Corned beef is to St. Patrick's Day as turkey is to Thanksgiving, and while Chicago may be a long haul from Ireland, the city is chock full of stellar corned beef creations.
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.
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.
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 patina of horseradish cream cheese. Each element sings with vibrant flavors, helping corned beef to come alive in bold new ways.
Dillman's (354 W. Hubbard St.)
One of Chicago's most prolific, tireless restaurateurs strikes again with yet another fresh concept, and this one's brimming with corned beef. Brendan Sodikoff is the wunderkind behind Dillman's, an American brasserie with the heart and soul of a polished delicatessen. Per usual for Sodikoff spots, which also include Maude's Liquor Bar and Doughnut Vault, the food at Dillman's is dangerously decadent, but when you're tucking into a mountain of corned beef as thin and rich as prosciutto, piled on caraway rye, you're not exactly looking for diet food.
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.
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, cheese, mustard, and special sauce on pretzel rye bread.
Photos: Manny's, Eleven City Diner, Jam, Dillman's, Hash, Little Goat Diner (High Goldenes)