Chicago is known for many things – its location on the shores of Lake Michigan, distinctive high-rise skyline, and of course a proud sporting heritage dating back nearly 150 years. Arguably, though, the Windy City is most famous for its food, with a well-deserved international reputation for producing incredible deep-dish pizza. From little hole-in-the-wall joints that sell by the slice to high-end restaurants with white tablecloths and attentive wait staff, you never have to travel far from your hotel in Chicago to find that distinctive metal pan.
If you’re only in town for a few days, your hardest decision will be deciding which of the thousands of pizza joints to dine at. To help narrow things down, here are five of the best options in the city.
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
Consistently rated one of the best pizza restaurants in a city full of them, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is so popular it now has 39 different locations (14 sit-down, 25 takeout and delivery). While this means you’re not going to get that homely family feeling when you visit, it also means you’re not going to have to travel far for the experience — even if you’re heading from the airport after your flight into Chicago.
You’ll need to wait at least half an hour for your meal, as each pizza is cooked to order – so make sure you get there before you’re starving! With great appetizers as well as delicious, large pizzas with plenty of toppings and the company’s famous butter crust, it’s no surprise that Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria receives plenty of return visitors. The restaurants are open from lunchtime until at least 11:00 PM, and as late as midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder, a small family run place in Lincoln Park. Although this is some of the most expensive real estate in the city, that doesn’t carry over to the prices on the menu. Don’t forget that this is a cash-only establishment – there’s an ATM down the street, but you’ll need to leave your credit cards in your pocket.
Famous for its grinders and pizza pot pie, it’s hard to go wrong with anything on offer. Since the restaurant is relatively small, you can expect to wait up to an hour at peak times. The staff are friendly and welcoming, and the maitre d hasn’t needed to write a name in decades – he’ll come and find you when your table is ready, even when the place is absolutely packed.
Open for lunch at the weekends and from 4:00 PM during the week, a visit to Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder should be on every hungry visitor’s list.
Giordano’s is undoubtedly popular with tourists and locals alike, and for good reason – it’s a genuine institution, serving exceptional pizza since 1974. From humble beginnings on the city’s south side, the company has grown to encompass 14 locations in Chicago alone.
As with all the best deep-dish places, expect to wait for both a table and your food – a 45 minute cooking time isn’t unusual but, as they say, good things take time. You can order your food before you’re seated to speed things along, but get there early on weekends if you don’t enjoy lining up. The $10 lunch special will come out more quickly if you’re really in a hurry, but it’s best to find the time for the full experience if you can.
Top-rated dishes include the Bacon BBQ Chicken, Chicago Classic, and Meat and More Meat stuffed pizzas, but you’re unlikely to be disappointed with almost anything on the menu. Giordano’s is open from lunchtime until at least 10:00 PM, seven days a week.
If you’re not a fan of deep-dish (or you’ve just eaten too much of it on this trip), Spacca Napoli offers thin-crust pizza that attracts a loyal customer base. As the name implies, the restaurant specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza, cooked in a wood-fired oven in the traditional style.
The short cab ride from downtown makes for a lower-cost meal, and you should be ready to wait for a table – Spacca Napoli isn’t a huge restaurant, and word has definitely got out about the quality of the food. The good news is that since wood-fired pizzas only take a couple of minutes to cook, you won’t be sitting around for ages after you’ve ordered.
Almost everything on the menu gets rave reviews, but the Bufalina, Funghi, and Diavola options are all a great place to start for first-time visitors. The appetizers are also excellent, which isn’t always the case in a pizza restaurant, and there’s a full choice of beers, wines, and aperitifs to keep the conversation flowing.
Opening hours run from 11:30 AM until 3:00 PM, then 5:00 PM until 10:00 PM – so don’t turn up in the late afternoon hoping to beat the crowds, as you’ll be standing out on the pavement waiting for the doors to reopen!
If you’re looking for great pizza without having to travel for miles, Gino’s East is located in the Near North Side neighborhood, close to many of Chicago’s best hotels. With huge pies and an enviable reputation, don’t be surprised to see lines stretching out the door unless you get there early – the restaurant doesn’t take reservations for tables of less than 15 people.
Highly-recommended menu options include the Meaty Legend and Gino’s East Supreme deep dish pizzas, and the bruschetta appetizer, although there’s something for everyone, with plenty of thin-crust and sandwich options as well. The craft beer selection is also particularly noteworthy.
The graffiti on the walls adds a unique twist, and patrons are free to add their own thoughts and artwork to it. Gino’s East is a family friendly restaurant, which can mean plenty of noise at peak times – so it’s probably best to save it for at least the second date. It’s open from midday to midnight, so you’ve got plenty of time to make the most of this iconic Chicago experience.
Have you been lucky enough to experience Chicago’s delicious pizza? Which restaurant was your favorite?
Lauren Juliff is a full-time traveller, author, and freelance travel writer who has been exploring the world for the past four years. She is currently writing for Hipmunk’s CityLove campaign.