What Food Is Chicago Famous For?
Chicagoans are passionate about their food. They’ll get into heated debates over the best deep-dish pizza (hint: It’s Lou’s), critique any newcomer who dares put ketchup on their sacred Chicago dog, and talk your ear off about the little spot they found serving life-changing tacos and tamales. This city’s food scene is extraordinarily unique, spanning from famous street food like hot dogs and Italian beef all the way to award-winning Michelin-star restaurants run by some of the best culinary names in the country.
In this blog post, we’ll dive into some of the famous foods Chicago is known for that are a must-eat for anyone living in the city, neighborhoods that excel at one particular cuisine, and Instagram-worthy dessert bars that serve scrumptiously sugary treats. Prepare to be hungry!
Famous Chicago food: The classics
1. Chicago-style deep-dish pizza
Ask any Chicagoan about where to get the best slice of deep dish, and you’ll hear a different answer. Some will point you to the nearest Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s —pizzeria chains scattered throughout the city and suburbs—while others remain devoted to local spots like Pequod’s or Bartoli’s. It’s a heated debate for those residing in the Windy City, but all of these places serve some pretty great Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
This city has been famous for this beloved type of pizza since the 1940s, and for anyone hoping to get a true taste of the city, deep-dish pizza is where it’s at. Whether you’re living in the heart of downtown or in a suburb miles out, you’re almost certain to be near a joint that serves this classic style of pie.
Pro tip: If you’re ordering the sausage pizza at Lou Malnati’s, ask for the sausage crumbled, unless you want an entire layer of patty on your pizza. Also, get the butter crust.
2. Chicago-style hot dogs
Words can’t even describe the feeling that is spending a summer day at Wrigley Field watching a Cubs game and eating a Chicago-style hot dog. This iconic staple can be found at almost any Chicago sporting event, as well as at myriad food stands throughout the city. Don’t let this famous Chicago cuisine’s simple nature fool you—these hot dogs are downright delicious.
For those new to this local delicacy, the Chicago hot dog is traditionally served on a poppy seed bun with yellow mustard, onion, relish, tomato, pickle, peppers, and celery salt (and don’t you dare use ketchup!).
With locations all over town, Portillo’s is a great place to grab a jumbo dog (along with a chocolate cake shake). You can also hit up local joints like Superdawg Drive-In and Wolfy’s.
3. Italian beef sandwiches
Legend has it that Chicago’s most famous sandwich got its start at Al’s #1 Italian Beef. Because these sandwiches were an easy and affordable way to serve a large group of people, they very quickly grew in popularity.
The Italian beef sandwich houses juicy, seasoned roast beef on a French roll bun. There are a couple of varieties—some people like their sammy covered in sport peppers, some like it dipped in the meat’s “juices” for extra flavor, and some like the beef roasted extra spicy.
However you fancy your sandwich, there is no shortage of places to order one in Chicago. Snag a sandwich at Mr. Beef, Portillo’s, or Al’s #1 Beef, the OG establishment.
4. “Chicago mix” popcorn
Land at any Chicago airport or train station, and you’ll smell the mouth-watering blend of caramel and cheddar cheese. This might sound strange to an outsider, but take it from a local—there is no better duo than sweet and savory.
If you can, head to a Chicago transit center to try a batch of Garrett Popcorn, which is widely considered to be the real deal for taste-testing the Chicago mix. Whoever thought to mix these two opposing flavors together, we bow to you.
This city’s burger scene is bound to pique your interest—and raise your cholesterol. From hole-in-the-wall diners to trendy restaurants, there are plenty of options for a juicy burger, any way you like it.
One of the most famous joints in town is called Au Cheval, where the signature cheeseburger is served with a fried egg, pickles, and dijon mustard. You can also visit this restaurant’s sister establishment, Small Cheval, which offers burgers on a condensed menu (just be prepared for a wait!)
Other notable burgers can be found at Kuma’s Corner, where you can chow down to rock music, or The Loyalist, a critically acclaimed restaurant whose burgers have been named some of the best in the nation.
Up-and-coming Chicago food scenes
1. Brunch to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content
Wake up hungry, because Chicago is brimming with brunch spots! If you like to start your morning with some sugar, head to Ann Sather for the best Swedish cinnamon rolls in town (the crab cake benedict is also a personal favorite). Other must-try brunch spots include Batter & Berries for french toast flights and Little Goat Diner, a downtown restaurant serving savory dishes such as the “This Little Piggy Went To China” biscuit, complete with cheddar, pork sausage, chili garlic chive sausage, eggs, and smoked blueberries.
