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Bill's Original Tavern Pizza
Photograph: Nick Murway

Why 2020 was the Year of Pizza in Chicago

When the going gets tough, the tough find solace in dough, sauce and cheese.

Morgan Olsen
Zach Long
Written by
Morgan Olsen
&
Zach Long
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In times of uncertainty, we tend to reach for creature comforts. It makes sense, then, that so many Chicago chefs tried their hand at pizza in 2020. Infinitely riffable, easily transportable and relatively cheap, the already-beloved dish was a no-brainer for culinary greats everywhere. And let's face it, Chicagoans aren’t complaining either. Entries to the scene came in many shapes and sizes, from Paulie Gee's picnic-ready slices and Ruth's buttery deep dish to Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream's impossibly thin tavern-style take.

The business models are equally varied, showing just how resourceful restaurateurs have had to be this year. In Ukrainian Village, beloved brunch spot Bite Cafe was transformed into Pizza Friendly Pizza, where guests pick up Sicilian-style pies from a window off the back alley. Out in Oak Brook, chef Bill Kim recently debuted a takeout-only ghost kitchen that deals in Detroit-style 'za. And then there's Giant owner Jason Vincent, who rented a food truck earlier this year to take his slices on the road.

We're calling it: 2020 was the Year of Pizza in Chicago, and it couldn't have come at a better time. To help you explore the pie shops (and pivots) that debuted in 2020, we organized the newcomers by style—from deep dish and tavern to New York slices. Clear your dinner schedule and order in tonight.

RECOMMENDED: Discover more of the best pizza in Chicago

The best new pizza in Chicago, sorted by style

New York
Photograph: Wade McElroy

New York

No matter what former President Barack Obama has to say about his preferred slice, there's no reason to swear allegiance to pizza from a specific city—especially during a year when a couple of great New York-style options arrived in Chicago. Instead of reopening its dining room, Big Apple import Paulie Gee’s started slinging NY slices from its window in Logan Square, topped with everything from pepperoni cups that curl into tasty little grease pools to vegan-friendly falafel (a new Paulie Gee's Slice Shop is also slated to open in the former home of Bonci in Wicker Park in the coming weeks). Nearby, Heisler Hospitality debuted Pizza Lobo, where 16-inch pies laden with toppings get portioned into authentically foldable slices. Heck, we're not ashamed to admit that we're hungry for even more floppy thin-crust creations, particularly if someone can bring New York’s ubiquitous $1 slice to our fair city.

Deep dish
Photograph: Ruth’s Panmade Pizza/Sarah Zelman

Deep dish

Chicago’s most iconic dish is also one of its most hotly debated traditions, which might explain why we don’t often see new deep dish joints opening every day. Leave it to 2020 to change that, with not one but two exciting additions. First came Milly’s Pizza in the Pan, a ghost kitchen that dishes out an incredibly limited number of pies. It's worth the wait to get your hands on the fan-favorite Que Suerte, which is loaded with pineapple, cherry tomatoes, jalapeño and brown sugar bacon. Also new to the scene is Ruth's Panmade Pizza, a delivery-only outfit from the folks behind Roots Handmade Pizza. Named for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the shop donates 10 percent of all proceeds to the ACLU of Illinois to support women’s and reproductive rights. That's a win-win in our book.

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Sicilian
Photograph: Clayton Hauck

Sicilian

It was hip to be square in Chicago this year, so long as the squares in question were slabs of Sicilain pizza. Though the execution varies, the classic Italian style favors a thick but airy crust that provides an ample base for hearty toppings that might cause a thinner pie buckle. It's the type of 'za that upscale Logan Square restaurants Giant and Table, Donkey and Stick added to their takeout menus, stacked with creative ingredients. It's also the star of Noah Sandoval's (Oriole, Kumiko, Kikko) Pizza Friendly Pizza, a collaboration with 16" on Center partner Bruce Finkleman that requires a trip into the alley behind the Empty Bottle to grab your food. And let's not forget the crispy thrice-baked Sicilian squares from chef Mickey Neely that were a hit on the Ludlow Liquors patio over the summer, where you could snag a slice or a whole pizza to share with your pod.

Detroit
Photograph: Courtesy Cornerstone Restaurant Group

Detroit

It’s not hard to understand why Chicagoans were so quick to accept Detroit-style 'za—the thick, chewy and saucy pies aren't terribly far off from deep dish. Adding some local flair to the square-cut import are two new ghost kitchens: B Square Pizza from Lettuce Entertain You and Chef Bill Kim’s Pizza & Parm Shop. If it's a specialty pie you’re after, queue up an order from B Square, where the dough is topped with everything from meatballs and truffle oil to pickled peppers and ricotta cheese. Meanwhile, Kim keeps it classic, dishing out cheese, sausage and pepperoni—all of which come accompanied by a caramelized cheese crust.

We'd be remiss if we didn't give a shoutout to Five Squared, a roving food truck that specializes in 5-inch Detroit-style squares that can be mixed and matched. Owners Jenn and Steve Kaplan pivoted back in March to offer weekly Friday night deliveries of their famous slices, which are topped with everything from fried chicken and mac and cheese to hot giardiniera.

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Tavern
Photograph: Nick Murway

Tavern

Born in bars where patrons needed something more substantial than a bowl of nuts to soak up the booze, Chicago's oft-overshadowed tavern-style pizza has long been the domain of classic pizzerias like Vito and Nick's and Candlelite. The past year has yielded some new options for fans of cracker-thin crust pies cut into tiny squares, most notably Bridgeport's aptly-named Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream, which serves a perfectly crisp version of the local delicacy alongside it’s poultry and frozen desserts. The folks at RPM Seafood recently launched the delivery-only Bill's Original Tavern Pizza from their kitchen, with eight speciality varieties (including a buffalo chicken pie served with ranch or blue cheese for dipping) and optional cauliflower crusts for the gluten adverse. These newcomers stand crust-to-crust with their local progenitors, right down to the last tiny sliver of a slice.

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