What Food Is Chicago Famous For?November 29, 2019 | Chef Specialties,
Whether you’re a Windy City native or an out-of-towner trying to find the best food to eat in Chicago, this city has something for everyone. While Chicago is famous for tons of delicious food, 10 iconic food staples should top every diner’s must-try list.
1. Deep-Dish Pizza
You can’t talk about iconic Chicago cuisine without including deep-dish pizza. Although thin crust pizza certainly has its place in the Windy City, deep-dish pizza and Chicago have become nearly synonymous.
Chefs start to make Chicago deep-dish pizza by pressing dough tightly against the bottom and sides of a round, handless pan. Next comes a thick layer of soon-to-be gooey cheese, followed by meat — usually sausage or pepperoni — and other toppings. Then, the cook repeats these layers until they top the pie with a thin, tomato-forward sauce. You need more than your hands to enjoy this pie — Chicago-style deep-dish pizza requires a knife, fork and plenty of time to enjoy the ride.
Historians debate who created the recipe for Chicago style deep-dish, but some say Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo are to thank for popularizing the recipe in the 1940s.
2. Chicago Barbecue
Although lesser-known than the barbecue scenes in Kansas City or the Carolinas, Chicago barbecue is just as delicious and complex. Within the Chicago barbecue scene, you’ll find a few different styles, including “boilbecue” and smokeless roast. The most iconic, though, are Delta style rib tips, which hail from the South Side.
Rib tips use a portion of the pig that is often ignored by other pitmasters — a strip of cartilage-heavy pork. Chefs traditionally serve the dish with plenty of sauce and topped with a couple of pieces of white bread.
What’s truly iconic about Chicago style barbecue is the method of its creation — aquarium pits. While other pitmasters smoke their meat in holes in the ground or large, steel smokers, the Windy City does it differently.
To meet the city’s fire codes, South Side pitmasters created the aquarium pit, which is a box of bricks wrapped in stainless steel and topped with a grate. They coined the term “aquarium pit” due to its resemblance to 50-gallon fish tanks. Tempered glass surrounds the cooking area, and a lid carries smoke out of the kitchen and up through a chimney. Ground-level doors are where logs and water control the oxygen and smoke levels.
3. Jibarito Sandwich
The Jibarito — pronounced “hee-barito” — is a Chicago-born sandwich inspired by the flavors and culinary traditions of Puerto Rico.
The Jibarito combines a protein — usually steak — with garlicky mayonnaise, fresh tomato slices, lettuce, onions and cheese. Instead of bread, two flat, crispy slices of fried plantain bind the inside.
Using plantains in place of bread is a long-standing tradition in Puerto Rico. Juan “Pete” Figueroa made the dish his own and began serving it at his Chicago restaurant in 1996. Since then, the popular sandwich has earned a place on the menu of many Chicago eateries.
Food critics consistently name Chicago steakhouses as some of the country’s top steakhouses, including lists featured in Travel +Leisure, The Daily Meal, Thrillist and Forbes, to name a few. Due to the city’s stockyard history, it makes sense that some of Chicago’s most notable establishments are praised for their high-quality meats.
Windy City steakhouses are a culmination of Chicago’s classic recipes and new, modern experimentation.
5. The Rainbow Cone
Joseph Sapp and his wife Kathrine opened The Original Rainbow Cone in 1926. This beloved Chicago treat is a colorful stack of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House, pistachio and orange sherbet ice cream piled high on top of a cake cone.
Each season, as winter ends and spring begins to bloom, natives and tourists alike flock to The Rainbow Cone to get their own towering treat.
6. Pizza Puffs
Although some eateries offer pizza puffs that you might confuse for a calzone, an authentic pizza puff is different. These are wrapped in a tortilla-like dough, stuffed with cheese, meat and sauce, and deep-fried.
Due to their immense popularity, you can easily find pizza puffs at restaurants, hot dog stands and even in your favorite grocery store’s frozen food aisle.
7. Flaming Saganaki
Flaming saganaki was born in Chicago’s Greektown, in the kitchens of the now-closed Parthenon restaurant. This delicacy features a slab of fried, breaded Greek kasseri cheese — though you can ask for substitutions — that is lit on fire, tableside, by igniting the splash of alcohol that’s been drizzled on top. A squeeze of lemon juice puts out the flame. It’s customary to shout “Opa!” while serving flaming saganaki to create an even more engaging experience.
Today, flaming saganaki remains one of the top Chicago foods. You can find it on many menus across Chicago and the entire U.S.
8. Italian Beef Sandwich
While the exact origin of the Italian beef sandwich is up for debate, the Chicago staple is one of the most famous foods in Chicago. Regardless of its precise origin, the premise for the creation of this iconic Chicago sandwich is always the same.
The Italian beef sandwich was created in the 1930s and came from the need to make beef stretch further, whether at the dinner table or at formally catered events. This Chicago must-have is made with thinly sliced steak piled onto French bread, topped with peppers and served sloppy-wet with gravy.
You can find Italian beef sandwiches in dozens of restaurants and food vendors all across the Windy City.
9. The Chicago Hot Dog
If you’re asking yourself what food you absolutely must try during your visit to Chicago, the answer is a classic Chicago-style hot dog. The Chicago-style hot dog was born out of the Great Depression and is almost as — if not just as — closely associated with the Windy City as deep-dish pizza.
If you order it “all the way” or “dragged through the garden,” your Chicago dog will be made with steamed, all-beef franks, topped with mustard, neon green relish, onions, sport peppers, sliced tomato, pickle spears and celery salt, served on a steamed poppy seed bun.
You’ll find Chicago-style hot dogs at restaurants and street vendors across the city, as well as on the menu of hot dog eateries all over the United States. Chicago even has an annual Hot Dog Fest to celebrate the staple.
Did you know brownies were created right here in the Windy City? It’s true! During the 1893 World’s Fair, Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer asked the pastry chef at The Palmer House to create her something that would fit neatly into boxed lunches for the Women’s Pavilion. It was then that the beloved American dessert was born.
Although it wasn’t immediately given the name “brownie,” the baked treat was an instant hit. The original recipe used semi-sweet chocolate, walnuts and an apricot glaze.
Visit South Side Social For A Taste Of Chicago
If you’re looking for some of the best local eats during your trip to the Windy City, look no further than South Side Social Neighborhood Kitchen & Tap, located in the Oak Lawn Hilton Hotel in Chicago’s Oak Lawn area. We offer an all-encompassing, authentic taste of Chicago — like Italian beef sandwiches with giardiniera and sweet peppers, homemade pizza puff hand pies and our twist on the traditional chocolate brownie — in a relaxed neighborhood atmosphere.