Chicago critics tend to dismiss Chicago deep dish as overblown, casserole-like, and a monstrosity next to New York thin crust (we’re looking at you, Jon Stewart). In fact, no one likes deep dish... except every tourist who comes here, makes a beeline for Pizzeria Uno or Gino’s or Giordano’s, and staggers out two hours later as happy as a zombie on the Thanksgiving episode of The Walking Dead. We surveyed the city far and wide to come up with our own list of the very best, leaving off some famous names and including some you’ve probably never heard of. Happy gorging, Chicago-style.
Uno is where the original deep dish style -- a crispy short dough crust, topped with cheese first, then crushed tomatoes -- was invented in 1943 which later expanded to it's sister restaurant Pizzeria Due, a whole block away, when it caught on. We salute it as living history, though we think there are places doing the original style better today. This is one heavy pizza, especially if you get sausage on it... which literally means a solid disk of sausage plopped on the crust like a hubcap on a tire.
Even thicker than the original deep dish style, stuffed pizza dates back to the 1960s and is built like sort of pizza pot pie, with a second crust on top covered with tomato sauce. Usually the crust is more bread-like and flaky than classic deep dish. This relatively new place revives the family recipe from Manzo’s, an old-school Italian joint in the same neighborhood, and its stuffed pizza has a good crust and a tasty (if a bit too sweet for some) tomato sauce.
The Loop (& other locations)
Rudy Malnati Sr. is one of the people credited with inventing deep dish at Pizzeria Uno, and his son Rudy Jr. launched this local chain. Unfortunately, Mama Malnati had already given the family pizza crust recipe to brother Lou for his own chain (see below), so she devised a new one for Rudy. That's why we give the nod to Lou for classic deep dish (Rudy wins at thin crust). But this is still plenty good, with a similar crispy-crunchy hard shell setting up a sturdy base for robust tomato and cheese.
The old-timers claim that deep dish is North Side pizza and real Chicagoans -- by which they mean South Siders -- eat tavern-cut thin crust. There’s some truth to that (though Giordano’s started on 63rd St, to name one example), but these days deep dish is all over the South suburbs. Few are more dramatic than the deep dish served at this place in suburban Alsip, with a ring of flaky crust as tall as a medieval wall barricading a thick lake of gooey cheese and tomato.
This is the newest deep dish we know of in town, though again, it claims descent from a classic (the family opened Gino’s East but sold it long ago). Bartoli's still knows what it's doing -- exemplified by a well-balanced deep dish with a nice flaky crust that doesn’t sit like a gut bomb. The sauce is a little sweet, as old-school red sauces often are in Chicago, but it works well both with something neutral like spinach and something that adds a little kick like pepperoni.
Louisa DeGenero was a cook at Pizzeria Due when she decided to open her own place in the South suburbs with her daughter in 1981. (It’s just down Highway 50 from Nino’s in Alsip, in fact.) This is a contender for the best original-style Chicago pizza currently being made, with a lighter, puffier butter crust, yet the same robust crushed tomatoes and fennel-rich Italian sausage you’ve come to expect from classic local deep dish.
Lincoln Park and Morton Grove
The third main style of Chicago deep dish is pan pizza, in which the ingredients sit on top of a puffy crust. What sets Chicago’s apart from pan pizza all over middle America is the crispy edge of caramelized cheese turned lacy and almost black -- the invention of Burt Katz, who launched and sold several pizzerias from the 1960s on, including this one. From the cheese that's sharp enough to cut your gums on, to the acidic blast of the tomato sauce, this is put-hair-on-your-chest pizza, one to work up to only after you’ve proven you can take on milder forms of Chicago ‘zas.
River North (& other locations)
Whether or not he invented it, Lou’s dad Rudy was present at the creation of what is probably the pizza that comes closest to what original deep dish tasted like. And this is a deep dish that extols the virtues of simplicity with tastes like buttery crust, bright canned tomatoes, and Italian sausage with a hint of wine.
A Tribune poll some years ago named this the best deep dish in town, and as far as stuffed goes, we won’t argue. It just gets everything right, from the flaky crust to the brightly spiced tomato sauce on top. For Lakeview, at least, it revived a style that had gotten kind of chain-boring. The pizza is big and robust enough on its own that we wouldn’t even mess with meat. Cheese or spinach is fine (and the sausage is a little weird, anyway).
