When Fox News set out to discover who was serving the best pizza in Chicago, they put together a team of three pizza experts––a world pizza eating finalist, a think-tank chef for Fruschetta pizza corporation, and a college student––to slice through the competition. The results? The trio awarded Grand Stand Pizza the winner with a score of 4.5 out of 5, beating out Chi-Town standard Nancy's Pizza. The secret might lie in the crust. Said one tester, "you could have put anything on top of that dough and it would have tasted good." Chefs roll that crust out to make thin, pan, double-crust, and stuffed pizzas then pile on classic toppings such as pepperoni, black olives, and hot giardiniera or premium toppings such as Italian beef or gold bullion. The choices don't end there, though. Along with pizza, the restaurant also serves up hearty helpings of pasta, homemade meatball sandwiches, and Italian desserts such as cannoli, tiramisu, and homemade Italian ice.
For nearly a decade, the Pecoraro family has worked to keep the plates of Franklin Park citizens full. At Gianni's Ristorante & Pizzeria, their chefs prepare rustic Italian dishes from fresh ingredients, such as farfalle tossed with spring vegetables and linguine topped with shrimp or clams. They also prepare veal and chicken parmigiana style, Pompeii style with eggplant, and piccata style with lemon-wine sauce, and they whip up seafood entrees such as shrimp in a brandy-cream sauce and grilled swordfish. The oven gently toasts an array of thin-crust, stuffed-crust, and thick pan pizzas to shades of golden brown unattainable with most tanning beds.
In 1966, taxi drivers Sam Levine and Fred Bartoli finally became fed up with their stop-and-go lives full of honking horns and rush-hour traffic. So they shut off their engines, handed in their keys, and took root. Along with pal George Loverde, they invested in property just off the bustling Magnificent Mile, but then didn’t know what to do with it. According to a 2004 profile in the Chicago Tribune, they got their direction when someone finally said, “Put pizza in it.”
Though the rest is history, it wasn’t quite easy. Bartoli and Loverde came from Italian and Sicilian backgrounds, but neither knew the key to a good pizza. It wasn’t until they hired Alice Mae Redmond, the woman responsible for the dough at Pizzeria Uno, that the Gino's East Chicagoans know and love was truly born. Although Alice Mae retired back in 1989, the recipe for her flaky, golden deep-dish pizza crust lives on.
Today, Gino’s still stands at its original spot on Michigan and Superior but has also stretched to 10 other city and suburban locations. Whether dining downtown or in St. Charles, customers find Alice Mae’s signature crust piled with mounds of cheese, sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes, and plenty of fresh toppings—from sausage and pepperoni to jalapeños and ground beef. Hot from the oven, pizzas arrive at tables snuggled inside seasoned deep-dish pans, ready to welcome a fork and knife. Thin-crust varieties are also available for those who don’t know how to work silverware, as is a bounty of sandwiches.
Al Ferreri, his sister Frances, and his brother-in-law Chris Pacelli Sr., developed their signature italian-beef sandwich out of necessity in 1938. The economic depression made meat harder to come by, so the trio of sandwich makers made their supplies last by cutting thinner slices of roast beef.
Their business started with them feeding guests at family weddings, delivering meals to local hospitals, and catering the country's first food fight, but they soon founded a more permanent curbside food stand in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood. Despite their relatively humble beginnings, Al's Beef & Nancy's Pizza rapidly expanded and now boasts franchises throughout the Chicago area and across the country. The family business has garnered plentiful acclaim throughout the years, having been named Adam Richman's best sandwich in the Midwest on the Travel Channel show Best Sandwich in America in June 2012, appearing on Richman's Man v. Food and earning a place on Esquire's list of The Best Sandwiches in America in 2008.
The cooks begin every morning by roasting cuts of beef for the day, kneading fresh pizza dough, and cutting french fries with an industrial-strength laser pointer. The hearty italian-beef sandwiches can emerge from the kitchen with simple, unadorned meat or with blankets of melted cheese and spicy housemade giardiniera. The pizzas range from crispy thin-crust disks to deep-dish pies with 2.5-inch-thick crusts, supporting any combination of the 24 available toppings, which include oven-roasted garlic, baby spinach, and bacon.
Bije’s makes pizza lovers feel at home with delicious recipes and friendly service in a laid-back neighborhood bar. Built around a pizza recipe smuggled from the marinara-soaked hills of Lucca, Italy, the menu features a mouthwatering selection of feastitudes for every appetite. Start with a Wambo Combo platter, where fried zucchini, mushrooms, cauliflower, and mozzarella sticks form a crunchy golden dream team of finger foods ($7.95), before trying a crispy, thin-crust pizza. Forged from hand-tossed dough and topped with handfuls of cheese, vegetables, and meats, each disk delights diners with a personalized collection of toppings ($11.95 for a large, up to $2 per topping). Specialty pies offer a preselected lineup of ingredients such as the fiery buffalo-wing pizza ($12.25 for a large) or Bije's International ($16.75 for a large), a savory summit of prosciutto, mushrooms, and carmelized onions with a romano-cream sauce. Sandwich lovers rejoice at Bije’s choices of bun stuffers lined with italian beef ($5.85) and italian sausage ($5.75), while carb cravers try the house-made ravioli stuffed with meat, cheese, or spinach ($6.95).
Owners Tony and Dan conjured Caponies Trattoria as teenagers, envisioning an authentic Italian eatery sustained by a menu of Tony’s time-tested Old World recipes. Now at a new location after 16 years in the same spot, Caponies Trattoria still boasts the same owners and culinary pedigree. The Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago magazine praise the restaurant’s wood-burning brick oven, where crackling infernos forge 10 specialty pizzas without employing the kitchen’s long-since-decommissioned staff dragon. Crack chefs challenge guests with devising their own pasta from any combination of 7 noodles, 10 toppings, and 8 robust sauces, such as a spice-laden meat sauce and the Suprema’s blissful union of alfredo and marinara. Neon signage accompanies aged family photographs atop a stone archway, ushering diners into a charming rustic interior buzzing with a convivial vibe fueled by the bar’s selection of domestic and imported beers.