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Papa John's has carefully curated a menu stocked with robust topping options to adorn blank pizza canvases. Unify bubbly discs under a blanketing of freshly cut roma tomatoes, or spice up bites with jalepeño peppers. The pizzeria imports its black olives from Spain's Herrara grove, where they peak in plumpness and accomplish astounding feats of international diplomacy before populating Papa John's pizzas. Meaty options such as grilled all-white-meat chicken, filler-free spicy italian sausage, and hickory-smoked bacon add layers of heartiness to slices, and reinforcing mozzarella with parmesan, romano, or a blend of asiago, provolone, and fontina improves the genetic robustness of cheese.

1939 N State St
Belvidere,
IL
US

Papa Murphy's was born out of the owner's frustration with bad pizza from chains, which often tasted as if every ingredient was canned or frozen. Deciding to change the industry, Papa Murphy's tosses every ingredient, all of which are never frozen, onto the crust in front of the customer's eyes and sends them home to bake in a home oven. This dedication to fresh flavor earned Papa Murphy's the top spot on Zagat's National Chain survey.

Visitors can create their own take on the pizza pie or chomp into one of his signature pizzas, which range from meat-filled stuffed crust to calorie-conscious lite varieties covered in vegetables. His appetizers and desserts follow the same pattern. Customers order raw cookie dough or cheesy bread ripe for the baking, resulting in every course being fresh from the oven.

1137 N Alpine Rd
Rockford,
IL
US

Flickering candles and a grand chandelier fill Sam's Ristorante's high-ceilinged dining room with a romantic glow. Graceful arches and painted landscapes foster a classic ambiance that carries through to the menu of traditional Italian cuisine. The kitchen crafts its own marinara sauce in house to add rich flavor to orders of veal parmigiana. Pasta varieties, including angel hair, ravioli, and fettuccine, tangle with morsels of seafood, veggies, and housemade italian sausage in specialty dishes. Sauces made with marsala wine and portobello mushrooms coat chicken breasts and center-cut fillets with more flavor than a spice-rubbed quilt.

6075 E Riverside Blvd
Rockford,
IL
US

Italian-inspired entrees and specialty pizzas star at this casually romantic eatery. Crusts levitate out of kitchens in regular ($7.25 for a small, $10.75 for an extra-large), pan ($9.25–$14.75), and stuffed ($10.25–$15.75) varieties and dress themselves from a wardrobe of 20 different toppings. For diners tired of dipping lasagna in guacamole, the taco pizza ($11.75–$19.75) blends the best of Mexican and Italian cuisines with a pie topped with seasoned ground beef, corn chips, lettuce, and tomato. Alternatively, chicken parmigiana ($9.95) and the italian sausage sandwich ($7.75) keep it as classically Italian as Fonzie gelato molds.

2583 N Mulford Rd
Rockford,
IL
US