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Jun 29, 2008 10:17 AM

What is Chicago's Signature Dish?

It's my first trip to Chicago and im gonna have some deep dish pizza for sure, but what else do I need to have before I leave town? Preferebly not fine dining or hot dogs please.

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  1. There are several foodstuffs native to Chicago that don't include hot dogs (though they are certainly very good and worth the calories):
    Italian beef (preferably a combo)
    Shrimp de Jonghe
    Chicago-style thin crust AND stuffed pizza
    Green River soda
    Then there's food that wasn't necessarily invented here, but is worth scouting out like regional Mexican cuisine in Pilsen, or the variety of niharis on Devon Ave, or the fantastic Polish options on the Northwest Side, etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JungMann

      Please note that there is a distinction (discussed ad naueum on these boards) between deep dish and stuffed pizza.

      Deep dish was invented in the 1940s at Uno and later appeared at sister restaurant Due. Stuffed pizza involves two crusts and was created in the 1970s at Nancy's and/or Giordanos's.

      Both styles have their fans and their detractors and there are endless opinions about who does which style best.

      I knew Green River was a Chicago "pop," but I had no idea that shrimp de jonghe and jibaritos were also invented here in Chicago. Now, does that make it a "signature" dish? Not sure.

      When most people think about food in Chicago and it's not fine dining or hot dogs (which by the way is a Chicago signature dish), they would cite stuffed or deep dish pizza, Italian beef and probably some of extraordinary and authentic ethic foods found here: Thai, Indian, regional Mexican, Polish and even Vietnamese Pho has taken root.

    2. Well I live in Toronto, so ethnic food is all I get, I'm all about trying American favorites. Americans have the most comforting food ever. I love my trips through the states. I wasnt going to get a hotdog because we have great hot dogs here[ Which locals call smog dogs] With a large variety of toppings. But it appears yours may be better than ours, so IM THERE!

      5 Replies
      1. re: mlukan

        If you're considering hot dogs, there is one option you must try. Hot Dougs.( has created variations on the hot dog -- sausage sandwiches in general -- that take them out of the ordinary.

        It's a neighborhood place, well out of tourist areas, but therej's usually a line out the door -- down the block to the alley -- as Chicagoans line up for things like some of this week's special sausages::
        Elk, venison, buffalo and ntelope with cassis butter and caerphilly cheese
        Spicy smoked alligator sausage with shrimp remoulade and pepper affinois cheese
        Cognac and hazelnut pheasant sausage with black truffle sauce moutarde, foie gras mousse and sel gris.

        Or "just a hot dog" with all the trimmings.

        And on Fridays and Saturdays you can round out your "hot dog" with fries cooked in duck fat.

        1. re: mlukan

          Sounds like you might like an Italian beef. There are a couple downtown (Mr. Beef, Portillo's--Portillo's has a decent dog, too), but you'll have to go a bit afield for the best-- Al's on Taylor Street (with Mario's Italian ice across the street) and, best-in-show, Johnnies out in Elmwood Park. Also, if you're in a restaurant with an Italian-American menu, you might want to give Chicken Vesuvio a try, another Chicago specialty and usually very comforting.

          1. re: jbw

            I was about to mention Chicken Vesuvio, but you stole my thunder.

            I recommend Harry Carey's. An appropriate Chicago venue as well.

            1. re: wak

              I hope I'm not the only one who remembers Chicken Vesuvio at Fritzel's. I was introduced to Chicken Vesuvio as a child at Fritzel's, one of old Chicago's iconic, archetypal restaurants from the 30s (?) 40s (?) 50s(?). In my mind, it was certainly the creme de la creme, along with The Pump Room at the Ambassador East, the Empire Room at the Palmer House and Barney's ("Yessir, Senator," they would say and ring a bell as they brought you to your table).

              When Frizel's closed -- and I have no idea that was when or how it happened -- I got copies of their recipes for both Chicken Vesuvio and steak Diane.

              Wow, that was a walk down mem'ry lane.

              1. re: chicgail

                In those days the steak Diane was made AT YOUR TABLE. That was great.

                I agree that you have to have a great Chicago Italian Beef. I like Al's on Ontario because of its convenience. I also like Portillo's.

                Deep dish - not stuffed - pizza at the ORIGINAL DUES on Ontario.

        2. For visitors to Chicago, it is great that close to Union Stations are places to sample both of the city's signature dishes - just a few blocks from Union Station is Giordano's - the originator (maybe) of the Stuffed Pizza, which is close enough to deep dish pizza for me - and next to Giordano's is a sandwich place - I forgot the name :-( where you can get an Italian Beef.

          After that orgy of food, roll back to Union Station and catch a train - knowing you have tried Chicago's best.

          1 Reply
          1. re: rich in stl

            What about steak... back of the yards, chicago stockyards... great town for steak. I'm sure there are plenty of posts as to which steakhouse takes top honors in Chicago.

            After steak, I'd have to agree with others about Italian Al's or Johnny's (north ave. in River Forest). Just be careful when you order at Johnny's. If you don't do it right, they just might say "no beef for you!"