Deep dish pizza is one of the most contentious foods on the American culinary scene today, largely because of its relationship to New York-style thin crust pizza. The Chicago creation (it was actually invented at the original Pizzeria Uno) is — yes, technically — a casserole, but it can also be astoundingly delicious when it’s done right. So let’s put aside the arguments for today and celebrate the best deep dish pizzas in America.
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Antonio’s got its start back in 1967, and it’s still family-owned, with 12 locations and 2 more in the works in the Cleveland suburbs. Deep dish is one of a handful of pizza styles on offer, but it’s definitely the way to go. These pizzas start with fresh-made crust, which is layered with provolone, toppings, more cheese, another layer of crust, house-made sauce, and grated Romano cheese before being baked to a golden brown. The topping options are pretty extraordinary as well; you can choose from everything from Hungarian peppers to thick hand-cut pepperoni, meatballs, and sliced steak.
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This local North Side institution is all about using fresh, high-quality ingredients, and making everything from scratch. The crust is light, buttery, and crunchy and has a little mozzarella baked right into it; the fresh sauce contains just the right amount of herbs and spices, and the toppings are top-quality and added with a deft hand. You can really go crazy with those toppings, too; they include bacon, Canadian bacon, Italian beef, prosciutto, gorgonzola, and hot giardiniera. Make sure you start with their other specialty, roasted Italian-style wings.
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There are four Bella Bacino’s locations in the Chicagoland area, but the one to visit is the original, opened more than 30 years ago by founder Dan Bacin on Lincoln Avenue. Its “stuffed pizzas” are available in four sizes, and can take up to 40 minutes to come out of the kitchen after ordering. Ingredients are top-notch (all cheese comes from Wisconsin), and add-ins include applewood-smoked bacon, salami, giardiniera, Italian sausage, and fresh jalapenos. The Spinach Supreme, which is filled with a cheese blend, herbs and spices, fresh spinach, and fresh mushrooms, has even been hailed as “heart healthy” by the Chicago Heart Association.
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The name Burt Katz is just about as synonymous with pizza as you can get in Chicago. He got into the game of opening pizzerias with literature references for names in 1963 when he got involved with Inferno (since closed). He’s opened and moved on from success after success ever since. There was Gulliver’s, opened in 1965, where he stayed until 1971, And Pequod’s (named for Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick), which he opened in 1971 and sold in 1986. The years have been kind to his legacy at his former spots, but his success burgeoned at Burt’s Place, launched in 1989. (After a yearlong closure, the restaurant reopened last month under new ownership — Katz passed away in 2016.) Burt’s is a more restrained Chicago deep dish — a thinner base, a sensible use of cheese and sauce, and that iconic Burt Katz caramelized crust.
Tony Gemignani is a master pizza chameleon, an expert at more pizza styles than you’ve ever tasted. No surprise then that his red-boothed, brick-walled homage to Chicago-style pizza in San Francisco’s North Beach landed on our list of the 101 best pizzas in America. And by Chicago-style, we mean a choice between deep dish, cast iron pan, stuffed, and cracker thin pizzas (there’s more to Chicago than casseroles, after all). One of the most-discussed orders at Capo’s is the Quattro Forni, a square loaf smothered with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and herbs and your choice of prosciutto, sopressata, or wild mushrooms, that’s baked in four different ovens to achieve a crispy, chewy, black-edged crust. But the Dillinger is the pie that Capo’s singled out as the signature order. A trio of Cheddar, mozzarella, and provolone is topped with vodka sauce, chicken, bacon, broccolini, artichoke hearts, red peppers, garlic, and lemon and spiced with crushed red pepper.
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Great Chicago-style deep dish — in New York? Believe it or not, it exists, and while slightly sacrilegious, nobody seems to care, because it’s delicious. Chicago native Emmett Burke opened Emmett’s back in 2013 after discovering that real-deal Chicago deep dish was impossible to find in the five boroughs. After months of research and experimentation, he hit the nail on the head. The crust is light and buttery, the cheese is spectacularly melty, the sauce is rich and tomatoey, and toppings are spot-on (especially the spicy, fennel-flecked Italian sausage).
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Gino’s may be the ultimate in Chicago deep dish pizza, with a history dating back half a century (2017 marks 51 years). The story starts with two taxi drivers and their friend who became frustrated with rush hour traffic and decided to open up their own pizza place just off the famed Michigan Avenue strip in downtown Chicago. The restaurant has been considered a city mainstay since its conception, as has the graffiti on its walls (it’s Gino’s tradition to carve your name if you’re a regular). Their pie begins with a buttery crust that crumbles as soon as you take a bite; it's stuffed with a layer of fillings (ranging from sweet Italian sausage to pineapple), then topped with a more-than-healthy serving of mozzarella and finished with crushed vine-ripened tomatoes. Their success has led them to open 16 locations, even expanding into neighboring Wisconsin (for all those cheese-lovers), Arizona, and, of all places, Texas , with another coming soon to Phoenix.
It wasn’t enough for Chicago to invent its own deep dish pizza style — no, they had to invent two. The recipe for Giordano's stuffed pizza is one that the restaurant claims has evolved over more than 200 years, beginning outside Turin where Mama Giordano, "famous around town for her exquisite cooking," was well-known for her most beloved meal.
