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May 8, 2009 06:08 AM

What's unique to Chicago?

My son and I will be visiting U of Chicago and Northwestern and staying at the Intercontinental. I'm not that familiar with Chicago restaurants so I need some recommendations. We're both pretty adventurous eaters so we're open to anything. In particular I'd like to try something unique to Chicago (but I don't eat hot dogs!) Not that interested in hip and trendy. Help! Thanks.

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  1. Several foods that you find in Chicago, and in few if any other places, include our unique deep-dish pizza (both varieties, the single-crust "pizza in the pan" and the double-crust "stuffed" pizza), our Chicago-style hot dogs (which you don't eat), and our Italian beef sandwiches. For more information, see these discussions:

    Quintessential Chicago:


    Hot dogs:

    Italian beef:

    However, there are also many kinds of food that Chicago does extremely well, which you can find in some other cities but not everywhere. These include many ethnic cuisines, including our creative provincial Mexican food, Thai cuisine, Eastern European, Greek, Vietnamese, and Indian/Pakistani. You'll find specific recommendations in these discussions:

    French bistros:

    Upscale ethnic:

    Eastern European:







    Jewish Deli:

    And then there are unique individual restaurants which just don't compare to anything else, everything from Alinea at the high end (recently named one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD), to Bongo Room (for breakfast pancakes) and Hot Doug's (for sausages) at the low end.

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks. You've provided a wealth of information and I'll browse through all your links. We live in NYC so we have plenty of variety right outside our door and lots of great ethnic food which is one reason I'm interested in anything unique to Chicago. We'll definitely have some Chicago-style pizza and some beef sandwiches.

      1. re: angelhair

        Besides deep dish pizza, there are two food items in Chicago that generally exceed what you can get in NYC.

        First, outstanding authentic Mexican food . . . so many choices but close to downtown is Topolobampo, Frontera Grill and Salpicon (more upscale than the ones mentioned below). A little farther away from downtown but still in the city are Mixteco Grill, Fonda del Mar and Sol de Mexico (the latter is fantastic for moles, but you'll need a car), just to name a few. If you really want to be adventurous, head to the Maxwell Street Market Sunday. It's generally a flea market but the Mexican food offerings make for quite a feast. Follow the crowds but expect to wait.

        Second, Thai food. Don't get me wrong, I quite enjoyed a couple of meals at Sripraphai but you'll eat better in Chicago at Spoon Thai or TAC Quick, both on the north side of the city (and less than 1/2 hour from Northwestern, except at rush hour). Spoon Thai brings you their translated Thai language menus when you sit down. TAC Quick has a specials board with such options, but they also have a translated menu you'll have to request. Both are outstanding and let us know if you want specific recommendations at either one. Sticky Rice (near Spoon) is also excellent, but I prefer the first two. Spoon and TAC are both located within a 2 minute walk of "L" stations in the event you don't want to drive.

        1. re: BRB

          Second on the Thai. I lived in NYC for several years, and these two restaurants provide something that was unavailable in NY (at least when I lived there) -- thanks in large part to Chowhounders who painstakingly translated the "real Thai" menus.

    2. check out

      Forno Diablo
      Cozy Noodle
      Ping Pong
      De Cero
      La Gondola

      1. Bolat African Cuisine on Clark near Sheffield

        El Jardin---- mexican cuisine and there are pinatas everywhere

        1. Deep dish pizza, Vienna Beef hot dogs, and Italian Beef Sandwiches! Too bad you don't do hot dogs! If there is one thing I miss from "back home," it is a good Vienna Beef dog with that poppyseed bun, neon green relish, a pickle spear, peppers, a slice of tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and a dash of celery salt. YUM! -mJ

          4 Replies
          1. re: njfoodies

            Uh oh.
            Someone used that K word.

            1. re: njfoodies

              You may not remember if you've been away from "back home," njfoodies, but ketchup is not SOP for a Chicago dog for anyone over the age of 8. Not bad. Not wrong. Just not usually done.

              1. re: chicgail

                You know what, you are absolutely correct, and I don't know why I put that in there. None of the hot dogs I had last week had any on them. Brain fart! Hands down the best dog I had last week was at The Original Tracks in Barrington. We don't do ketchup in NJ either, and I can't think of a dog I've had in NYC that has had it on there either. My bad! ;-) -mJ

                1. re: chicgail

                  >> for anyone over the age of 8


              2. I like all these fellow chicagoans rec's. They are pros. You mentioned being with your college age son, and looking for unique. After getting some good Chicago food, here is a link to Brew and View. Showing not new movies in a very comfortable setting. This week, Adam Sandler flicks. 5 bucks to get in for 2 movies.