Where to eat pizza like a local in Chicago

Christy Karras

Chicagoans take their pizza very seriously. Friendships have been lost and family members disowned in fights over which is better, Gino’s East or Giordano’s? Deep dish or stuffed? While many places profess to have Chicago-style pizza, it takes more than a deep dish to make the real thing. Local cuisine has also branched out in recent years, with some of the best pizza coming in a variety of styles — even thin crust!

Lou Malnati’s
Multiple locations. Original store at 6649 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincolnwood

It seems only natural that Chicago pizza is a family business. The story is that Rudy Malnati Sr. originally invented deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno in 1943. Malnati’s son, Rudy Malnati Jr., went on to found Pizano’s pizzeria in 1991 and took with him a secret dough recipe crafted by the elder Rudy’s widow, Donna Marie Malnati. But the big dog of the Malnati pizza business is Lou Malnati’s, founded by Rudy senior’s other son. It’s the only pizzeria Esquire named The Most Life-Changing Pizza. Lou Malnati’s serves up deep-dish pizzas, known as pies, with the sauce on top and toppings in the middle. Originally, Lou made all the pizza creations and people lined up down the block for a slice. Since his death in 1978, Lou Malnati’s 34 locations have been run by his wife and two sons.

Home Run Inn
Multiple locations. Original store at 4254 W. 31st St., Chicago

Home Run Inn was simply a small tavern on Chicago’s South Side in the 1920s — until Nick Perrino convinced his mother-in-law, Mary Grittani, to start serving up her pizza for free to attract more bar customers. It turned out the pizza was more popular than the drinks, and a business was born. Since 1947, Home Run Inn has been dishing out pizzas with popular garlic butter crust. Home Run is also well known for a large frozen pizza business — but the fresh version isn’t to be missed. There’s a reason this Chicago staple has won the Best Pizza award at the Taste of Chicago six times. With nine locations, Home Run Inn is now run by Nick’s son Joe.

Louisa’s Pizza and Pasta
14025 S. Cicero Ave., Crestwood

Another of veteran of Pizzeria Uno, Louisa DeGenero left to start her own restaurant in 1981 and developed a recipe that makes her deep dish stand out in a city deep with deep dish pizza. Hers is cooked in a deep-dish pan but is thinner than many of its counterparts and smattered more lightly with toppings. Most feel that she now makes a better pizza than her former employer. The real key, as anyone who’s visited Louisa’s will tell you, is in the buttery crust. Crestwood, 30 minutes south of Chicago, can be a drive for visitors, but it’s well worth the trip. While Louisa’s serves a variety of fresh Italian food, why would you go if not for the pizza?

2727 W Howard St., Chicago

The first thing you’ll notice upon a visit to Gulliver’s is the strange décor. Lighting fixtures, chandeliers and old-fashioned lamps cover nearly every surface in the restaurant. In 1965, Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz opened the restaurant on the north edge of the city. Katz left to open Pequod’s and Burt’s Place — both also popular Chicago pizza locations worth a visit. And Freeman became obsessed with antiques, filling the place with his findings. But Gulliver’s is best known for its pizza, most notably its deep-dish pan pizza. The crust is thick and covered in a layer of cheese, toppings and then chunky tomato sauce with tomatoes on top. Freeman sold the business in 2008 and some locals have complained that the quality’s gone down since, but Gulliver’s remains a can’t-miss on the Chicago pizza tour.

Vito and Nick’s
8433 S. Pulaski Rd, Chicago

There’s a reason the popular Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” visited Vito and Nick’s on its trip of Chicago. For years, the thin crust, square-cut crisp pizza was a local secret, but the secret’s out now. Originally known as Vito’s Tavern, the South Side bar was started by Vito and Mary Barraco in the 1920s. Their son Nick joined them, and the trio began serving pizza in 1946. The place quickly became popular for Sicilian-style thin pizza with house-made seasoned sausage and the requisite secret dough recipe. (Yes, this story sounds familiar. Many of the Chicago greats come from similar backgrounds.) These days the pizzeria continues to serve its original recipe, complete with egg pizza for Catholics on Fridays. Vito and Nick’s also takes a certain pride at being old school. Anyone under 21 must be accompanied by an adult. Cash only and no delivery. Nick’s oft-quoted motto: If they want truly great pizza, they’ll come in for it.

Apart Pizza Company
2205 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago

Apart is relatively new to the storied Chicago pizza scene, but it’s quickly earned accolades for its one-of-a-kind pizza. Advertising itself as not Chicago pizza or New York pizza but Italian pizza, Apart offers a pizza with ample toppings and a crust somewhere between crispy thin and stuffed thick. Of course, the North Side pizzeria offers a family history complete with a founding chef, Carlo, who passed on his secrets to his son. The 23 toppings come on different signature pizzas, with the 10-inch personal pizza being the restaurant’s specialty. Pizza delivery is free and you can arrange for a DVD from the nearby video store to be dropped off with your pizza. Apart has also made supporting local arts programs in Chicago part of its mission.