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1. Pizzeria Uno29 E Ohio St, Chicago
2. Tano's Pizzeria3038 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago
3. Pizano's Pizza61 E Madison St, Chicago
4. Nino's Pizza4835 W 111th St, Alsip
5. Bartoli's Pizzeria1955 W Addison, Chicago
6. Louisa's Pizza & Pasta14025 S Cicero Ave, Crestwood
7. Pequod's Pizza2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago
8. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria439 N Wells St, Chicago
9. The Art of Pizza3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago
Uno is where the original deep dish pizza -- a crispy short dough crust, topped with first with cheese, then with crushed tomatoes -- was invented in 1943. We salute it as living history, even if there are more places (some better, others not so much) doing authentic deep-dish better today. This is one heavy pizza, especially if you get sausage on it, which is more or less a solid disk of sausage plopped on the crust.
Tano's is known for its stuffed pizza, a cousin of deep-dish that dates back to the 1960s (deep-dish was invented some 20 years earlier) and resembles a pizza pot pie, with a second crust on top covered with tomato sauce. Tano's revives the family recipe from Manzo’s, an old-school Italian joint in the same neighborhood, and aside from stuffed pies, it serves a range of pizza (including Sicilian, pan pies, and thin-crust), as well as red-sauce standbys like three-cheese beef lasagna and chicken parm.
This Chicago mini chain comes from a line of pizza royalty -- as the story goes, Rudy Malnati Sr. is one of the people credited for inventing deep dish at Pizzeria Uno, and his son Rudy launched Pizano's while his other son Lou founded Lou Malnati's. Pizano's uses a recipe similar to that of the original Uno -- the pies are made with a biscuit-like shortbread dough and topped with cheese then chopped tomatoes. If a thousand calorie slice of deep-dish isn't what you're in the market for, you'll find just as satisfying a meal in Pizano's thin-crust pies and pasta specials.
Few pizzas on Chicago's far South Side are more dramatic than the deep-dish served at Nino's, which has been honing its reputation since 1948. Deep-dish pies, featuring a tall, flaky crust, thick and gooey cheese, and sweet tomato sauce, are certainly Nino's specialty, but the thin-crust, stuffed, and pan pies aren't bad at all.
Bartoli's claims descent from a Chicago deep-dish vet (the family opened Gino’s East but sold it long ago), so it knows what it's doing -- case in point: the well-balanced deep dish has a nice flaky crust and doesn’t sit like a gut bomb. The sauce is a little sweet, as old-school red sauces often are in Chicago, but it works well both with something neutral like spinach and something that adds a little kick like pepperoni.
Louisa DeGenero was a cook at Pizzeria Due when she decided to open her own place in the South suburbs with her daughter in 1981. Louisa's is a contender for some of the best -- and under-the-radar -- original-style deep-dish pizza in Chicago, with a light and puffy butter crust, yet the same robust crushed tomatoes and fennel-rich Italian sausage you’ve come to expect from classic local deep-dish.
Pequod's should be on everyone's bucket list for deep-dish pizza in Chicago. The Lincoln Park mainstay specializes in cast-iron pan pizza with a caramelized cheese-topped crust. The lacy and blackened edges are a Pequod's signature, and the crust is crunchy and dense, while the cheese is sharp and tangy. The Clybourn Ave restaurant is open until 2am, so it's got your late-night pizza needs covered.
With more than 40 locations across the greater Chicago area, Lou Malnati's is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, not least because of its signature buttery and pie-like crust, exclusive sausage blend, and mozzarella that's been sourced from the same Wisconsin dairy farm for more than 40 years. According to pizza lore, Lou's dad probably invented deep-dish pizza and even if he didn't, the chain's reliable pan pies are pretty close to what the original deep-dish tasted like.
This simple and unfussy counter-serve pizzeria in Lakeview serves quality deep-dish pizza without the tourists and crowds. The Art of Pizza gets everything right, from the flaky crust to the brightly spiced tomato sauce on top, and even serves pan pizza by the slice for those who don't want to commit to the entire thing. Even though the spot is known for its deep-dish pies, it also makes thin-crust and stuffed pizzas.