Pizza, Pizza Everywhere – An Outing With Chicago Pizza Tours

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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.

Taking a Chicago Pizza Tour

When I first heard about Chicago Pizza Tours, I definitely was intrigued. 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 – a type of tourism that's right up my alley.

Chicago Pizza Tours

The tour has you riding a bus around several different Chicago neighborhoods (making it perfect for wet or cold days), with visits to 4 different pizza joints out of a possible list of 10.

The places you might visit on this tour include: Pizano's Pizza & Pasta, Flo & Santo's, Pequod's, Coalfire, Piece Pizza, Lou Malnati's, Macello, Bacino's, Spacca Napoli, and Exchequer.

And while YOUR pizza tour might look different depending on when you go, my pizza tour looked like this:

1. Pizano's Pizza & Pasta

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.

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta in Chicago

We had 4 different options to choose from at Pizano's — 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.

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta in Chicago

2. Coalfire

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.

Coalfire pizza in Chicago

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.

Coalfire pizza oven in Chicago

3. Pequod's Pizza

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.

Pequod's Pizza

4. Flo & Santo's

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!

Flo & Santo's pizza in Chicago

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.

I also really liked the pizza at Coalfire, though, because it was very different from what you usually think of when you think “Chicago pizza.”

Book this tour for yourself!

How to book a pizza tour in Chicago

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

Tour: Original Chicago Pizza Tour

Price: $60 per person (this includes transport, a tour guide, and at least one slice of 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!

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.

Looking for more Chicago content? Check out these posts:

And here are some other Chicago food tours you might like:

Have you ever taken 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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"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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27 Comments on “Pizza, Pizza Everywhere – An Outing With Chicago Pizza Tours

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  1. […] 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 […]

    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!

      Haha, sounds like a tour like this would be perfect for him!

    This tour looks like so much fun!!! Just another reason to go back to Chicago one day!

    This sounds like a really fun tour. I mean how can you go wrong with pizza?

    So Much Pizza! My favorite is Lou Malnati’s – the butter crust is the best ๐Ÿ™‚

      I haven’t actually tried theirs yet!! So much pizza to choose from in Chicago!

    Sounds fun!

    As a foodie traveler, I would definitely go on a themed foodie tour like the one you describe! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Well if you ever find yourself in Chicago, you’ll definitely have to look this one up!

    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.

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

    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!

      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!

    Mmmmmmm! Pizza! The best travel ever ๐Ÿ™‚ Now this tour is on my list for Chicago ๐Ÿ™‚ Can’t wait.

      It’s worth checking out, especially if you really like pizza!

    Pizza and travel, what’s not to like. I had heard Chicago is famous for pizza.

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

    Food-related tours= best idea ever for an epicurean like me. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love all these great-lookin’ slices, and Pizano’s sounds like a legend!

      I’ve been on a few food tours now, and have loved them all! Definitely a cool way to explore a new place.

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

      Hahaha. That certainly would make things interesting.

    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!

      Pizano’s will definitely be the place I recommend to people in Chicago now! Such good pizza.

    We are so going to do this pizza tour next time we’re in Chicago!! I am craving pizza now!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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