Whenever people visit Chicago, they are told to get a deep dish pizza. Chicago-style deep dish pizza is one of the things that Chicago is best known for! With that said, it isn’t the end-all-be-all of pizza in the Windy City. One of the things that I love most about living in Chicago is the diversity of pizza options that we have access to. You can fill any craving you might be having!
I’m going to let you in on a local Chicago secret — we actually eat other kinds of pizza besides Chicago Deep Dish.
When you talk to most locals, deep dish is not necessarily their go-to pizza craving. We all love a good deep-dish pizza every now and then, but it is so damn filling and time-consuming to wait for that there are plenty of other pizza varieties that we eat regularly. There are just as many locals who love Chicago-style deep dish as there are people who don’t like it and think it is pretty touristy. But guess what? Those people still eat pizza in Chicago because pizza is a f*cking delight no matter what form its in.
There is so much more to the Chicago pizza scene than just deep dish. Chicago is home to Detroit-style, New York-style, and Neapolitan-style pizzerias, all of which are worth trying on your visit to the Windy City. As a major foodie city, you can expect to find a big variety in pizza options. I am going to break down all the different styles of pizza you can find in Chicago and tell you where to find some of the best ones in each style.
Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
What You Need to Know
Deep-dish is the quintessential pizza that first-time visitors want to try on a visit to Chicago, which is why you find it at the top of this list. Chicago-style deep-dish is world-famous! Baked in a high-sided metal pan, the 2-4 inch tall crust holds together a thick bed of cheese and assorted toppings. Once loaded in with delicious goodies, sauce will be poured over the top along with spices and parmesan. Because there is so much to bake, Chicago-style pizzas typically take 30-45 minutes to cook. You can almost think of it like a bread lasagna. More of a meal than a single slice of pizza, you will walk away from a Chicago deep-dish pizza experience stuffed to the gills with tasty flavors.
Where to Find the Best Deep-Dish Pizza in Chicago
Similar to the Cubs vs White Sox feud, local Chicago residents consistently argue about which deep-dish pizza place they prefer. The two top contenders are Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s. For me, there are two kinds of Chicagoans: Lou’s people and everyone else. My family always orders Lou’s for family gatherings because we are hooked on the flaky, buttery, crispy crust. Plus, their Italian sausage blend is really good. They crumble it into the sauce as well as leave some pieces chunky or lined along the bottom of the crust, which I just love. You can find Lou’s outposts all around the city for easy access as well as delivery options.
For those who aren’t Lou’s fans, they are most likely eating Giordano’s deep dish pizza. It is the second most popular big chain in Chicago, and it is pretty comparable. Their restaurants have the classic Italian pizzeria style vibe, and their bistro bulb signs are very Instagrammable. Personally, I don’t think the crust at Giordano’s is quite as good as Lou’s, and it tends to get soggy. But they do have good toppings and their red sauce is really flavorful.
For a local’s only Chicago deep-dish secret, a visit to Pequod’s is required. It has an almost cult-like following and is largely seen as the most respected local deep-dish restaurant in Chicago. The deep-dish at Pequod’s is unique because it has a crispy caramelized crust on the outside, similar to a Detroit style pizza (more below). The secret? Baked cheese on the outside. It gets this gorgeous brown color and crisps nicely, adding a lovely texture and crunch. There are only two Pequod’s locations, one in Lincoln Park and one out in burbs, so you might want to make a reservation to guarantee yourself a spot.
Detroit Style Pan Pizza
What You Need to Know
One of Illinois’s rival states is neighboring Michigan, which coined a pizza of its own — the Detroit Style Pizza. I had never heard of this type of pizza before moving to Chicago, but now I love a good Detroit style pizza! The first difference of a Detroit-style pizza that you’ll notice is the shape. It’s rectangular or square rather than round. Next, it has a thick, fluffy bottom crust, almost like a ciabatta or Focaccia, which is laid into a metal baking tray with high sides. Cheese is added followed by sauce on top. They are cooked in a high temperature oven in a pan to create a beautiful bubbly layer of cheese on the top and sides. As it cooks, the cheese melts & drips down the side to create a caramelized cheese outer edge. YUM!
Where to Find the Best Detroit-Style Pizza in Chicago
Jet’s is a major national chain, so you might be surprised to see it on this list. Let me just say — it’s better than you think, especially for a fast food pizza. If you’re looking for cheap and cheerful pizza, I think this is the best one of the big brands. Their Detroit-style pizza is surprisingly tasty especially after a night out drinking, thanks to the thick layer of cheese and sauce as well as their garlic butter. There was a Jet’s outpost across from my old office, and….we went there more than is probably appropriate.
