15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (2024)

What food is Chicago known for? Of course, the #1 Most Famous Food of Chicago is deep-dish pizza. But the Windy City boasts a slew of Chicago-style food inventions—including local versions of hot dogs, BBQ, fried chicken, and even popcorn.

And the foods Chicago is known for doesn’t end there! Chicago food specialties include everything from baked goods to international delicacies.

So, if you really want to get to know Chicago cuisine and treat your taste buds to the most iconic Chicago foods, this list is for you!

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (1)

Chicago Food

Just like in New York City, the food of Chicago has been greatly influenced by its immigrants. But there is no single neighborhood where all the good stuff is concentrated. You can find delicious places to eat in every corner of downtown Chicago—from River North and the Magnificent Mile to Little Italy, Pilsen, West Town, and lots of spots in between.

Chicago, Illinois, is one of the best cities in the United States for foodies, and it ranks as the #1 foodie city in the Midwest.

Chicago certainly has its fair share of Michelin-starred restaurants. However, just like in some of our other favorite foodie cities—like San Francisco, Portland, and Santa Fe, to name a few—some of the best Chicago food can be found in eateries other than fine-dining restaurants.

In fact, one of the best things about the must-eat food in Chicago is that it won’t break the bank! So, try as many of these tasty treasures as you can! You can take a Chicago food tour, or just go down this list. We’ll give you a great place to try each famous Chicago food on your own!

Famous Chicago Foods

1. Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza

Like we said, deep dish pizza is hands down the most famous Chicago food. So, at the risk of stating the obvious, it must be at the top of your list of foods to try in Chicago!

What makes this Chicago-style pizza so special? One of the keys is the thick crust loaded with butter and recognizable by its raised edges. Chicago deep dish looks more like a pie filled with lots of cheese, sauce, and toppings than a traditional flat pizza. A single slice is so full of goodies, it’s enough to make a magnificent meal!

Where’s the best place to try Chicago deep-dish pizza?

Of course, that’s one of the biggest debates in the city. You can try the original at Pizzeria Uno (known more formally as Uno Pizzeria & Grill), but Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, with its zesty tomato sauce, is also a local favorite.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (2)

2. Chicago Dog

Without a doubt, this is a must-try food in Chicago! A traditional Chicago Dog starts with a steamed poppy seed bun (never toasted). The frankfurter, a beef frank, should be boiled, not grilled.

The seven standard toppings for a classic Chicago-style dog include yellow mustard, tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, spicy sport peppers (small hot peppers), some neon green relish (that has to be sweet pickle relish), chopped white onions, and, perhaps the biggest surprise—a dash of celery seed salt.

The Chicago hot dog is one of the best Chicago foods to showcase the long-running immigrant impact on the food history of the city. The bun came from an innovative Polish baker. The frank was made by Austro-Hungarian immigrants who started the Vienna Beef Company—still one of the most famous Chicago food brands.

Due to their affordability, hot dogs boomed in popularity during the Great Depression. Today, the Chicago Dog remains a treasured taste of Chicago to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

Unlike Boston’s famous frank, you don’t have to wait for a ball game to enjoy a Chicago Dog. But if you do see the Chicago Cubs play, you can certainly get a delicious Chicago style dog at Wrigley Field.

You can also take your chances at any of the hot dog stands or food trucks you’ll see around town. But your best bet is to try this Chicago iconic food at one of these popular spots: Flub A Dub Chub’s in Lakeview, Superdawg on the Northwest side of Chicago, Chicago's DogHouse in Lincoln Park, or Portillo’s (multiple locations).

3. Chocolate Brownie

The chocolate brownie was invented at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago in 1893. That year, the World’s Fair was coming to Chicago, and Bertha Palmer, the wife of the Palmer House’s founder, asked the hotel’s pastry chef to design a dessert that would fit into the boxed lunches to be prepared for hotel guests attending the fair.

Today, this famous food from Chicago is one of the most popular desserts in America. Stop by the Palmer House Hotel where you can still savor a brownie made with the original recipe with walnuts in the sumptuous setting where this chapter of Chicago food history unfolded.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (4)

4. Chicago-Style Popcorn

Chicago-style popcorn is the Garrett Mix, sometimes called the Chicago mix. If that doesn’t help, it’s a combination of cheese and caramel popcorns—and it’s one of the most famous Chicago snack foods.

It came about when the owners of the long-popular Garrett Popcorn Shops found that their clients were mixing together their CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn flavors into one bag.

It didn’t take Garrett long to create an official mix themselves and add it to their menu. Now this famous Chicago popcorn is the most popular flavor at all of the Garrett locations.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (5)

5. Rainbow Cone

You may not have heard of a rainbow cone, but it’s certainly a food famous in Chicago. Grandpa Joe and his wife opened the Original Rainbow Cone ice cream shop in the early 1900s.

