Eat + Drink

Locals Debate: Where to Find the Best Chicago Pizza

(Photo: Brendan Lekan/Shutterstock.com)

You’ve heard it before: Chicago is the one-and-only home to that heavenly creation we know as deep dish pizza. Lines rope around the block at the city’s most popular pie spots. But we’re here to let you in on a little secret: Most Chicagoans don’t dig deep dish. Sure, the inches-thick crust has its merits. But there’s a world of pizza in the city waiting to be inhaled. We asked three local food personalities who serves their favorite pie—and why.

Square Pie Savant: Ari Bendersky, freelance lifestyle journalist

“Yes, I know Chicago is a deep dish town (in theory), and while I do enjoy a good slice of Italian sausage and thick, gooey cheese pie from Lou Malnati’s once in a while, I’m more of a thin-slice guy. One of my favorite spots is a more recent discovery: A few years ago, Pizza Rustica expanded from a tiny storefront in Lakeview to a place across the street about three times the size.

The first time I went, I fell in love with their large rectangular pizza that they cut into small squares. The crisp, buttery crust reminds me of the corn meal crust pizza I used to get (and loved) at the original Vicolo in Hayes Valley when I lived in San Francisco. The sweet tomato sauce combined with simple pepperoni and mushroom makes for a great meal. The restaurant itself is always bustling with a great energy, much of which comes from the excellent staff.”

Wood-fired Woman: Liz Grossman, Plate Magazine managing editor

“Pizza options abound in Chicago, but I almost never order it. But there’s one place that no matter how full our bellies are, we simply can’t pass on a wood-fired pizza. The roaring wood oven at Balena [fires] 12-inch pizzas to perfection. It’s the crust that that gets your first, with the perfect chew, moisture and thick bubbles of delicious char. It’s not too sweet, salty or bready, but lies somewhere in between.

[Toppings include] everything from mortadella and pistachio pesto to Brussels sprouts with pancetta, but the mushroom, fontina, taleggio, scallions and thyme lures me in every time. Cheese is balanced by the bite of green onion strands, juicy mushrooms and the herby fragrance of thyme. It comes with a side of hot chile oil for an added pungent kick.”

Deep Dish Diva: Ina Pinkney, aka The Breakfast Queen

“I grew up with [my pizza] drooping — [a New York] pizza wedge that required a flip up-and-over. Moving to Chicago introduced me to fork-and-knife pizza, sometimes cut into squares. It took me a long time to find a pizza that was soul-satisfying and offered me the taste memory I craved. I tried the artisanal. I tried the delivery services. I tried to make it myself.

When I found The Lou at Lou Malnati’s, I found home. The thin crust was just chewy enough and added the strength to hold the tomato sauce, copious amounts of cheese and the freshly sliced Roma tomatoes on top. No, it’s not the droopy kind, but the deliciousness factor wins out every time.”