Here in Chicago we like to invent new, unusual kinds of pizza. That’s because we can’t figure out how to make the regular old kind.

With few exceptions, Chicago’s interpretation of “pizza” (here we have to call it “thin crust”) is an abomination: a sugary sauce closer to ketchup than to tomatoes, ladled over a brutish, tasteless pastry whose chief virtue is its ability to support Way Too Much Cheese. (The cheese surfeit may also explain the annoying local habit of cutting pizza into squares rather than slices: if that much grease is to remain on the pizza instead of landing in your lap, the pieces better be small and the substrate sturdy.) Have you ever asked yourself why anyone would eat at Pizza Hut? Try the local thin crust and you’ll understand.

But we Chicagoans are enterprising, can-do people. Because pizza to us is not delightful but disgusting, we keep trying to improve it. Thus we have a number of things called pizza, which in the spirit of this special user’s guide to Chicago, are arranged below into five essential types.

(1) Deep dish. It may not have much do to with pizza, but at its best this is a glorious culinary concoction, one of the tastiest and most satisfying cheap meals you can get in Chicago. It’s at its best where it was invented, at Pizzeria Uno (29 E. Ohio, 312-321-1000) or at its sibling, Pizzeria Due (619 N. Wabash, 312-943-2400). Don’t be discouraged by the numerous imitators or the franchised Uno Chicago Grills that are popping up in malls across the country: you can’t judge deep dish until you’ve had it at Uno or Due. The plain cheese-tomato pizza is excellent, but if you’re not a vegetarian you must get the sausage–it’s twice as excellent.

(2) Stuffed. This is another manifestation of the Way Too Much Cheese phenomenon. Maybe it’s our proximity to Wisconsin. The originator of this genre, Giordano’s, has grown into a large local chain and is probably the place to sample it if you must. Their sauce is more interesting than many, and served hot, their spinach-and-cheese stuffed pizza does provide a certain kind of amusement. But put the leftovers in the fridge and in the morning inspect the mass of hardened mozzarella between those two buttery crusts. I guarantee you won’t be ordering another one soon.

(3) Old thin crust. Just as the Cubs win a game every once in a while, we have a few worthy thin-crust pizzas. Two come from joints in the true sense of the word, places that have been there forever and look it, worth visiting for their neighborhood grit as well as for their pizza. On the north side try Marie’s (4129 W. Lawrence, 773-725-1812); on the south, Vito & Nick’s (8433 S. Pulaski, 773-735-2050).

(4) New thin crust. Thankfully, one of our current culinary fashions is European-style pizza, as practiced at Pizza D.O.C. (2251 W. Lawrence, 773-784-8777; there’s also an Evanston outpost, Trattoria D.O.C., 706 Main, 847-475-1111). Recent entries include Spacca Napoli (1769 W. Sunnyside, 773-878-2420) and Gruppo di Amici (1508 W. Jarvis, 773-508-5565). These are single-serving pizzas baked quickly in superhot wood-burning ovens, and if you’ve never eaten pizza in Rome or Naples (or even in Paris), you will find them a revelation: the thin crust will be charred, pliable, or barely cooked, depending on the style, but in any case it will have taste and texture. With high-quality stuff scattered sparingly on top, these pizzas can summon descriptives that you’ve never associated with pizza before: delicate, subtle, dare I say light? The three places mentioned above are sit-down restaurants that don’t do delivery; for a superior carryout/delivery pizza that’s somewhere between old and new thin crust, try Apart Pizza (2205 W. Montrose, 773-588-1500).

(5) Sui generis. Finally, a personal favorite the likes of which I have never experienced elsewhere: the “specialty pan pizza” at O’Fame (750 W. Webster, 773-929-5111): fresh garlic, tomato slices, a thin coat of mozzarella, and lots of olive oil, which soaks into the breadlike crust. O’Fame makes a creditable thin crust too, but this is the pizza de resistance.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/A. Jackson.