His signature cone consisted of slices (not scoops) of 5 flavors piled one on top of the other: chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, orange sherbet, and Palmer House (cherry walnut).

A Chicago institution, the Original Rainbow Cone is still a popular spot for locals and the only place where you should order its namesake cone. Locations include a shop on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and at Navy Pier, one of the city’s biggest attractions.

6. Italian Beef Sandwich

The roast beef sandwich is a famous Colorado food invented in Denver. However, the Italian roast beef sandwich is a classic Chicago food born in the city’s Little Italy.

Legend has it that the origins of the Italian beef sandwich trace back to a street peddler, Anthony Ferrari, and the weddings of Italian immigrants.

Ferrari didn’t set out to create one of the most famous Chicago foods to eat, he was simply trying to cut costs for wedding fare. He realized that twice as many people could be served if he cut beef into paper-thin slices. He could then put the seasoned roast beef on a crusty Italian roll, add a little garnish, and thus create a delicious meal.

His sandwiches were served for 20 years until his son Al started Al’s #1 Italian Beef in 1938. Then their popularity really grew, and you could order sweet (with sweet peppers) or spicy (with giardiniera) versions of their signature dish.

Nowadays, Al’s Beef has some competition. Mr. Beef on Orleans, Johnnie’s Beef, and Portillo’s all make delicious Chicago Italian Beef sandwiches.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (6)

7. Cinnamon Rolls at Ann Sather Restaurant

Ann Sather is one of the best restaurants in town for a hearty, delicious breakfast. But the one food Chicago locals come back for over and over again, no matter what else they might order, are the cinnamon rolls.

Ann Sather did not invent cinnamon rolls, but she may have perfected them. By creating one of the most coveted Chicago food recipes, Sather achieved pure gooey goodness: cinnamon layered in sweet buttery dough smothered in vanilla glaze and served hot.

Almost 80 years after they were first made, Ann Sather cinnamon rolls remain cherished Chicago food staples, and some 6,000 are sold daily!

8. Chicken Vesuvio

Chicken Vesuvio is definitely one of the must eats in Chicago because you won’t find it anywhere else. Made popular in the early 1930s by the now-defunct Vesuvio Italian Restaurant, this local specialty has been one of the city’s beloved traditional dishes ever since.

The chicken’s distinctive flavor comes from bone-in-chicken combined with potatoes, garlic, oregano, olive oil, white wine, and peas.

Our picks for the best Chicago restaurants at which to order Chicken Vesuvio are La Scarola and the old-school steakhouse Gene & Georgetti.

9. Au Cheval Cheeseburger

Although many Chicagoans enjoy Au Cheval Restaurant for its upscale old-school fare and strong classic co*cktails, sinking into the dark, cushiony booths for a memorable meal is not only for special occasions. Many diners come just to dig into one of Chicago’s quintessential famous foods: the Au Cheval Cheeseburger!

The “Single” is made of two 4-ounce prime beef patties, each paired with a slice of American cheese, then topped with house-made Dijonnaise dressing and house-cured pickles. The buns from Chicago’s own Z Baking are also part of the magic: They are toasted on each side to give a little crisp that adds flavor and prevents everything from becoming a soggy mess.

You can also add on a fried egg or thick-cut peppered bacon. In 2012, Bon Appétit magazine named this local crowd-pleaser the best burger in America.

The only catch is that Au Cheval does not take reservations, and it’s very popular. So, either prepare to wait in line, or come at off-peak times. The good news comes in two parts: The restaurant is open every day, and the burger is served all day long.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (8)

10. Chicago-Style Fried Chicken

No list of signature Chicago dishes would skip over Chicago-style fried chicken. And food historians will tell you that the inventor of the Chicago style was Harold Pierce, who opened the first Harold’s Chicken Shack way back in 1950 on the city’s South Side. Pierce was a savvy African-American entrepreneur and his chicken became so beloved in his community that locations sprouted up all over.

The batter for the crispy, succulent chicken is marked by a preponderance of lemon pepper, and the “mild sauce” that purists insist must be ordered on the chicken—not just on the side—is almost as important as the chicken itself. Mild sauce is sweet and tangy and said to be just the right combination of barbecue sauce, ketchup, and hot sauce.

Fans swear Chicago style is the best fried chicken in the world, but since Harold’s Chicken Shacks are now all independently owned and managed, there is a fierce debate over which location serves up Chicago’s best. The key commonality is that the cooked-to-order chicken is always worth the near 15-minute wait that Harold’s time-honored preparation requires.

11. Chicago-Style BBQ

Usually when discussing barbecue, culinary experts agree there are 5 main styles: Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, North Carolina and South Carolina. So, what differentiates Chicago BBQ from these?

You can still find St. Louis and baby back ribs and slow-cooked pulled pork, but in Chicago, BBQ rib tips reign supreme. They have a crispy glazed crust on the outside with an extremely moist and tender inside. Some even call them meat candy.

