The 24 Most Essential Food Experiences in Chicago

From burgers to hot dogs to deep-dish pizza.

When Sinatra crooned that Chicago was his kind of town, he might very well have been laying claim to the food and drink, as there’s a strong case to be made for the Windy City’s placement among the finest dining destinations on earth. From South Shore to Rogers Park and all points between, the landscape is rife with sensational flavors catering to all kinds of appetites. 

Our fair city’s reach goes well beyond the stereotypical staples, too. Sure, we got the dogs, the Italian beef, and pizza so thick you’ll swear you’re eating lasagna, but the insider-approved deep cuts are every bit as significant as the deep dish heading up the list below. Feast your eyes on the finest flavors Chicago has to offer. Then feed your belly, accordingly.

Kuma Burger From Kuma’s Corner

This particular arrangement of bun and beef was recently recognized as the best burger of them all—not just in Chicago, but in the entire US! How do you earn such an honor? Well, you start off with a thick and supremely juicy patty of ground meat, then you top it with assertive cheddar, perfectly crisped bacon, and a fried egg, naturally. The ratio between roll and protein is also worth taking note. This is a sturdy construction that doesn’t fall apart, even as you’re struggling to fit it into your mouth. Although the popular eatery has now spread its wings, with faithful recreations setting up shop as far away as Denver, it doesn’t really count unless you’ve hit up the original outpost in Avondale. 
How to book: Stop by the Belmont Avenue flagship for first come, first served seating or order take-out online.

Bianca’s Original from Bianca’s Burger

Brother and sister Rafael and Elizabeth Royal launched this to-go only operation during the height of the pandemic but it’s already a surefire hit, landing a spot inside downtown’s coveted Revival Food Hall within months of opening. Just take one bite of their classic smashed patty preparation and you’ll instantly understand why. An ideal textural balance is achieved between the chewy interior and the charred edges. Swaddled in melted American cheese and sandwiched between toasted brioche, it needs very little doctoring to shine—a simple addition of pickles, onions, and tomato does the trick. Pair it with housemade onion rings for the ultimate one-two punch. 
How to book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out and delivery via Uber Eats, Tock, and GrubHub.

Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face from Girl and the Goat

West Loop
Vegetarians, take note: this is not just a clever nickname…The wood oven roasted pig face is precisely as advertised. And star chef-owner Stephanie Izard has been plating it ever since her iconic restaurant debuted over a decade ago. A duo of crisped pork patties are jazzed up with tamarind, cilantro, fried potato sticks, and a maple-infused red wine vinaigrette. It’s all covered in a single egg, served sunny-side up; a mouth-watering visual delight.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable.

Banana Split from Lickity Split 

Edgewater & Rogers Park 
Specializing in decadent custards, thick-as-thieves concretes, and sensational sundaes, Lickity Split is a veritable shrine to the sweet tooth. But it's their take on a banana split which stands in a league all its own. The ripened star of the show is topped with both vanilla and chocolate frozen custard before undergoing an onslaught of chocolate sauce, pineapples, strawberries, peanuts, and whipped cream.A dessert classic preserved for a new generation, whoever said, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” never got the scoop on this spot. 
How to book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out and delivery via GrubHub (Edgewater, Rogers Park) and Postmates.

1944 Trader Vic Mai Tai from Three Dots And A Dash

Near North Side
This subterranean tropical temple has been tunneling into our hearts since 2013. And less than a decade later, Three Dots has established itself as one of the premiere cocktail lounges in all of Chicago—and beyond. The recipe is escapism. It could be the dead of winter but it’s perennially paradise inside. And in the case of this classic cocktail you’re not just spirited away to a distant oasis, you’re tapping into another time altogether. Beverage director Kevin Beary portals into the past with the help of an earthy agricole Rhum from Martinique, a funky blast of Jamaican booze, orgeat, and Dry Curacao all situated beneath an overproof floater. It remains remarkably faithful to the recipe originally conceived by tiki pioneer “Trader Vic” Bergeron back in 1940s Oakland. In other words, it’s not cloyingly sweet. It’s beautifully balanced, and even more gorgeously rendered under fresh mint and parasol. Dare you to have just one. 
How to book: Reserve or order take-out and delivery via Tock.

