Overall Experience - 7.8
Summary : This is one of the most notable deep dish spots in Chicago and also one of the best. If deep dish is your thing, then you'll enjoy Lou's.
As you probably know, I recently returned from a road trip through the Midwest. Although pizza wasn’t the purpose of the trip, it was definitely an integral part of it. After uninspiring stops at We, The Pizza in Washington DC and Pizza Oven in Canton, Ohio… it was off to Chicago where my pizza expectations were extremely high.
This was my first trip to Chicago since starting this blog two years ago. Prior to then, I’d made two brief trips to Chicago. In 2001, I had the chance to try Gino’s East and in 2007 I visited Giordano’s. For those who are unfamiliar with the Chicago pizza scene, these are two of the three most famous places to get a Chicago style deep dish pizza. The third? Well that’d be Lou Malnati’s.
Although locals often argue which of the three is the best, Lou Malnati’s generally gets the edge. I consulted a lot of pizza experts and articles before my trip, as I knew I’d only have time to visit a couple of places. All recommendations pointed toward Lou Malnati’s… as did a recent list of the 25 best pizzas in Chicago from Chicago Magazine. The sausage pie at Lou Malnati’s came in at #6. A similar pie at Gino’s East was #18 and Giordano’s didn’t even make the cut.
The original Lou Malnati’s opened in 1971 and there are currently 11 locations. We visited the third oldest location which opened downtown at 439 North Wells Street in 1986. Outside there is seating for about 15 people, but once you step inside it’s a different story. At the front of the restaurant is a bar that seats 10 people and then the restaurant is divided into separate rooms of various sizes. In total, it appeared that the place could accommodate a few hundred people. In other words, it was massive despite how it looks from the outside.
The restaurant itself is decorated with sports memorabilia. Much of it was related to Chicago sports, but there were also many random items that were fun to check out. For example: Shaq’s shorts! Nothing says deep dish pizza like a pair of framed clothing from an NBA player!
We were seated outside and ordered three pies. Each pie is custom made, so when we placed our order the waitress informed us that’d be 45 minutes until our pies were ready. I liked that we were given an estimate for how long our pies would take; they came out right on time. This prevented any of us from feeling antsy (although we did happen to be quite hungry)! We ordered the following three pies:
6″ Individual “Lou” Pizza
Fresh spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes
covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese
6″ Individual “Malnati’s Chicago Classic ” Pizza
Lou’s exclusive blend of lean sausage, some extra cheese,
and vine-ripened tomato sauce on their famous Buttercrust
Although I rarely eat deep dish pizza, these were delicious. I’d place the pies at Lou Malnati’s — and deep dish pizza in general — in a completely different category than other pizza. It’s heavier, more filling, and has an almost dessert like quality to it. While a New York pie has a cracker-like crust, at Lou Malnati’s you feel more like you’re eating a piece of cake. It doesn’t taste like cake, but the texture gives off that impression.
Sometimes I develop very specific cravings. And to be honest — on occasion I have a deep dish craving. There are no quality places to get deep dish pizzas in New York City. And the longer a craving goes unsatisfied, the more intense it gets. At this particular moment, I’m practically drooling over the photos in this review! So I suppose you could say that the pizza at Lou Malnati’s had a last effect on me.
Where as it’s almost sinful to eat a New York slice with a knife and fork, some of the pies at Lou Malnati’s require utensils. Even the menu encourages such behavior. This would never be tolerated in New York City. Nevertheless, when it came time to eat the “Lou” I had no choice but to start cutting up my slice.
I had Gino’s East and Giordano’s too long ago to be able to compare them with Lou Malnati’s. On my next trip to Chicago, I’ll have to visit all three and do a true test. But I was completely satisfied with my experience at Lou Malnati’s and it’s no surprise that it’s become synonymous with great Chicago pizza over the past forty years.