Restaurant: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
Last visited: June 15, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (River North)
Address: 439 N Wells Street
Transit: Wells & Hubbard
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $10-20
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4.5 (based on just their pizza)
- Since 1971
- Family owned chain restaurant
- 34+ locations in Chicago
- Famous for deep dish pizza
- One of the original places for Chicago pizza
- Handmade pizza crusts
- Very busy at peak hours
- Long waits on weekends
- Family friendly
- Sports pub atmosphere
- Very casual/affordable
- Serves alcohol
- Dine in/Take out
- Frozen pizzas available
- Delivery available
- Sun 12-10pm
- Mon-Thu 11am-11pm
- Fri-Sat 11-12am
**Recommendations: World Famous Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza – The “Malnati Chicago Classic
I had just under a week for Follow Me Foodie to Chicago so restaurant selections were always serious and decisions well researched. I had tried my first “real” Chicago deep dish pizza at Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta that afternoon, so I didn’t really want to “waste” a precious eating opportunity on another one.
I was already on a roll after trying Pizano’s pizza followed by the best goat taco’s in the city at Birrieria Zaragoza. I continued with #1 Italian Beef Sandwiches at Al’s #1 Italian Beef and Italian Ice at the local favourite Mario’s Italian Lemonade all in the same afternoon. I was very satisfied with all of the above and dinner was supposed to be something a bit more upscale, but plans changed last minute.
I ended up getting tickets to Lookingglass Theatre Company and Chicago’s legendary birthplace for celebrity comedians The Second City. I only had a short 1.5 hour break for dinner in between each show and I hate rushing through dining experiences at nice places. I needed something quick and casual, but I didn’t want it to be some random place either. I narrowed it down to a Chicago style hot dog, which I still needed to try in Chicago, or Lou Malnati’s for a second Chicago style pizza experience, but this time I wouldn’t forget to order the thin crust. The hot dog place I had specifically chosen was too out of the way, so based on that it was pizza time.
I actually didn’t mind another deep dish pizza experience because it gives me something to compare to. Also if Chicago’s world famous for it, then it’s something I want to get to know better. I did the same thing in Montreal for poutine, Montreal style bagels and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, and in New York for pastrami sandwiches. If the city is world renowned for a particular food, I like to try at least two places specializing in it.
So out of the hundreds of Chicago style pizza places why Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria? I was given the recommendation by a few locals who claimed it was “the best”, which I always take lightly since it’s so debatable. Although I was sceptical of its franchise looking appearance, I quickly realized that most places famous for Chicago style pizzas in Chicago are in fact chains.
Lou Malnati’s is a family owned chain restaurant, but it still remains a local and tourist favourite. I know some people say it’s “touristy”, but open the topic of “best Chicago style pizza” and you’re bound to get opinions all across the map. People are devoted to their favourite places.
As a tourist I’ve only tried Pizano’s Pizza so that doesn’t give me much to compare, but the two places actually share the same roots. My Pizano post explains it all – see here, but basically the creator and owner of Pizano’s and Lou Malnati’s are step brothers and their father Rudy Malnati Sr. was one of the original founders for Chicago style deep dish pizza. Both places are considered birthplaces for authentic Chicago deep dish pizza. I only learned this after I tried both, which makes it a bit humourous because the bartender said Pizano’s was one of his least favourite pizza chains. I don’t think many people know the pizza history.
Although both Pizano’s and Lou Malnati’s pizzas are supposed to be based on the same recipe and traditions of their father, they tasted different and I would have never made the association. Lou Malnati’s opened first and it is a much larger pizza chain than Pizano’s, but I did like their toppings and overall style more. On the other hand I thought Pizano‘s buttercrust was flakier and better with more butter flavour, and that’s one of the fundamentals of an excellent deep dish.
Lou Malnati’s is generally very well liked and one of the better places to have an authentic Chicago style pizza experience, especially if you just have time for one. It’s convenient, gives you a good idea of what Chicago deep dish pizza is like, and it’s a very acceptable first time experience. It might not be “the best”, or maybe it is, but I haven’t tried nearly enough to say.