Pequod’s  pizza

Deep-dish pizza

Multiple locations
Is it actually pizza? Or is it a tomato and cheese casserole? Yes. Labels be damned, we can all agree that this unapologetically thicc, Chicago-born legend is also unabashedly delicious. And both locals and newcomers delight in the fact that no two pies are the same, from lauded chains like Giordano’s, Pizzeria Uno’s, Lou Malnati’s, and Geno’s East to smaller neighborhood operations like The Art of Pizza, and Bartoli's, try to catch ‘em all. Though if you have time to taste just one, make it Pequod’s in Lincoln Park. The crisped, caramelized edges of their crusts are without parallel.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by location.

Rib tips
Rib tips sandwich | Photo by Jim Vondruska

Rib tips 

Multiple locations
North Carolina bleeds pulled pork, Kansas City knows burnt ends, and Texas has brisket on lock, but when it comes to Chicago BBQ, it’s all about rib tips. Tried-and-true smokeshacks like Lem’s, Leon’s, Fat Willy's Rib Shack, Uncle John’s, Earl’s, Robinson's No. 1 Ribs, and Trice’s Original Slab usually cook up these chewy, saucy originals slow and low in massive aquarium smokers before dishing them out to hungry meat fiends the city over. Don’t forget to add Smoque to your list either—this protein palace is so special it just received a recommendation from the 2021 Michelin Guide. So get in line now, before all this beautiful beef goes up in smoke. Or preferably just after it does.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by location.

Drinks and a show at the Green Mill

Make like modern day Scarface at this landmark cash-only jazz bar, known for incredible live music, stiff cocktails, and a deeply seedy history as Al Capone’s Prohibition-era headquarters. Rumor has it a network of tunnels still lies beneath the floorboards, connecting the watering hole to different former gangster hangouts all over the Northside. It’s touristy, sure, but the spooky-swanky atmosphere—not to mention the world-class nightly performances—is well worth waiting out the crowds.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Chicago-style hot dogs

Multiple locations
Leave it to a city steeped in meat packing to produce the world’s perfect hot dog: an all-beef frankfurter plopped into a steamed poppy seed bun and dragged through the garden, as they say, collecting a hoard of yellow mustard, neon relish, chopped white onions, tomato wedges, spicy sport peppers, a dill pickle spear, and a shake of celery salt in its wake. Get yours at a plethora of Chicagoland stands, quick-serve outposts, and even sit-down restaurants, each spot more colorful and charming than the last. Standouts include Fatso’s Last Stand, Superdawg Drive-in, Wolfy’s, Gene & Jude’s, Dog Haus Biergarten, Lulu’s, The Duck Inn, Satchell’s Beef, Portillo’s, Bangers & Lace, Byron’s, hipster favorite Hot G Dog, and the Wiener Circle, where the staff famously serves their char dogs with a side of expletive-streaked sass.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by location.

Cinnamon roll at Ann Sather

Lakeview & Edgewater
Pairs of satisfyingly chewy, oven-fresh, made-from-scratch cinnamon buns, intensely aromatic and drenched in a thick, creamy glaze, are the name of the game inside this long-revered breakfast hotspot. One whiff and you’ll never fall victim to a greasy mall kiosk bun-slinger again, we guarantee it.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, call your nearest location for take-out, or delivery via DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, and Uber Eats.

Smoked shrimp at Calumet Fisheries

South Deering
This humble Far South Side fish shack has been marinating and smoking their prime seafood over specially selected oak logs onsite since 1948 and, unlike pretty much everything else in this crazy world, precious little about their award-winning process has changed. The menu runs deep, of course, but the shrimp, tender and bursting with briny, meaty succulence, remains an absolute no-brainer.
How to book: Stop by for counter service.

