Springfield Pizza

When most people think of pizza in Illinois, they instantly think of Chicago. What they may not realize is that Springfield, Illinois also had an influx of Italian immigrants during the 19th century and also after World War II. The heritage and legacy of those Italian families lives on in cozy Italian pizzerias that make the real stuff: fresh, handmade pizzas that are each a deliciously unique creation. These five pizzerias will show you the secret reason that Springfield is the capital city. It’s the pizza!

#1) Sam’s Italian Pizza (731 N Grand Ave. W 217-522-9111

More than twenty-five years ago, Sam Pensabene opened up this pizzeria using old country recipes handed down from his family in Sicily. Though Sam has since passed away, the restaurant is still in family hands, and customers in town agree resoundingly that this family-owned pizzeria is the best in Springfield. Named as the Editor’s Choice for Best Pizza in the Illinois Times reader’s poll, diners are nuts for the perfectly thin, crisp crust and an herb-laden sauce that is clearly made with fresh ingredients. Sam’s has a classic vibe too: checkered tablecloths and signed photos of local celebs are the main decor. Why stray from the classic?

#2) Joe’s Pizza (1552 W Jefferson St. 217-787-6005)

If you’re smart enough to know that Mom & Pop shops have the best cooking, you’ll find that Joe’s place fits the bill. It’s common to find just one waitress working the front while one chef cooks the pizza. The small touches are in the taste, too. The crust is 100% homemade, and the toppings are piled on with abandon you’ll never find in chain eateries in a million years, since they measure out your ingredients to corporate specifications. After your palate experiences the shock of a real, handmade pizza, get ready for the second shocker: a large will only set you back ten dollars. Joe’s even has family-style prices!

#3) Gallina Pizza (432 E Monroe St. 217-522-5271)

Yet another small, Italian-owned pizza shop in Springfield, Gallina still manages to stand out from the rest. If you’re not a fan of the crisp, thin crust pizzas at the first two establishments, you’ll be pleased to taste the thick, gooey, Sicilian-style pies at Gallina’s pizzeria. Not hungry enough for a whole one? You can order pizza here by the slice, but you’ll definitely want two: it’s that good! The only tough decision is choosing between the zesty red sauce and the oh-so-creamy white. Stop by at lunchtime for daily specials that make the deal even sweeter.

#4) Gabatoni’s (300 E Laurel St. 217-528-9629)

Locals just call it Gabby’s and everyone -I mean everyone- knows who they’re talking about. On weekends you can find a crowd lined up for Gabby’s thin crust pizzas, but the wait is always warranted. It’s not just locals, either. Folks have been known to drive for several hours to eat here, and some even take home extras to freeze for out-of-town friends. If that seems hard to believe, then you have to try a large pie with sausage. If you think you’ve had sausage, you’re wrong. This is the real deal: authentic, aromatic, spiced sausage that smacks of old Italy. Hint: the garlic rolls are equally amazing.

#5) Luca Pizza (2937 W Iles Ave. 217-787-8884)

One of the ways to know a pizzeria has authentic handmade taste is if the person whose name is on the sign is making your pizza. Have you ever met Papa John? How about Mr. Domino? If you go to Luca, though, Luca himself will toss your pizza and make sure you have just the amount of toppings you want. It takes a lot for a restaurant to go from being a little booth at the mall to being one of the most popular pizza places in town, but Luca has done it by making quality pies for decades.

For some unknown reason, people still go to chain pizza places, and Springfield definitely has its share of Godfather’s and Pizza Hut franchises. If you’re looking for frozen dough and sauce that comes in a bucket from a semi truck delivery, by all means, go. But if you want real, fresh, Italian pizza made from handed-down recipes, then go see my friends: Luca, Joe, Mr. Gallina, Mr. Gabatoni, or Sam.