While the Midwest is a far cry from the Italian region widely recognized for inventing pizza, that doesn’t mean Chicagoans can’t turn out a respectable Neapolitan-style pie. To do so, a pizzeria should use only flour, yeast, salt and water for the dough and dress its classic Margherita version with only tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Most are cooked in superhot (and superexpensive) wood-burning ovens, but as you’ll see below, that’s not always the case. These top four would do any real pizzaiola proud.


1.  Coal Fire Pizza

Why is this pizza the best? Because, after repeated visits, we were unable to find faults. The crust has that signature Neapolitan chew we were looking for, but somehow manages to pull off a touch of crispness as well. The sauce is bright, slightly seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano, then spread on in perfect proportion, making for a pizza that’s not too saucy and not too dry. And just like the bubbled peaks of the pizza’s edge, a few spots of the fresh mozz get browned in the coal-fueled oven, while the rest melts into luscious white pools under fresh basil leaves. Bottom line: This is one hell of a pizza. In fact, it gets our vote for best overall pizza in Chicago. 1321 W Grand Ave, 312-226-2625. Average medium one-topping pizza: $13.

2. Spacca Napoli

We give these guys credit for kick-starting the Neapolitan craze in Chicago (true, Pizza D.O.C. was here first, but Spacca makes a better pie) when they opened in February 2006. And we give them even more credit for consistency-the Margherita we had here a week ago was just as good as the one we devoured the first week Spacca was in business. Nicely salted dough made from Caputo “00″ flour (the finest Italian flour, which has a talcum powder-like consistency) is topped with the unseasoned, crushed San Marzano tomatoes typical of Neapolitan pizzas, huge basil leaves and a generous drizzle of a fantastic extra-virgin olive oil. Perhaps its only fault is its slightly wet center, a quality that certain pizza fiends search for but we find distracting. 1769 W Sunnyside Ave, 773-878-2420. Average pizza: $12.

3. Sapore di Napoli

Surprisingly, one of the best Neapolitan pizzas in the city comes from an electric oven. Somehow, chef-owner Alec Yannoulis is able to coax just as much power out of his oven as the wood-and-coal guys, but it’s really the sauce that does it for us. The San Marzano-style tomatoes that come from an Italian-owned family farm in California make for a slightly sweet, acidic sauce. This might seem like a small detail, but add this sauce to fresh buffalo mozz and a salty, chewy crust, and you have an unforgettable pie. 1406 W Belmont Ave, 773-935-1212. Average pizza: $12.

4. Follia

All the charming extras aside-the ever-present owner Bruno, the sceney crowd, the runway-ready clothes draped over dress forms-this upscale Italian spot turns out a respectable pizza. The edges are a touch thin for our taste and the shredded cheese sprinkled on top of the fresh mozz makes for a dairy overload, but the sauce (and the consistently well-cooked crust) saves the day. 953 W Fulton Ave, 312-243-2888. Average pizza: $14.5 MacelloThis newcomer has a few kinks to work out (a near-perfect Margherita one day was followed by one with burned edges the next), but it’s turning out some awfully tasty pizzas only a month out of the gate. We like the slightly salty sauce and the fat pillows of imported fresh mozz, so we’re hopeful once pizzaiola Gino Losacco masters his new oven, this pizza will only get better. 1235 W Lake St, 312-850-9870. Average pizza: $13.

•Courtesy: Time Out Chicago


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