Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich dished out must-tries across 20 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between. Here's what she's recommended!
People are passionate about pizza. But pizza isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. That’s proven by the sheer number of pizza joints you’ll find across the city, as well as the diversity in styles, which range from “Milwaukee style” thin crust to Neapolitan, pan and deep dish. Some are baked in convection ovens; others are fired at high heat in gas or wood-fired ovens. As a result, each has its own unique character, which is further enhanced by the flavor of its sauce and the quality, and combination of, its toppings.
That said, when it comes to a must-try pizza, the pie must not only be delicious, but balanced in its flavor profile. The crust should be flavorful in its own right and have a texture that aligns with the benchmarks for its style. Perhaps most importantly, the venue needs to demonstrate consistency in the delivery of a pie with all of the above characteristics.
With that said, here are eight distinctive pizzas that excel in their given categories. If you haven’t had the pleasure, put them on your must-try list!
1. Deep dish
406 N. Main St., Thiensville, (262) 242-9797
For over 35 years, Chuck’s Place has been serving up some of the best Chicago style deep-dish pizza in the area. Created by late owner Charles “Chuck” Freedman (former owner of Freedmanelli’s Numero Uno in Shorewood), the recipe has lived on, making the family-owned Thiensville restaurant into a destination for Chicago-style pie.
The pizza begins with its crisp, biscuit-like crust layered with plenty of mozzarella cheese and topped with a thin patty of mild Italian sausage which stretches from edge to edge atop the cheese. From there, you’ll find thinly sliced tomatoes, crisp flavorful pepperoni and a sauce that’s rich with the umami of high-quality cooked tomatoes spread across the top. It’s a Wisconsin-made Chicago-style pie that both captures the essence of the original and makes it well worth the drive to Thiensville.
Pictured above: a medium deep dish with sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni
2. Detroit style
Flour Girl & Flame
8121 W. National Ave., West Allis, (414) 662-7921
There’s simply nothing like a Detroit-style pizza from Flour Girl & Flame. What makes them so good? High quality local ingredients, plenty of cheese and a process that doesn’t take short-cuts.
Every pie begins with a high-hydration dough that rests for 48-72 hours to develop its complex flavor and light-but-chewy texture. The dough is proofed with six ounces of a custom cheese blend before being topped with even more cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, provolone and the prerequisite Wisconsin brick) along with plenty of delicious toppings. The pies are baked in classic rectangular Detroit-style pizza pans inside the Flour Girl wood-fired oven before being topped with thick racing stripes of flavorful housemade tomato sauce.
The result is a fantastically indulgent Detroit style pizza, which comes complete with a well-carbonized crust, plenty of cheese and unmatched flavor that can only come from a combination of time, dedication and love.
3. Locally made frozen pizza
722 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 488-2029
There are nights when I’m writing a story (or mooning over list of must-trys) and I realize that it’s almost 9 p.m. I’m starving and there are no longer great options for carry-out. These are the moments I’m grateful for frozen pizza.
I’ve eaten a lot of frozen pizza over the years and many aren’t very good. The sauce is weak, the sausage tastes like rubber and the peppers are watery AF. But I’ve found two or three frozen pizzas that make muster. Among them is Flourchild, the local pizza brand that launched a frozen version of their restaurant pies during the pandemic.
They’re available at local Sendik’s stores and they are delicious. In fact, I’ve found only a select few frozen pizzas actually bake up as well as a Flourchild pizza, with a flavor that’s oh-so-close to as good as a fresh pizza made to order in the restaurant.
The pizzas come in three varieties including King Cheese (red sauce, aged mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, basil, pecorino, olive oil); Curd Your Enthusiasm (white sauce, fontina cheese, cheese curds, roasted garlic, pickled peppers); and Butternut Touch my Squash (slow roasted butternut squash, smoked mozzarella, fresh thyme, Honeycrisp apple cream cheese, pickled peppers).
4. Neapolitan style
San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana
838 N. Dr. MLK Jr. Dr., (414) 276-2876
You could attribute the amazing quality of San Giorgio’s pizzas to the strict guidelines that come as part of their certification by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization which trains pizzaiolos (master pizza makers), approves vendors and certifies pizzerias around the globe. But the truth is, there’s more to it.
It’s the care of their Pizzaiolo and Executive Chef Robin Brown, who oversees the pizza-making process on a daily basis, ensuring that every pie pays delicious homage to the legacy of Neapolitan style pies.
Signature elements include the airy, slightly puffed edges of the crust (the cornicione), the signature leoparding from being baked in the 900-degree F wood-fired oven and the memorable flavor of the toppings which is derived from high quality ingredients that are deftly applied with an eye for balance.
