Steve Dolinsky

Chicago pizza expert and ABC7’s Hungry Hound, Steve Dolinsky had a strict-daily-slice regime in preparation for his book, Pizza City USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago is America’s Pizza Town. “People talk about ‘3-a-days’ as if it were a workout, but mine were pizza!” 185 slices later, the 13-time James Beard Award-winning food reporter has a book, a pizza podcast and hosts tours of Chicago’s best pizza. Here, he shares where to find his personal favourite slices and Chicago’s most loved local restaurants.

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Chicago-Style Pizza Is More Than Deep-Dish

There are at least 10 different Chicago-style pizzas. Chicago is definitely a pizza town, but most people only think of the stuffed and deep-dish styles. But it’s really all about what we call tavern-style pizza. This is the party cut, the square cut, the thin and crispy style of pizza that people are surprised to learn was actually the first and original Chicago-style pizza. It’s been our style since the 1930s before deep-pan pizza was created in 1943 and long before the stuffed pizza craze started in 1974.

My Pizza Topping Of Choice

While the most popular pizza topping in America is pepperoni, in Chicago it’s all about sausage. Not the coin-cut sausage that you find on pizza over in the east coast, but Italian-style sausage meat with lots of fennel and garlic that’s added to pizza using what we call the pinch-and-press method: pinch off a piece of the raw sausage mixture and press it onto the pizza. This allows the fat from the meat to render into the pie, which gives you all of that great flavour.

My Top Spots For A Great Slice (Listed By Style)

Tavern-style pizza
Chicago’s original, a product of Midwestern taverns and bars. Always square-cut, thin and crispy.
Favourite: Vito & Nick’s in Ashburn.

Thin-style pizza
Standard issue, wedge-cut.
Favourite: Boiler Room in Logan Square.

New York City-style pizza
Floppy, oversized, wedge cut with occasional grease drip toward the point.
Favourite: Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe in Lincoln Square.

Artisan-style pizza
Longer fermentation time, almost ciabatta-like in texture. Fancier toppings like soppressata and burrata.
Favourite: Pizzeria Bebu in Lincoln Park.

Neopolitan-style pizza
Adheres to strict Italian standards with regard to tomatoes (San Marzano), flour (00), oven temperature (around 850 F) and cheese (fior di latte). 
Favourite: Spacca Napoli in​ Lincoln Square.

Deep dish pizza
Made in an anodized steel pan about two-inches-high. Dough is pressed down in the center, topped with cheese, ingredients and then sauce before being finished with pecorino Romano
Favourite: Labriola in Magnificent Mile/Michigan Ave.

Stuffed pizza
Same architecture as deep: bottom crust, cheese, but then a thinner layer of dough and a lake of tomato sauce on top. 
Favourite: Suparossa in Portage Park.

Sicilian-style pizza
Made in a rectangular pan where the dough is left to proof after sauce and cheese have been applied. Toppings go on just before baking. Resembles focaccia in texture and chew.
Favourite: D’Amato’s Bakery in Noble Square.

Roman-style pizza
Al taglio or “by the cut” is focaccia-esque and crispy, with a wide range of toppings. Cut with scissors, then weighed and reheated to order.
Favourite: Bonci in Fulton Market.

Detroit-style pizza
Similar to a Sicilian in origin. Brick cheese is pressed into the raw dough all the way to the edge which fills a deep, square or rectangular pan. Finished pies feature a burnished, charred upper rim.
Favourite: Union Squared in Evanston.

A Neighbourhood Farm-To-Table Favourite

I take anyone visiting Chicago to Lula Café, which is probably my favourite restaurant. It’s very creative, very local, an outstanding restaurant. A husband-and-wife team started it about 20 years ago, and it’s just kept getting better and better over time. They sort of look up to Alice Waters, that’s kind of what their mantra is. They work with a lot of farms, and every Monday they do a three-course dinner based on whatever produce they picked up over the weekend. Everyone goes crazy for their pasta ya-ya which is a bucatini with cinnamon and brown butter.

A Hyper-Seasonal Chicago Cafe (With Really Great Bread)

Around the corner from Lula Café is another one of my favourite spots, Cellar Door Provisions: a little neighbourhood corner café. I never get excited about quiche, but here, it’s really something else. All of the bakery goods are amazing. The bread has the most beautiful crumb, and the laminated doughs are really good. The last time I was there I had a chicken and rice dish that was kind of like a congee. It was so simple, but every element was executed just perfectly. It was one of the most perfect dishes I’ve had in Chicago in a long time.

Euro-Asian Comfort Food

Just down the road from here is a great Macanese restaurant called Fat Rice. The namesake dish that it’s famous for is called arroz gordo: literally “fat rice”. Similar to paella it’s a rice dish with shrimps, clams, Portuguese sausage and marinated chicken. It’s an outstanding dish. There’s also a bakery next door called Fat Rice Bakery that does egg tarts and pastries like doughnuts, paczki (filled doughnuts) and crullers with a Singaporean twist. It also does a pastry that looks like and has all of the elements of a Chicago hotdog. The staff do a lot of really creative things here.

Creative And Modern Mexican

I really like Mexican restaurant Dos Urban Cantina. Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart, the husband-and-wife team behind it, both worked for Rick Bayless – the Godfather of Mexican food in America – for many years.

A Honky-Tonk All About Tacos And Tequila

Another chef who worked for Rick, Paul Khan, is behind some of the best restaurants in Chicago: Avec, Blackbird, The Publican, and Big Star. Big Star is a kind of honky-tonk that’s all about tacos and tequila. Blackbird Restaurant has very refined and elevated American cuisine. Avec do Mediterranean share plates with a great wine program. It’s famous for its bacon-wrapped Medjool dates stuffed with chorizo, that come with a beautiful homemade tomato sauce. I really like Publican which does kind-of Midwestern share plates. There’s a lot of delicious pork and seafood dishes.

Local Brews And An Old-School Cocktail Lounge

Maplewood Tavern is a great microbrewery that also produces some spirits. Billy Sunday is a really nice and cozy little place. It’s kind of a throwback that specialises in amaro cocktails and its food program is really impressive.

Sandwich Culture

There is an amazing sandwich that was created in Chicago by Puerto Ricans. It doesn’t actually exist in Puerto Rico, but it uses ingredients from Puerto Rico. It’s called the jibarito. Essentially, it’s a sandwich with steak, cheese and onion, but instead of bread, it’s made using plantains. The plantains are fried, then smashed thin, then fried again so they become like paddles which act as the bread. You can easily find a jibarito in Humble Park, which is predominantly a Puerto Rican neighbourhood. There’s a restaurant there called Borinquen which does a great version.

The Italian beef sandwich was created here in the 1920s by Italian immigrants. It has very thinly shaved, paper-thin, roast beef, usually either sweet or hot peppers, and you get it either dry or wet: that’s when you dunk the sides of the sandwich in beef jus which is infused with all of this delicious beefy goodness. The best one I’ve tasted is at Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park. That’s my favourite beef sandwich by far. I’ve taken lots of TV crews and visiting food writers here when they visit, but you can find an Italian beef [sandwich] pretty much anywhere in Chicago.

What You’ll Find In Every Chicagoan’s Fridge

If you live in Chicago, you definitely a jar of giardiniera in your fridge. It’s an Italian, Chicago-style condiment of pickled chilies with carrots, cauliflower, and olives. It goes on pizza, it goes on sandwiches, or just about anything where you want a nice crunchy and acidic kick. It really cuts through the richness of a lot of heavy, hearty dishes that we have here.

Guide last updated August 2019

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