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Oct 28, 2007 05:27 PM

What foods is Chicago known for?

I will be in Chi-town for 2 days in Nov. I would like to try the foods that Chicago is known for. You know, deep dish pizza, hot dogs, (what are some others)? Where are the best places to get the. I love to eat something that I dream about later. I am the type of guy that likes to get New York Cheesecake in New York, a Philly Cheesesteak in Philly, and a Baltimore Crabcake in Baltimore. So help me out with Chicago.

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  1. Wow, this question could really get some varied opinions, but if I was going to name my Top 5 Chicago foods, they would be:

    1. Italian Beef/Sausage
    2. Pizza - not just deep dish but "Chicago-style" thin crust as well
    3. Hot Dogs
    4. Steak
    5. Polish Food

    Now, where to go for them? That is even more debatable. A lot depends on where you will be and your transportation access. But don't leave without some souvenirs like Fannie May candy (vanilla creams!) and Garrett's Popcorn.

    2 Replies
    1. re: RSMBob

      In terms of basic foods, I agree with the first three.

      Italian Beef -- Johnnies in Elmwood Park

      Pizza -- Stuffed Chicago style at Unos (not the chain) or Dues; Lou Malnotis. For thin crust I'll let others suggest. I don't see anything special

      Hot Dogs -- Hot Dougs for the best and most interesting. Poochies in Skokie for the best of the traditional variety.

      Steak? We've got good steak houses (Custom House), but Chicago hasn't been the meat packing city it once was for decades.

      Polish food? Ok. I'll take RSM Bob's word for it. As a life-long Chicagoan, I know there are a lot of Polish people here, but there are also a lot of Irish and Jews and Italians and Mexicans and others, but I've never had heart-stopping Polish food that I kept in a silver box to revisit over time.

      Other things to try: Margie's hot fudge sundaes on Western Avenue have been delighting Chicagoans and visiting celebs since the 1920s. Nuevo Leon in Pilson has wonderful Mexican food.

      For more of what Chicagoans think is Chicago's best, check out CitySearch's polls

      1. re: chicgail

        I agree on the first three as well. For Italian Beef, I can appreciate Johnnies but still think Al's on Taylor is the best by far.

        Pizza- I *gasp* do not really like Chicago style pizza. However, I take visitors out for Chicago-style pizza regularly and find that Malnati's and Due are the biggest crowd pleasers.

        Hot dogs- Gene & Jude's (somewhere out west). There's just no question. Hot Doug's does have the best fries around though.

        For snacks, Frangos from Macy's aren't as good as they were when it was Marshall Field's. Garrett's Popcorn is amazing as is anything from Fannie May (try the chocolate covered orange peel!). And Margie's hot fudge is worthy of being its own food group.

    2. My .02 cents:
      1. Italian Beef / Or Combo with hot giardiniera.
      My FAVORITE place is Tore's on Western and Elston.
      2. Chicago style THIN "cracker crust" Pizza, or "Stuffed" pizza
      Cracker Crust = Villa Nova in Stickney, Illinois
      "Stuffed" = Giordano's
      3. Higher end Mexican Foods
      Frontera Grill, or Sol De Mexico
      4. INDIAN food!!!!!!!!! Devon Avenue!!!!!!
      Khan's BBQ, Usmaniya, Sabri Nehari

      These 4 are a few of the things I can think of that you may not be able to find in other parts of the country in such abundance and quality.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gordeaux

        I second higher end mexican - I would also through high end Thai -

      2. This topic discusses which foods are considered "quintessential Chicago":

        1. Lifelong Chicagoan(37 years), and well traveled. I would say Chicago is known for, and what is unique to Chicago is:

          #1 Italian Beef - Johnnies, or Al's on Taylor St.
          #2 Hot Dogs - Chicago style
          #3 Mexican Food - Frontera, Sol De Mexico, Amanacer Tapatio

          Pizza not so much, I find the thin crust offerings here good(Coal Fire, etc), but the deep dish pizza is nothing great to me. Unlike the 3 I listed a person can typically find a decent pizza in almost any city.