5. New York style
2797 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 238-2406
Sometimes bigger really is better. Such is the case at Classic Slice where their New York style pies are handmade with care and topped with a wild assortment of remarkable toppings from full-flavored tomato sauce or pesto to fresh vegetables, flavorful meats or plant-based proteins.
Their basic pepperoni pizza shines for its sheer simplicity: the signature pliable (and foldable) crust, flavorful sauce and spicy, thick-cut pepperoni that offers a nice chew with every luscious bite. But for me, the ultimate pepperoni pizza has two additional flavorful embellishments: fresh spinach and jalapeno peppers. The finished pie is a lovely mix of meaty, vegetal and picante flavors that’s truly among my favorite combos.
In the end, Classic Slice shines for both their high-quality and their creative signature pies which include winners liek the Top Gun with mashed potatoes, bacon and chives and the I’m Feta Up with spinach, black olives, artichokes and feta.
6. Thin crust
5400 W. Hampton Ave., (414) 461-7510
There is absolutely nothing about the vibrant red and green building that houses Hup’s Pizza that would tip you off that the place serves up a delicious thin-crust pizza. And yet, this hidden gem has been serving up delicious pies since 1964. Their waiting area is only slightly larger than an old-school phone booth (about 6x6 feet), accommodating two customers comfortably and three or four at the very most. From there, the atmosphere includes a solitary window where folks can place orders and hand over their cash payments (I’d advise ordering ahead by phone to reduce your wait time).
Even more, there are no signature pies, just a short list of basic toppings (Italian sausage, pepperoni, seasoned ground beef, anchovies, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives, jalapenos and pineapple) which can be applied to any pizza in quantities up to seven toppings.
But this cash-only hole-in-the-wall serves up one of the finest thin-crust pizzas I’ve tried. The toppings are applied generously. The sauce is nicely seasoned, the Italian sausage is hand-pinched and seasoned generously with fennel, and the entire pie is finished with a sprinkling of oregano giving it a pleasant aromatic boost.
Even after transport to my abode, the flavorful crust delivers a gratifying crunch that becomes slightly chewy towards the middle of the pie where the warm toppings have crept stealthily through the square-cut pie and softened the crust just a nip (I need to remember to order my pie uncut).
7. Wild Card
5601 W. Vliet St., (414) 943-3278
As humans, we love to categorize things. It’s our brains’ way to simplify a complex world and it definitely helps us to function in our everyday lives, especially when exposed to new experiences. But some pizzas simply defy fitting neatly into a particular category.
Such is the case with Wy’East’s pizza, which owners James Durawa and Ann Brock describe as "West Coast style" (after all, their business kicked off in Oregon); but when you take a good hard look, their artisan pies pull inspiration from multiple styles, including New York and Neapolitan. The result? A soft, foldable crust with a nice chew and crispy doppled edges that are notably tender within.
But while their slow-fermented crust is the foundation of their delicious pies, it’s the unique, seasonal toppings that draw me back again and again. The Cloud Cap sings with its combination of white sauce, earthy mushrooms, roasted garlic and fresh rosemary; and the "Hot Marmot," is a flavor bomb of sweet, savory and spicy featuring red sauce, high-quality pepperoni, fresh garlic and sweet hot goats’ horn peppers that have been marinated in a maple syrup brine.
Those are classics. But don’t overlook Wy’East’s specials, which are always a cut above. Currently, you can indulge in returning favorites like the Sasquash (roasted delicata squash with a blend of blue, mozzarella and pecorino romano cheeses and walnuts); and the Ring of Fire (bacon, blend of mozzarella, fontina and pecorino romano cheeses, sport peppers, herbs and a drizzle of honey). Both are simply delicious.
8. Wood-fired pizza
2535 S Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 301-6255
Time and attention are the secrets behind the pizza dough at Sorella, a restaurant that produces some of the best wood-fired pizza in the city. It begins with their crust, which ferments slowly for three to five days, resulting in a complex flavor, a tender, airy interior and a crisp browned crust that’s perfected during its two and a half minutes in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven.
As for toppings, Sorella keeps things simple, but puts an emphasis on high-quality ingredients (many of which are local) that are used in combination to create extraordinary balanced flavor profiles.
I’ve found a number of which I’m fond, from the earthy Fungi with mushrooms, ricotta, roasted garlic, scallions and arugula to the Carmela, which vaguely reminds me of a Philly-style pork sandwich with its toppings of sausage, broccoli rabe, mozzarella and sharp provolone.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.