Ah pizza … the universal language! An Italian staple that is deeply revered in Chicago, today pizza has moved beyond ye olden times of greasy-boxed delivery. These days, the toppings are more adventurous, the crust is a trusted recipe and the wood-fired appeal has drawn crowds and rave reviews. Whether you’re looking for an easy dinner with kids or a long, luxurious evening with friends over wine, these pizza spots are brimming with options and opportunity to fill your social calendar and your belly (all the while being devoid of the usual chain spots). Any way you slice it, you’re in for a stellar meal.
Best for a group outing with kids:
960 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook, IL 60062
Famous for their thin, cornmeal crust pies, Barnaby’s has been a cherished neighborhood staple for more than 40 years. Just say the name and watch locals get nostalgic for the fresh pizza sauce and dough that are whipped up daily. As a self-service restaurant, guests are encouraged to seat themselves, review menus and place their order at the cashier counter. Known for their family-friendly vibes, there are plenty of high chairs and the experience is especially easygoing for large groups.
Best for date night:
1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Illinois 60202
The chic setting, resplendent with floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed brick, sets a very cool tone for grabbing a slice. Book your kids’ favorite babysitter and relish a relaxed night out with your fellow adults in your dry-clean-only best. The assorted wood-fired pizzas shine right alongside an impressive cocktail menu and vibrant atmosphere. Important note: ALL dining is first come, first serve. No worries, there is a sizable lounge and bar for waiting, chatting and people watching along Chicago Avenue.
Best for when you’re feeling fancy:
1633 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614
When it comes to pizza, Balena sweetly pairs scene with substance. They get an ‘A’ for ambiance due to the stunning dining room, vaulted ceilings and dramatic chandeliers. Oh and the hearth-fired pizzas and enormous wine list are breathtaking, too! For taking the simplicity of pizza and making it feel/taste grand, Balena wins the day. Though ideal for adults-only dining, the kids don’t have to miss out: this swanky spot delivers(!) via Amazon, Caviar, Door Dash or Grub Hub.
Best kid spot for dining al fresco and watching trains:
14 Greenbay Rd., Winnetka, IL 60093
Man, kids love them some trains. The holy grail of al fresco dining is uncovering those special spots that allow for perfect weather and the occasional Metra flying by to delight little ones. Rest assured, Marco Roma is this most coveted place. Owned and operated by the D’Ascenzi family, the menu offers thin crust and deep dish, but you can’t go wrong because the flavorful sauce is a showstopper. Fast-casual with a cozy outdoor patio (umbrellas, landscaping), this is a winner for families wanting something super low-key with a pretty fun distraction.
Best for paying respects to a pizza legend:
8433 South Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL 60652
Featured on ‘Diners, Drive-ins- & Dives’ and ‘Check, Please!’, Vito & Nick’s is a south side thin crust pizza institution. Family owned with nearly 90 years to their resume, Vito & Nick’s is proudly old school: open seven days a week, cash only and absolutely NO delivery. The latter was felt so strongly that founder Nick Barraco once remarked, “We will never deliver, if they want a truly great pizza, they will come in for it.” The words and the tradition still ring true to this day.
Best frozen pizza to stash in the freezer:
Offices at 30W270 Butterfield Rd. Unit #104, Warrenville, IL 60555
Listen, sometimes it’s just too much getting out of the house. For nights when you want to splay on your couch while your pizza cooks, Eastside Cafe to the rescue. Mastering the art of ‘fresh frozen’ they just might have the best crunchy, cracker-thin crust around. Pies are available for the grabbing at Whole Foods, Sunset Foods, Restaurant Depot, Potash Grocery, Hyde Park Market and Blue Goose (St. Charles).