Where to Eat Pizza in Chicago Right Now
While the Netflix series Emily in Paris famously sneered at it, deep-dish Chicago-style pizza is no joke: tall, bread-made walls embrace a dense inch of cheese, sauce, and toppings. It's the kind of stuff tourists come for and locals only eat once or twice a year, usually in the dead of winter when coping with sub-zero temps. Deep-dish may be the city's most well-known variety, but it's only a slice of Chicago's pizza scene.
True Chicago-style pizza is tavern-style—a thin crust pie cut into squares, not slices. This gives you three types of slice choices: a gooey, crustless square that greases your fingers; a small triangle edge that might be more dough than topping; or a floppy rectangle that droops with cheese and sauce. Whichever piece you choose, you're going to need more than one.
In 2018, Steve Dolinsky, a 13-time James Beard Award-winning food reporter, published Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America's Greatest Pizza Town. For his research, he spent months eating more than 185 different pizza varieties, finding that tavern-style pizza is the preferred type among locals. However, in a city famous for its boundary-pushing restaurants, pizza is far more than an affordable, no-fuss dining option.
The evolution of pizza in Chicago is a direct result of its growing reputation as a restaurant destination. Pizza has gone from a working-class snack designed to increase beer sales in bars to a fixture in high-end restaurants like Grant Achatz's Michelin-starred Next.
While pizza brings people together, the matter of naming the "best" in the city is divisive. Giordano's, Lou Malnati's, Uno's, and Gino's East are among the most popular chains. Piece, Vito and Nick's, Pequod's, and Pat's are neighborhood hot spots most locals are bound to namecheck. But in a city where Google spits out over 334,000 results for "Chicago pizzerias," it's worth venturing beyond the obvious and to the places where Chicagoans go after volleyball league games on North Avenue, or while waiting for a Sox game, or when they want to impress co-workers in the Loop.
Exchequer is the rare pizza place in the Loop that is not part of a chain. Its location in the business hub of the city and its connection to Al Capone (it used to be a speakeasy he might have frequented) guarantee a steady stream of locals and tourists. For more than 50 years Exchequer has served a mix of deep-dish and thin crust pizzas. While it's not the obvious choice for pizza, it is a place where Loop workers commute in on the weekend to pick up an exceptional pie. exchequerpub.com
Ranalli's is the go-to spot for North-siders. Because it's so close to the beach, zoo, and park, the 175-person patio is almost always full, but it's worth the wait for one of their thin pizzas. The crust is always crispy, the toppings are plentiful and perfectly rationed, and you'll always find that pleasingly gritty cornmeal on the bottom. Ranalli's offers a number of specialty pizzas like the prosciutto and arugula; a spicy pie made with habanero chicken, jalapeños, and pepper jack cheese; and an Italian sausage, mushroom, green peppers, and onion combo. But in a place that's been around for more than 45 years, a classic cheese, pepperoni, or sausage pizza does the trick. ranallislincolnpark.com
Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream
The trio behind the pizza portion of Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream in Bridgeport perfected their recipe over seven years, recruiting friends to taste their pies and share feedback. Their cracker-thin-crust pizza is made with a homemade red sauce and mozzarella cheese, which they describe as "the true pizza style of Chicago." Toppings like pepperoni, hot soppressata, giardiniera, and mushrooms can be added for an additional cost. pfcic.com
Opened in 2007, Coalfire is the start of a change for Chicago pizza. As its name implies, they use a coal-fire oven to make Neapolitan-style pies with unique toppings. Their honey and salami pizza features mozzarella next to Berkshire sopressata, honey, and Calabrian chili—a pie that many across the city have copied. For veggie lovers, the funghi pie includes cremini and portobello mushrooms with truffle cream (and two other vegetarian and vegan options). The 'nduja is one of the most popular pizzas made with mozzarella, Berkshire sausage, 'nduja-infused whipped ricotta, Calabrian chili, and chopped basil. coalfirechicago.com
Pizza & Parm
Chef Bill Kim is one of the city's most versatile chefs. The Charlie Trotter alum's range spans ramen to modern American and beyond. As of the pandemic, the James Beard Award-nominated chef has entered the pizza space, debuting Pizza & Parm, which features Detroit-style pizza. It's a virtual restaurant housed in his existing Urbanbelly restaurant in Wicker Park. There are four specialty pizzas to choose, some of which draw from his Korean BBQ expertise: ricotta and arugula; double smoked pork and pineapple; BBQ katsu chicken; Korean BBQ ground beef and kimchi; or build your own. cbkpizzaparm.com