By Beth Whitman, on February 25, 2015

The best of Chicago pizza

Ask a half-dozen Chicagoans to name their favorite pizza joint, and you’ll get a dozen responses. Everyone has a favorite one or two (or three). People in Chicago are all kinds of passionate about their deep-dish pizza. The local delicacy routinely is matched up against the also-iconic thin-crust pizza from New York. The debate rages on about which pizza is best.

Hailing from New Jersey, I grew up accustomed to thin crust. I didn’t realize just how “Team Thin Crust” I was until I started sampling Chicago’s deep-dish pies. Even what Chicagoans call “thin crust” pizza isn’t thin enough in my book. On a recent visit, I set out to try this local cuisine with an open mind. The result: A bunch of delicious meals.

Lou Malnati’s

When I first heard the name of this legendary Chicago pizza joint, I heard “Luminati’s.” What a great name, I thought! Then a Google search straightened me out. (I still think my take is better.) All told, there are more than 40 locations in the city and suburbs.

At the Lou Malnati’s in Oak Park, I had a personal-size cheese deep-dish. The pizza certainly ranked high on the cheesy scale. The sauce was served on top of the cheese instead of beneath it. That strategy is old hat for mid-Westerners, but was a new twist for me.

Lou Malnati’s deep-dish personal cheese pizza

After eating this entire pizza I actually wanted a little more. A few minutes later, however, I was happy it hadn’t been any bigger, as I felt pretty full.


Though it has far fewer locations (11 in the Chicago area) than Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s is another super-popular pizza place in town. (Also local favorite is Gino’s East, a spinoff with a number of locations of its own.)

One woman told me she liked Gino’s best because its sauce is “like what your mother would make.” I couldn’t tell a big difference between the sauce at Gino’s and Lou’s, but I preferred the crust at Gino’s because of the texture. Cornmeal is the (not-so) secret ingredient that gives the Gino’s crust the perfect amount of crunch. Seriously, I could have eaten a bread basket filled with this crust. It was that good.


A devout New York pizza-lover visiting Chicago told me Pequod’s was the best pizza he’d ever eaten. I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but after having this parlor’s thin-crust, I safely can say this: The pizza is good.

In particular, I really liked the crust at Pequod’s. The pizza parlor’s unusual way of braiding the outside was a nice touch, making it decorative and doughy (which I like in my outer crust).

Thin-crust pizza from Pequod’s

Also, at Pequod’s, the cheese sits atop the sauce, like it does with a normal pizza. My one complaint: There was a bit too much cheese for my liking.

At Pequod’s I discovered another interesting trend about Chicago pizza: Here, rather than cutting the pizza into slices (you know, like a pie or a piece of cake), Chicagoans cut a round pizza crosswise, creating a bunch of squares and small triangles (see photo above). One benefit of this approach: Pieces are smaller. One downside: There always are a few pieces with no crust.

While I would give Pequod’s a second try based on the positive feedback from Chicagoans (and my New York friend), I’d definitely go for the deep-dish next time.

I could only eat so much pizza during my recent three-day visit to Chicago, but I already know where I’ll go when I return. On the list: Spacca Napoli (known for thin Italian-style pizza) and Burt’s Place (known for its cantankerous owner). I can almost taste the slices already.

Where is your favorite place to eat pizza?