Fried chicken with mild sauce from Harold’s Chicken Shack

Multiple locations
It might make up the bulk of the meal, but this storied regional chain’s beautifully scalded fried chicken takes a backseat to its prized mild sauce, a tomato-tinged, tartly sweet, smoky, and ever-so-slightly spicy potion that lurks quietly in the back of every Chicagoan’s childhood food memories. We’ll take ours with a side of wings and fries, please and thank you.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by location.

Chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates at Avec

West Loop
When this West Loop pioneer opened back in 2003, the elegant yet approachable eatery quickly made a name for itself thanks to sleek communal tables, a forward-thinking wine list, and, most importantly, the juiciest medjool date dish the Midwest had ever encountered. Plump dates undergo the full hog treatment here, plied with spiced chorizo sausage before being wrapped in a thick slab of bacon, fired until crisp and crackling, and doused in a warm piquillo pepper tomato sauce that practically demands a hunk of good, freshly baked bread. Don’t think, just order.
How to book: Reserve via Tock or order take-out and delivery via DoorDash, GrubHub, and Caviar.

Italian beef 

Multiple locations
Any good Chicagoan knows our fair city is known far and wide for three specific belt-busting dishes: Chicago-style hot dogs, deep dish pizza, and, perhaps most significantly, Italian beef sandwiches. Why? Step inside one of the area’s many choice beef dealers, from familiar chains like Jay's Beef, Portillo's, Pop's, Al’s, and Buona to mom and pop operations like the Original Chickies, the Original Mr. Beef, Roma's, Johnnie's, Luke's, Freddy's, Scatchell's, and South Side giant Tony's, and you’ll soon find out. That pile of broth-soaked shaved roast beef, dumped onto puffy Italian bread and smothered in sweet marinated peppers or spicy giardiniera, is well worth the inevitable belly ache.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by location.

Off-menu Beijing duck dinner at Sun Wah

Gather up your pandemic pod and prepare to sink your collective teeth into this Uptown fixture’s not-so-secret signature dish: a gut busting, multicourse bonanza showcasing an entire duck, freshly roasted and sporting a layer of ultra succulent, crispy skin, carved tableside for your mouthwatering pleasure by the family-run spot’s expert staff. If you don’t know, now you know.
How to book: Call 773-769-1254 for reservations and take-out orders.

Single cheeseburger at Au Cheval

West Loop
Fad foods come and go, but this West Loop haunt’s multi-award-winning cheeseburger—a scrumptiously sloppy pile of prime W.W. Johnson Farms beef griddled to greasy perfection, goopy American cheese, housemade pickles, a runny fried egg, thick-cut bacon, and a dollop of tangy Dijonnaise spread stuffed into a buttery double-toasted bun—is undoubtedly forever. Pair it with a frosty $3 tallboy and a Dr. Devon’s Pickleback shot for the full experience. If you’re joined by dining partners, be sure to split the restaurant’s signature fried bologna sandwich to serve as a gut-busting appetizer like no other. 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out via Toast, or get delivery via Caviar and DoorDash.

Jibarito at Jibaritos y Más

Logan Square, Lincoln Park
A Puerto Rican original born on the mean streets of Chicago, this Logan Square cult favorite’s flagship sandwich is a work of culinary genius. Replacing boring old bread with crunchy, juicy slabs of fried smashed plantains? Check. Cramming the whole thing full of richly seasoned roast pork, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, garlic, and a slather of tangy mayo? Double check. See you in line.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out and delivery via GrubHub, Postmates, and Uber Eats.

Mapo tofu at Lao Sze Chuan

Multiple locations
Not for the faint of heart, this chili pepper-flecked pool of bubbling hot broth littered with molten globs of silky tofu and slices of crisp, bright green onions is Chinese comfort food in its purest—and most delicious—form. It’s no wonder this dish helped put Lao Sze Chuan on the map, launching it from a homey Chinatown operation in 1998 to a mini-empire with celebrated outposts across the Midwest.
How to order: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by location.