Her "Italian Easter Pie" became a double-crusted, ricotta-stuffed tradition in the Giordano family, one that Italian immigrants Efren and Joseph Boglio, the original owners of Giordano’s, used in 1974, when they opened their first pizzeria on Chicago’s South Side. The stuffed pie features a thin bottom crust topped with nearly an inch of cheese and toppings, then topped by an even thinner crust layer, then topped with a slightly chunky tomato sauce. Whether or not you believe that anything this thick is served in Italy (or that anyone there would claim it to be Italian), there are now some 56 locations in Chicago (and more in Florida, Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota) serving this version of stuffed pizza.
The first Lou Malnati's Pizzeria opened in 1971 to much acclaim, and it’s now a Chicago — and national — institution. Lou died of cancer just seven years later, but his family kept his dream alive, expanding his chain to 48 Chicagoland locations at last count.
The Lou Malnati’s deep dish experience comes in four sizes: six-inch individual (serves one), nine-inch small (serves two), 12-inch medium (serves three), and 14-inch large (serves four). So you most likely will just be ordering one or two if you plan to finish them, even with a few friends (unless you’re not planning to eat anything else that day).
They do actually make a thin-crust pie, but you’re not visiting for that, so make sure one of those picks is the Malnati Chicago Classic, made with Lou's lean sausage (a whole disc of it), some extra mozzarella, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on buttercrust. "It's authentic Chicago!"
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My Pi is a Bucktown institution, and a local hangout serving some excellent deep dish. The tomato sauce is chunky and fresh, the mozzarella doesn’t overload the pizza, and the crust is actually light and crispy. The restaurant itself may have little to no ambiance, but its perfectly proportioned pizzas will make a convert out of even the most adamant deep dish hater.
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Pequod’s originator (the late Burt Katz) moved on from this endeavor after few years to take a break before opening a new pizza stalwart in 1989 (Burt’s Place in Morton Grove, just north of Chicago). But the years have been kind to his legacy. Pequod’s deep dish, known for its “caramelized crust,” earns points for its chewy, crusty, quasi-burnt cheese crust that forms the outer edge of this cheesy casserole, adding a welcome degree of texture that probably wouldn’t be necessary if it weren’t nearly an inch thick. But it is necessary. And beautiful. And it does add that texture. Pequod’s achieves the effect by spreading a thin layer of cheese along the outer part of the crust, where it darkens against the side of the pan.
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Converting or infecting? Either way, non-chain versions of deep- dish are spreading beyond Chicago. Such is the mystery of pizza that the style landed in St. Louis, where Pi Pizzeria (area code 314, as in pi, get it?) launched its self-described “irrationally delicious deep dish and thin cornmeal crust pizza,” introduced St. Louis' first food truck (they claim), supposedly became the best pizza President Obama has ever had, and has since become a successful mini-chain of its own (there are four other St. Louis spots and offshoots in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati).
That’s right, St. Louis-spawned Chicago-style pizza... in D.C.
There are 12 standards (six each of deep dish and thin crust). Beyond topping standards like sausage and pepperoni, Pi offers zucchini, feta, prosciutto, gorgonzola, and goat cheese. Thin-crust purists whose blood is already boiling over the fact that Pi proudly declares that “Sauce = On top” ought to look away from the signature deep dish, The Delmar, which contains mozzarella, Cheddar, barbecue sauce, roasted chicken, red and green peppers, onion, and cilantro.
Rudy Malnati Sr. first gained notice as the original chef and manager of Pizzeria Uno, which opened in 1943. Under Malnati’s son Lou, Uno went on to storied success. But his other son, Rudy, has been just as much a part of any conversation about Chicago’s great pizzas since he opened Pizano's in 1991. There are now six Pizano’s locations, all known for serving equally good thin and deep dish pizzas. You have a choice between their buttery and flaky "world famous, gourmet, deep dish pizza" (don't forget to allow a half hour for it to cook), or the thin-crust 12-inch or 14-inch pies.
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When Uno founders Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo were first planning, Sewell (a Texan) wanted to serve Mexican food, "But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely." When Riccardo suggested pizza, which he’d experienced in Italy during the war, Sewell suggested a more substantial version than what was readily available in Little Italy.
Thus, the style featuring "buttery ‘out-of-this-world’ crust," and the generous amounts of cheese. Sure, the company is now based in Boston. No, you don’t have to visit Chicago to experience it (according to the company, there are more than 140 Uno Chicago Grill restaurants found in 24 states). But there’s something to be said about visiting the original spot in Chicago (even though the only Chicagoans there will be there on behalf of out-of-town guests) and ordering "Numero Uno — The One, The Best" topped with the works: sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Romano.
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If you’re looking for deep dish pizza by the slice, this Chicago joint is the place to go. The Art of Pizza doesn’t do anything too crazy; they just treat the pizza with the respect it deserves, using high-quality Wisconsin mozzarella, California vine-ripened tomatoes, plenty of fresh vegetables, and pans that are perfectly seasoned, resulting in an ideally crisp, buttery crust. The sauce — bursting with fresh tomato flavor and just the right amount of oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes — is also up there with the best you’ll find anywhere. The name says it all – these guys treat pizza-making like an art form.