Wondering what to eat in Chicago during your first visit to America’s windy city? Read on to discover 25 must-eat Chicago food favorites that include deep dish pizza, hot dogs and some surprises.
Despite its Second City nickname, Chicago leads the pack in many ways. It has major sports teams, the country’s third tallest skyscraper and world-class museums.
Chicago Food Guide | What To Eat In Chicago
Chicago is one of the best American food cities but not for just one type of food. Food in Chicago is great at all levels – if you know what to eat and where to eat it.
It’s a city where you can chow down on pizza, hot dogs or an Italian beef sandwich. It’s also a city where you can empty your wallet at one of the city’s numerous Michelin-starred restaurants. The culinary options are infinite in a city famous for SCTV, John Hughes films, the Blue Brothers, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
We’ve eaten a lot and learned a lot during multiple trips to the Chi-Town. After our most recent deep dive into the Chicago food scene, we’re excited to share our picks for the best things to eat in Chicago. And, of course, we’re starting with deep dish pizza.
1. Deep Dish Pizza
There’s something special about Chicago’s iconic deep dish pizza. Maybe it’s the crunchy crust or maybe it’s because chunky tomato sauce is layered on top of the cheese. Or maybe it’s the generous amounts of pepperoni or sausage that seems to be in each pie.
While deep dish pizza is just one of several pizza styles in Chicago, these layered pies are practically synonymous with the term Chicago pizza.
Like many iconic American foods, deep dish pizza first appeared in the 20th century but its exact origin isn’t set set in stone. Pizzeria Uno deserves some credit for its popularity but food historians argue over which crafty cook dreamed up the original recipe. Regardless, eating the deep, layered pizza is a must whether you take a pizza tour or gorge on heavy pies at one spot.
Where to Eat Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago
Art of Pizza, Bartoli’s, Burt’s Place, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, Gino’s East, Giordano’s, Labriola, Lou Malnati’s, My Pi, Nancy’s Pizzeria, Pequod’s, Pizano’s, Pizzeria Due and Uno Pizzeria
2. Italian Beef Sandwiches
Despite its name, the Italian beef sandwich is an all-American sandwich with deep Chicago roots. And, while it has some similarities to Philadelphia’s cheesesteak, it’s its own tasty thing.
For the uninitiated, an Italian beef sandwich is basically a long roll that’s filled with thinly sliced roast beef. Chicago cooks follow local tradition by cooking seasoned roast beef in water and keeping the meat warm in its own juices in a steam table. The meat’s jus becomes part of the sandwich, adding a juiciness that’s not so different from the jus in a French Dip.
This jus makes ketchup and mustard obsolete. Locals skip those condiments and instead pile on sweet peppers and/or spicy, pickled giardiniera, both of which provide additional color and flavor. How you eat yours is up to you though you may want to read our Italian Beef Sandwich guide for more facts and tips.
3. Chi Dogs
With roots in both Frankfurt and Vienna, Chicago-style hot dogs are made with beef and adorned with a ‘garden’ of toppings. This colorful garden includes yellow mustard, white onions, green ‘sport peppers’, green pickles, red tomatoes and relish so green that its shade defies science. (It’s literally called neon relish.) A dash of celery salt completes the dog which is served on a poppy seed bun.
Also called Chicago red hots, Chi-Dogs are typically steam boiled before they’re ‘dragged through the garden’. Originally sold for a nickel during the depression, this iconic Chicago food now costs more than 100 times that original price (ouch!) and often comes with fries. Trust us – it’s worth a few extra dollars to eat one of the world’s best hot dogs.
Where to Eat Chi Dogs in Chicago
Byron’s Hot Dogs, Dave’s Red Hots, Fat Johnnie’s, Fatso’s Last Stand, Gene & Jude’s, Jeff’s Red Hots, Jimmy’s Red Hots, Portillo’s, Redhot Ranch, Superdawg, The Vienna Beef Factory Store, The Wieners Circle and Wolfy’s
4. Char Dogs
Not all hot dogs are steam boiled. In cities like Buffalo and Chicago, some of the best hot dogs are actually char dogs.
As the name suggests, char dogs are char grilled on charcoal until they’re dark and crispy. Dressed in the same manner as regular Chi Dogs, they’re the kind of hot dogs that families and friends eat at backyard cookouts across America. In Chicago, people eat char dogs at hot dog stands and sandwich shops all over town.
Where to Eat Char Dogs in Chicago
See Chi Dogs List Above.
5. Bacon Wrapped Dates
Made famous at chef Paul Kahan’s wine bar/bistro avec, bacon wrapped dates have become an integral part of the Chicago food scene and for good reason. They’s as delicious as they are substantial.
