Fanatics may argue about which pies are the most authentic, but there are at least a few deep-dish facts everybody agrees on: First, a proper deep-dish pizza has to be baked in a deep dish, giving it its thick, sturdy, signature crust. Second, the sauce has to be layered over the cheese. And finally, it must be eaten with a fork and knife; otherwise, you’re not eating deep dish (or you’re just a pig). Once those requirements are met, deep dish is up to interpretation. But to us, a great deep-dish pizza is one that stands out either because of the quality of its ingredients or via an improvement to the standard formula.
1 Art of Pizza
How does a tiny storefront slice shop get so popular it has to expand to almost three times its original size? The sauce on its pizza helps. Chunky and spiked with dried herbs, this stuff is sweet, savory and tangy all at once. But the best deep dish in the city cannot slide by on sauce alone: Art’s lightly browned, slightly flaky crust crisps up beautifully, creating a sturdy base for all that rich mozzarella. And in the middle of each slice, where the cheese melts into the crust, it’s like an extra, unexpected layer of warm pizza magic. 3033 N Ashland Ave, 773-327-5600. Average pizza: $18.
No, this is not stuffed pizza—there’s only one layer of crust, and the toppings go right on top. But it is deep dish—and utterly Chicago—all the same. In fact, the biggest difference between this and those other pies is its light touch of cheese (about half the amount you’d find on a pie from, say, Gino’s East). But if it’s cheese you want, just wait until you get to the crust’s edges: Covered in a salty, blackened crust of cheese, it ensures that the last bite of each slice is even better than the first. 2207 N Clybourn Ave, 773-327-1512. Average pizza: $18.
There’s something to be said for this monolithic chain, which has mastered Chicago pizza plus made it available in almost every neighborhood (not to mention Florida). But convenience aside, this pie wouldn’t be noteworthy were it not for the crust. More closely related to pastry than it is to bread, it has curvy layers of flakiness and a rich butter flavor. Indeed, it gives new meaning to the term pizza pie. Locations throughout the city and suburbs. Average pizza: $18.
4 Lou Malnati’s
In a sea of deep dish there must be a regulator, a pizza that defines the genre and keeps things in check. And that pizza is Lou Malnati’s. With a crust that’s golden and crispy and a perfect ratio of cheese-to-crust-to-sauce (the sauce almost—almost—covers the whole pie, as opposed to lesser pizzas, on which it merely appears in splotches), it is the prototypical deep dish, nothing less and nothing more. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need. Locations throughout the city and suburbs. Average pizza: $18.
Deep dish pizza is a staple of Chicago, so it’s not hard to find places that serve it. Unfortunately, it is hard to find a place that serves it up right. Here’s why these places didn’t make our list.
The bottom crust was a little soggy and very thin. Side crust was crumbly and had little to no flavor—texturally it was unpleasant, and it was very hard to cut through. The sauce was splattered haphazardly, unattractively, on the top of the pie, and it added very little to the whole experience, which was dominated by the taste of string-cheese mozzarella. 61 E. Madison St, 312-236-1777. Average pizza: $19
Wet. That's the first word that comes to mind. The crust was soft and soggy in the middle. The cheese didn't taste like anything other than salt. The sauce was splattered on top judiciously. In short, not very good. 2010 N Damen Ave, 773-394-6900. Average pizza: $18
Innocuous. When the slice was put on our plate, it immediately started bleeding cheese. Soon, our plate was covered in Deep Dish guts, and it was not pretty. The insane volume of the cheese might have been acceptable if the rest of the pizza – including the sauce – had any flavor. Or if the crust had been in any way noteworthy. Or even if the place itself was less of a theme park. Sadly, none of this was true. 633 N Wells St, 312-943-1124, Average pizza: $22.
Edwardo's Natural Pizza
"Natural" seems to mean a crackery, butterless crust. This pizza was totally fine. Not great. Not too much cheese, which was good. But nothing notable either. The crust, while different than the others, was not different in a good way; just different, which actually made it worse. See edwardos.com for various locations throughout the city and suburbs.
Nancy's claims to be the "original" stuffed pizza. If that's true (and we have our doubts), Nancy hasn't kept up with the competition. The crust, the cheese, the sauce—it's all perfectly nice. But nice pizzas finish last. 3970 N. Elston Ave, 773-267-8182. Average pizza: $15.