I’m no stranger to Chicago’s pizza scene.

In fact, if you’ve been a reader here long enough, you might remember that on my first trip to Chicago back in 2011 I made it my mission to try to determine which of Chicago’s most popular pizza joints made the best deep dish, resulting in my Chicago Pizza Smackdown.

But, contrary to popular belief, Chicago isn’t ALL about deep dish pizza.

So when I heard of Chicago Pizza Tours before my most recent trip to the Windy City, I definitely was intrigued. Only in its second year of operation, this tour company promises to delight your tastebuds while at the same time introducing you to the variety of styles of Chicago pizza. The focus is on local, family-run operations, too, instead of the big names and chains that most people think of when they think of Chicago pizza — right up my alley.

Chicago Pizza Tours

Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta

61 E. Madison St.

The tour kicked off in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood at Pizano’s Pizza and Pasta. Here we met our tour guide Jonathan and got a brief introduction to Chicago-style pizza. Deep dish was “invented” by Rudy Malnati Sr. in the 1940s at a pizzeria that would eventually become Pizzeria Uno. This new style of pizza — with thick crust and overflowing cheese — swiftly became a Chicago symbol.

Pizano’s is owned and operated by none other than Rudy Malnati Jr., and the pizza genes definitely seem to run in the family. Here, only 3 people know the recipe for the dough used in Pizano’s pizzas — one of them being Donna Maria Malnati, mother of Rudy Jr. and widow of Rudy Sr. — and they literally have padlocks on their dumpsters so nobody can steal their secrets, even from the garbage.

Chicago Pizza Tours

Here we had 4 different options to choose from — deep dish with sausage, a “Mark’s Special” (a deep dish named for the kitchen manager’s son) with garlic and tomatoes and spices, thin crust cheese (Oprah’s favorite!), and thin crust with black olives. The pizza here comes sans sauce (the “sauce” is nothing more than crushed plum tomatoes) and is cooked in pans that are never fully scrubbed clean so that the flavor comes from bottom to top.

Chicago Pizza Tours

Coalfire

1321 W. Grand Ave.

Next up, we headed to Chicago’s only pizzeria with a coal-fired oven. Inventively named “Coalfire,” this place is a newcomer on the block, only having been open for roughly 5 years. Coalfire serves up “an American spin on the traditional Neapolitan style pizza.” Instead of a wood-burning oven, Coalfire uses coal; instead of fresh ingredients from Italy, Coalfire sources everything from America.

Chicago Pizza Tours

Before we got our gorgeous margherita pizza delivered to our table, Jonathan took us back into Coalfire’s kitchen to give us a closer look at its oven. Burning at more than 800 degrees, this oven cooks Coalfire’s light and thin pizzas in roughly 2 minutes, giving them a nice char on the bottom.

Chicago Pizza Tours

Pequod’s Pizza

2207 N. Clybourne Ave.

The next stop on our tour was Pequod’s, a pizza spot with a sports bar feel and a nod to literature (the Pequod was the name of Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick). Here we had some traditional Chicago deep dish, with a choice between either spinach or sausage.

I went for the gooey, messy Italian sausage to try out the meat, which Pequod’s (like many of Chicago’s pizza places) sources from the famous Anichini Brothers. The crust here was thick, with Pequod’s signature caramelized cheese on the outside.

Chicago Pizza Tours

Flo & Santo’s

1310 S. Wabash Ave.

The last stop on our gluttonous tour of Chicago was Flo & Santo’s, a really unique family-run restaurant in Chicago’s South Loop. The pizza here is served up “tavern style” — thin and crispy. But there’s a twist, too. Flo & Santo’s mixes traditional Italian pizzas with a Polish flair. So, yes, you can get both pizza and pierogis here — or even a Polish-style pizza!

Chicago Pizza Tours

We tried out 3 different varieties of pizza here — Marco’s Italian Beef (shaved beef, giardiniera, caramelized onion, fire roasted tomato), Na’Ma’s Veggie (spinach, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, black olives, mushrooms), and Flo’s Polish (Polish Kielbasa, sauerkraut, applewood smoked bacon). These were certainly the most inventive pizzas we had all day.

The verdict

So which pizza was my favorite?

It’s a tough decision since there was so much variety on this tour. But, in the end, I think the Mark’s Special at Pizano’s takes the cake (or the pizza pan?). It was a deep dish pizza that wasn’t overwhelming, and the mix of veggies and spices was absolutely perfect.

If You Go

Want to go on a Chicago Pizza Tour yourself? I highly recommend doing so. Here’s what you need to know:

Price: $60 per person (this includes transport, a tour guide, and pizza at each pizzeria you visit; so come hungry!)

