Let’s be real, the food in Chicago is next level. It’s a world-class city with so much to see and do, and yet you really could come here just for the food.
I’ve lived in Chicago for 5 years and have experienced a ton of Chicago restaurants – I can honestly say it’s a paradise for foodies. And it’s not all about deep-dish pizza either, there are tons of other Chicago-specific foods to try as well.
To let you in on the goods, I’ve compiled a list of 21 Chicago foods you must experience while you’re here, as well as where to find them. Come hungry!
Table of Contents
- 21 Chicago Foods & Dishes to Try
- Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
- Chicago Style Hot Dog
- Garrett Popcorn
- The Original Rainbow Cone
- Chorizo-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates
- The Old-Fashioned
- Chicago Tamales
- Chicken Vesuvio
- Off-Menu Beijing Duck Dinner
- The Gym Shoe
- Jeppson’s Malört
- Chicago Pierogies
- Chicago Cheeseburgers
- Buttermilk Old-Fashioned Donuts
- Italian Beef Sandwich
- Chicago Barbecue
- Smoked Chicago Shrimp
- Chicago Style Chicken
- FAQs About Chicago Food
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21 Chicago Foods & Dishes to Try
Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
A dish that takes pizza to a whole new level.
Deep Dish Pizza is the quintessential Chicago food. Uno Pizzeria & Grill is believed to be the first restaurant that served it, having been dazzling taste buds since 1943.
Deep dish pizza is built on top of a buttery, thick crust layer, made by pressing dough against the sides and bottom of a pan. This is topped with a thick cheese layer, along with meats and other toppings.
You usually need a knife and a fork to get into Chicago deep dish pizza. Find it at Uno Pizzeria, Lou Malnati’s (with famous vine-ripened tomato sauce), Gino’s East, and Giordano’s.
👉 Pro Tip: Deep dish pizza is not the only pizza that is a famous Chicago food. Tavern-style pizza is a thin style of pizza, cut in squares, originally as a cheap bar snack. This style of pizza is particularly popular at Vito & Nick’s, a South Side institution that’s been serving it for almost a full century.
Chicago Style Hot Dog
Zesty spin on a hot dog with celery salt and a steamed poppy seed bun.
Many people think of a hot dog as frank with ketchup and/or mustard. But a Chicago-style hot dog is an all-beef frank in a steamed poppy seed bun with yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish, chopped white onions, tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, spicy sport peppers (or regular sport peppers), and just a bit of celery salt.
If you order it with all traditional ingredients, you’re ordering it “dragged through the garden.” But no ketchup! Even if you’re used to putting ketchup on a hot dog, a true Chicago-style hot dog won’t have any.
Most Chicago locals will recommend Portillo’s to anyone looking for a “Chicago dog.” Multiple Chicago neighborhoods are home to Portillo’s location, including The Loop, South Loop, and Lincoln Park.
Pops and bursts of flavor in your mouth during snack time.
In 1949, Gladys Otto, the founder of Garrett Popcorn Shops, sold bags of Plain, Buttery, CaramelCrisp, and CheeseCorn popcorn for five cents apiece. This famous Chicago popcorn is more expensive today, but it’s still well worth it when you visit Chicago. You can find multiple Garrett’s locations when you visit the Windy City.
There are now different nutty spins on CaramelCrisp, including macadamia nuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans, as well as Spicy CheeseCorn. Garrett Mix has become one of many iconic Chicago foods – this is a uniquely delicious blend of caramel and cheddar popcorn, packaged in signature blue striped tins.
The Original Rainbow Cone
An ice cream lover’s colorful, sweet dream.
Anyone with a sweet tooth needs to try the Original Rainbow Cone while visiting the Windy City. A cake cone piled high with different flavors of ice cream, this delicious treat has become a Chicago icon.
Whatever kind of sweet tooth you have, this treat has all the flavors you need. The cone is stacked with orange sherbet, pistachio ice cream, Palmer House, and then strawberry and chocolate ice creams.
Especially in the summer when you’re lounging on Chicago’s beaches, this is one of the famous Chicago foods that you cannot miss.
👉 Pro Tip: Palmer House is the name for New York vanilla ice cream with walnuts and cherries. It’s also the name of the hotel that invented the brownie, also native to Chicago!
Chorizo-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates
A sweet and savory hot food to give your senses something new.
🍽️ Where to Find Chorizo-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates: avec Restaurant (West Loop)
If you’re someone who enjoys combinations of sweet and savory, this is one you have to try. Known best at avec Restaurant, these are plump Medjool dates that are wrapped up in thick bacon slices, along with deliciously spiced chorizo. They’re cooked to crispy perfection and then served with a piquillo pepper tomato sauce.
In fact, this is the food that put the elegant, yet not snobbish, avec Restaurant on the map when it opened its doors in 2003. It is great for a snack or meal – definitely one of the things that you should try while in Chicago.
A sweet, rich classic dessert that found its inception in Chicago.
You’ve likely had brownies before, regardless of where you’re from. However, brownies were actually created in Chicago. They came about when Bertha Palmer, a member of Chicago’s high society, asked the pastry chef at The Palmer House to make a dessert that would fit into boxed lunches for the Women’s Pavilion.
