Villa Napoli is yet another decades-old Northwest Side/Northwest Suburbs Chicago-style pizza joint with likely a devoted local following.
The Pizza Hound and I made our way there one summer night. From the city, we headed north on Harlem Avenue to the suburb of Harwood Heights (home of the original Jay’s Beef!), then headed west on Lawrence Avenue. It was around Fourth of July, and we passed a great bright carnival, with all kinds of lights, rides, and people. It was packed. After a few miles, we arrived at our destination. Tucked in the corner of strip mall that it shares with a hairdresser, a liquor store, and Polish bar called Lazer Knights (!), Villa Napoli serves pizza to area unique part of the Chicago area, the island of Norridge and Harwood Heights.
According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Norridge–home of Villa Napoli and today a community of about 14,500 people within about 1.8 square miles–takes its name from the nearby Chicago community area Norwood Park and the suburb of Park Ridge to the north. In the late 1940s, local residents resisted annexation by the city of Chicago, and later founded present day Norridge. Today, Norridge and the neighboring Harwood Heights (which also denied annexation), form an independent island with the Chicago city limits, much like the much larger Detroit surrounds the small city of Hamtramck. In fact, it turns out that that big fair we passed earlier was the annual Island In The City Festival!
Most streets in Norridge are lined with brick single-family homes built in the postwar decades, with a few apartment buildings and autocentric commercial developments found mostly along major roads such as Lawrence Avenue. The nearby Harlem Irving Plaza was built on former farmland in the mid-1950s, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the landscape today. O’Hare Airport is just to the west and you can almost feel it. You can definitely hear it.
There’s no shortage of pizza with in a mile or so in the Norridge area. Annetti’s and Original Mama Mia’s are both on Cumberland Avenue to the east, and Al’s (“Est. 1999” and “Home of Chicago’s Thinnest Pizza”) is on Lawrence just a block or so away from Villa Napoli. Not to mention Bije’s on Irving Park Road in southeast corner of Norridge, and the great pizza places on Harlem Avenue in the city. There are likely more, too. Villa Napoli, however, was our primary focus for the evening.
Inside, several tables and chairs, with booths lining the wall, and white walls with a few faded framed pictures made a dining room that was not all that remarkable. Pizza was why were there, though. A couple of guys sat at table enjoying their own cheesy extra large pizza. It looked really good.
I headed to the counter in the back. A few older photos, some faded with time, and some newspaper articles adorned the walls by the counter. Apparently, Villa Napoli was highly rated by former Sun-Times food critic Pat Bruno. Again, we got a extra large all pepperoni, half sausage. And, of course, we ordered thin crust, the true Chicago standard.
While this pizza was not one of our favorites, it admittedly suffered from the long drive home. The cheese had predictably hardened as it cooled, which is fine, but upon reheating it did not seem melt very well. That said, by the time we finished it (after munching on it later that night and the next day), it really grew on us. The sauce was tasty. We may not go out of our way to get it again, but it certainly is a decent Chicago-style thin crust pizza. Probably best if had at the restaurant or for carryout/delivery nearby when it’s hot and fresh. I’m sure there are people that swear by this pizza as the best, and no doubt many locals in the Norridge/Harwood Heights area collect a lot of these coupons!
Villa Napoli offers pan and stuffed pizza, too. They have a wider variety of toppings than your typical Chicago area pizza joint, as well, with “fancy”toppings such as capers, prosciutto, and artichoke hearts, and they also have more-common, unique-to-Chicago such as Italian beef and hot giardiniera. Not to worry, there’s also plenty of old fashioned sausage, too.
Hey, Villa Napoli guy…
do you work somewhere on the South Side, too?
Check it out if you are in the near Northwest Suburbs. As the menu says, “Serving Chicago, Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, River Grove, Rosemont, O’Hare Airport, Park Ridge, Schiller Park, Norridge, Harwood Heights.” Interestingly, the owner apparently ran for the Norridge Village Board last year. We’re picking no sides in that fight. Still, the Hound and I fully support the inclusion of pizza in our local and national political discourse.
Villa Napoli Pizzeria is located at 8546 W. Lawrence Ave., Norridge, IL 60706