Food & Drink

The 12 Best Delis in Chicago

Published On 09/01/2015 Published On 09/01/2015

To name Chicago’s best delis, first you have to decide what qualifies as a deli. Not every sandwich shop is a deli -- it should have a meat counter as well as a place to sit, but more than that it should come from a heritage of well-sourced meats rooted in an ethnic deli tradition. You know a true deli when you see it (or smell it) and these 12 Chicago sandwich stops pass the eye (and sniff) test.

Courtesy of Kaufman's Delicatessen & Bakery

Jewish delis

Kaufman’s Delicatessen & Bakery (address and info)
Kaufman’s traded up to a snazzier new building a few years ago, but otherwise this is a classic Jewish deli, mostly retail but with some cafe seating, featuring great pastrami and corned beef, lox and sable, house-baked rye bread and bagels, hot soup and pickle barrels, and celery soda.

Max’s Delicatessen & Restaurant (address and info)
Highland Park
An authentic deli in a suburban strip mall might seem improbable, but this place has the authentic brusqueness of an old-time New York joint, as well as the corned beef, whitefish salad, bagels, and black & white cookies.

Courtesy of Huge Galdones- Galdones Photography

Eleven City Diner (address and info)
South Loop, Lincoln Park
The newest authentic Jewish deli in the city (two locations, South Loop and Lincoln Park), Eleven City goes for classic New York style, from corned beef and matzoh ball soup to phosphates and egg creams.

Mike Gebert/Thrillist

Manny’s Deli (address and info)
South Loop
We violate one of our deli rules almost immediately, because Manny’s has no retail, only a cafeteria -- but nobody could argue with the inclusion of this Chicago institution, drawing everyone from aldermen and machers to Streets & San workers for corned beef sandwiches, potato pancakes, and Jewish comfort foods like short ribs and oxtails.

Courtesy of Alain Milotti of Alain Milotti Photography

Italian delis

J.P. Graziano Grocery Co. (address and info)
West Loop
The third-generation Randolph St grocer-turned-mostly sandwich shop puts top-quality Italian sub ingredients on great crusty bread from D’Amato’s (ask for a Mr. G), and offers great Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, olive oil, and other goods for purchase.
Riviera Italian and American Imported Foods (address and info)
On the Italian-American stretch of Harlem on the city’s Western edge, this little shop smells more like a European meat market than any place in town, thanks to the sausage and salumi made in-house, which is offered alongside olive and seafood salads and crusty bread from Palermo Bakery across the street. Maximize the great house-made stuff by ordering a Will Special, named for a frequent (now departed) customer.

Michael Gebert/Thrillist

Miceli’s Deli & Food Mart (address and info)
Pilsen/Heart of Italy
Oakley St on the South Side is a charming Italian strip right out of the old days, that looks like Sonny might drive up at any moment to beat the crap out of Carlo. Miceli’s is the neighborhood grocer and Italian deli, and it could not be sweeter, with the owner Lou and staff joking around with longtime customers and serving up classic, dirt-cheap Italian subs and old-school pasta dishes.

Michael Gebert/Thrillist

Freddy’s Pizza (address and info)
Pizza in the name hardly does justice to the incredible spread offered inside this place every day, which ranges from subs using house-cured meats and house-made meatballs, to Italian hot dishes (try the chicken limone), to seafood salads, to house-made gelato -- oh yeah, and pizza, and some groceries, too. It’s like an Eataly crammed into a White Hen.

Mike Gebert/Thrillist

Bari Foods (address and info)
West Town
Every day at lunchtime you’ll see a crowd of Chicago guys trying to figure out who’s next in line at this West Town grocery and sub shop. It’s worth the chaos for classic Italian subs, the Italian beef (which has been a special for about a decade), and other specialties -- all to go, because if you’re here, you probably drive a city vehicle anyway.

Courtesy of Ken Harrington

More delis 

Harrington’s Catering & Deli (address and info)
Jefferson Park
An Irish deli may sound like the set-up for a joke, but Harrington’s corned beef is sold all over the Northwestern suburbs for St. Patrick’s Day, and you can get a great sandwich of it -- corned beef or Reuben -- and other mostly potato-based sides at the storefront in Jefferson Park.

Publican Quality Meats (address and info)
West Loop
At first glance it may look more like an artisanal restaurant and shop than a deli. But Chef Paul Kahan’s father used to have a smoked fish business nearby, and behind the (generally pretty terrific) trendy sandwiches, house-cured salumi, and fancy products, there beats a deli heart.

