago pizza forever, that there’s much more to pizza than deep dish and tavern cracker crust. The pies at Pizzeria da Nella show off a little extra signature charring and chewy-crispiness adding texture and crunch.
#14 Pizano’s, Chicago, Ill. (Rudy's Special: Mozzarella, Sausage, Mushroom, Onion, Green Pepper)
Along with Katz, "Malnati" is another name synonymous with Chicago pizza history. Rudy Malnati Sr. opened his first restaurant, Pizzeria Uno, in 1943. Uno and his son Lou went on to storied success. But his other son Rudy has been just as much a part of any conversation about Chicago’s great pizzas since he opened Pizano's in 1991. There are now six Pizano’s locations, all known for serving equally good thin and deep-dish pizzas. You have a choice between their buttery and flaky "world famous, gourmet, deep-dish pizza" (don't forget to allow a half hour for it to cook), or the thin-crust 12-inch or 14-inch pies.