Based on the two places I tried I would say go to Lou Malnati’s for their Chicago deep dish pizza and then head to Pizano’s for their thin crust which I regretfully missed out on. Apparently deep dish is what the tourists order and thin crust is what the locals order, but I have testimonials from Chicagoans that deep dish is still loved. Try both!
On the table:
- Lou Malnati’s is legendary for its pizza in the pan, and here, sausage is the specialty of the house. Made with Lou’s exclusive blend of lean sausage, some extra cheese, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on our famous Buttercrust. It’s authentic Chicago!
- 6″ Individual $7.05 9″ Small $12.70 12″ Medium$17.40 14″ Large $22.25
- An authentic Chicago style deep dish pizza should have a thick and even crust with 3 inch high edges and it shouldn’t be soggy. The first layer should have loads of melted mozzarella cheese followed by toppings, typically Italian sausage, and then finished with a layer of chunky canned tomato sauce.
- This pizza was layered according to tradition.
- This was an individual size, but the larger sizes did come out in cast iron pans as it traditionally should.
- Since I had just tried the Pizano’s deep dish pizza earlier this afternoon my memory of it was still quite clear to draw comparisons.
- Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza was very heavy and substantial, but compared to Pizano’s Pizza it was considered lighter and something I could eat more often.
- There wasn’t nearly as much cheese as Pizano’s Pizza which was almost a bit overwhelming with mozzarella so I didn’t mind less.
- This one had that extra sprinkle of cheese and spices on top to finish and Pizano’s Pizza didn’t. It’s debatable which style is “authentic”.
- I liked the sausage topping here better than Pizano’s Pizza because it was an actual patty (although thin) of Italian sausage as opposed to crumbled sausage.
- The sausage didn’t have as much black pepper flavour as Pizano’s Pizza and neither were spicy, but it was still flavourful, moist and tender at Lou’s.
- They claim the tomatoes are carefully selected to make the sauce.
- Lou Malnati staff actually go down to California to meet with the tomato farmers.
- The tomatoes are canned (as they normally are in a deep dish) and it was ladled more heavily compared to Pizano’s Pizza.
- The tomato sauce was sweet and tangy with plump and juicy tomatoes and it had equal important to the crust, whereas the cheese and crust seemed to stand out more at Pizano’s.
- The crust was thicker but definitely not as buttery as Pizano’s Pizza and the butter flavour was less intense.
- Both places didn’t have that 3 inch high edge and they both sat at about 1.5-2 inches.
- The crust here wasn’t soggy, but it was more like a cornmeal biscuit dough rather than a crisp and flaky Pop Tart like dough that Pizano’s Pizza had. Cornmeal is typical for Chicago style crusts.
- I preferred the Pizano’s Pizza crust in flavour and style with caramelized edges that seemed almost fried. It was a richer pastry and likely made with more butter and/or higher quality butter.
- A perfect love child for Chicago style deep dish pizza would be the toppings at Lou Malnati’s with the crust at Pizano’s.
- 9″ Small $6.60 12″ Medium $11.65 14″ Large $15.25
- I added hot giardiniera for $0.65/topping on a small pizza.
- The crust was nice and thin, but again it didn’t have that intense buttery flavour like the one at Pizano’s had.
- It was still crisp and made with some cornmeal, but parts of it were soggy.
- There was a bit of inconsistency in the crust and/or a hot spot in the oven.
- The toppings on the thin crust were layered more like a traditional American pizza with the sauce, toppings and then cheese so it wouldn’t be as soggy.
- There was still a lot of cheese, but the sausage was crumbled instead of patty form like it was in the deep dish.
- The sausage was still moist and the spicy sweet and tangy giardiniera (spicy pickled carrots, celery, peppers) brought a nice heat.
- It was a typical Italian topping combination and you don’t want to go too heavy with them on a thin crust or it’ll get weighed down and soggy.
- After trying the crusts at Lou Malnati’s and Pizano’s, I’m confident that the Pizano’s thin crust is better even though I didn’t try it.
- Just based on their thick crusts it was promising that Pizano’s would offer an excellent thin crust because their thick crust was already thin for a thick crust pizza.
- It was the amount of butter and buttery flavour of Pizano’s crusts that would ultimately make for a killer base and ultra crisp thin crust. I really wish I knew to order the thin crust at Pizano’s.