I’d say I’m a casual foodie. I don’t need Michelin-starred restaurants or the latest gastronomic invention, but I do enjoy food, and I love experiencing a place through its unique foods. My husband, however, is most certainly not a foodie. He doesn’t care about food–can you imagine?! It’s kind of convenient, though. Since he doesn’t care about where we eat, I can pretty much choose whatever I want and he’s cool with it. One thing we both agree on, however, is pizza! My husband would choose pizza over just about anything.
So when we started planning a trip to Chicago, I knew there was one post I would definitely be writing: Finding the best Chicago-style pizza in Chicago! I started researching “the original” claims (there are several), and I consulted Chicago bloggers and food bloggers and my fellow travel bloggers. I asked Chicagoans once we got there. We only had three days to sample as many as possible, so we didn’t try every pizza place in the city, but we did a pretty good job, I think! Here is your ultimate guide to Chicago-style pizza in Chicago!
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What Makes it “Chicago” Style?
There are three things that characterize Chicago-style pizza, according to a Chicagoan:
- Deep Dish: Not to be confused with “thick crust.” (Am I the only one who thought they were one in the same?) Deep dish pizza has a hand-tossed crust thickness (not too thin and not too thick) and is baked in a high-walled pan instead of a flat pan. This allows the crust to act as a wall, which allows the topping to be piled on and go straight to the edge.
- Upside Down: You know how “regular” pizza has the sauce on the bottom and all the toppings, well, on the top? Chicago-style pizza is the opposite. The cheese and toppings go directly onto the crust, and the tomato sauce goes on top! Steve did not care for this because he likes cheese, and he wants it where he can see it. I, however, loved this concept because I love sauce! I was totally okay with the sauce being the star, y’all!
- Lake Michigan Water: This secret ingredient is a secret no more! The Lake Michican water is the thing that makes the crust taste so good. I won’t disclose which famous Chicago pizzeria leaked this secret, but trust me when I say it was a big one!
Find more about Chicago on my United States Page!
What to Know Before You Order
There’s a bit of a learning curve with ordering pizza in Chicago. Two things in particular might make a difference in how you plan your meals, so here you go!
Okay, deep dish pizzas have a lot of mass to them. All that tall crust, mounds of cheese, delicious sauce, and other toppings you love take a while to cook all the way through. The general timeframe to plan for is about 45 minutes, but it could take up to an hour, as long as the restaurant is not backed up with orders. Here are some tips:
- Don’t Arrive Hungry: It seemed to be common knowledge to everyone but us that Chicago-style pizzas take 45-60 minutes to cook. Don’t come hungry, or if you do, don’t be shy about ordering an appetizer!
- Order Online for Pick-up: Don’t have time to wait? Order ahead and do a little sightseeing on your way to pick up your pizza! We did this at three out of six restaurants we visited, and that was definitely the way to go!
- Go Off-peak to Dine In: Want to eat at the restaurant? Get there early! We ate in at Aurelio’s and were seated right away because we got there around 11:30 on a Saturday, before the lunch rush started. We also got seated right away at Gino’s East because we arrived at 2:45pm, after the lunch rush but before the dinner crowds.
Read on: The Most Iconic Eats Around the World
You won’t find a Chicago-style pizza by the slice (at least we didn’t!), but most pizzerias had an “individual” size or similar on their menu. Beyond that, there was always a choice of small, medium, and large. When ordering, keep in mind that there are more fillings and more crust than on your typical pizza!
Because we wanted to try so many pizza restaurants, we chose the individual size as often as possible and split it between the two of us. That was plenty! A couple of times we chose to get a larger size, either because individual was not available, or we were particularly hungry or wanted to have leftovers for breakfast the next day.
Coming soon! The Best Tips for Visiting Chicago–stay tuned!
We tried Chicago-style pizza from six famous pizzerias, and we had some strong opinions about them. From timing to price differences to the all important taste test, here are our findings, in the order we tried them.
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
This was Steve’s least favorite, but I think that may be partially because it was the first one we tried, and our first experience with the “upside down” concept, which he didn’t like! I thought their sauce was perhaps the most flavorful, and I’d go back again.
- Locations: Multiple in and ourside of Chicago; we visited the one on the Magnificant Mile (Michigan Avenue).
