Chicago’s claim to pizza world fame is the creation of deep-dish pizza. The answers to who invented it and where to find the best Chicago-style pizza depend entirely upon who you ask. But there is one thing Chicagoans can agree on: It’s all about the crust. Chicago deep-dish pizza is always a delicious, gloppy, gut-bustin’ meal requiring a fork and knife to eat. The average bake time for a large custom-built pie is 30 minutes, so don’t go to the restaurant hangry.
Where to Find Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza
To sink your teeth into a delicious local tradition, try one of these restaurants dishing up the best Chicago deep-dish pizza.
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Pizzeria Uno claims to have invented Chicago deep-dish pizza in 1943. The iconic River North restaurant is in a converted brick townhouse. “Dense” describes both Uno’s dining room at prime eating hours and the pie’s thick, gooey goodness. Doughy, golden-brown crust encircles slabs of melted mozzarella cheese layered with flavor-packed crushed tomatoes. Toppings include sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and veggies. Can’t wait? Opt for a to-go single slice, a popular lunch choice among area office workers.
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
A contender for the title “deep-dish pizza don” is Lou Malnati, founder of the Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria chain. After working as a pro pizzaiolo in local pizzerias (including Uno), Lou opened his own place in 1971. Today, his sons run the deep-dish dynasty with restaurants throughout the city and suburbs. The signature “Lou” pie is composed of a crisp, Italian breadstick-like crust layered with a mozzarella-cheddar-Romano cheese blend, spinach-mushroom mix, Italian sausage, and sliced Roma tomatoes.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.’s ingenious take on deep-dish—a single-serving pizza pot pie—makes it a contender for the best pizza in Chicago. The golden disk of thrice-raised, fluffy Sicilian-style bread crust encases a savory center of melted cheeses, butt pork sausage, and button mushrooms swirling in a garlic/onion/pepper/plum tomato sauce. A veggie-only version is available too. These pot-pie pizzas come in half- or one-pound sizes. During standard dining hours expect a long wait to be seated.
If “more” is your motto, Giordano’s is your Chicago-style pizza. The pies are super dense and the toppings many. Plus, you’re never far from a Giordano’s. The chain has numerous restaurants throughout Chicagoland, each reflecting the neighborhood’s vibe. Giordano’s “stuffed pizzas” come chock-full of gloppy mozzarella and mounds of fresh ingredients, with a minimum of five fillings. There’s a cheese-only option as well as some adventurous versions such as one with bacon and barbecue chicken. You can also order a “Make Your Own Deep-Dish” customizable pie.
When trolling for the best pizza in Chicago, Pequod’s deep-dish is a real catch. The Lincoln Park restaurant is named after the whaling ship chasing Moby-Dick in Melville’s classic novel—hence the funky, graffiti-style artwork of a badass albino whale. Baked in a blackened cast-iron pan, Pequod’s focaccia-style crust harbors a thick cheese layer. It oozes to the pan’s edges and darkens while cooking into a crispy caramelized ring rimming the pizza’s outer edge. Fresh topping choices abound like fish in the sea, but the Italian sausage or meatballs with sauteed onions and anchovies really float my boat.
Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta
Rudy Malnati, Jr.—part of the second generation of the Lou Malnanati deep-dish pizza family—opened Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta in 1991. Chicago sports pennants and player photos hang on the paneled walls of the Loop location, a big lunch spot and after-work hangout. Pizano’s stellar rep rests on its crumbly buttery crust, a secret family recipe. The signature pie is the sausage-mushroom combo “Hey Hey” Jack Brickhouse Special. Thick, tangy crushed tomatoes and savory combos of meats and vegetables top these deep-dish pizzas. However, Pizano’s parts ways from Chicago-style pizza tradition by also offering a carb-free sausage crust.
Layers of expressive graffiti scrawled on every surface in the original Gino’s East restaurant downtown attest to its popularity since opening in 1966. Gino’s creative decor and signature cornmeal crust make it a top choice for Chicago deep-dish pizza. Crunchy-edged dough encircles a cheesy center melding toppings together. The spinach-tomato pizza margherita always satisfies, while the Chi-talian Stallion pizza sports spiced roast beef, giardiniera (an Italian relish), and roasted sweet peppers, all borrowed ingredients from the classic Chicago Italian beef sandwich. Pair your pizza with one of the craft beers brewed on site at Gino’s River North pizzeria/pub and comedy club.
Bartoli’s Pizzeria’s connections to Chicago-style pizza run deep. Owner Brian Tondryk’s grandfather is Fred Bartoli, one of the founders of the Gino’s East empire. Bartoli’s Pizzeria takes a twist on proven family recipes, lacing its cracker-crunch crust with parmesan cheese. Cheddar, provolone, and salty gorgonzola add flavor layers to the mozzarella base. Regulars rave about the house-made Italian sausage and fresh veggies.
My Pi Pizza
The thrice-raised crusts on the deep-dish pizzas at My Pi are airy inside and crispy outside, while the four-cheese filling blends locally made mozzarella and artisanal cheeses from Wisconsin dairies. As well as multiple traditional toppings, Mi Pi features a Hawaiian pineapple-smoked ham pizza. Locals also love the white pizza topped with a basil-pesto sauce. The Bucktown location is a no-frills storefront that’s primarily for pick-up and delivery. For a sit-down meal, head to the suburban Northbrook location.
Nancy and Rocco Palese’s claim to Chicago deep-dish pizza fame is creating the “stuffed pizza,” modeled after their Italian family’s Easter cake recipe. Like a pie, the pizza has two layers of dough sandwiching melted mozzarella and layered fillings. Then tomato sauce is slathered on the top crust. The roasted garlic, sauteed onion, and seasoned baby spinach filling are garden fresh. Carnivores love the Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, and pepperoni fillings. Nancy’s Pizza has numerous takeout and delivery locations around Chicagoland.
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—Original reporting by Kit Bernardi