The 25 Best Pizzas in Chicago

We run down the best pizza places in Chicago. It’s the Pizza Top 25, Chicago style!

Margherita pizza at Coalfire (No. 5)   Photo: Anna Knott

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This feature is not meant to settle arguments about which style is best—as if we could—but rather to celebrate the blessed landscape. So I, a man with a huge pizza passion and no deep-seated regional biases, spent months in search of pies that were particularly fresh, balanced, and distinctive. This being Chicago, I found them in every corner of the city and suburbs. Here, the 25 tastiest pizzas in town and where to get them. (Launch the gallery.) Plus, “64 Lines About 32 Pizzas,” my song and video tribute to the world of Chicago pizzerias.

1 Great Lake

Cremini mushrooms, Dante cheese

Thin: Nick Lessins, the chef/owner of Great Lake, is not just in a league of his own; he’s the only one playing his particular sport. You may have heard him called a genius, a god, or a grump, depending on whom you ask and how long they waited for their pizza, but I’ve spent enough time in his tiny Andersonville storefront to conclude that he is none of the above. Lessins—a man with two college degrees and no car—is simply more dedicated and consistent than the competition. Whether the line is out the door or he’s stone alone, the Detroit native focuses on his craft rather than his customers, a fact that a percentage of the public will never understand, much less accept. But he’s exactly the same as he was before GQ, Food & Wine, The New York Times, and everyone else began telling him how great he was. Maybe better.

The creations he shapes so meticulously at his 12-seat BYO are launching pads to remarkable galaxies of flavor that no other Chicago pizzamaker comes close to matching. In his inspired combinations (only three options a night, depending on how Lessins feels and what he finds at the market), smoked bacon may dance with viscous crème fraîche and chives; roasted sunchokes might whisper sweet nothings to sheep’s milk cheese. His latest beauty has a legion of thin, black-peppery cremini mushrooms sinking into decadent aged Dante cheese on a dynamic, bulbous crust. The bread’s collar emphasizes a minuscule crispy exterior embedded with sea salt; its interior is impossibly airy. How Lessins coaxes such miracles from his tiny Montague HearthBake gas oven is one of Chicago’s great mysteries and treasures. 1477 W. BALMORAL AVE.; 773-334-9270

2 Piece

Plain with artichoke hearts

New Haven: When Billy Jacobs opened Piece in 2001, he was told New Haven– style pizza would go over like a lead pepperoni in Deep-Dish Land. Wrong. Piece’s astonishing plain pie (sauce, garlic, Parmesan, and oil on a chewy-crisp, hand-formed crust) replicates New Haven’s legendary Sally’s Apizza without the coal oven (Piece uses a Middleby gas oven). For Jacobs, a Connecticut native whose great-uncle’s produce market was intertwined with Sally’s in the 1940s, the sun still rises and sets in New Haven. “I can confidently say that the third-, fourth-, or even fifth-best pie in New Haven would be the best pie almost anywhere else,” he boasts. And you thought New Yorkers were pizza snobs. 1927 W. NORTH AVE.; 773-772-4422

3 Castel Gandolfo

Margherita

Neapolitan: At some point, we’ve all done “pizza math,” wherein you silently tally the number of slices everyone has eaten before deciding whether you’re allowed to grab another one. At Castel Gandolfo, a criminally underappreciated place with a coal-fired oven, I avoid this dilemma by going alone. I order the tremendous 14-inch Margherita takeout and marvel at it for a moment: concentric circles of oregano-sparked sauce, melted bufala mozzarella, big basil leaves, and a sooty crust besieged with majestic bubbles. Then I eat the whole damn thing on the steps of a brownstone around the corner. The math is easier that way. 800 N. DEARBORN ST.; 312-787-2211

4 Crust

Flammkuchen

Thin: A traditional German Flammkuchen (“flame cake”) is basically a thin pizza with crème fraîche instead of tomato sauce, similar to the tarte flambée that the Alsatians claim just over the border in France. In Wicker Park, Crust replaces crème fraîche with caraway-seasoned béchamel, reinforcing it with crisp bacon chunks and flawlessly caramelized purple onions. The béchamel basically serves as the sauce and the cheese, allowing the char-marked crust some room to breathe. The effect is so creamy and clean you can’t help but turn up your nose at the greasy muddle that passes for most American pizza. 2056 W. DIVISION ST.; 773-235-5511

5 Coalfire

Margherita

Neapolitan: After softball games at Union Park, which my team almost always loses, we often go to Coalfire. No matter how much we order, it’s never enough. Last time, we polished off eight pies (which may have been linked to the losing). The issue, if you can call it that, is how easy Coalfire’s East Coast–style pizzas are to eat: After two minutes in the oven, they come out so deliciously smoky, pliable, and light that each slice takes about 45 seconds to polish off. You just sort of keep going, and next thing you know, the team’s in last place. 1321 W. GRAND AVE.; 312-226-2625

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4 years ago
Posted by KLF

I can't believe how few of these pizzas are Chicago-style? Was the judging panel from New York?

