Real talk: The Midwest might be the strongest geographical region in the United States when it comes to pizza. There are a lot of styles at play in this part of the country: Deep Dish, Tavern-style, St. Louis-style, Detroit-style (which is greatly underrated, by the way), and various styles that exist in between those touchstones. The pizza game is strong. There’s just no denying that.
The Midwest is also a big swath of the country. We’re looking at the area that covers the Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio Valley all the way to the Ozarks. There’s a lot of great pizza to be eaten and we’re going to pick our absolute favorites in each state.
Buckle up and come for us in the comments. We’re sure to break a few hearts.
NORTH DAKOTA: Fireflour Pizza & Coffee, Bismarck
North Dakota is low-key becoming a serious food destination. The access to local and seasonal ingredients is key to that success and you can see the benefits in the pizza in the state’s capital. Fireflour Pizza is making some serious Neapolitan pies that can stand up next to the best Chicago, L.A., or New York have to offer.
This pizza joint rises above thanks, in part, to its location. It’s chic pizza in an unpretentious setting. You’ll never feel like an outsider here. It’s welcoming, homey, and warm. The white tiles and small dining room give way to an open kitchen full of pizzaiolo’s tossing dough and firing pies. It’s comfort writ large.
Where Fireflour shines is their inventive-bordering-on-avant-garde use of toppings. Their 48-hour fermented dough is hand stretched and topped with either “red” or “white” sauces. From there, an array of organic, local, seasonal, and in-house crafted toppings are piled high. They bring in fresh, hand-stretched mozz from Wisconsin, Berkshire pork from humane farms, and as much local produce as possible. This all makes it a little too hard to pick just one pizza to try. So, we guess, you’re just going to have to taste them all.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Charlie’s Pizza House, Yankton
Not far from the banks of the Missouri River in the small burg of Yankton, you’ll find South Dakota’s oldest and best pizza joint. Just look for an old neon sign that screams 1950s Americana and you’ll be in the right place.
Charlie’s Pizza House has a straight-up roadside diner feel to it. You can snag pitchers of root beer to wash down the pies and drink from old mason jars. You’ll feel like you’re at a friend’s place more than a restaurant — a friend’s place that just so happens to have amazing pizza.
The pies at Charlie’s are big and bold. The narrow ideas that pizza toppings have to fall into a certain group of cured meats and specific veg and fruit is not adhered to in Yankton. Case in point, their Three Stooges pizza with ground beef, bacon, cheddar, and spears of dill pickles will change your life. The pickles are put on after the pizza is fired so they still have that wonderful, briny crunch and it rocks as part of a pizza. Another great concept is the Hawaiian Elvis with has ham, pineapple, and sauerkraut baked right in. It’s a fermented delight that pairs amazingly well with the acidic sweetness of the pineapple and the savoriness of the ham.
We know, it all sounds so weird and different. Trust us, it’s revelatory.
MINNESOTA: Pizza Nea, Minneapolis
It gets cold up Minnesota way. That means you need a solid pizza every now and then to keep the winter from biting too hard. Luckily, there are gobs of options around the state. We have to go with a spot in Minneapolis that balances Neapolitan traditions with Minnesotan heft.
Pizza Nea, in the center of Minneapolis, is as assuming as it is fantastic. The brick walls of the dining room make you feel like you’re further east. The beer list is an on-point selection of local craft and international heavy-hitters. Overall, this is just a nice place to pull up a chair and watch the chefs throw pies into a blazing wood-fired oven.
Pizza Nea leans heavily towards the pizza ways of Italy but keeps things local, fresh, and hand-made. The hand-pulled dough is that perfect balance of chewy and wood-fired crunchy — with a delightful yeast funk lingering the background. The toppings are Neapolitan by way of the harbors of New York with a focus on umami-bomb cured meats, bright red fruits, green herbs, fresh mozz, and hard parmesan. Grab a “white” pie Con Uovo (with two runny eggs) and a little pancetta and an Indeed B-Side Pilsner and you’ll be set for a great meal.
MICHIGAN: Buddy’s Pizza, Detriot
Detroit-style pizza is a delight — a heavy delight, but a delight nonetheless. The pizza has a thick, doughy crust that’s baked in plenty of oil (or fat) to really crisp up the outer layer. The cheese and sauce create a holy alliance below whatever you choose to pile on toppings-wise. It’s a square of wonder and it deserves a lot more respect on the national stage than it gets.
There are a lot of chains slinging Detriot-Style pizza across the Motor City. We had to go with a favorite local chain, Buddy’s Pizza. The pies here are dense and delicious and you can find them at eleven locations around Detroit and one spot in Ann Arbor.
