I FINALLY Took a Chicago Pizza Tour

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I’m ashamed for calling myself a pizza fanatic yet never visiting Chicago in the past 10 years. It’s a good thing that shame has ended, thanks to a couple days I spent in the Windy City this past November while touring in support of my new book. I hit TONS of pizzerias and the vast majority were facilitated by a true pizza hero names Jon Porter. I first met Jon years ago, just as he was starting a company called Chicago Pizza Tours. Our companies are not related, but I consider him a real pizza brother. Since he started the company, we’ve met several times and even spent some quality time at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas a few years ago! But after all that, I’m proud to say I have FINALLY experienced the fruits of Jon’s labor and the tour was awesome. Here’s the scoop.

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Tour tour met at Pizano’s Pizza and Pasta, a pizzeria that belongs to one of the most important families in Chicago pizza history. It’s located at a super central location, so very easy to find for an out-of-towner such as myself. It was there that we met Jon, who owns the company and runs lots of the tours, and a tour guide who works for him named Jonathan (I know that’s going to be complicated, but I’ll stick with those name variations). Jon took a back seat and let Jonathan run most of the tour and he was awesome. Super relaxed and informal enough that you didn’t feel like you were receiving a lecture. 

Jonathan gave us some info about Chicago pizza history before bringing out not one, but TWO tastings. Chicago has a reputation as a deep dish pizza town, but there is a native thin crust style thats at least as important. Pizano’s makes both so we tried a slice of each. Both were really good! But the tour has four pizzeria stops so we hit the road as soon as everyone finished because there was no time or stomach room to waste.

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The tour rides all over Chicago and stops change all the time, so we cruised around in Dough Force One, a swanky mini coach that fits around 16 people. While driving, Jonathan (and sometimes Jon) gave us some great Chicago history. I loved the tour because it was so much more than just pizza, so you could learn a ton about the city while also hitting some serious pizzerias. 

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My favorite stop of the day might have been our second pizzeria. It’s a little walk-up spot called Italian Fiesta. It’s famous for being the favorite pizzeria of the Obama family, but there’s not a single sign bragging about it. Very cool little place with a killer thin crust pizza. 

But as much as I loved Italian Fiesta, I was most interested in deep dish. I knew about the big nationally-known places like Uno and Gino’s East and Giordano’s, but one name kept popping up when I asked serious pizza freaks for advice: Pequod’s. It’s a cool spot with a perfectly casual atmosphere and gnarly pizza. There’s one in Morton Grove but we hit the Chicago location.

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Check out this slice, overflowing with big chunky sausage and framed with a crunchy caramelized crust. It’s beautiful. I’m writing this as it’s snowing outside my window and all I want to do is crawl inside it and take a nap.

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But the tour is not just about pizza that’s indigenous to Chicago, it also covers pizza styles that are not native to the city. Neapolitan pizza is exploding around the country and Chicago has a few solid spots for it. We stopped at Nella’s, where we had the pizza Margherita. This was a nice comfort slice because it wasn’t loaded with toppings, as the other Chicago pizza has been on the tour. That made it the perfect palate cleanser!

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After those four stops, just every single person on the bus full and ready to hibernate. I loved it, not just for the pizza but also for the super well-rounded education about the city. I can see it being just as interesting for locals as it was for me as a tourist. In fact, there were at least two locals on the tour when I took it and they LOVED it! Good pizza, good info, great tour guide(s)… thanks to Jon and Jonathan and William the bus driver!

Check out the Chicago Pizza Tours website!!!

Chicago: Two days, Nineteen Pizzerias (Part 2)


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I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. See part 1 here. The post is organized with a description first, then a photo below. Enjoy! 

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Marie’s Pizza & Liquors
Marie’s is an absolute gem, owned and operated by the same family since 1940. It’s a good 20 minutes north of the Loop, so don’t expect to stumble upon it if you’re wandering around downtown Chicago. This is a real joint -oozing with the “this is who we are” honesty that makes me fall in love with some restaurants even before I taste the food. It’s more like a bar with tons of seating than it is a pizzeria. The seating of which I speak is luxurious plush red vinyl and I really do need to post more photos of the interior. The pizza is typical tavern style thin-and-crispy cut into squares. Truth be told, it’s not the most remarkable pizza in the world, but Marie’s is off the charts on the vibe-o-meter and a real piece of Chicago’s pizza story.