In this dish, dried dates are stuffed with intensely meaty chorizo and wrapped with bacon made at Kahan’s butchery. The tasty cylinders are then served swimming in a bright orange-red piquillo pepper tomato sauce.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Kahan was inspired by his father-in-law who served the dish at his annual tapas party. Regardless of who dreamed up the original recipe, the fact is that they’ve been on avec’s menu for over 18 years and they’ll probably be around for many more. We recommend eating them, along with a glass of wine and other excellent dishes, in avec’s modern, sleek wood-lined West Loop dining room.
Where to Eat Bacon Wrapped Dates in Chicago
A hamburger is technically a roll filled with a ground beef patty or two. However, in Chicago, they go way beyond the basics.
We experienced this for ourselves when we ate hamburgers at Au Cheval in 2014. Those double burgers, each topped with cheese, bacon slabs and a fried egg, impressed us so much that we returned for a repeat performance eight years later.
Other Chicago burgers joints do their own special things. Case in point – the cheeseburger we ate at The Loyalist, a mix of short rib, chuck, and ground bacon patty, was topped with pickles, onions and a schmear of onion-infused mayo. Bon Appetit called the burger one of the best in the country in 2017 and we don’t disagree.
Where to Eat Burgers in Chicago
Au Cheval, Bad Apple, Big Kids, DMK Burger Bar, Fatso’s Last Stand, Gene & Georgetti, Kinzie Chophouse, Kuma’s Corner, Little Bad Wolf, The Loyalist, Mott St. and Owen & Engine
7. Italian Food
Italian-Americans have been living and eating in Chicago’s Little Italy for decades. This is the neighborhood where The Italian Village, Chicago’s oldest Italian restaurant, opened in 1927 and where the original Al’s #1 Italian Beef opened in 1938. It’s also the neighborhood where our we ate Chicago-style Italian food at Pompei, a fourth generation family-owned Italian restaurant on Taylor Street.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Little Italy’s old-school Italian restaurants, they’re only part of the Italian food story in Chicago. More modern Italian restaurants are located in other Chicago neighborhoods. And how could we forget the the city’s range of pizza styles that transcends deep dish?
8. Asian Food
Despite its Lake Michigan location in the middle of America, Chicago has one of the country’s most diverse Asian food scenes. It’s a city where it’s super easy to find soup dumplings and ramen (we found and ate both) as well as many other Asian dishes and cuisines.
This is a city where a person could hypothetically eat Chinese food, Filipino food, Japanese food, Korean Food, Thai food and Vietnamese food in the same day. However, we don’t recommend this approach for two reasons. First, it would cause quite the belly ache. And, second, pizza. You gotta save room for pizza!
Where to Eat Asian Food in Chicago
3 Little Pigs Chi, Arami, BiXi Beer, Chengdu Impression, Duck Duck Goat, Furama, HaiSous Jinsei Motto, Joy Yee, Kasama, Kumiko, Mako, Momotaro, Noodlebird, Omakase Yume, Proxi, Ramen Wasabi, Sun Wah BBQ and Sunda
9. Polish Food
While New York City has more Polish immigrants than Chicago, Illinois’ windy city arguably has the more vibrant Polish community. This community, which dwarves the city’s Italian community in sheer numbers, dates back to the middle of the 19th century when Poles immigrated to Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood in droves.
Those immigrants introduced polka and a bunch of tasty foods, both savory and sweet, to the midwestern city. Beyond pierogies (see below), these foods include sausage, sauerkraut and paczki. For those not familiar, paczki are Polish donuts. They’re popular all year long but especially on Fat Tuesday.
It’s no surprise that we have a Pierogi passion since we love dumplings. And, while Poles didn’t invent dumplings, they’re the ones who first filled them with potatoes and cheese and called them pierogies.
To be clear, potato and cheese are just two pierogi fillings in Chicago. Other fillings include cheese, meat, mushrooms, spinach and sauerkraut. And those are just the savory ones. Sweet pierogies are filled with fruit like blueberry, cherry and strawberry.
11. Melrose Peppers
Melrose peppers, similar to ancient sweet red peppers, may be the most hyper-local food in Chicago. They’re grown in a specific Chicago suburb called Melrose Park. They’re also seasonal, with a harvest that occurs in the late summer.
Legend has it that Italian immigrants, Joseph and Lucia Napolitano, brought pepper seeds from the Campania region when they crossed the Atlantic Ocean more than a century ago. After settling in Melrose Park, the duo grew peppers and other vegetables at their farm and sold them at a family market.
Whether that origin story is true or not, Chicagoans still grow and eat melrose peppers to this day. Typical preparations include frying the peppers, stuffing them or simply sautéing them in garlic and olive oil.