Buddy’s has been firing their square pizzas since the 1930s so they’ve got their pies down to a science. Generally, you order a pizza and then add toppings one at a time. This allows you to have it your way. That’s great and all but you might want to try The Detroiter. It’s topped with cheese and tomato basil sauce with pepperoni then topped with shaved parmesan and “Buddy’s Sicilian spice blend.” It’s a signature pie that serves as a great place to start your love affair with Detroit-Style pizza.
WISCONSIN: Fixture Pizza Pub, Milwaukee
Milwaukee’s Fixture Pizza Pub is the best of all worlds when it comes to Midwest pizza. They do a standard American crust which has the thickness of a Costco pizza. They also do a thin crust that feels very tavern-style by way of St. Louis. Then there are the deep dish pies that healthily nod to Chicago. Midwest pizza collides in all the best ways at Fixture.
Fixture also benefits from being a great bar to post up in and spend an afternoon or evening reveling, drinking, and stuffing one’s face with great pizza. The menu has some great deep cuts and the bar and beer menu is well-curated for a pizza joint.
The pizzas here hit on the classics with plenty of piquant pepperoni, savory sausage, black and green olives, and heaps of mozz dominating. There are nice nuances in the menu, like funky gorgonzola and sharp and briny giardiniera veg. As for the latter, if there’s one thing you take away from the Midwest and pizza, let it be that fermented and pickled vegetables have been missing from your pies for far too long.
ILLINOIS: Pat’s Pizza, Chicago
Okay. We went back a forth a lot here. Chicago has been pigeoned-holed as the place of deep dish pizza — so much so that deep dish is colloquially called Chicago-Style these days. We’re not sure about that. We love deep dish and would be remiss not to shout out Giordano’s, Pequod’s, Burt’s, and even Lou Malnati’s for their seriously amazing pies. But… deep dish isn’t really the everyday pie people in Chicago or Illinois eat. That honor goes to Tavern-Style pizza. That’s a thin crust pie that’s cut into squares and is goddamn delicious every single time.
Pat’s Pizza is a Chicago institution. The whole joint has a classic atmosphere with deep booths, dark red walls, checkered table clothes, and plenty of charm. It’s also simple and straightforward with plastic cups for sipping fizzy drinks and great service to go along with great pizza.
Speaking of the pizza, you go to Pat’s to order a “Thin Crust” pie. Pat’s Special is always the way to go. It’s a big ol’ pizza smothered in mozz, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, and onions. From there, you can build your own pie with a wide range of Chicago-inspired and classic pizza toppings from sliced beef to provolone to shrimp and fresh ricotta. Our advice, order the special and dig in. You won’t be disappointed.
INDIANA: Mother Bear’s Pizza, Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana is a quintessential college town. And like all college towns, there’s a great pizza to be had. Mother Bear’s Pizza is the perfect mix of good times and great pizza, making it our pick for the Hoosier state.
Mother Bear’s strength lies in its chill vibes and great pies. The old wooden tables and graffiti-covered wood-paneled walls give the place a welcoming and convivial atmosphere. Add in a serious beer bottle list and Two-Hearted Ale on tap and you’ve got the best pizza experience in Indiana on your hands.
The pizza to eat at Mother Bear’s is the traditional pan crust. Think of it like a Detriot-Style crust but round instead of square. It’s got a wonderful chewiness to it that gives way to a deep pan-crisp crust — it’s kind of like Pizza Hut, done well. The tangy red sauce, heaps of mozz, and motley toppings add even more greatness to the pies. You can build your own pizzas and get super funky with six different sauces, a long list of fruit and vegetables, and a lot of meats including “gourmet” sausages and “Hoosier Ham.” If that’s too much to ask, grab an Archie Pizza with imported pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, and plenty of jalapenos. It’s dope.
OHIO: Harvest Pizzeria, German Village
With a laser-tight focus on local ingredients and suppliers, Harvest Pizzeria has started to dominate the pizza scene in Ohio. Italian food, at its core, is about using what’s in season and around you to make amazing food. Harvest has taken that to heart with their pies.
Harvest Pizzeria is a pretty chill local chain that focuses on serving great pizza in a low-key setting with well-curated wine and beer lists. The cocktails, beer, and food are all stellar without the pretensions of some frou-frou establishment with waiting lists. You can walk in, order some great food and drink, and take your time to really enjoy it. That’s a win.
The pizza at Harvest really is that good. The crusts are in the Neapolitan style and have a nice thinness that gives way to a wood-fire charred cornice. Then there are the toppings. Harvest focuses on what’s local and fresh right now. Fresh and local mozz and blue goat cheese are just the tip of the pizza-iceberg. Locally cured meats, fresh and bright veg and fruit from the area are the real highlights.
This is local pizza done right.