2. Enjoy a dessert lover’s paradise
Do you have a sweet tooth? Get in line at BomboBar, located in the West Loop. This little shop specializes in the hole-less bomboloni donut, gelato shakes, hot chocolate, and even dog-friendly sundaes.
Ice cream fanatics will have a field day with Chicago’s famous Original Rainbow Cone, while donut gurus can bask in the glory of Do-Rite Donuts or Stan’s. We would be remiss if we didn’t tell you that all of these spots are also wildly Instagram-worthy.
3. Explore growing vegan and vegetarian options
When looking into the plant-based scene in Chicago, it would be a crime not to lead with the famous Chicago Diner, which has a location in Lakeview and Logan Square. This place prides itself on being “meat-free since ’83” and has been garnering buzz since its inception.
In fact, the Chicago Diner has long been critically acclaimed, winding up on lists like Michelin Guide Chicago, Chicago Reader’s Best Restaurants, and TLC’s Best Food Ever. You can even cater meatless Thanksgiving carryout!
Other tasty vegan and vegetarian spots are scattered throughout the city. We recommend grabbing a plant-based burger at Alice & Friends Vegan Kitchen in Edgewater or getting brunch at Lucy’s Cafe in Roscoe Village.
4. Warm up with a bowl of ramen
Full transparency, winter in the midwest gets cold. What better way to battle that frigid air than by indulging in a steaming bowl of fresh ramen? Chicago’s ramen scene is growing, with an influx of spots downtown and in neighboring areas. Cozy up on a chilly day at Ramen-San in River North, Ramen Wasabi in Logan Square, or Gyuro Ramen in West Loop.
The Chicago food scene: Delightful surprises!
1. Experience mouth-watering Mexican fare in Pilsen
You’ll find no shortage of trendy tacos in this city, but if you’re looking for the real deal, head over to the Pilsen neighborhood. This area brims with options for authentic Mexican eats, from fine dining to mom-and-pop eateries.
This neighborhood has some of the best Mexican cuisines in all of Chicago. Order huaraches, tortas, and burritos to your heart’s content at Taqueria Los Comales, flavorfully flawless tacos at Rubi’s, or a Mexican steak dinner at Cantón Regio.
2. Visit Chinatown for unmatched Asian food
For those who enjoy Asian fare, consider spending some time in Chicago’s Chinatown. Wander up and down the main drags, and you’ll come across delicious dim sum at MingHin, sweet and savory buns at the Chiu Quon Bakery, and unmatched noodle dishes from Joy Yee. Joy Yee is also known for its massive selection of bubble teas, so if you’re just opting for a refreshment, dodge the sit-down crowd and order from the bubble tea takeout window.
3. Try a famous breaded steak sandwich at Ricobene’s
Situated away from the bougie restaurant scene downtown, Ricobene’s offers something special to the Chicago food scene: its beloved breaded steak sandwich. Since 1946, this little pizza parlor-sandwich shop hybrid has been a South Side favorite. Also offering pizza by the slice and other Italian-style eats, Ricobene’s is well worth the venture if you are in need of a delicious, hearty, and satisfying meal.
4. Try a pizza-pot-pie at Oven Grinder
Move over, deep dish—there’s a new pizza in town. The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company in Lincoln Park is serving up pizza that’s not really pizza at all, but still sort of is (trust us, you just have to order one to truly understand). Their signature pot pies are ordered as a single serving, with your choice of fixings baked into oven-fresh, made-from-scratch dough.
5. Taste of Chicago and other food festivals
Foodies can rejoice in the insane lineup of food festivals that crop up across the city each year. Numerous neighborhoods host them—from Windy City Hot Dog Fest in Portage Park to Roscoe Village Burger Fest to Lincoln Park Greek Fest. If you really want to experience the food scene in a short duration, check out the annual Taste of Chicago, which features samplings from vendors all across town.
6. Celebrate a special occasion at a Michelin-starred restaurant
While this city might be known for its casual fare like the Chicago dog, it is also revered as having a top-tier culinary scene. Chi-Town is home to some of the most prestigious dining experiences in the country, with Alinea in Lincoln Park achieving a three-star Michelin rating. You can also dine well in establishments that have garnered an impressive two- or one-star rating, like Oriole in the West Loop and Porto in West Town, respectively. Simply put, this city is chock-full of the very best eats.
Thinking about moving to Chicago?
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