          6 Replies
          1. re: swsidejim

            Interesting lists from people so far. I guess living in SoCal for as long as I have (20+ years now) I just scratch my head on the Chicago-Mexican food thing as it is all too common here in SoCal and much of the west and southwest.

            Having traveled around most of the country, even with resources like CH, I find it difficult to find great pizza in so many places...places where the top 2 choices are Domino's and Pizza Hut. Even among the 15 million people in SoCal, the number of really good pizza places is relatively small. Deep dish/stuffed is somewhat unique to Chicago, and the overall style of thin crust and abundance of great pizza places in and around Chicago does make it unique IMHO.

            1. re: RSMBob

              Regarding Mexican food - Mexican food can be extremely creative, particularly when you get into provincial (regional) cuisines. We're not talking about your standard everyday enchiladas and carne asada here. Take a look at the menus at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo ( ) or Flamingo's Seafood ( entrees shown at - this is my favorite Mexican place in the Chicago area) and you'll better understand what we mean. Not that *every* Mexican restaurant in Chicago shows such creativity, but there are enough (I can name half a dozen others) and they are not at all what you are probably accustomed to.

              As for pizza, I consider Chicago deep-dish pizza (both the double-crust "stuffed" variety and the single-crust "pan" pizza) to be THE NUMBER ONE local specialty which is absolutely delicious and you can't find anywhere else. So I agree with your comments 100 percent.

            2. re: swsidejim

              I really don't agree with swsidejim about the pizza, and nsxtasy has nailed it down, RSMBob. Higher -end mexican is what we are recommending here. Not just
              enchiladas as opposed to tacos and burritos, but many various seafoods, different moles, foods from different regions, and places that pay attention to presentations.

              1. re: gordeaux

                its all good, different strokes right?.

                I am a fan of thin crust pizza, so pan pizza does nothing for me. When I have guests in town we dont go to Giordanos, or one of the chain pizza spots, and we go to Coalfire, Pequods, or Burts.

                I agree the upscale Mexican food here in the Chicago area is a booming scene. Many different restaurants turning out great food.

                1. re: swsidejim

                  I also prefer thin crust to pan or stuffed. I found it VERY hard to find a decent pizza in any city west and south of the Illinois border, and all the way east untill you get to the few NE coastal states.But that's my opinion, and most of my friends' opinions who live in these areas. I have several sets of friends who make a bee line to average pizza joints like home run inn as soon as they touch ground at O'hare. My opinion is that even good thin crust is hard to find in most cities. Not just pan or stuffed. Hell, my wife is from the U.P, and I can't understand how ANY of their pizza places stay in business since a frozen Digiorno is twice as good as any product the pizza places offer.

                2. re: gordeaux

                  I'm with RSMBob on the Chicago is unique pizza statement, we have not only have the best pizza in the world, we also have one of the largest varieties of great pizza styles and options as well: Deep dish, Stuffed, Pan, Thin crust, Cracker thin, Neapolitan, wood fired, even NY style!

                  No other city quite reveres its pizza the way we do here, and is open to as many styles either. Go to most cities for example, and a NY style is about the only style you'll get, and probably not a good version of it either. Undoubtly most of the US thinks of Pizza, Hot dogs and Steak when they think of Chicago. Do we have more unique and chowhound worthy cuisines? Heck yes!

                  As to Mexican, you have two camps here really because its much more than Mexican; there are those of us us who love the smaller, more authentic mom & pop taquerias and restaurants that virtually represent every different region of Mexico, Central & South America (Latin, Latino Nuevo) very distinctly and uniquely. And those who like the high end Bayless type places that have come to symbolize the so called "high end" Mexican food which caters more to the eclectic diner wishing for a "chefs" experience.

                  Both types however are very different experiences than what the rest of the country typically expects when dinning at a Mexican restaurant and they generally have a Cal-Mex/Tex Mex dinner. Maybe that's slowly changing elsewhere, but its a culinary movement that has fully developed here and has quite a strong following.

              2. The Mexican found in Chicago runs the gamut from amazing regional that has not been dumbed down (for example Xni-Pec, Sol de Mexico and more) to high end (Topolo, Salpicon and more) to just really good corner taquerias making marvelous grilled steak and al pastor tacos (too many to mention)