Jeff Mauro Tells Us His Favorite Pizza Places In Chicago - Exclusive

Pizza night is a beloved tradition in America. From delivery to DiGiorno, homemade to dine-in, the choices are endless. Will the pizza be a simple Margherita or loaded? Will it be deep-dish or thin crust? Chicago or New York? Everyone has their favorites, and for each choice, there's a pizzeria that does it best. Chef Jeff Mauro is no different. 

The self-proclaimed Sandwich King may be known for his unique twists on grilled cheese and peanut butter & jelly, but when we sat down with the award-winning chef at the inaugural Los Angeles Wine & Food Festival he admitted that a slice of Chicago tavern-style thin-crust pepperoni pizza has to be part of his last meal on earth. "To me, the ritual of pizza is hard to beat," he says. "The ordering, the unveiling, whether you're getting it delivered or whatever. You open the box and it's that smell." The chef continues, "Or when you walk in with your family, it's like after a game, after a play, whatever. You sit down, you have a pitcher of pop, maybe a pitcher of beer, and they bring this hot pizza. I mean, to me it's like, I don't know. It's magical." 

With a statement like that, we just had to know which pizza places produced the most magical pies. Mauro rattled off his four favorites without hesitation, and they're all based in his hometown of Chicago. 

Jimmy's Place

When it comes to pizza there are several different kinds of crust: hand-tossed, wood-fired, stuffed, or deep dish, and Jeff Mauro can find them all in Chicago. But when he's in the mood for a Chicago tavern-style thin crust, the award-winning chef says his first stop is always Jimmy's Place in Forest Park. If you're unfamiliar with tavern-style, it's when the pizza dough is rolled out rather than tossed, to create a super thin crust that feels more like a cracker than a pizza. Sliced into squares, it's easier to pick up and eat on the fly as you down your pint of beer (the drink most commonly served in the taverns where these pizzas were created). 

Jimmy's has been a hot spot for pizza and pasta since it opened in 1998, and Mauro and his family have been eating there since the early days. It's no surprise Jimmy's is Mauro's top choice for the tavern-style pizza since that's what the restaurant is best known for. But the restaurant doesn't just make pizza, they offer tons of pasta dishes and several classic Italian entrées as well. Mauro's such a huge fan of the restaurant that he featured it on his show, "Sandwich King," back in 2011. While Mauro could choose any topping for his pizza, the chef recommends the thin-crust sausage pizza and tells us, "It's the best."


If you're in the mood for a Detroit-style pizza, Mauro says Pistores in the River North neighborhood of Chicago is the place to go. Never heard of Detroit-style pizza? It's a square-shaped pizza with a nice, thick crust, and Jeff Mauro says the ones from Pistores are "phenomenal." The reason behind their deliciousness? The celebrity chef says it's because of owner Joel Reno. "He's making the best pizza," Mauro explains. 

That kind of praise isn't a big surprise since Reno spent his formative years as a pastry chef. Reno and his wife and partner Andrea Alvarez both have backgrounds as pastry chefs, and they bring their knowledge and expertise to the restaurant. In fact, the restaurant's name comes from the word used to describe pastry chefs in medieval Paris. 

Opening just two short years ago, Pistores already has a devoted fan base craving its Detroit-style pizzas with their fluffy focaccia-like texture. But there's more to this little shop than its thick-crusted pizzas with their caramelized edges. The restaurant makes a variety of artisan pizzas and offers several entrées, including chicken parmesan and an oxtail ragu. Since the owners are pastry chefs, a separate dessert menu includes tasty treats like tiramisu, cheesecake, and chocolate pudding. There also happens to be a full bar, which means this pizza shop has got lunch and dinner covered from start to finish.

Old World Pizza

Another pizza that Chicago is known for is the stuffed pizza. Not to be confused with the deep-dish, Chicago stuffed pizza is more like a pie than a pizza. They both start the same with a thick, doughy crust in a deep round pan with towering sides, but then that crust is "stuffed" with various ingredients from cheese to meat and veggies. Once full, a second layer of dough is placed on top and smothered with tomato sauce. The whole thing gets baked in an oven, resulting in a cheesy, meaty delicacy that many a Chicagoan enjoys. 

While there are numerous places around Chi-town where you can find this many-layered dish, there's only one that Jeff Mauro visits when he's in the mood for stuffed pizza: Old World Pizza in Elmwood Park. Opened in the early 60s, the chefs at Old World use family recipes that have been passed down for generations. It's those recipes and the quality of its pizzas and pasta that keep its fans coming back again and again. And it's why Mauro admits he returns to Old World when he wants the ultimate stuffed pizza experience, calling its stuffed pizza "unbelievable."


Finally, there's the Chicago-style deep dish. This is the pizza the Windy City is famous for. Befitting the term "pie" this is the pizza that comes in a deep circular pan and tends to stand several inches high, piled with cheese, sauce, and any toppings you like. So, where does Jeff Mauro go when he gets a craving for this classic? "I'm a big fan of Pizano's in Chicago," he tells us. While the other pizza places on Mauro's list are stand-alone shops created by pizza-loving chefs, Pizano's has four different locations throughout Chicago that Mauro says is "part of a dynasty of deep dish makers."

That dynasty started in 1943 when Rudy Malnati Sr. opened a restaurant called Pizzeria Uno and started showing people that pizza could be a full meal rather than a single-slice snack. Donna "Mama" Malnati helped put Pizzeria Uno on the map with her secret pizza dough recipe. Then in 1991, Rudy Malnati, Jr., took everything he learned from his parents and opened Pizano's. He even brought his mother along to continue the tradition his father started. In fact, "Mama" Malnati was still crafting that dough in the Pizano's basement at 90 years old. That "really good" dough is what keeps Mauro coming back. Even though "Mama" wasn't a fan of thin crust pizza, Rudy knows deep dish isn't for everyone, which is why Pizano's has plenty of thin crust options as well as several classic Italian dishes.