- Timing: We arrived at 1:30, and there was a one hour and twenty-five minute wait for two people! So, we chose to order to-go. The wait for that was 40 minutes. Consider ordering ahead!
- Price Point: $10.25 for an individual-size.
- What We Got: Deep Dish Cheese
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This experience was a bit of a shocker. We were able to be seated right away, but only after we ordered did we find out it would take 45-60 minutes to cook–and that was for a small! I can appreciate making everything fresh, but I do wish they’d told us the timeframe before we sat down. I asked if that was normal or if there was a backup in the kitchen, and our server confirmed that was the typical timeframe. Don’t arrive hungry!
That said, this was a really delicious pizza. I’m a big believer in pizza being a finger food, but this one actually needed to be eaten with a knife and fork! The toppings were piled high, and the cheese was extra gooey, so we both unashamedly ate our pizza with knives and forks.
- Locations: Multiple in and out of Chicago; we visited the one on Superior Street, just half a block off the Magnificent Mile.
- Timing: Full 45-60 minutes once ordered. Consider ordering ahead!
- Price Point: $23.50 for small; no individual size available.
- What We Got: Deep Dish Spinach Margherita
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This one was our unanimous favorite, but it was also the pizza that was the most different! The sauce was on the bottom instead of the top, and the crust was thin, but there was still a “wall” of crust on the sides. This one was so, incredibly delicious, and I would have eaten this for every meal if I could!
- Locations: Multiple in and out of Chicago; we visited the one in the South Loop on Michigan Avenue.
- Timing: 25-30 minutes; Can order ahead.
- Price Point: $15.25 for small (lil, small, medium, and large available)
- What We Got: Small Ham and Pineapple
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Yes, this is same as “Uno’s Pizza” that you’ll find all over the country, but this is the original, so I’m deeming it local! This one also came highly recommended by many a Chicagoan, and their sign out front claims their cook invented the Deep Dish style. This one had the thickest crust, and possibly the tallest as well. We ordered in advance, since we were wise to the wait times at that point, and their website even noted that Deep Dish pizza orders will take 45 minutes to cook–pro move!
- Locations: Multiple ins and out of Chicago; we visited the location on East Ohio Street
- Timing: 45 minutes; Consider ordering ahead.
- Price Point: $11.99 for individual size
- What We Got: Individual Spinoccoli (which includes spinach and broccoli)
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We almost gave up on Giordano’s! They have several locations, but they get so many orders, they also limit how many online orders each location can take in a certain timeframe. We had tried to order from the closest location to us twice before we thought of trying a different location, and we’re glad we squeaked in when we did (at 3:30pm)! When we arrived to pick up our pizza at 4:15pm, and the person next to me who ordered at that time was told to come back to pick hers up at 6:05pm!
That said, this was a pretty good pizza. It was the least expensive of all the pizzas we ordered, and there are several locations to choose from. It was exceptionally cheesey (you can see in the photo below where some bubbled up and broke free of the sauce). I’m not sure we’d go back to this one if we had as much trouble ordering again, but it was all part of the experience! Steve put this one at his #2, right behind Aurelio’s, so that’s saying something!
- Locations: Many locations in and out of Chicago; we picked ours up from the East Randolph Street location.
- Timing: Plan for at least 45 minutes until it’s ready, but it could be as much as two hours or more. Definitely order early, or call to see if you can get a reservation if you want to eat inside!
- Price Point: $9.50 for individual Deep Dish cheese pizza
- What We Got: Deep Dish Cheese
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Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta
Our last (for now) Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza experience was with Pizano’s. It was pretty good, but probably my least favorite. It probably had the most cheese, which is always wonderful, but the crust was too crunchy for my preference, and the pineapple rings were a miss for me. I want pinapple all over my slice, not in just one spot! The sauce was flavorful, though, and if you like a cruchy crust, this just might be your favorite!
- Locations: 4 locations in Chicago; 1 location in Glenview, IL
- Timing: Plan for 45 minutes
- Price Point: $9.70 for individual cheese ($27.70 for medium Hawaiian)
- What We Got: Medium Deep Dish Hawaiian
Want more? You’ll find more about Chicago on my United States Page!
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