Duration: 3-3.5 hours

Time: Tours are usually daily at 11 a.m., but on some days multiple tours are offered.

Pizza: The 4 locations I visited on my tour are only a fraction of the possibilities. Chicago Pizza Tours has 10 places on their list, and the tour can be different from day to day.

How the tour works: You are driven to each pizzeria in a small bus. Your guide will not only give you background on each pizza place, but also on the city of Chicago itself. Each pizzeria is alerted ahead of time that the group is coming, so your pizza is usually ready when you arrive. If you’re a vegetarian, have no fear — the guide will make sure to have veggie pizza on hand for you!

Website: www.chicagopizzatours.com

Chicago Pizza Tours

So, would I recommend this tour? Yes. Absolutely yes. If you like pizza and want to learn more about its history in Chicago, then this is a perfect tour for you to take.

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Would YOU go on a themed food tour like this on your travels?

 

 

*Note: I did receive a complimentary tour from Chicago Pizza Tours. As always, though, opinions (and choice of pizza toppings) are entirely my own.

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27 Responses to Pizza, Pizza Everywhere – An Outing With Chicago Pizza Tours

  1. Dani says:

    We are so going to do this pizza tour next time we’re in Chicago!! I am craving pizza now!! :)
    Dani recently posted..Polaroid of the week: Sea lion attack in Valdivia, Chile

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You absolutely should! Got introduced to some places that even some of my Chicago-dwelling friends hadn’t heard of. Good stuff!

  2. Dominique says:

    My husband and I went to Chicago back in November and did a food tour with Tastebuds Tour. Our first stop was Pizano’s (same location as the one you went to) and I have to say that their pizzas were delicious! I definitely need to check out this pizza tour next time we’re in Chicago!

  3. Yeity says:

    To make the tour even more interesting they should put all the guests on the scale before and after.

  4. Saguna says:

    Food-related tours= best idea ever for an epicurean like me. :) I love all these great-lookin’ slices, and Pizano’s sounds like a legend!

  5. Steve says:

    Pizza and travel, what’s not to like. I had heard Chicago is famous for pizza.
    Steve recently posted..Photo of the Week – Venus de Milo

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Chicago definitely is famous for its pizza. And I don’t care what Anthony Bourdain says – Chicago DOES have delicious pizza!

  6. memographer says:

    Mmmmmmm! Pizza! The best travel ever :) Now this tour is on my list for Chicago :) Can’t wait.
    memographer recently posted..Celebrities of Madame Tussauds Hollywood Wax Museum- Part 2

  7. Ryan says:

    Looks absolutely DELICIOUS! I loved my (too quick) trip to Chicago, and only got to try Gino’s East. I love that you featured a bunch of the ones I haven’t heard of. Coalfire looked incredible, as all the others did too. Looks like I’ll need to take another trip out there sometime!
    Ryan recently posted..Video Message from the Dead: Start Living Today.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      That’s what I really liked about this tour – it took you to some more “local” pizza places in neighborhoods that most tourists wouldn’t visit. All definitely worth it and delicious!

  8. These all look amazing. I tend to prefer thin crust, but it is always nice to indulge is the thicker Chicago-style every once in a while.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The weird thing I miss from Buenos Aires

    • DangerousBiz says:

      The good news is, Chicago does some amazing thin crust pizza, too (in fact, Oprah’s favorite is thin crust from Pizano’s!).

  9. Miret says:

    Sounds fun!

    As a foodie traveler, I would definitely go on a themed foodie tour like the one you describe! :-)
    Miret recently posted..Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, Milan

  10. So Much Pizza! My favorite is Lou Malnati’s – the butter crust is the best :)
    Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 recently posted..USA Map at Kauai Mini Golf

  11. Alouise says:

    This sounds like a really fun tour. I mean how can you go wrong with pizza?
    Alouise recently posted..Visiting The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

  12. Rebecca says:

    This tour looks like so much fun!!! Just another reason to go back to Chicago one day!
    Rebecca recently posted..Alaska – The Last Day-ish

  13. Sofie says:

    Oooooh, I want some pizza!
    Going to keep this in mind for Boyfriend. He’s addicted. Gets grumpy when he can’t have pizza at least once a week. How he manages to stay as skinny as he is… I don’t know. Must have pizza genes!
    Sofie recently posted..Scratch book travel memories

  14. [...] years, Chicago has become one of my favorite cities in the U.S. With great public transportation, amazing pizza, fantastic entertainment options like improv and blues, and a picturesque location on Lake [...]

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