Chicago is well known for its local cuisine, a cuisine born from its people’s rich ethnicity and working-class origins, as well as from the city’s location in the American Heartland. The cuisine of Chicago is one of the most distinct in the country, and people flock to the city just to taste Chicago foods. A food trip is a must when you visit Windy City, and here are some iconic Chicago foods that you must taste while you’re there.
Chicago may not be as well-known for its barbecue as Memphis or Kansas City, but it does have a deep and distinct barbecue tradition. In Chicago-style barbecue, the meat (usually ribs and rib-tips) are smoked quickly over direct heat and dressed with sweet barbecue sauce. The smoker and the cooking techniques used depend on whether the barbecue joint is on the South Side or the North Side, but it’s bound to impress even the stickiest of barbecue snobs.
The Chicago-style hotdog is near-sacred to Chicagoans in how specific it needs to be made. The hotdog has to be an all-beef frankfurter, boiled or steamed in hot water. A grilled hotdog is a char-dog in Chicagoan parlance. A Chicago-style hotdog is typically “dragged through the garden” with its variety of vegetable toppings. You can top your hotdog with pickled relish or mustard, but never, ever make the mistake of putting ketchup in your hotdog.
No one really knows how chicken vesuvio came about, but the story has it that it was invented at the Vesuvio Restaurant, a popular dining spot in Chicago in the 1930s. Chicken vesuvio is a pretty simple but colorful Italian-American dish, where chicken on the bone is cooked with potatoes, carrots, and celery in olive oil, white wine, and garlic. Then the chicken is finished in the oven to make the skin crispy. You’ll rarely find this dish served outside of Chicago.
Deep dish pizza
If there is one dish that Chicago is known for all over the world, it’s the deep dish pizza. The deep dish pizza is differentiated from other pizza styles with its high-edged crust and the quantity of cheese you’ll find in it. Because deep dish pizza is thick, it needs a longer baking time, so the cheese is layered at the bottom instead of the top, as it is with other pizza styles. This is to prevent the cheese from burning. If you like your pizza to be hearty and loaded with cheese, then you must make a beeline for this most iconic of Chicago foods.
Gyros (pronounced as yiros) are a Greek dish where you have slices of grilled or broiled meat wrapped in flatbread and typically served with tzatziki sauce. The meat is wrapped with veggies like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other salad veggies. While gyros are best made fresh by hand, Chicago has perfected the art of producing gyros for mass consumption.
Few sandwiches can stand to the goodness of Italian beef. What you get when you order this sandwich is an Italian-style roll stuffed to the gills with slivers of steak dripping with its own juices, along with Italian sweet peppers and giardiniera. Italian beef is so messy that it has led to the so-called “Italian stance,” where people eat this sandwich standing with their elbows on the counter and their feet and body angled away from the counter. This is to prevent the juices from this sandwich from dripping on their clothes.
Jibarito is a recent Chicago invention. Inspired by Latin American food, the jibarito is a sandwich in which meat and vegetables are stuffed between fried plantains instead of bread. The meat is traditionally steak, but it can be made with pork or chicken. Jibarito is not complete without garlic-flavored mayonnaise.
Saganaki is fried cheese, an appetizer common in Greek, Turkish, and Middle-Eastern cuisines. Cheeses like halloumi and feta are used in this dish, and it’s usually seasoned with lemon juice and pepper. In Chicago, saganaki has evolved into the flaming saganaki. Flaming saganaki is fried and then flambéed at the table, the fire then put out with a squeeze of lemon juice. You’ll find flaming saganaki in Chicago’s Greek restaurants.
Chicago is peppered with restaurants serving good eats, but you’ll typically find the best of the iconic Chicago foods in the Loop, the city’s central business district.