The Palmer House came up with the confection during the 1893 World’s Fair. The dessert instantly became popular, although it didn’t immediately get the name “brownie.” Originally, these treats were made with semi-sweet chocolate and walnuts, with an apricot glaze on the top.
A classic drink named in the Windy City.
Yes, this is technically a drink, not a food. But it made the list because it is a significant contribution to the global food scene from Chicago.
This drink is known not only in Chicago but all over. It’s considered to be a classic drink in this city because legend has it that it was originally named by a Chicago bartender in the late 1800s, who was also the first person to publish the recipe.
The classic drink is made with bourbon or whiskey, simple syrup, angostura bitters, and a twist of a citrus fruit peel.
The Windy City’s spin on the classic tamale.
🍽️ Where to Find Chicago Tamales: Tamale Guy (Wicker Park)
Tamales don’t originally come from Chicago, but they have become famous here. You can find amazing tamales all over the city, but one icon stands out from the rest – the Tamale Guy.
Tamale Guy is both the name of the restaurant where you can find these fantastic eats and Claudio Velez himself, who is known for his signature red coolers filled with hand-rolled pork, chicken, and cheese tamales. His brick-and-mortar store was located in West Town, on Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL, but the Tamale Guy has now found a new home in Wicker Park.
A sandwich inspired by Puerto Rican cuisine.
If you like meat sandwiches, you should definitely try the jibarito. Inspired by Puerto Rican culinary traditions, the name of the sandwich translates to “little hillbilly” in the Spanish language.
This succulent sandwich is made from very thin-cut steak or beef, which is then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and garlic mayonnaise. Instead of bread, it is served on two large fried, flattened plantain slices.
A must for anyone who loves succulent and flavorful chicken.
It’s unclear exactly where Chicken Vesuvio came from. Basically, it’s roast chicken with peas and potato wedges, sauteed in a delectable white wine sauce. Many locals will tell you that this Chicago staple originated on the menu at Vesuvio, which was a popular Windy City restaurant in the 1930s.
Today, the version of this dish that has received the highest ratings can be found at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, known for offering much more than just pasta dishes like your run-of-the-mill Italian restaurant. You can also taste a great version at Il Vicinato Ristorante on Western Ave., Chicago, IL.
Off-Menu Beijing Duck Dinner
A dream for anyone who loves both duck and Chinese food.
🍽️ Where to Find Off-Menu Beijing Duck Dinner: Sun Wah BBQ (Uptown)
Definitely one of the Chicago foods worth trying while you’re here, the Beijing duck dinner is one of the best-kept secrets of the city. Find it at Sun Wah BBQ – but be sure to ask for it, as it’s not on the menu.
First, you get a freshly roasted duck, carved right in front of you, along with steamed bao with house-blended sauce. Whatever is left of the duck is taken back to the kitchen to make duck fried rice, your second course. The duck bones are then used to make a duck broth soup, the final course.
A fried cheese Greek appetizer bursting with flavor.
It’s usually pretty hard to find someone who dislikes cheese. Fried cheese is especially delectable to many people. If you love fried cheese, you have to try saganaki, which was actually invented right here in the Windy City.
Saganaki is a Greek appetizer – cheese fried in breading and butter – that is sure to please. Santorini was a Greek restaurant that served a delicious saganaki, doused in lemon juice and served alongside a piping hot pita. Though it is now closed, there are many other places where you can try this culinary delight.
The Gym Shoe
A delicious sandwich with a deceiving name.
🍽️ Where to Find the Gym Shoe: Sun Sub (Austin), Stony Sub (Avalon Park)
Even if the name isn’t appealing, you’re bound to change your mind. This is a very tall sandwich piled high with corned beef, roast beef, and gyro meat. All of these meats are shredded and then mixed together with onions, giardiniera peppers, and sweet peppers.
Then, the whole work of art is topped with tomatoes and tzatziki, in addition to mayonnaise and Swiss cheese. All of these ingredients are served on a grilled Italian roll. Definitely one of the Chicago foods worth trying, the best Gym Shoe can be found at Stony Sub on Stony Island Ave., Chicago, IL.
An acquired taste that is worth trying at least once.
Originally sold as a medicinal product and not necessarily liked by many because of the taste, this is still worthy of being on the list. Another drink rather than food, it’s actually the drink that many think defines the Chicago bar experience.
This drink is extremely strong and bitter. It’s made using wormwood, and many actually think of it as a hangover cure rather than a hangover cause. If you want to test out your palate, see if you can handle it!
You can find this in liquor stores and taverns in Chicago. It’s hard to find in other places.
Delicious pastries, both sweet and savory.
🍽️ Where to Find Chicago Pierogies: Kasia’s Deli (Ukrainian Village)
Pierogies as a whole did not find their inception in Chicago. As you may know, they are a traditional Eastern European food. However, the best pierogies in Chicago, made at Kasia’s Deli, a Chicago restaurant in the Ukrainian Village on Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL, are considered to be a famous Chicago food.
