Header photo courtesy of Lou Malnati's
Fast forward to Chicago in the 1940s, where Rudy Malnati, chef at Uno Pizzeria said “hold my beer,” and created deep dish pizza as the ultimate antithesis to pizza as the world knew it. From then on, no other food was more synonymous with Chicago than its signature pie. So, grab a knife and fork and prepare for the ultimate meal in a slice.
For the unaware: Chicago-style pizza is served in a circular pan with high edges, so the crust goes up the sides. Think of a casserole. The cheese goes in first, as a means to stop the thick crust from getting soggy, then the toppings (fillings, really), then the sauce. What? You don’t think that sounds like pizza? Yeah, that’s what most people from out of town say. Still, that’s what they do, and like St. Louis’ provel-laden cracker crust, you either love it or hate it.
Ready to take to the streets of Chicago in search of great deep dish pizza? Check out these places that are doing it best, and don’t forget to arrive hungry—these pies don’t mess around.
It’s hard to say this without sounding like a Dos Equis commercial...but living in Chicago, we don’t usually eat deep dish. But when we do, we eat at Pequod’s. Many claim it, but only one restaurant can wear the crown. We’re not afraid to say it: Pequod’s has the best deep dish in the city. We could go on and on about the crisp, burnt cheese crust or the perfect swamp of sauce that sits upon layers of mozzarella, but it still won’t do it justice. Good deep dish takes time, which is perfect for squeezing in a round or two before your order’s up.
The big Chicago chains you’ve undoubtedly heard of are Lou Malnati's, Uno's, Giordano’s, and Gino's East. All of these chains have slight variations on traditional deep dish, but our pick is Lou Malnati’s. Not only is the place packed with history, they consistently do it right with their signature buttery crust, homemade sausage, and fresh mozzarella cheese that has come from the same small dairy farm for the last 40 years. Another great thing about Lou Malnati’s is with 52 locations in Chicagoland, you are assured of finding one just around the block.
What My Pi Pizza lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in taste. The Bucktown spot opened back in 1971 and has always excelled with its commitment to ingredients: The daily hand-baked crust (My Pi was founded by a fourth generation baker), cheese from Wisconsin, and San Marzano vine-ripened tomatoes from California. The sauce and the crust is why My Pi stands out so much, and the reason it will stay with you longer after your visit. The sauce is flavored with a secret recipe of herbs and spices, and the crust is raised three times (one can only assume this is the secret to its airy, tender perfection). It’s also the only place on the list where you can get pizza by the slice, making it perfect for if the craving hits while traveling solo.
There’s deep dish, and then there’s this. Home of the Pizza Pot Pie, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder serves up pizza like you have never seen before—and yes, that’s a good thing. Located in a historic brownstone across the street from the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, this cash-only classic will give you an entirely new perspective on pizza. Most pizza places in town charge you per topping, but Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder charges by how much their behemoths weigh (don’t worry, they max out at one pound). The Pizza Pot Pie is a true experience that can’t be missed—a personal pan masterpiece made from scratch, every step of the way. There are vegetarian and meat sauce options, but unless you have a dietary restriction, go with the meat sauce. The grinders are great and the salads are solid, but let’s be real—you’re coming here for the ‘za.