In 2010—the last time Chicago undertook the mammoth task of identifying the top pies in town—the runaway champ came from an exacting Andersonville boutique called Great Lake. But Nick Lessins, the mercurial artiste behind the place, forfeited the crown when he closed up shop in 2013. The Gold Coast’s Castel Gandolfo (No. 3), a forgotten master of the Margherita, has closed too. So has Wicker Park’s Crust (No. 4). We knew it was time to get back out there—and that anything could happen.
In an era when no new restaurant dares open without a wood-burning oven, we found a scene tilting ever further from thick crust to thin. We encountered both slavishly traditional pizzas and brilliant gourmet creations like nothing we’d eaten before. Eighty-four restaurants, 150 pies, and 23 pounds later, we named the diverse group of 38 winners that follows. (Yes, 38 winners, up from 25 in 2010: The local pizza landscape has gotten that much bigger. And better.)
The list may surprise or even enrage you. No Pequod’s, no Aurelio’s. No Art of Pizza, no Gino’s. Elbowing them out were lesser-known makers of superior specimens, such as Cristiano Bassani’s Big Chef Burgers in Schaumburg and its pizza con buffalo mozzarella prosciutto crudo rucola e pomodorini. (It sounds like a mouthful, and it is.)
Whether under sparkly chandeliers on Randolph Street (Nellcôte) or adjacent to its own liquor store on the Northwest Side (Marie’s), every establishment shares at least one trait: Its pizza has that indefinable quality that keeps you reaching for another slice long past the point of hunger, or even sanity.