Cuisine of Chicago – Food and Drink

The culture of Chicago, Illinois, is known for the invention or perfection of various art forms of performing arts, such as improvisational comedy, the Prairie Style of architecture, House music, Chicago blues, jazz, and soul.

The city continues to cultivate a strong classical music, popular music, dance and performing arts tradition, rooted in Western civilization, as well as other traditions carried forward by its American, African, Asian, European, and Hispanic citizens. Chicago is known for a robust and vigorous tradition of surrealist, funky figurative paintings and art, such as the famous Chicago Imagist group.

The city is additionally known for various popular culinary dishes, notably the deep-dish pizza, the Chicago-style hot dog and the Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich.

Local specialties

The great triumvirate of Chicago-style foods is:

  • Chicago-style Deep-dish Pizza – Forget thin crusts and delicate toppings. This treasured food staple is as hearty as they come, baked in a deep, round pan filled to the brim with cheese (and any other ingredients you desire) and topped with a thick layer of tomato sauce. The result is a piping hot, gooey piece of pizza on a buttery, flaky crust.
  • A Chicago Hot Dog – What was born out of the Great Depression has since risen in the ranks to become a famous Chicago staple. So what is a Chicago-style hot dog? The primo version is this: an all-beef hot dog on a steamed poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, relish, tomato wedges, chopped onions, a pickle spear, hot peppers and celery salt. Of course, defining it is one thing; tasting it is a whole different ballgame.
  • An Italian Beef – Thin slices of seasoned roast beef bursting out from a long Italian roll, dripping with juices – this is the famous Italian beef sandwich. You can order it hot (with giardiniera peppers) or sweet (with sweet peppers); dipped/wet (the bread is quickly dunked), juicy (wetter) or soaked (even wetter!). But it’s more than just a Chicago specialty. It’s a historic icon..

Other Chicago-style dishes include:

  • Chicken Vesuvio, an Italian-American dish made from chicken on the bone and wedges of potato, celery, and carrots; sauteed with garlic, oregano, white wine, and olive oil, then baked until the chicken’s skin becomes crisp.
  • Shrimp DeJonghe, a casserole of whole peeled shrimp blanketed in soft, garlicky, sherry-laced bread crumbs.
  • Maxwell Street Polish, named after Maxwell Street where it was first sold. It’s a Polish sausage made with beef and pork, and with garlic and other spices, served on a bun with grilled onions.
  • A francheezie is a variation of the Chicago-style hot dog. The hot dog is wrapped in bacon and deep-fried, and either stuffed or topped with cheese.
  • The jibarito is a specialty sandwich that originated in the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. Invented by Borinquen Restaurant in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, a jibarito is made with meat or chicken, and condiments, placed between two pieces of fried and flattened plantain instead of bread.
  • The mother-in-law is a tamale on a hot dog bun, topped with chilli.
  • Chicago also has its own unique style of tamale, machine-extruded from cornmeal and wrapped in paper, and typically sold at hot dog stands.
  • Gyros is popular in Chicago. While some restaurants still make their own gyros cones, Chicago is the hometown of mass-produced gyros.
  • Flaming saganaki was popularised by restaurants in the Greektown neighbourhood. A square piece of kasseri, kefalotyri, or a similar cheese is fried in a small, two-handled pan, topped with a splash of brandy, and served flambé-style, traditionally with a cry of “Opa!” from the waiter.
  • A pizza puff is a deep-fried dough pocket filled with cheese, tomato sauce, and other pizza ingredients such as sausage. Indigenous to Chicago, pizza puffs can be found at some hot dog restaurants.
  • A pepper and egg sandwich combines scrambled eggs and grilled capsicums (bell peppers), served on French bread. Originally eaten during Lent by Italian immigrants in Chicago, it now can be found in some casual dining restaurants.
Ricobenes breaded steak sandwich

Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich is the kind of lunch you order if you’re OK with getting a little red sauce on your shirt

Less well known are:

  • The more provincial South Side specialties such as the big baby, a style of double cheeseburger with the cheese in between the hamburger patties, ketchup, mustard, and pickle slices underneath them, and grilled onions on top; said to have originated at Nicky’s The Real McCoy in the Gage Park neighbourhood.
  • The breaded-steak sandwich, a specialty particularly found in the Bridgeport neighbourhood, which consists of a flattened inexpensive cut of beef that has been breaded, fried Milanesa-style and served on an Italian bread roll with marinara sauce, topped with optional mozzarella cheese and/or green peppers. Every day at lunchtime you’ll find all manner of customers — from city workers to corporate suits — ordering up the neighbourhood’s famed breaded steak sandwich at 252 W. 26th St. “This is a unique Chicago sandwich,” said Sam Ricobene, Jr., the son of the man who created the beastly lunch.
  • The gym shoe (sometimes spelled Jim Shoe or Jim Shoo), a submarine sandwich made with a combination of corned beef, gyros, and either roast beef or Italian beef.
  • Aquarium-smoked barbecue, particularly rib tips and hot links. This is barbecue that has been cooked in a rectangular indoor smoker with glass sides and a large compartment for a wood fire under the grill. Barbecued ribs are also very popular in Chicago.
  • Atomic cake, featuring banana, yellow, and chocolate cake layers alternating with banana, strawberry, and fudge fillings.
  • Chicago mix popcorn, which consists of caramel corn and cheese-flavoured popcorn mixed together.

See also: Cuisine of the Midwestern United States

Restaurant scene

Chicago features many restaurants that highlight the city’s various ethnic neighbourhoods, including Greektown on Halsted Street; Little Italy on Taylor Street and the Heart of Italy and Chinatown on the South Side. Several restaurants featuring Middle Eastern fare can be found along Lawrence Avenue while Polish cuisine is well represented along Milwaukee Avenue on the Northwest side and Archer Avenue on the Southwest side; The predominantly Mexican neighbourhoods of Pilsen and Little Village are home to numerous eateries ranging from small taquerías to full scale restaurants; A large concentration of Vietnamese restaurants can be found in the Argyle Street district in Uptown and as well, a large number of Korean restaurants along Lawrence Avenue and, increasingly, in northern suburbs such as Niles, Illinois. The Indo-Pak community along Devon Avenue hosts many Pakistani and Indian eateries.

Chicago is also home to many fried-shrimp shacks, and has its own local fried-chicken chain, Harold’s Chicken Shack.

Along with fast food and ethnic fare, Chicago is home to many steakhouses, as well as a number of upscale dining establishments serving a wide array of cuisine. Some notable destinations include Frontera Grill, a gourmet Mexican restaurant owned by chef and Mexico: One Plate at a Time host, Rick Bayless; Graham Elliot’s eponymous restaurant, Graham Elliot; Jean Joho’s Everest, a new-French restaurant located on the top floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange building downtown and Tru from chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand.

Chicago has become known for its ventures in molecular gastronomy, with chefs Grant Achatz of Alinea, Homaro Cantu of Moto, and Michael Carlson of Schwa. In 2008, Maxim awarded Chicago the title of “Tastiest City.”


Chicago has a long brewing history that dates back to the early days of the city. While its era of large commercial breweries came to an end when Prohibition began, the city today boasts a number of microbreweries and brewpubs. Included among these are larger regional brewers such as Goose Island as well as the more localized craft-brewers Argus, Half Acre, Metropolitan, Off Color, Pipeworks, Revolution Brewing, and 5 Rabbit. In March 2012, organisers hosted the inaugural Chicago Beer Festival at historic Union Station.

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