Michael Gebert/Thrillist

Gene’s Sausage Shop (address and info)
Lincoln Square
The city’s old German delis are pretty much gone, but Polish meat market Gene’s keeps their memory alive in the former location of Meyer Delicatessen in Lincoln Square (whose neon sign hangs over the stairs). Start by shopping downstairs for a spectacular variety of meat products; then, in summertime, head to the rooftop for a beer, grilled German sausages, and an extra order of gemĂĽtlichkeit.  

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1. Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen 4905 Dempster St, Skokie, IL 60077

Kaufman’s, a staple on the North Shore for more than 50 years, burned down a couple of years ago, but it re-opened bigger and better, and it’s still packed to the gills almost any time of day. Grab a number ticket (to the right of the door) when you enter, order the just-baked bagels, and be prepared to wait a solid 30 minutes. And yes, it's worth it -- there's a reason this place is an institution.

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2. Max's Delicatessen & Restaurant 191 skokie valley rd., Chicago, IL 60035

Who new a strip mall would hold Chicago's best bagels and corned beef?

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3. Eleven City Diner 1112 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605 (South Loop)

A matrimony of the Jewish delicatessen and the old-school diner, Eleven City Diner's a greasy spoon sans the grease, with awesome double-decker sandwiches and generally huge portions of pretty much everything.

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4. Manny's Deli 1141 S Jefferson St, Chicago, IL 60607 (South Loop)

For over 70 years, and coming up on four generations, Manny's has been family owned and operated by the Raskin's. The Jewish-style deli is a local favorite, an area name, and even a lunch spot for tourists. Stop in for home-cooked treats like pastrami, corned beef, matzoh ball soup, short ribs, brisket, and meatloaf.

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5. J. P. Graziano Grocery Co. 901 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

An old-school Italian grocery and importer, distributing all over the city since 1937, made the evolution to sandwich shop and gave the fourth-generation store a new life. People line up outside the door for a bite. It’s a busy scene among shelves of canned and pickled provisions: a meat slicer on overdrive, plastic-gloved counter workers slopping macaroni salad into little plastic cups, stuffed hoagies (made from D’Amato bread) being rolled to-go in paper. The classic Italian is a mainstay, but go for the Mr. G: hot sorpresata, prosciutto, genoa salami, sharp provolone, fresh basil, grilled and marinated artichokes, vinegar-oregano tossed lettuce and (here it comes) truffle-mustard-balsamic vinaigrette.

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7. Miceli's Deli & Food Mart 2448 S Oakley Ave, Chicago, IL 60608

You'll love Miceli's Italian subs almost as much as their dirt cheap prices!

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8. Freddy's Pizza 1600 South 61st Avenue, Cicero, IL 60804

Freddy's is the epitome of a dying breed -- family-owned corner shops serving up pizza made entire in-house and from scratch, using their own collections of house-cured meats, aged cheeses, and doughs. Aside from their square-shaped, deep-dish slices of heaven, Freddy's always has a lineup of saucy, cheesy pasta dishes waiting at the counter alongside its gelato counter, sporting flavors classic flavors like chocolate and lemon.

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9. Bari Foods 1120 W Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642

You can't get Italian subs like this anywhere else. No, seriously.

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10. Harrington's Catering & Deli 5685 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL 60646

This should be you're number one stop for corned beef all year round.

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11. Publican Quality Meats 825 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Publican Quality Meats is something of a triple threat: equal parts butcher shop, café, and speciality grocery store, it features an awe-inspiring selection of sausages and cured charcuterie meats, served individually from the butcher case or in sandwiches made with house-baked bread. The lunch menu is often changing, but the Parm #2 features a beautifully crisp chicken cutlet nestled into a brioche bun, while the sausage plate lets you sample three of the house-made specialities with sauerkraut and breadcrumbs. A breakfast menu includes ham and egg biscuit sandwiches and a pork belly breakfast burrito, though if you're in the mood for something less savory, there are pastries and coffee, too.

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12. Gene's Sausage Shop And Delicatessen 4750 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL 60625 (Lincoln Square)

Gene's is pouring the experience honed from their own 37-year-old family-run biz into their new-to-them two-story temple of cased meats (walls of exposed steel, wood, and stone, gigantic chandeliers, and the Meyer's neon sign above the deli), where the goods are whipped up by Euro-trained sausage makers and smoked on the premises, a past time that also got you kicked off the high school lacrosse team. The Liverbest Sandwich has a thick slab of creamy liverwurst with sliced pickles on a pretzel roll, so it's prepped for you to slather on one of the assorted mustards and wash it all down with a Pilsner. Plus, Gene's rooftop beer and wine garden is undoubtedly one of the best summer drinking spots in the city.