Conceptual cocktails at the Aviary

West Loop
While the pandemic has undoubtedly left its ugly mark on traditional fine dining, Alinea Group mastermind chef Grant Achatz has kept his penchant for executing feats of molecular gastronomy brilliance alive and well over at this long running West Loop cocktail bar-slash-innovation hub. Snag a reservation and settle in for a la carte creations or an intricate three-course tour of top shelf tipples engineered to tickle the imagination alongside a host of creative bar bites. (Batched and bottled to-go options are also available.)
How to book: Reserve and order take-out via Tock.

Tavern-style pizza at Vito & Nick's

As much as we enjoy the occasional deep dish excursion, us urbanites know that real Chicago pizza means square cut, cracker thin tavern-style. And there’s no better place to rev your authentic pizza engine than Vito & Nick’s, a South Side institution that’s been perfecting the crunchy, fully-loaded style since 1923. The crust hits the spot, for sure, but it’s the toppings, a broad expanse of meats, veggies, and palate-scorching giardiniera stretching all the way to the flawlessly blackened edge, that slyly steal the show.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating and take-out.

Short rib beignets at Boeufhaus

West Town
“New Orleans-style beignets in all their dreamy, doughnut-y goodness, but make it savory”—that was the original impetus behind this rustic-chic Western Ave chophouse’s boundary-defying appetizer. And savory it became, a blanket of puffy deep-fried dough wrapped tightly around a generous wad of short rib, seasoned, seared, and braised until fork-tender. Swap the requisite powdered sugar for a ladleful of haus jus and you’re in business.
How to book: Order pick-up via Toast or get delivery via DoorDash.

Pierogi from Kasia’s Deli

Ukrainian Village
Consistently awarded the best pierogi in Chicago by countless area publications, this bustling Ukrainian Village counterserve lives up to the hype with their rotating cast of masterfully doughy Eastern European dumplings. With each bite, the soft, toothsome exterior gives way to piping hot fillings like potato and bacon, cabbage and onion, beef goulash, sauerkraut and Polish sausage, mushroom with pesto and truffles as well as sweet options like fresh strawberries, plums, and wild blueberries.
How to book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out and delivery via Uber Eats and GrubHub.

Cowboy steak at RPM Steak

River North
Steakhouses are to Chicago as red sauce Italian joints are to New York and izakaya are to Tokyo—they’re simply embedded in the city’s dining DNA. See what all the meaty fuss is about in true go-big-or-go-home fashion with this hulking 24-ounce bone-in rib-eye from upmarket River North chophouse RPM, dry-aged for 28 days, peppered, salted, and expertly seared for a pleasantly smoky bite and velvety pink center. Life doesn’t get more *chef’s kiss emoji* than that.
How to book: Reserve via Tock or order take-out and delivery via ChowNow, Uber Eats, Postmates, Caviar, DoorDash, and GrubHub.

Carnitas at Carnitas Don Pedro

To claim that Don Pedro’s carnitas—knuckle-sized chunks of luscious pork, rife with crunchy chicharrón morsels, ambrosial caramelized fat, and pulpy shredded meat—stands as Chicago’s most coveted taco filling would be a grave understatement. Pick up a pound of the good stuff (alongside a stack of warm tortillas and a healthy sprinkling of chopped white onions, fresh cilantro, salsa, and lime, of course) on your way to the park and prepare to be the most popular guest at the socially-distanced picnic.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out online, or get delivery via Uber Eats.

Jim Vondruska/Thrillist

Breaded steak sandwich at Ricobene’s

Seasoned beef, lovingly breaded and fried for the ultimate crispy outside-tender inside combo is an unparalleled delight for the senses. As if that weren't enough, this revered South Side staple has been stuffing their perfected protein inside pillowy Turano French bread and layering the whole mess with gooey mozzarella and hot giardiniera since 1946. No wonder it’s been dubbed the best sandwich in the world by multiple publications.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out and delivery online.

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