Many people only know pierogies have certain fillings, such as potato and cheese. However, here, you can also get fillings such as beef goulash and Polish sausage, for those with more unique preferences. You can even have sweet pierogies, filled with wild blueberry, plum, or strawberry.
The most delicious, messy burger you’ll ever eat.
You can have a cheeseburger anywhere. But in the Windy City, they come with a distinct local flavor. Many Chicago cheeseburgers are worth trying, including the Cheezborger at the Billy Goat Tavern and the Goatsnake burger at Kuma’s Corner.
But it’s Au Cheval, on Randolph St., that’s home to one of the best burgers in the country, as recognized by the Food Network.
Deliciously messy, the ingredients of this burger include W.W. Johnson Farms beef griddled to scrumptiousness, thick-cut bacon, pickles, American cheese, onions, a runny fried egg, and Dijonnaise all inside a buttery double-toasted bun.
📚 Related Reading: West Loop is a great neighborhood to try all sorts of Chicago foods, as described in my guide on where to stay in Chicago!
Buttermilk Old-Fashioned Donuts
A quick and simple fix for a sweet tooth.
This treat is simple, yet satisfying. Many people enjoy having it as part of a delicious breakfast while in Chicago, but you can have it any time of the day.
It is somewhat crunchy and rough on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside. Much of the time it is coated with a vanilla bean glaze, although it comes in a variety of colors and flavors. Popular must-try flavors include Pistachio-Meyer Lemon and Cinnamon Crunch, among others.
You can dunk it in coffee if you’re a coffee drinker as well.
Italian Beef Sandwich
A sandwich made to be economical, but also tasty.
The Italian beef sandwich is an iconic Chicago food that started in the early 1900s within the Italian immigrant community of the Windy City.
Legend has it that it was born when Anthony Ferrari, a street peddler, brainstormed the idea of making cheap sandwiches in order to feed large wedding crowds. It was a way to stretch out a slab of beef. His son Al helped make the sandwich a lasting icon.
Italian beef sandwiches feature thinly shredded, seasoned roast beef, piled onto a crusty Italian roll. You can add sweet peppers and au jus sauce to enhance the flavor.
Rib tips with substance and style.
The Carolinas are known for pulled pork, and Kansas City is known for burnt ends. However, Chicago pretty much has the market cornered on Delta style rib tips. This barbecue specialty comes from the South Side.
For rib tips, pitmasters use a piece of cartilage-heavy pork that is generally not used in cooking. The tradition is for the chef to serve these with white bread and a generous helping of sauce.
Windy City pitmasters use the aquarium pit, a box of bricks surrounded by stainless steel and topped with a grate, to cook this hearty Chicago food.
Smoked Chicago Shrimp
Shrimp that explodes with flavor.
🍽️ Where to Find Smoked Chicago Shrimp: Calumet Fisheries (Far South Side)
Calumet Fisheries is one of the best-kept secrets of Chicago’s Far South Side. This is a relatively small, humble fish shack that has been honored by the James Beard Foundation and placed in America’s Classics category. This distinction is only given to five restaurants in the United States every year, and this restaurant won it for the timeless appeal of its food.
There are many excellent menu items, but the smoked shrimp is a food that no list of famous Chicago foods would be complete without. It is tender and full of flavor and succulence.
Chicago Style Chicken
Chicken and sauce that will blow your mind.
🍽️ Where to Find Chicago Style Chicken: Harold’s Chicken Shack (South Chicago, with other locations in Chicago, IL)
One of the famous Chicago foods any chicken lover should try when they visit Chicago, the fried chicken at Harold’s Chicken Shack is uniquely amazing. The chicken’s distinctive flavor comes from the way it’s cooked – in beef tallow and vegetable oil. Some would say it’s the best fried chicken in the Windy City.
It’s not just the chicken that is a Chicago that’s an iconic Chicago food at Harold’s Chicken Shack, however. The mild sauce here is a zesty tomato sauce that combines different flavors, including smokiness, sweetness, and spiciness. Eating this chicken with mild sauce is a true experience.
📚 Related Reading: If you’re looking for great food without putting a dent in your wallet, check out my guide to Chicago on a budget!
FAQs About Chicago Food
What is Chicago’s main dish?
Chicago’s main dish, if we can say there is one, would be deep dish pizza. This pizza is considered the best in the world. The crust is at least an inch thick, and the ingredients are on top. It’s actually customary to eat it with a knife and fork.
What is famous Chicago food?
What drink is Chicago known for?
Chicago is known for multiple drinks, most notably the Old-Fashioned. In some ways, it is considered to be the original cocktail drink. It was first mentioned in a newspaper in 1803, as a combination of spirits, water, sugars, and bitters.
What month is the Taste of Chicago?
The Taste of Chicago is a premiere Chicago festival that occurs in the months of June and July. There are pop-up events that occur weekly in June, and the main event takes place over three consecutive days in July. Entrance is free, and you’ll have the opportunity to sample many iconic Chicago foods.
Thanks for reading my guide on the best Chicago food picks! Be sure to also check out our 5-day Chicago itinerary for more ideas on how to spend your time in the Windy City.
Have fun trying all the Chicago foods!
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