IOWA: Great Plains Sauce and Dough Co., Ames
The owners of Great Plains Sauce and Dough Co. may have inadvertently created the Iowa-Style pizza. Their Colorado-Style thick crust with rolled edges is made with whole wheat, giving the pies and an extra layer of heft. The pizza bridges the thickness meter between the standard Costco-type medium crust and classic deep dish. It’s unique, delicious, and you’ll only really find it in Iowa.
This pizza joint is a classic spot. The wood-paneling and booths will take you back to all those times you and your parents just needed to get out of the house for a night and a great pizza was in order. It comes complete with the smells of baking cheese and spicy tubed meats and the distinct rapping of the pizza pans going in and out of ovens and landing on tables.
The pies here are some of the most unique in the region. We recommend sticking with their thick crust whole wheat base. It’s got a maltiness to it that works wonders with a nice pint of beer. There’s no skimping on the toppings here. The cheese is piled high and then whatever you want is added next with more cheese to finish the pizza off just right. The Prairie Special is a great place to get an idea of the wonderful pies at Great Plains. It’s a hefty pizza with pepperoni, house-made pork sausage, diced onions, and diced green peppers. Once you try it, you’ll have a new found respect for the thick crust pies with a seriously thick folded rim.
NEBRASKA: Dash Pizzeria, Kearney
The Flippin Sweet eateries around Kearney, Nebraska are the perfect balance of hip and grounded. That chillness translates to their quirky and delicious menu. We don’t use the word ‘quirky’ lightly here. The pizzas at Dash Pizzeria are some of the most imaginative… maybe anywhere in the United States right now.
Dash Pizzeria is easy to get stuck in. The spot has a trendy vibe that’s also welcoming. The menu is the highlight here but don’t sleep on their serious beer list — it’s full of local craft and national favorites to help wash down a funky pie.
Dash and The Flippin Sweet chain focuses in on what’s local and fresh right now. So, there will be times that some of the ingredients on the menu simply aren’t available. That also means you’ll get some seriously unique pies. A great place to start is with their Tennenbaum pie. Dash’s perfectly executed crust is topped with a fig butter sauce, bacon, roasted garlic, pistachios, arugula, balsamic glaze, and finished with shaved parmesan. There’s nothing quite like and it’s delectable. After that, order their super local and super mouthwatering The Dude. That’s topped with spicy arrabbiata sauce, smoked elk sausage, smoked buffalo sausage, curry-smoked onions, and smoked cheese. All of it’s made locally or in-house and, again, wholly unique. You simply won’t get these pizzas anywhere else in the world.
KANSAS: Papa Keno’s, Lawrence
Papa Keno’s out in Lawrence, Kansas (shout out to Supernatural fans) turns out jumbo slices of pizza slices similar to what you’d see in the Washington, DC area. The huge slices at Papa Keno’s are another example of how the Midwest takes all the best aspects of the pizza culture in America and nails them.
Papa Keno’s also flat-out nails the pizzeria aesthetic. The red brick walls, old wooden bar, killer drinks list, oily red pepper flake and parm shakers, live music, and chilled out vibe make this place a must stop. The great pizza only adds to the draw here.
Generally, people order a slice of what’s going. Trust us, they’re huge. The pies are 26 inches. To put that in perspective, the pizzas at Costco are 16 inches. That’s a huge difference. There are 14-inch and 18-inch thin crust pies if you have to have your own pizza and there’s a spectacular deep dish on the menu as well. We say stick with whatever slices are hot-out-of-the-oven when you sit down and add a great pitcher of beer. You can’t go wrong with the crisp and doughy crust and classic and well-executed toppings. It’s always gonna be great.
Protip: Do yourself a favor and order the Mama K’s Pesto Formaggio dip for your pizza crusts. You can thank us later.
MISSOURI: Shakespeare’s Pizza, Columbia
St. Louis’s famed cracker crust pies are a delight. But, like Illinois, we had to go a different direction. No disrespect to places like Imo’s Pizza who are doing amazing St. Louis-Style pies. We love you too. We just love our favorite MO. pizza joint a little bit more.
Some people will claim Shakespeare’s Pizza in Columbia, Missouri has the best pizza in the world. They may be letting nostalgia lead their senses a little and that’s okay. What we know for sure is that these are the best pizzas in Missouri. Shakespeare’s nails the pizzeria vibe. This place is so quintessentially an American pizza joint that you could easily imagine it popping up as a location in Stranger Things or any Steven Spielberg family sci-fi drama.
In the end, it’s the pizzas that count. Shakespeare’s isn’t reinventing the wheel. They’re taking tried and true American-Style pizza practices and knocking them out of the park. The medium-thick crusts with a hint of yeast, the stringy mozz, and the array of classic toppings make this place a gold standard of the “Classic American” pizzeria world. It’s the details that matter here. The dough is hand stretched from a massive dough mountain. The ingredients are fresh. The atmosphere is jovial. All of that makes for amazing pizza. In fact, that’s what matters most in this quest: Good times and good pies.