Chicago is also the only place in American barbecue culture that uses the aquarium smoker, or aquarium pit. This unique smoker burns wood in the bottom section while the upper chamber enclosed in tempered glass—which some say resembles a fish tank—acts as a display case for mouth-watering meats while they cook to perfection.

If you want to eat Chicago like a local, order a combo with hot links, traditionally served with smoky sweet savory sauce, french fries, and white bread.

The South Side dominates the BBQ scene in Chicago, and some of the shacks operating in the neighborhood are the best places in town.Try Lem’s Bar-B-Q on 75th Street, or grab a bucket of rib tips at Leon’s BBQ on South Archer.

If you’re salivating for BBQ Ribs now, try our St. Louis rib recipe!

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (9)

12. Maxwell Street Polish

This famous food in Chicago story takes us to a hot dog stand on the corner of Maxwell Street and Halsted Street. Here, a young Macedonian immigrant named Jimmy worked at his aunt’s hot dog stand and invented the Maxwell Street Polish Sausage Sandwich.

That stand became Jim’s Original, and was the cornerstone of the Old Maxwell Street Market. It has since relocated, but it still uses the same Polish sausage recipe today.

The famed sandwich sounds simple, but the combination of ingredients, and the sausage itself, have made it a very popular food in Chicago.

Served on a hot dog bun smeared with yellow mustard, the special smoked pork and beef sausage is flat grilled and has a slight crunch. It’s topped with a pile of caramelized sweet onions and a few hot sport peppers.

Currently, there are two Jim’s Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage Stands and many many knock offs.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (10)

13. Tamales From The Tamale Guy

Although tamales may not be what you first think of as a Chicago famous food, The Tamale Guy has become a local legend for his Mexican masa meanderings.

For more than 20 years, Claudio Velez has been making the rounds of night-life hot spots throughout the city of Chicago, toting his trademark red cooler filled with an assortment of his 3 signature offerings: pork, chicken, and cheese tamales—and, of course, salsas.

A hero to the hungry, darling to the drunken, and savior to the soused, Claudio arriving on the scene is cause for celebration among the city’s nighttime revelers. Fans either hope to get lucky with a visit from The Tamale Guy at the bar where they are, or they follow his Twitter Tamale Tracker and make a beeline for the spot at which he’s tweeted his arrival. Either way, getting hooked up with The Tamale Guy’s famous food in Chicago is a local middle-of-the-night rite of passage.

14. Pierogis

Pierogis are another immigrant food Chicago is known for. Food historians believe the Chinese brought dumplings to Poland, and the Polish brought their version of dumplings—pierogis—to Chicago.

Chicago claims to be the largest Polish city outside of Poland, so it’s no wonder that pierogis would be a favorite Chicago food.

The best thing I love most about pierogis: the never-ending variety of fillings! Traditional versions include potato and cheese, sauerkraut, mushrooms, meats, and fruits.

You can find pierogis at Polish restaurants on the West Side and in Ukrainian Village. If you want to try the most award-winning pierogis in Chicago, head to Kasia’s Deli.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (11)

15. Jibarito

In Puerto Rico, substituting plantains in place of bread on a sandwich is not unusual. In the Chicago of 1996, however, it was revolutionary. When Juan Figuero invented the jibarito at the Borinquen in Humboldt Park, it transformed his Puerto Rican restaurant from a local hole in the wall into a foodie destination.

What’s in a jibarito? Thick-sliced steak, American cheese, garlic mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato slices lie between two fried-flat green plantains. Well, that’s the original. Borinquen now offers different versions with chicken, pork, peppers, and even sweet plantains.

The jibarito became such a popular Chicago food that other Puerto Rican restaurants and Chicago sandwich shops started selling the famous not-quite-handheld. But I’m a purist; I like to stick to the true Chicago original at Borinquen.

15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (12)

Chicago Famous Food

What food is Chicago famous for? Well, you now have 15 ways to answer that question and even more places at which to try these great foods.

And for those on a budget, did you notice that you can eat the whole list of Chicago famous foods and enjoy the best food in the city without going to any Michelin-starred famous Chicago restaurants?

While I do enjoy dining at such restaurants once in a while, they usually don’t represent the heart and soul of a city, and they can certainly be pretty pricey.

Eating at shacks, stands, and mom-and-pop restaurants to find the best Chicago food means your travel budget lasts longer. And with so much delicious food to try in Chicago, that’s a great reason to visit!

So, what’s on your Chicago food bucket list? I’d love to hear in the comments below which iconic Chicago foods in this post whet your appetite for the Windy City!

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American, Travel

Denise Macuk

food guide, Chicago


15 Famous Chicago Foods & Where To Find Them All! — Chef Denise (2024)
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