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Deep dish pizza is just as Chicagoan as the Cubs, Lollapalooza, The Bean, and the polar vortex – and it’s also quite a unique style of pizza that since its original creation back in the 1940s by Italian immigrants, has caused attention from tourists for a variety of reasons. One of the most common being why it looks the way it does, if this is actually pizza (because of the way it looks), and if it’s good.
In today’s post, I’ll cover the basics to give you a beginner’s look and understanding of what the heck deep dish pizza is (also commonly known as pan pizza) if it’s your first time ever hearing about it, or if you’re just curious about this local delicacy that is very much part of the local culture here in Chicago. I will also share with you some of the places with the best deep dish pizza according to locals, as well as my own personal recommendations throughout the city and surrounding areas.
Feeling hungry yet? Good, let’s see where you can get the best deep dish pizza in Chicago!
Who’s idea was it to use a cake pan for pizza?
Claiming who came up with deep dish pizza first is a bit like the phrase about what came first – the chicken or the egg? The reason why is because It’s debatable to determine who exactly came up with the famed local recipe. However, what many can agree on is that the influence came during the wave of immigration from Europe in the 1900s. Two immigrants from Naples called Ike Swell and Ric Riccardo arrived in Chicago and opened the first establishment called Uno’s Pizzeria (still open today), to sell deep dish pizza in 1943, after experimenting with the fusion of their love for pizza from their homeland, and combining it with what they had available here in the U.S. (specifically Chicago). They decided to get creative, and instead of using a regular flat pan, they used a cake pan where they’d lay the crust in, add layers of cheese, meats (commonly Italian sausage), onions and mushrooms, and globs of tomatoes and sauce making the pizza look more like a cake than a pizza.
Adolpho Malnati, a former employee at Uno’s Pizzeria run by Swell and Riccardo, claims that he was the one with the original idea of making the deep dish and using a cake pan, which caused a bit of controversy and tension, and led ultimately to his quitting Uno’s in order to start his own pizzeria, the now-famous Lou Malnati Pizza. Lou Malnati’s is a current famous pizzeria in all of Chicagoland, which was originally named after Adolpho’s father, Lou, and it is said that many other employees that worked at Uno’s Pizzeria, went on to start their own restaurants offering this unique pizza pie, with their own spin! Some of which are included in today’s list of places where to find the best deep dish pizza in Chicago.
So whether you consider the place where deep-dish earned fame or the people behind the idea to be the true origin of deep dish, that’s up to you. However what many can assure is that deep dish pizza is definitely a labor of love, family, and a hunger for something hearty and delicious – enough to keep you feeling warm inside during the harsh Illinois winters!
What sets Chicago Deep Dish pizza apart from others?
The first and obvious thing that makes deep dish stand out is its look – it’s a THICK style of pizza and in comparison to the 9 different types of pizza in the U.S. including New York’s thin crust, California’s ricotta, and fresh veggie galor pizza, and Philly’s tomato pie, deep dish is the only one of it’s kind. Because of its size and volume, it is able to hold many more toppings, as the usual set up of deep dish is the following: crust, cheese, toppings, and tomato chunks/sauce. The top tomato chunks and sauce are very typical of a deep dish, and it’s mostly made of crushed tomatoes in their sauce. The crust itself will vary depending on where you go, some places pride themselves in their crust as some make them flaky, some crusts are thicker than others, and others are sturdier and taller than others, so this should answer a common question I hear often regarding whether or not deep dish pizza is soggy – it’s not! The crust is specially made to hold everything together, and hold up it’s shape and texture.
Depending on where you go to get your favorite deep dish, you’ll notice that there is an abundance of different toppings ranging from the classic pepperoni and cheese to veggie, to chicken, and even mac and cheese and more. People get creative, and add even more creativity to this already interesting pan pizza! However, the classic of the classic type of deep-dish pizza is the crust, cheese, veggies, tomatoes, and sauce with freshly grated parmesan cheese on top – yum!
The elements of a Chicago pizzeria
Other than the deep dish itself, there is something to be said about the actual restaurant that I have noticed (as someone who was not born or raised here entirely) that I saw differently. I am a Californian born and raised (from the Bay Area what, what!), and it wasn’t until I moved to Illinois when I was 11 or so, that I noticed that most Chicago deep-dish eateries had a bit of a unique style to them.
Usually, it’s a dark-ish/dim-lit restaurant furnished with dark wood tables and chairs. The more you walk into the establishment, the more you get a sense of hometown feeling, even in a city so diverse and popular as Chicago. Old photos displaying hometown pride on the walls through old pictures of the original restaurant owners and their family, to the neighborhood, local sports teams, all while dining on a table most likely decorated with a red and white checkered table cloth or the bare table itself. You can tell that the pizza is on its way soon when the waiter brings over the pizza stand, as well as the bigger utensils to cut the pizza. It’s special, and I wouldn’t think of enjoying deep dish any other way 🙂
So, without further ado, here are 5 of the best places to find deep dish pizza in Chicago (in no particular order).
Giordanos began as a family-owned restaurant from Torino, Italy, and upon arriving in Chicago, made their version of deep-dish pizza with their famous “Italian Easter Pie.” It’s a very popular place to go enjoy a slice of deep dish, and the cool thing about this restaurant is that there are TONS of Giordanos restaurants all over Chicago and the surrounding areas! Also, they do ship pizza which is pretty common for other pizza places within Chicago. I recommend you get Classic Chicago Deep Dish with pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions – so good!
