Chicago is famous for its food – not only as a gourmet dining epicenter, but as the home of several local specialties. For an authentic experience, get a taste of these culinary staples with this Chicago guide to deep-dish pizza, the classic Chicago-style hot dog and the Italian Beef.
DEEP-DISH CHICAGO 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.
Vying for most popular pizza spot is the family-owned and operated Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, which uses hand-selected ingredients like sweet-and tangy tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese from the same small dairy that has supplied the pizzeria for more than 40 years.
Adding their own special twist by doubling up on the crust, Giordano's is famed for their stuffed pizza. An ultra-thin second layer of flaky crust holds in the melted cheese, which oozes out the moment a slice is pulled apart. These massive creations are a good 40% bigger than other deep dish pizzas — meaning there is more to love!
One great place to go for slice of deep-dish is The Original Gino's East of Chicago, whose interior is almost as beloved as its pie. Inside, the walls are covered with writing and graffiti drawn by dining patrons, so don't forget to leave your mark.
Other deep dish favorites? The caramelized crust deliciousness served up at Pequod's in Lincoln Park and old-time favorites, Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due,
CHICAGO-STYLE HOT DOGS
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.
For a filling frank, put Portillo's on your to-do list. With both a standard and jumbo version of the Chicago-style hot dog with all the trimmings, there's plenty to enjoy.
Or, hit up the reliable go-to's that are scattered throughout the city, each neighborhood has a few. For example, there's George's Hot Dogs or Red Hot Ranch in Bucktown, and Franks 'N' Dawgs or The Wiener's Circle in Lincoln Park. A meal will set you back just a few dollars and gets you a dog and a side of fries. And remember that yes, wherever you go in Chicago, don't order your hot dog with ketchup.
Still hungry for encased meats? You can't go wrong with a hearty Maxwell Street Polish smothered in sweet, grilled onions and mustard at Jim's Original in University Village.
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.
Al's Beef in Little Italy claims to be the inventor of the sandwich and has won countless awards since its founding in 1938, including being named one of the Best Sandwiches in America by Esquire Magazine and Top 10 Sandwiches in America by Travel + Leisure.
Another popular place for Italian beef is aptly named Mr. Beef on Orleans. It's a small space with more of a "dive" vibe than "restaurant," but the big flavors are what really matter. Whether you eat standing at the counter or sitting at the communal table, you're in good company: Even Jay Leno has sung the praises of this place. Just remember to bring cash (there's an ATM if you forget), be quick with your order (service is speedy) and bring a big appetite.
Browse for even more must-eat Chicago restaurants and get the inside scoop from our Chicago Like A Local dining blog.