I am a sucker for a good wood-fired pizza and in Logan Square, Paulie Gee’s is unabashedly the best spot for tasty slices. Perhaps my favorite Chicago pizza place in the entire city, Paulie Gee’s is the real deal. They offer perfectly cooked Detroit-style pizza as well as bubbly Neapolitan-style pizza (more on that below) from their custom built wood-fired pizza ovens. I think their topping selection is just the best. They offer an ever rotating assortment of locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients tossed on top of their awesome dough in creative combinations. I always find myself surprised and impressed after eating at Paulie Gee’s. Their main dining room is open until 11pm and then they switch to the late night menu until 2pm. Eat in or pick up only.
New York Style Thin Crust
What You Need to Know
When you picture pizza or see a pizza emoji, you are envisioning New York style pizza. This is the quintessential pizza in the USA. Oversized slices are cut into hand-tossed dough which is spread thin to get a nice crispy crust. The layers of toppings also tend to be thin, so you don’t typically feel too full from one piece despite the enormous size. Typically you’ll find a light, even layer of heavily seasoned tomato sauce, typically with lots of basil and oregano flavors. It will be topped with mozzarella cheese and melted to get that iconic pullable gooey texture. Plain cheese or pepperoni are the most common toppings, but you’ll see other combos here and there. It is almost always ordered by the slice.
Where to Find the Best New York Style Pizza in Chicago
If you’re a daily rider of the CTA, Boiler Room pizza is the first thing you see as you step out of the California Blue Line stop. Plus they’ve got one of my favorite Logan Square Street Art Murals along the side of the building! Whenever I enter Boiler Room, I immediately feel like I’m not cool enough to be a patron (it’s verryyyyy hipster). But their pizza is damn good, so it’s worth feeling out of place for. Boiler Room specializes in thin crust New York Style pizzas with fresh, high quality ingredients and interesting flavor combinations. They do a different special each day, so there are always new flavors to try. They’ve also got a PBR, Jamo & pizza slice special that is a popular choice among the young folks. Cash only!
With a pizza restaurant two blocks from my apartment, I have been to Dante’s more times than I care to admit. Their monster New York-style pizzas are just so delicious though! You can order a whole pizza or by the slice with takeout and delivery options available, so it’s a great choice on a night where you don’t want to cook. All of their pizzas are themed around Dante Allegri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. My favorite is always Minotaur because who can resist garlic sauce AND giardiniera. They also have a fairly wide vegan pizza menu. Get ranch on the side. You won’t be disappointed.
Neapolitan Style Pizza
What You Need to Know
If there was an OG, granddaddy of all pizzas, it would most definitely be the Neapolitan Style. If you met an Italian person or traveled on a food pilgrimage to Italy, this would be the pizza you’d encounter throughout the country. The dough gets its quintessential bubbly consistency from the fermentation, which can be as short as a few hours or as long as a few days. It gives the pizza crust this amazing soft and chewy consistency. It is cooked to perfectly crisp in a hot wood-fired oven. Usually Neapolitan style pizzas feature traditional, pure ingredients like basil, burrata, or cherry tomatoes, on top of a simple red sauce.
Where to Find the Best Neapolitan Style Pizza in Chicago
Offering a sports bar experience with a delicious craft pizza menu, Parlor Pizza is a massive West Loop restaurant with a huge outdoor patio during the summer months. It is a vibe! Their Wicker Park location is even bigger with a large pizza themed mural on the side from famed Chicago street artist JC Rivera. Their pizzas are Neapolitan-inspired and are cooked in Italian wood-burning ovens to impart a delicious flavor. They’ve got classic options as well as a nice assortment of creative options.
To find Chicago’s premier Neapolitan pizza joint, you’ll need to head to the slightly out-of-the-way Ravenswood neighborhood where Spacca Napoli is located. It has a slightly pretentious vibe, but they get away with it because their pies are excellent. Simple, clean flavors is the name of the game at Spacca Napoli. You can choose from a red sauce or an olive oil sauce, as well as a variety of high quality toppings like fresh arugula, prosciutto or truffle. Of course, the classic margherita is a perfect choice.
The place so good I had to mention it twice! In addition to their delicious Detroit-style pizza, Paulie Gee’s also offers a delightfully bubbly Neapolitan-style pizza from their custom built wood-fired pizza ovens. The menu is full of creative combinations which are all cooked to perfection. I love how the crust gets dark brown on some parts yet still stays so airy. Simply the best.
I love the mashup concept at Middle Brow Brewing. It is a bakery during the day with an amazing selection of housemade breads, like sourdough and rye. At night, it moonlights as a brewery and pizza joint with a large patio along the side. Their whole focus is fermentation, trying to utilize all aspects of the grain and brewing process. You will be pleasantly surprised by their crust, which is activated with a sourdough starter, giving it tons of flavor and an especially chewy texture. The tang is more welcomed than you’d expect! They rotate their small menu with the seasons, usually offering 3-5 options per week. Toppings are sourced from local farms, and the food quality at Middle Brow is excellent. Pair a pie with a beer, and you’ve got yourself a perfect night in the Logan Square neighborhood.
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