What is the best deep dish pizza joint in Chicago?
That is the most pressing question for must-do things when visiting the Windy City, especially if you only have a few hours on a layover.
I have now been to Chicago on Amtrak layovers twice, and both times I went hunting for the best and most epic deep dish pizza the city has to offer. With hundreds of places to choose from and most claiming to be the best, it was a doozy trying to decide.
But here are my comparisons between the top 2 ranking and competing Chicago deep dish places in Chicago and my thoughts on each!
There was one sure mission that I had chosen to take on as my Amtrak train pulled into Chicago’s Union Station: hunt down a delicious land-mine of flavor, AKA a Chicago deep dish pizza.
A little flashback to 2011 when I went abroad for the first time to New Zealand and how this cheesy mission began. I was on the train across the United States but on a much shorter and more direct route than my recent epic train adventure across America.
I had met two travelers on the train, one a German fellow named Paulus, and the other an eccentric chap self-named Black Diamond. Black Diamond, or Theron Denson as is his real name, was traveling across the US as a Neil Diamond tribute singer. And I’ve gotta’ say, the guy was hilarious. The other guy — just a backpacker doing the same thing I wanted to do; travel the world.
With an Indiana Jones style hat I am still jealous of…
On that layover in 2011 they agreed to come with me to try my first ever Chicago deep dish, a legend oft whispered about on travel channels.
We chose to go to Gino’s East because it was relatively close to the station, and I had just seen a tantalizing episode featuring that very pizza joint on TV.
When you first walk in, your eyes are blitzed with color. Every single inch of this restaurant was covered in graffiti, scribbles, and drawings as it is encouraged that you leave your mark somewhere in the place. Now, as a huge fan of graffiti, this was a visual playground.
Probably one of the coolest looking restaurants I’ve been to, just based on the fact that they cater to the most basic childhood desire — draw on EVERYTHING. It’s pretty rad. High ceilings, polished wood, and a golden lit bar area was the staging ground for losing my deep dish virginity.
HOW IS GINO’S EAST REALLY?
Let’s just say she was a tease.
She was a little saucy. She was smoldering hot. She had me salivating as she propped herself on the table before me, daring me to dive in.
This landmine of flavor took about 40 minutes to come out, and by then the suspense of it had me fiendish. We all had ordered local Chicago amber ales, and with a clash of glasses and a “cheers“, we grabbed hold of pizza destiny.
The sheer thickness of it was a little…intimidating. But I could handle it, I knew I could. Or so I wanted to pretend at least as I put the first bite in my mouth.
Savory. Cheesy. Zesty. And the meats were smoky.
The sauce was slightly bitter but it was complimented by the flaky golden crust. It was nearly 3 inches thick, and that crust tasted almost like sweet shortbread. I remember the lot of us grinning in pizza induced pleasure. But those massive slices do take quite a toll. After 2 slices each we were all throwing in the towel.
But damn were we satisfied.
Wipe your brow and fan yourself a bit, I know that was sexy.
And if my first time turned out to be that good, how would another time and another place hold up?
Would I be making a bad decision by cheating on my first deep dish love?
Giordano’s was the spot chosen for my second affair with Chicago Deep Diss. My train arrived just around noon and I began scouring the map and reviews for a new deep dish joint. I actually even called around to all of the most iconic places to see if I could film the who thing, but unfortunately, it was a Saturday and their marketing offices were closed. So no behind the scenes sadly.
Maybe it’s for the better, I’d hate to blur out details because the video got too sexy. Showing you how they smother that naked crust with a layer of liquid crimson sauce like a velvet dress could be R-rated…
Giordano’s was much more unassuming than my first deep dish date at Gino’s East.
Tucked away in the bottom part of a hotel was surprising for a legendary place like itself. When you enter in, there is no graffiti craziness here. I get it. A little more low-key, a little more classic.
My waitress, with hair as big as her marvelous smile, took my order. Classic “stuffed deep dish” was boldly advertised on the menu which had me thinking this deep dish wasn’t as shy as I thought.
It would take 30 minutes to come out, another tease of a pizza I thought to myself. No matter, I knew what to expect and I had waited before.
Or did I know what to expect? Would it be different from the last?
After a while of waiting, I decided to snap some photos from around the restaurant to waste a little time. Plaques and news articles raving about the restaurant adorned the walls, and declarations of pizza love hung from the ceilings.
Oh, trust me, I know that love.
I returned to my table and suddenly slowed down right before it.
There it was before me, set high up on a stand. It was already sprawled out with a slice on my plate steaming.
I sat down slowly and took a deep breath, eyed locked on it. I glanced around, checking for anyone watching because of what I was about to do to it. I was going to ravage it, every last piece.
And I wanted to snap a photo of the sexiness…and didn’t was to be caught taking selfies…
Stuffed it was.
I chose the meatball stuffed deep dish (one of the reasons being I wanted to say it was cloudy out with a chance of meatball pizza 😛) and this was just as thick as Gino’s East. I took my first bite, and with that my eyes rolled backward.
“Wow that is amazing” I said to myself.
But this one was a little deceiving as well.
The molten cheese overpowers at first, but as you indulge in more bites, the sauce hits with a nice mild balance. The meatballs hit with a slight zing of zest. The sauce was herby and the all-around taste was balanced. Not too many highs and lows with the flavors.
It was consistent with her deliciousness. It was slow going. I made sure to enjoy every bit of a bite because I didn’t know when I’d have this moment again.
That moment would be soon over as well…
The deep dish was just as thick as the last deep dish years before, but I had the help of 2 others. This time, I hit that 2 slice mark and I realized I couldn’t handle any more. It was just too much and had to throw in the towl early.
And just as before, it was time for this traveler to go. To leave the darling deep dish behind with a small sizzle of hope that I’d have it again.
So, who’s deep dish was the best in Chicago?
Well, both have traits that make my mouth water still to this day.
I loved the ambience that Gino’s East has. Also, the flaky short bread crust was marvelous. The sauce was a little more bitter than I’d like, but the meats were phenomenal.
As for Giordano’s, what I loved about it was the even flavors. It wasn’t too wild with the different ingredients, and the service was more memorable than Gino’s East.
The winner? BOTH!
I’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself the day you have your own deep dish love affair…
I hope you will tell me the juicy details of it too. If you ever fancy heading to Chicago to have your own deep dish love affair, hit up Trivago whom I’ve used in the past to find some rad hotels on the low down. And if you are on the east coast, this decadence is just a day trip away on Amtrak!
**DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience. I only positively review or represent companies that I actually have a positive experience with, and whom have values I agree with.