4 years ago
Posted by Sherry2

Where is Giordanos? I agree with the previous comment, these look like New York pizzas to me! I have never heard of half the stuff on the pizzas.

I like Al's on Cermak/Austin in Cicero. Now that's some pizza!!

4 years ago
Posted by jayrock81

Although I'm happy to see Apart Pizza on this list, you guys missed the boat on the best...Marie's on Lawrence has the absolute best thin crust in Chicago.

4 years ago
Posted by nyerinmo

Does it matter?? ANY of these so called "pizzas" would come in dead LAST against any of New Yorks TRUE pizza! Why people in this town think their pizza is so "great" is beyond me? Its more of a great tragedy that the pizza business has been able to scam this entire city!

4 years ago
Posted by scoods

while some of these on the list ARE great pizza, it's soooo typical of Chicago Magazine/Timeout Chicago. Jeff Ruby has probably never ventured into anywhere but the trendiest northside neighborhoods with his Sex and the City girlfriends all the while thinking they're really digging up some unknown places. i've had great lake pizza it's tasty but shouldn't be called pizza in Chicago. Frasca?? Are you kidding me?? Jeff Ruby should be canned as a food critic if he thinks these are the 25 best pizzas. I'll give you a hint: next time, make sure some thin crust pizza, CUT INTO SQUARES, gets on your stupid list. Northside and Southside gems are missing.

4 years ago
Posted by AustinChicago

1) Chicago-style and New York-style are apples and oranges. The truly enlightened like them both. 2) I cannot believe Pat's on Lincoln isn't on this list... BEST thin-crust in the city. Hands down.

4 years ago
Posted by alwaysacubfan

this is obviously the opinion of a New Yorker! Where is beggars, homerun Inn, Giordano's...please...and why are the slices not in squares? and where is the cheese? Only New Yorkers think a drizzle or cheese and tea spoon of sauce and a basil leaf is pizza!

4 years ago
Posted by jscapes

Where the heck is Barnaby's!!!!!!

4 years ago
Posted by Jay M

For the NY responder that raves about NY pizza; I lived in Chicago for 10 years and have been in NY for 1 year...the two pizza styles are completely different. In NY, you can't get anything close to Chicago pizza unless you go to touristy UNO's. I have to say I can not tell the difference between a great NY slice or a 99 cent NY slice as it all tastes floppy and bland to me. I have to give the edge to Chicago by a landslide. But like the one poster said they are apples and oranges, so I admit my bias.

However, for a Chicago article this is a New York writer with a NY taste. Shame on this editor for letting a non-Chicagoan show us the best pizza in the city.

I would vote Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders for the city and Rosatti's for the burbs!

4 years ago
Posted by badplaid

Um yea...any list without Salerno's (the original on Grand) or Vito & Nick's is pretty incomplete. Burt's Place is way over-rated...dry and bland compared to the original creation at Pequods...and the service there is ridiculous. Art of Pizza should be higher...they have mastered stuffed pizza. Coalfire is great as well, but must be enjoyed dine-in only. Gino's shouldn't be anywhere near the list unless it's 1987.

4 years ago
Posted by Yikes

Enough with Great Lake already. Good God. This list should be re-titled "The Best 25 Trendy Yupster Pizzas in Chicago."

4 years ago
Posted by scoods

Fox's on Western in Beverly

Pat's on Lincoln in Lakeview

Vito and Nick's on 84th & Pulaski.

Suprisingly, these gems of Chicago are not found on the Sex and the City pizza list compiled by Ms. Jeff Ruby.

4 years ago
Posted by rogldr5

Glad to see Aurelio's on the list!! As a South-suburb girl, I would have been disappointed not to find it. I would go with pepperoni, but close enough!

4 years ago
Posted by Coogles

"Burt's Place is way over-rated...dry and bland compared to the original creation at Pequods"

You do know that Burt of Burt's Place is the original owner of Pequods, right?

4 years ago
Posted by Spicy Lou

Um, what about Father and Son / Marcello. That's my family's favorite and we are Chicago natives. New York pizza is the Harold Miner of the culinary world.

4 years ago
Posted by kwhitehead

Chicago pizza is a joke. New Haven style all the way. Or a nice tidy New York slice. Both are milesa bove that goopy Chicago pie.

4 years ago
Posted by SamIam

Jeff Ruby, where are you from? Iowa? Kansas? You sure don't know anything about Pizza. I bet your favorite hotdog is Oscar Myer.

4 years ago
Posted by chipizza888

What about Pizza Art Cafe?!

4 years ago
Posted by ChiGirl67

I am originally from Chicago and am now in Cape Coral, Fl. and what i wouldn't do for a true Chicago Pizza, but you forgot one pizza place off the beaten path and that's Johnny's on Western by Fullerton mmmmm goood the football size could feed a football team..

4 years ago
Posted by rocketmama

What a lazy article -- more than half the photos aren't even of the pizza in question, just the storefront.

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