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Pizzeria da Nella Cucina Napoletana
Regardless of the city’s reputation as a deep-dish town or its true roots as a thin crust refuge, Chicago has some very non-Chicago pizzerias. Nella is a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria. They have it all: the wood-fired oven, “00” flour, imported tomatoes. But sometimes having all the goods doesn’t necessarily make a great pizza. Keep in mind I am basing my entire opinion on one visit in the middle of the day, but this was not a stellar pizza. The oven seemed low and the pizza, which usually takes about 90 seconds in this oven, clocked in at 2:30. That’s a big difference and resulted in a dry crust. Some might even prefer this over traditional Neapolitan but I give a low score on execution of the style. 

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Pequod’s Pizza
Want a serious deep dish pizza the locals actually eat on purpose? Pequod’s is it. There’s cheese shoved up between the crust and the pan (like Detroit style) and it caramelizes in the most beautiful way imaginable. Some even order it with extra carm for a degree of intensity rarely displayed by mere mortals. I had a pie with sausage and pepperoni, (aka just the basics for a meaty midwestern appetite) and really loved how the crunch of the crust combined with the soft padding of its cheesy surface. It had less sauce than other deep dish pizzas and generally felt like the badass of Chicago’s pizzerias

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Piece Pizzeria
Here’s another non-Chicagoan pizzeria in the Windy City, one that’s all about New Haven, CT. If you’re not familiar with the style, you need to head to Pepe’s and Sally’s on Wooster St or Modern Apizza on State Street in New Haven RIGHT NOW! Piece dishes up huge dense-crunchy crust pizza in big trays like Frank Pepe’s. Their pies are topped with restraint rather than maladroit. The place has a very active feel, almost like a sports bar but without too many televisions. I thought the pizza was totally solid and I’d definitely be here all the time if I lived in the neighborhood. It’s the kind of place to enjoy with a big group of friends, as I did with my buds Patrick and Kristy, the wonderful couple who designed and built my beautiful pizza tours website!

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Chicago: Two Days, Nineteen Pizzerias (Part 1)


View Chicago Pizza in a larger map

I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. Description first, photo below. Enjoy! 

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Pizzeria Uno
I hate to start this way, but Uno was the worst deep-dish I tried in Chicago. We ordered the Chicago classic onions-peppers-mushrooms-sausage-pepperoni (someone referred to it as “sticking to basics” — WHAT?!?!) and it was a soppy mess. You can see the runoff in the photo. Veggies were basically raw because they’re topped toward the end of the 45+ minute bake. I don’t need to ever go back.

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Pizzeria Due
As its name suggests, Pizzeria Due is the second location of the more familiar Pizzeria Uno. They’re located a block away from each other. Even though the managers claim the pizza is identical, my experience found otherwise. I tried them both back-to-back and liked everything about Pizzeria Due MORE than Pizzeria Uno. If you’re on a Chicago pizza pilgrimage you’ll have to go to both, but save more room for Due. It’s a serious deep-dish pizza.

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Coalfire
This was the first pizza I had on this trip and I was really jazzed up when I got there but I still think it would have been my favorite pizza in Chicago even if I tried it last. I know what you’re thinking, this is basically a New York coal oven pizza and NOT a typical Chicago style pizza. You are correct, and maybe that’s why I loved it. But it’s in Chicago so it belongs on this list. It’s a domed wood-burning oven but they keep a mountain of bituminous coal piled into the back of the oven for that dry heat. We use anthracite in NYC but Chicago doesn’t have easy access so they go with the lighter coal with more moisture content by default. Great crunchy-yet relenting crust paired with creamy fresh mozzarella, a sharp sauce and post-oven basil. 

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