Lou Malnati’s is the last name that many people associate the most with deep dish pizza around the Windy City, and it’s for a major reason. Lou Malnati (a real person) back in the 1940’s worked for one of the first deep-dish pizza restaurants in Chicago (as we learned earlier). He made a move later on in the 70’s to create his own pizzeria with his wife, and, well now, the rest is history. Lou Malnati’s pride’s itself on its buttery thick crust and the use of ripe California tomatoes and Wisconsin cheese, as well as its ora of family-oriented service and treatment with one another and their clients. Lou Malnati’s is one of those restaurants that not only ships out pizzas to wherever you live, but also has a few physical restaurant locations throughout the country, such as in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Arizona. If you want to get something truly authentic and truly Chicago, try the Deep Dish Malnatic Chicago Classic!
Ninos Pizzeria is a little bit outside downtown, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you can make it over to the western suburb of Buffalo Grove. Ninos pizzeria, like Lou Malnati’s, prides itself over its ambiance and morals in bringing the family together over pizza and treating their patrons as such since the early 80’s. Their famous Wa-Pa-Ghetti is quite the most famous and distinctive pizza available on their menu, which is a Sicilian inspired pizza crust, that is fully customizable to each customer as far as what toppings they want on it. Aside from their Wa-Pa-Ghetti, they have tons of different pizza styles to offers such as their world-famous thin crust pizza, stuffed pizza, gluten-free, and of course, deep-dish pizza.
Pizza this good to be on Oprah’s favorite pizza places ever, and on various other top ten lists for best deep dish pizza – it should come to no surprise to learn that the owner of this restaurant is the son of one of the workers from Pizzeria Uno (Chicago’s first deep dish pizza restaurant). With many of its location being within the city and one in the suburb of Glenview, Pizano’s is another Chicago classic, offering up deep dish as well as thin-crust pizza and other Italian classic pasta and salads. Truly a place to check out if you’re in the city! Their famous pizzas include Rudy’s Special (after their father, a former employee at Uno Pizzeria)) which includes their house-made sausage and fresh veggies. A legacy from some of the original creators of deep dish and a must place to visit!
Oh, and they can also ship their pizzas nationwide, so if you just so happened to be outside of Illinois…you can click HERE for more information.
Bella Bacinos is one of those restaurants that may not have their menu available on their website but has raving reviews by word of mouth by its customers. Known for its warm service, quality pizza, and menu overall, as well as its variety of Italian classics and innovative and delicious dishes. Try their deep dish (obviously) and more specifically, try the Bacino Special with Italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, green peppers, and onions, or the Broccoli Bacinos, which has a medley of broccoli, herbs, and mushrooms.
You can check them out on Instagram HERE and see for yourself in real-time what they have to offer, and what more people are saying!
Last, but not least this is one of my personal favorites that I stand by. The Silo is a restaurant located in the northern suburb of Lake Bluff, but it’s well worth the drive up because of its delectable deep-dish pizza, wings, and other classics! Mixing both Italian and Swedish efforts (the Silo was originally constructed by a Swedish contractor for another Swedish man) a barn turned thriving pizza restaurant in the 80’s began offering some of the best deep-dish in the North Shore. With a history of quality food and a desire to bring forth amazing pizza, the current owners of the restaurant bought the Silo (and kept the original name) from the two Swedish men to then turn into a hot spot for deep dish pizza.
This is a restaurant recommendation you won’t find in many top # best deep dish pizza places in Chicago (for some reason) but maybe that’s a good thing because it would then be even more crowded than it already can get. Regardless, I want to share this one because it is personally one of my favorite deep dish pizza places in Chicagoland as a whole. A pretty bold statement, but a very truthful one.
You can check out their menu HERE and see for yourself the variety of pizza and other Italian-American dishes. I personally recommend the Supreme Pan Pizza as well as the hot wings – just amazing.
Is there a “best” deep dish pizzeria in Chicago?
The short answer is no. Many Chicagoans and Illinoians for that matter, will say they have a personal favorite, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a favorite amongst everyone, enough for it to be the absolute best in the city and surrounding areas. As someone who has lived in Illinois for a while now, I can say that no one can really agree on where you can find the best deep dish, but people will always agree on which pizzerias are the most popular, iconic, and hometown favorites (generally speaking). So, there is no ONE best deep dish, I’d say it’s more of a range of favorites here in the Windy City, and the ones on today’s list where a few of them that hopefully you’ll get to enjoy when you make your way over! Only then you’ll also be able to surely make your own selection and see why we have more of a range than one specific favorite deep dish place.
Why deep dish is special
Deep dish pizza runs deep in Chicago, and its surrounding areas, just as much as family, quality ingredients, and warm service does for many of these establishments. The symbol for new beginnings, food innovation, and the desire to do better for family is what led to creations such as deep-dish pizza in Chicago, and many other culinary favorites and staples here in the U.S. I think that’s one of my favorite things about a country as diverse as the States, and that is the options we have to travel the world through taste.
In Chicago too, there is definitely an abundance of diversity that allows us to enjoy foods from all over the world, as well as hometown favorites inspired by the influence of many hard-working immigrants and their family recipes.
What food is famous in your part of the world, and which destination would you love to go to purely for the staple dish? Let me know in the comments below, and the food recommendations you have for all of us to try when we visit your city!
To many more travel moments like these ✨