- When people think of the food in Chicago, deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs usually come to mind.
- But the Windy City has a lot to offer in the way of diverse dishes, including delicious tacos and must-try burgers.
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Chicago has made a huge splash in America’s culinary realm. With both a large and diverse population, the food scene in the Windy City is not to be missed. From the deep-dish pizza to the hot dogs, each meal has its own signature flare.
Here are the iconic foods that you can’t miss on your next trip to Chicago.
The Chicago-style hot dog is always loaded with veggies, but never ketchup.
- Marcia C/TripAdvisor
The start of the Chicago-style hot dog is believed to date back to the Great Depression when street vendors supposedly loaded them up with common veggies in order to offer a cheap food that would suffice as a filling meal for broke customers. This type of hot dog has since risen to become what residents know as the famous Chicago food.
The frank consists of a Vienna beef hot dog inside of a steamed poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, tomato wedges, sweet pickle relish, chopped onions, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt.
Portillo’s is one of the most well-known spots to grab a Chicago-style hot dog. While you’re there, you’ll also want to try the iconic “cake shake,” which is made with chunks of chocolate cake and mayonnaise.
Deep-dish pizza consists of layers and layers of toppings served in a cake pan.
- Chloe E/Yelp
For a heartier dish, Chicago’s deep-dish pizza will certainly do the trick. Though the exact origin of Chicago-style pizza is unknown, it most often is attributed to one of the chefs at Pizzeria Uno – now Uno Pizzeria & Grill – located in Chicago back in 1943. The difference between deep-dish pizza and most other styles is in the crust. The crust is thin to medium in its thickness but resembles more of a pie rather than a flatbread.
Deep-dish pizza is typically served in a deep, round pan, such as a cake or pie tin, with its crust pressed against the bottom and sides of the dish. It is then filled with toppings and finished off with a layer of tomato sauce on top. Uno Pizzeria & Grill is an old-time favorite when it comes to Chicago-style pizza, but Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria and Giordano’s are also popular spots to grab yourself a pie while in the Windy City.
Chicago’s Italian beef was created out of the necessity for cheap food to serve at weddings.
- Lin R./Yelp
Although many people claim to be the original inventor of Italian beef, it was likely introduced in the early 1900s by Italians who immigrated to Chicago. Because new immigrants didn’t have a lot of money, they relied on cheap venues and cheap food for weddings, known as “peanut weddings.” To stretch the amount of beef served at weddings, someone came up with the idea to slice it thinner to serve more people, and thus Italian beef was born. The thinner cut became hugely popular and eventually came to be what is now known as Italian beef today.
A traditional Italian beef sandwich is made of thin slices of roast beef seasoned with dry herbs and spices and bathed in broth and cooking juices, otherwise known as au jus. The soaked beef sits inside a fresh, French bread roll, and is topped with either sweet or spicy peppers. A few places serving top-notch Italian beef include Al’s Beef, Johnnie’s Beef, and The Original Mr. Beef.
Chicago offers a variety of must-try fried chicken options.
- Tonette C./Yelp
Fried chicken has been heating up on the Chicago food scene, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. From Nashville hot chicken to Korean-style and upscale classic American, Chicago boasts a wealth of options.
One name you’ll likely hear over and over again on the fried chicken scene is Harold’s Chicken Shack, which is Chicago’s most iconic chicken chain. For something a little different, the Budlong Hot Chicken serves up Nashville hot chicken, and Crisp offers some of the best Korean fried chicken in the city.
Don’t underestimate the barbecue in Chicago.
It may not get the same recognition as places like Memphis or Kansas City, but Chicago deserves some credit when it comes to barbecue. Millions of African Americans migrated from the Mississippi Delta to the city’s South Side, bringing along with them a style of cooking that involved quickly smoking meats and covering them with sweet sauce. There’s also Chicago’s North Side barbecue, which was influenced by Eastern European immigrants who brought with them a technique of boiling meat, which makes ribs soft and tender.
Both types of barbecue styles still exist today but in their respective areas. Baobab BBQ and Smoque BBQ can be found on the North Side, while Lem’s BBQ House and Leon’s Barbecue can be found on Chicago’s South Side.
Chicago-style popcorn combines caramel corn and cheddar flavors to create an addicting snack.
- Regina C/TripAdvisor
For an addicting snack, the Chicago Mix is a sweet and salty combination of cheddar cheese popcorn and caramel corn. Though there is much debate over who created this style of popcorn, Garrett Popcorn Shops is quite possibly the most famous spot.
You won’t, however, find Chicago Mix at Garrett’s. In 2014, the company was sued over the name “Chicago Mix.” They lost the trial and name rights. You can still find it on the menu, but the name has since been changed to “Garrett Mix.”
Pierogies can be attributed to the large Polish population residing in Chicago.
- Nataly N/Yelp
Over the last century, three waves of Polish immigrants have made their way to Chicago, creating a community known today as Polonia. With such a large Polish population, Chicago has no doubt been influenced by the culture, and the pierogi has become one of the most popular foods in the city.
Pierogies are traditionally filled with meat and onion, or forcemeat, sauerkraut, and mushrooms. In Polonia, however, you’ll find fillings of bacon, sauerkraut, and sometimes potato and cheese. Some of the best Chicago-spots to find a good pierogi include Staropolska Restaurant and Pierogi Heaven.
People wait for hours to eat at Au Cheval, but the city has plenty of other burger options.
- Curry B/Yelp
Although it’s not the origin city of the burger, Chicago has still embraced this food as its own. There is no shortage of burgers with its many fast-food restaurants, as well as upscale restaurants serving up this American delicacy.
Au Cheval is one of the most popular burger spots in Chicago, having been crowned America’s best burger by the Food Network. Expect to wait three to four hours to get a table here. If you don’t have the time, the Loyalist and Owen and Engine are other excellent options.
Doughnuts are a rising trend in the Chicago food scene.
- Do-Rite Donuts/TripAdvisor
Doughnuts with non-traditional filling landed in the 17th spot on the list of leading food trends in the US in 2018, and they have also been named the fastest-growing desserts on restaurant menus. It’s no secret that they’re gaining in popularity, and Chicago is making sure to keep up with the times. The city is in the midst of a doughnut renaissance with many gourmet shops popping up, making it a close competitor of Los Angeles, the doughnut capital of America.
A few fan favorites include Do-Rites Donuts & Chicken, Firecakes Donuts, and Stan’s Donuts.
Chicago has a delicious, and diverse, selection of taco joints.
Today, Chicago has one of the largest Latino populations in the US, which has played a major role in developing the city’s food culture. One thing is for certain, the city has amazing, authentic tacos. With people from all over Mexico residing in Chicago, there is great variety in cooking styles, which is what ultimately makes the taco scene so great.
From carne asada and carnitas to goat tacos, you’ll find it all right in Chicago. Carnitas Uruapan is a top destination for taco-lovers, as well as L’Patron and La Chaparrita.