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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas Photography
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas Photography

11 essential Chicago pizzas you have to try

Experience the breadth of the city’s pizzeria offering by trying these essential Chicago pizzas

By Zach Long in association with Truff
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What Chicago pizzas should you try? The answer to that question is complicated and lengthy. Of course you should try local delicacies like deep dish pizza and tavern-style pie. But Chicago offers more than its homegrown varieties of ‘za—delicious renditions of Detroit-style, Neapolitan and even New Haven-style pizza throughout the city as well. If you’re exploring the best pizza spots in Chicago, we’ve narrowed down some specific pies to try as you eat your way through the city. Don’t worry vegetarians and vegans, we’ve included some options for you! 

Some people come to this South Side pizzeria for the old-school ambiance, but everyone else comes out of necessity—Vito & Nick’s doesn’t offer delivery of its square-cut speciality. The tavern-style pizzas here are worth the journey, combining a crisp, cracker-thin crust (made according to an eight-decade-old recipe) with your choice of toppings. Bring a few friends and pair a simple sausage pie with a pitcher of Old Style.

There’s no denying that Paulie Gee’s makes a mean Neapolitan-style wood fired pizza, but the New York-based franchise’s Logan Square outpost also serves an award-winning Detroit-style pie. Owner Derrick Tung won the 2018 U.S. Pizza Cup with a recipe that features three types of cheese, cupping pepperoni, bacon jam and hot honey. Served on a hearty crust lined with crispy caramelized cheese, it’s easy to taste why this one’s a winner.

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If you thought a slice of deep dish was formidable, just wait until you dig into a pizza pot pie. Served in half- or one-pound varieties, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. 's unconventional delicacy encases melted cheese, whole mushrooms, sausage and a special sauce in a bowl-like shell of dough. Arrive prepared to wait for a table—this subterranean Lincoln Park spot always seems to draw a crowd.

Peanut butter and jelly. Tomato soup and grilled cheese. Pizza and fried chicken. Some combinations were simply meant to be. At this brewery in Wicker Park, you can get a New Haven-style pie (known for its oblong shape and slightly charred thin crust) topped with chunks of crispy bird supplied by the folks at Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Avondale. Bits of blue cheese, sliced scallions and a generous drizzle of buffalo sauce make this collaborative ‘za soar.

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Aside from a handful of local pizzeria chains, Pequod’s is one of the most frequently- recommended spots for deep dish in all of Chicago—and rightfully so. Whether you sit down at Pequod’s in Morton Grove or Lincoln Park, you can order a pan pizza with a caramelized crust that is worth the inevitable wait (these pies take time). We recommend limiting yourself to a couple of toppings and coming to terms with the fact that you probably won’t be able to consume much more than two slices in one sitting.

A beloved Rogers Park bar that’s been serving tavern-style pizza for decades, Candlelite is known for its distinctive marquee sign and a specialty pie that will ward off vampires. The Candlelite White is covered in cloves of roasted garlic, set atop a bed of caramelized onions, mozzarella, parmesan, provolone and goat cheese. It’s packed with so much flavor that you won’t even notice that this square-cut ‘za is entirely sauceless.

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Middle Brow may be best known for its beer, but the brewery’s Logan Square restaurant churns out some impressive sourdough pizzas that are a few cuts above your typical pub grub. The best of the bunch is the Mushroom Pizza, which piles oyster mushrooms, caramelized onions and fontina cheese atop a base of cremini mushroom cream. In our experience, this pie doesn’t travel very well, so dining in offers the optimal experience—don’t worry, you won’t have any trouble finishing it.

Why do dollops of ricotta cheese atop a pizza immediately make your mouth start watering? We have no idea, but the best pie at Coalfire puts dollops of the delicious whipped dairy product on a pepperoni pie right after it’s been (quickly) cooked in a 1,500-degree coal-burning oven. If you love bubbly crust that’s ever-so-slightly-charred, head to Lakeview or West Town and get your order in.

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Dante’s Pizzeria is known for its generous slices and extremely large New York-style pies, which clock in at 20 inches. Aside from specialty creations named after elements of Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, Dante’s is also notable for offering a robust selection of vegan-friendly ‘zas. Our favorite of the bunch is the Vegan Diavalo, drizzled in garlic oil and topped with poblano pepper, as well as vegan pepperoni and vegan mozzarella.

Margherita at Spacca Napoli
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas Photography

10. Margherita at Spacca Napoli

Plenty of Chicago pizzerias serve Neapolitan-style pizza, but few approach the dish with the eye for detail of Spacca Napoli co-owners Jon Goldsmith and Ginny Sykes. Using carefully-sourced ingredients that are cooked in an oven built by artisans from Napoli, this Ravenswood institution truly feels like a slice of Italy. The Margherita may be among the simplest pies offered, but it provides an unadulterated showcase of Spacca Napoli’s fior di latte cheese, San Marzano sauce and bubbly wood-fired crust.

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You’ll have to plan ahead to get your hands on one of George Bumbaris’ artisanal deep dish pizzas, which are made in limited batches that can be pre-ordered up to a week in advance. Each pie sports a sourdough focaccia-style crust that Bumbaris has spent years developing, dusted in cornmeal and surrounded by a ring of crispy caramelized cheese. The Halas’ Classic (named for the former Chicago Bears owner) is a good place to start, crowned with Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and red onions.

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