Corned beef is to St. Patrick's Day as turkey is to Thanksgiving, and while Chicago may be more than a few rainbows away from Ireland, our city is chock full of glorious interpretations of this classic holiday meat, from hulking Reubens to eggy hash.
The Corned Beef Factory Sandwich Shop (1009 W. Lake St.)
What's old-school is new again as one of Chicago's oldest corned beef suppliers, the Ex-Cel Corned Beef Co. Inc., recently opened its very own sandwich counter in the West Loop. The Corned Beef Factory Sandwich Shop harkens to the neighborhood's days as Chicago's meatpacking district, bringing that nostalgia back in full-force with hulking and stunningly fresh interpretations of corned beef sandwiches, pastrami sandwiches, and hot dogs. But don't sleep on that corned beef.
Jam (3057 W. Logan Blvd.)
Serving a modernized, haute version of corned beef seems tantamount to gilding a pig with lipstick, but Jam manages to pull it off with one of the classiest examples of corned beef sandwichery in Chicago. The Logan Square restaurant is renowned for its envelope-pushing brunch fare, from sous vide French toast to oatmeal glazed with ale gastrique and salted bananas, but don't overlook the humble-sounding corned beef. This sandwich is sublime in its delicate simplicity, a modest portion (this is one sandwich you won't have to unhinge your jaw to eat) of buttery soft, thick-sliced corned beef evenly aligned on marble rye with a pungent spread of horseradish cream cheese. Each element sings with vibrant flavors, helping corned beef to come alive in bold new ways.
Eleven City Diner (1112 S. Wabash Ave.)
The South Loop must be corned beef Mecca because a killer interpretation of the burly sandwich can be found at Eleven City Diner. Although rich with deli/diner Americana, Eleven City is a slick, modern iteration of the comfort food template. But modern doesn't mean the corned beef sandwiches are any less belt-buckling. There's a few different ways to get your corned beef on here, from the basic corned beef sandwich to the Woody Allen, a double-decker sandwich layered with corned beef and pastrami, and the Springer, a hefty medley of corned beef, pastrami, Swiss cheese and 1,000 Island dressing.
Hash (1357 N. Western Ave.)
A restaurant named Hash is bound to have a solid rendition of corned beef. And indeed it does, as this casual Ukrainian Village quick service spot traffics in a couple salacious examples of corned beef cookery. Of course, there's corned beef hash, tossed together with brown carrots and kraut, but save room for the corned beef sandwich, grilled with kraut on pumpernickel with a side of 1,000 Island.
Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen (1141 S. Jefferson St.)
For corned beef with a side of blissful, surly nostalgia, you can't beat Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen. The South Loop standby has been slinging deli favorites for decades, and it remains one of the preeminent stopovers in Chicago for corned beef. The meltingly tender meat is dutifully sliced and heaped onto sandwiches by gruff-but-lovable staffers who have sandwich craft down to an assembly line-like science. Each hulking sandwich comes with an optional potato pancake, which you really want whether you know it or not. This isn't re-imagined corned beef or anything monumental; rather, it's simply a well-executed interpretation of a classic, crafted with care at a place that radiates nostalgia.
Yolk (Multiple locations, including 1120 S. Michigan Ave.)
One of Chicago's sunniest and most popular breakfast and brunch spots is also basically the corned beef capital of the city, with multiple variations of corned beef across their menus. Go classic with corned beef hash and eggs, or get corned beef hash as part of a Benedict with grilled tomatoes, English muffins, and hollandaise. Or if you're in a sandwich mood, they've got you covered there too with a piled-high Reuben splashed with 1,000 Island and melted Swiss.
Little Goat (820 W. Randolph St.)
The award for most offbeat example of corned beef sandwiches goes to Little Goat, the indulgent, daring diner helmed by "Top Chef" alum Stephanie Izard. Although the sprawling space and quirky menu look like traditional Americana, the food program is rife with bold twists and turns, such as their novel interpretation of the Reuben sandwich, made with smoked corned beef, kimchi, kraut, Havarti and "special sauce" on pretzel rye bread.
Photos: Jam, Eleven City Diner, Hash, Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen