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A smattering of Italian food with glasses of wine.
Joe’s Pizza has been around for more than seven decades.
Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

A Northwest Side Tavern-Style Pizza Legend Branches Out After Seven Decades

Joe’s on Higgins, which opened in 1952, has moved into a larger space with a bigger menu

Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Joe’s on Higgins has spent more than five decades along Higgins Road in Jefferson Park and earlier this year the pizzeria packed up to a new and larger location at 5914 W. Higgins Road. The family-owned pizzeria’s history dates back to 1952 when Joe Pollini opened his first shop on the South Side.

The tavern-style pizza — the same Chicago thin crust recently lauded in national publications — has been Joe’s specialty. The family moved to the North Side and opened a space on Higgins Avenue in the ‘60s before moving in 1983 to a small brick building at 5914 W. Higgins Avenue. Takeout business was big, especially during Bears games. But in the ever-so-competitive restaurant world, with ghost kitchens and third-party delivery services threatening smaller businesses like Joe’s, changes were needed. Motorists would just cruise past the building without noticing Joe’s: “It had no curb appeal,” says Pollini’s grandson, Frank DeMonte.

The new Joe’s on Higgins.
The new location is down the block from the old one.
The interior of Joe’s on Higgins.
A space is more modern and larger.

DeMonte and his wife Gina now run the joint (DeMonte says his mom and dad also help out behind the scenes). They’ve seen the area change through the decades. While the pizza recipes remain sacred, there were other aspects of the restaurant the family thought they could tweak to grow with the neighborhood. Eventually, they’ll add a patio.

“We’re going more Italian, not as much pizzeria,” says DeMonte.

A slice of pizza with a pint of beer.
While this is pan pizza, Joe’s is known of this tavern-style pies.

Rebrands for old-school Italian restaurants can cause a stir. Back in 2019, Bianca Henniges of nearby Dino’s Pizza in Norwood Park told Eater how she didn’t like being pressured to phase out their chef’s logo. Some thought the mustached man was too sinister looking and preferred a cartoonish reboot suitable for kids. The mustached man has stayed in place.

A Joe’s, the DeMontes know they have to draw new customers, but they don’t want any changes to alienate regulars. It’s a balancing act. While the new Joe’s is larger with a private event space, they relocated the old pizza oven, a Baker’s Pride with six decks, to the new space (they also serve stuffed and pan pizzas). The new menu features chicken or veal Vesuviio, parmesan, and marsala. Customers will find baby-back ribs, fried shrimp, and other pasta. Joe’s also has a liquor license for wine, beer, and cocktails. Drinkers can order a negroni, but — yes — an espresso martini also is served. There’s a certain nostalgia to this type of Italian-American offering, even though the changes represent an evolution for Joe’s. Especially as cherished Italian restaurants continue to close around town.

A plate of grilled calamari.
A plate of sausage and peppers.
Chicken vesuvio from Joe’s.

Chicken Vesuvio is one of many Chicago classics on the menu.

Joe’s has never had a prodigious social media presence, but they’re trying to change that wth most Instagram posts. This isn’t something Joe’s founder had to worry about. There have been other digital challenges. For a while, Google listed Joe’s as closed. The easiest solution would have been creating a new listing, but for a restaurant that’s been around for 70 years, DeMonte says it would be embarrassing to start anew with a new profile and zero user reviews.

While scouting sites for the new restaurants, DeMonte says his parents advised him to stay on Higgins — the family had a lot of history along the strip with two locations since the 1960s. Vacant since 2008, DeMonte pursued the former Noodles Restaurant, a building that’s been vacant for long stretches on the corner of Higgins and Austin. The deal never materialized, but as fate would have it, Wall’s Flower Shop vacated their longtime home at the end of 2021 at the corner of Higgins and Marmora. That allowed Joe’s to move just up the street.

Martinis are available.

Being on the Northwest Side, an area with a higher-than-average number of churches, locals have found the new Joe’s to be a solid venue for communions, graduations, and birthdays. DeMonte says his customers return because of their quality ingredients. After seven decades, Joe’s Pizzeria has kept high standards.

“That’s the biggest thing: quality is consistency,” DeMonte says. “It just performs day in and day out.”

Joe’s on Higgins, 5862 W. Higgins Avenue, open 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday; 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

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