Chicago Pizza: Giordano’s vs. Lou Malnati’s

Sitting at the salon, our stylist asks my daughter what she did in Chicago.

Her sole answer: Oh, we ate pizza.

Yes, the quest to select our favorite Chicago-style pizza begins.  We try both Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s.  I list them in alphabetical order because the family remains split to this day.  We still aren’t sure which one deserves top billing.

Admittedly the restaurants have some things in common: copious amounts of cheese, delicious sauces, unique atmospheres, pizza shipped from Chicago to your hometown.  To my eye, they’re both deep dish pizzas, though Giordano’s labels theirs a stuffed pizza.  I’m sure someone can set me straight as to the differences; it’s just both possess a beautiful combination of crust and cheese and tomato.  Next to the greasy nationwide chains of which we’re so accustomed, both pies read as edible works of art.  Or maybe beautiful orchestrations.

Things begin to differ in the crust department.  Malnati’s has this delicious thin crust that really reminds me of a pie crust.  A really flavorful pie crust.  I believe there must be more oil in it?  Amateur guess.  Their pizza is sloppy; it must be enjoyed with a fork and knife.  Adults love this.  The kiddos have a hard time with it.

The stuffed pizza at Giordano’s is filled up like a pie.  Historically, it is a newer pizza (dating to the 1970’s) than Malnati’s (dating to the mid 1940’s).  Giordano’s website insists, “We alter our pizzas as time passes, as the necessity arises…The thing about pizza is that like everything good, it has to have an evolution. To stay the same means to go backward.”  I get the philosophy, but I’m not sure there’s any need to reinvent the wheel.  Over and over.  My kids, revisiting the restaurant in 20 years, might have a completely different food experience than they did that time the family drove up to Chicago in 2011.  Part of what makes pizza great is the history behind those fiercely protected family sauce recipes.  Great things stay great.

Both pizzas are delish.  The sides are tasty.  Malnati’s salad wins my pick for favorite appetizer, though the kids almost shed tears over Giordano’s mozzarella sticks.  Yes, mozzarella sticks.  Because they weren’t getting enough cheese in the deep-dish pizzas.  I didn’t say our quest to find the best pizza was a strictly healthy one.

All told, the staff seemed a tad friendlier at Lou Malnati’s.  The kids had more to entertain them while waiting for dinner (including the atmosphere around them – the interior was something like a cabin stuffed to the brim with knick knacks).  Giordano’s seated us quickly, so I really have no complaints.  Plus, the kids got a kick out of watching the crusts toss into the air and shoot down some sort of rolling machine.

Remembering either location, we can look back and say in Chicago we ate the best pizza.  Really tasty pizza.  Nothing at home holds a candle to that deep dish goodness.

Has anyone ever ordered a pizza from either chain and had it shipped to your house?  Is it the same?

Photo sources: Tomato sauceMozzarellaMalnati’s pizza, Giordano’s pizza,  appetizers,


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