Go ahead. Ask five Chicagoans where to get the best deep dish pizza and it's a pretty safe bet you will get 5 different answers with a lengthy explanation of "why". I won't bore you with all of the details about why I prefer some places over others, but in honor of National Deep Dish Pizza Day here is a list of places worth trying out.
1) Bacino's of Lincoln Park - so it goes without saying that when asked where to go for deep dish I will direct them right to my personal favorite, Bacino's. Nestled right in the heart of the Lincoln Park neighborhood near Oz Park this place gets my vote because I simply love their crust. Now, some may say, "they have stuffed pizza, not deep dish" but to me if the pizza crust rises up the side to cradle in all of that deliciousness then its a deep dish to me. Really all that separates a "stuffed" from a "deep dish" is an extra layer of dough on top of the cheese layer. I also give Bacino's my top spot because the staff are always so friendly and the atmosphere is comfortable.
2) Lou Malnati's - with multiple locations in the city, dozens in Illinois and neighboring states, this is a very popular spot to try. I love going to the location on State Street in the Gold Coast area, or their location on Wells in River North. The ambiance at both of these locations always makes me feel a little like a tourist in my own neighborhood, but it's always a good time. Lou Malnati's happens to be my personal #2 choice, but as it gets bigger my interest in going there, even when easier than any other spot, is waning. The transition from neighborhood gem to a restaurant I expect to find adjacent to any mall in America isn't as appealing to me. That being said, they do have in my opinion, the second best deep dish and crust in the city. Try the Malnati Classic - it's a quintessential deep dish pizza.
3) Pequod's Pizza - this fan favorite got it's start outside of the city, but thankfully realized a location in Chicago (also the Lincoln Park neighborhood) would be a great idea. I have never seen this place without a wait and there is a good reason. They serve good food and their deep dish pizza has a crust that is unlike the others with a nice carmelized cheese finish. I wish it hadn't taken me so long to try this spot - it's definitely worth the wait!
4) Labriola - is one spot that, I hear and it always makes me cock my head to the side and say "huh, really?" BUT in all fairness I have only been one time and I don't think that makes for a fair assessment. My visit happened to be in winter 2016 on the same night as the holiday parade. Given this was pre-COVID, the entire Michigan Avenue area was jam packed with locals and tourists and Labriola was no exception. Service was average at best and the food came out at a temperature that suggested it may have waited a bit before being served. Coupled with the fact that it was fairly new, it seems another visit may be in order.
5) Giordano's - This spot has been serving up deep dish for decades and has a location in just about every corner of Chicago, not to mention dozens in the Chicagoland 'burbs and 18 locations out of state! The pizza is good here but when ranking them it usually comes in last of the ones I recommend and that is all because of the crust. To me the Giordano's crust has more of a cornmeal flavor to it, but that is easily balanced by using it to scoop up some wayward sauce and cheese. I do love watching the cheese pull here when the slice is lifted from the pan and makes it's way to your plate. That cheese sure can stretch!
6) Pizzeria Uno - Before moving to the city my exposure to Chicago-style deep dish pizza was really limited. As a kid growing up in Columbus, OH we had a franchise of the popular Pizzeria Uno that we would visit once or twice a year, but rarely for Deep Dish. On a visit to Chicago about 20 years ago I made a stop at the original and was so happy to discover that what they were serving was MUCH better than I remembered.
If you have never had Chicago-style deep dish pizza there are a few things you may want to know beforehand:
- This is not pizza that you pick up and eat with your hands (unless you are my four year old) - think knife and fork.
- The Chicago-style deep dish is built in layers. Crust, cheese, sauce on top - inside out pizza as our son has called it before. Just like any other pizza other toppings can be incorporated - sausage being one of my personal faves.
- Baking time can be lengthy. Preparation matters - some places will even let you order before arriving which can reduce your wait time significantly. Expect about 40 minutes for your deep dish to bake, but don't spend that time filling up on appetizers or salad!
- One piece can be enough, so consider size before ordering. Have leftovers? No problem because they do reheat really well.
- Wardrobe matters. The last thing you want to worry about is a restrictive waistband when digging into a heavy dish like Chicago-style pizza.