I first tried Chicago deep-dish pizza in South Korea. Yes, you read that right, South Korea.
I had just started dating Sam and I quickly learned that there were two things he really loved: the Blackhawks and deep-dish pizza. The boy’s not even from Chicago (he’s from British Columbia!), but he somehow has a big love for all things from the Windy City. So during one of our weekends in Korea, he decided to drag me about 1 hour and a half into Seoul so that we could go eat at one of the only deep-dish pizzerias in the whole country…
Once we were back in North America, I knew it was only a matter of time before he planned a trip to Chicago, and because I like to eat, I tagged along.
So what’s Chicago deep-dish pizza?
Deep-dish pizza is not your average slice of pizza. It has a really thick crust that can sometimes be up to 3 inches high! The pizza is baked in a steel pan and the toppings are usually assembled upside-down starting with cheese, followed by pepperoni or sausage, and then topped off with crushed tomatoes. (This is actually done so that the cheese won’t burn seeing as deep-dish pizza requires a longer baking time.) The result looks less like a pizza and more like a pie, but it’s so delicious that I’m sure Italians are wishing they had come up with it.
Because so many different pizzerias claim to make the “best deep-dish pizza in all of Chicago”, I decided to go in search of the best myself. With one week in the Windy City I managed to eat at 5 different establishments. Here’s a little recap:
Gino’s East Side
Gino’s East Side has been around since 1966. The restaurant was started by 2 taxi drivers who were tired of dealing with traffic and decided to open a pizzeria with a friend. The place became a hit with locals and visitors, and it’s still around today.
What I liked about Gino’s East Side is that they make their pizza slightly different from the rest. Their website states that the pizza is made with a “secret, golden crust” but it seems to be common knowledge that the secret to their recipe is cornmeal. This makes the dough yellower and it also has a slightly different flavour, which to me was a welcome change after eating pizza every single day.
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
Lou Malnati’s is a respected name in Chicago and it also has a long history when it comes to pizza in the city. Lou got his start in the 1940’s working with his dad in Chicago’s first pizzeria. In 1971, he took all his pizza knowledge and decided to open a restaurant under his own name.
The pizzas at Lou Malnati are special in their own way. Their crust is a little thinner than your average deep-dish pizza, but it’s also extra buttery and flaky – that’s a good thing! Because of this I found that I could eat more of it without getting too stuffed.
Giordano’s was started by Efren and Joseph Boglio, two brothers who emigrated from Argentina. Discouraged by the lack of ‘authentic pizza’ in the city, they opened the first Giordano’s in 1974, where they introduced their mother’s stuffed pizza recipe (FYI stuffed pizza is even deeper than deep-dish pizza). The result was a hit and today there are 14 Giordano’s in downtown Chicago, plus another 30 locations spread out across the Chicago suburbs and Florida.
This was my first introduction to Chicago-style pizza and it set the bar pretty high. Their tomato sauce was a little saltier than the rest, and the flavours were very rich. I know this sounds very vague, but I thought Giordano’s had a classic flavour – like this is how pizza should taste!
Bacino’s prides itself in being “America’s first heart healthy pizza”. When its founder Dan Bacino came into the business 30+ years ago, he knew it would be competitive, so he decided to set himself apart by sourcing the freshest and highest quality ingredients. While other pizzerias may rely on canned ingredients, Dan Bacino decided that even his pizza sauce would be made from scratch. And so he became a success!
I went to Bacino’s with a few travel-blogging friends (hi Ted, Katie and Val!) and we ordered the Chicago-style stuffed Bacino’s special which came with Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions. The pizza was a hit! My slice even disappeared from my plate when I wasn’t looking…that’s how you know something is good!
Uno Pizzeria’s history dates back to 1943 and there is actually a plaque inside the restaurant that states this was “the first pizzeria in the world to serve pizza-in-the-pan or deep-dish pizza”.
I ordered their specialty pizza called “Numero Uno” which comes with sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, chunky tomato sauce and mozzarella. Their crust was baked to perfection, and the pizza toppings or “fillings”, were pure magic. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this pizzeria is pretty special, because there was always a long line of hungry pizza-lovers waiting to get in. Uno’s actually turned out to be my favourite pizzeria of them all…and I ended up eating there several times during my stay. Is it a coincidence that “Uno’s” was the same pizzeria I first went to in Seoul, South Korea?
Oh, and if you have a bit of a sweet tooth you might just enjoy the Deep-Dish Sundae they serve here. Picture a soft chocolate chip cookie baked in a pizza pan, which is then topped with vanilla ice cream, whipping cream, and chocolate syrup. The calorie count is scary, but the dessert itself is really tasty.
And that sums up my Chicago deep-dish pizza-gobbling adventures. If you have more time in the city you may want to check out a few of the other big names, including: Pequod’s, Pizzeria Due, The Art of Pizza, Burt’s Place, Pizano’s…and there are plenty more – just ask a local for their personal recommendations.
Have you tried Chicago deep-dish pizza?
What’s the best pizza you have ever eaten?