Where to Find Melrose Peppers in Chicago
Italian Markets and Restaurants During the Summer Season
Brunch time is the best time on Chicago weekends. This is the time when locals join friends for hearty midday meals in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Some go old school by eating omelets and bagels. Other choose more decadent dishes like brioche french toast. Vegetarians might select avocado toast or a smoothie bowl. Then there are folks who go global with dim sum and breakfast burritos.
In other words, there’s not one type of brunch in Chicago. While the options for brunch in Chicago aren’t endless, there’s enough of them to make most people happy.
Where to Eat Brunch in Chicago
Barcocina, Batter & Berries, CheSa’s Bistro & Bar, Dove’s Luncheonette, Floriole, Irene’s, Little Goat Diner, Lula Cafe, m. henry, Obelix, Planta Queen, Second Generation, Stay Cafe, Tre Kronor and Yardbird
13. Celebrity Chef Restaurants
Though it lives under the culinary shadow of American food cities like New York and New Orleans, Chicago has numerous celebrity chefs who call the city home. And, while these chefs can’t physically be in each restaurant at all times, their restaurants rank as some of the most popular in Chicago.
Some of Chicago’s celebrity chefs rapidly gained their fame on television shows. Others grew their prominence organically while operating one or more successful restaurant. They all design food that’s worth eating.
Where to Eat Food Designed by Celebrity Chefs in Chicago
Grant Achatz – Alinea, Aviary, Next, The Office, Roister and St. Clair Supper Club
Rick Bayless – Bar Sótano, Frontera Grill, Topolbamo, Tortazo and Xoco
Joe Flamm – Rose Mary
Stephanie Izard – Cabra, Duck Duck Goat, Girl & the Goat and Little Goat
Paul Kahan – avec, Nico Osteria, The Publican and Publican Quality Meats
Mindy Segal – Mindy’s Bakery
Carnivores don’t have to ‘settle’ for burgers in Chicago. This is a city where both mobsters and celebrities chowed down on juicy steaks at spots like Gene & Georgetti, the city’s oldest steakhouse, a century ago. It makes sense considering that Chicago, famous at the time for its stockyards and distribution, was known to have the best beef in the country.
Today, modern meat eaters go to Chicago steakhouses like Gibson’s and Babette for special occasion meals. The same goes for business men and women looking to close their next big deal.
Where to Eat Steak in Chicago
Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, BLVD Steakhouse, Boeufhaus, Chicago Chop House, Chicago Cut, Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, Gene & Georgetti, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, GT Prime Steakhouse, Holu, Maple & Ash, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, Prime & Provision, RPM Steak, Steak 48 and Swift & Sons
15. Greek Food
Two words – flaming saganaki.
If those two word aren’t enough to get you to Greektown, then nothing will. But cheese on fire is just one of the foods that Chicago’s biggest Greek neighborhood has to offer. This is a neighborhood where food options include moussaka, cheese pies, grilled octopus and souvlaki.
If you love eating Greek food in Athens and Santorini, then you’ll likely love eating the Mediterranean cuisine in Chicago’s Greektown too. And, if you have time to spare, you can visit the National Hellenic Museum while you’re there.
16. Fine Dining
Michelin started rating Chicago restaurants in 2011, forever altering the city’s fine dining scene. Twenty two of the city’s top restaurants sport one, two or even three stars.
Dining at one or more of these restaurants requires a healthy bank account (or credit card limit) and advance reservations. Cuisines run the gamut from Japanese to French to Mexican. One restaurant, Moody Tongue, doubles as a brewery and Grant Achatz’s gastronomic temple Alinea has become legendary.
Michelin Starred Restaurants in Chicago
Three Stars – Alinea
Two Stars – Ever, Moody Tongue, Oriole and Smyth
One Star – Boka, Claudia, El Ideas, Elske, Esmé, Galit, Goosefoot, Kasama, Mako, Next, North Pond, Omakase Yume, Porto, Schwa, Sepia, Temporis and Topolobampo
17. Late Night Snacks
Bars stay open in Chicago – as late 5am on Saturday nights and 4am on the other nights. However, not everybody wants to stay out that late (or should we say early?).
Luckily, the city has a lot of places that serve late night snacks for those who don’t want to party all night but aren’t quite ready for bed. Most of these late night spots serve cheap eats like burgers, hot dogs, pizza, tacos and Italian beef sandwiches – all ideal after a night at the bars.
Then there’s Oriole, a Michelin starred restaurant, that serves ham sandwiches called Ham Sandovals, cookies and cocktails starting at 10pm. It’s worth a visit but be aware that advance reservations are a must.
It was a big deal when Eataly opened its second US superstore in River North in 2013. At the time, Chicago’s Eataly was only the second US location of the Italy-based food chain. We felt the city’s excitement during our 2014 swing through town.
Times our different in today’s interconnected world. There are now eight Eataly stores in seven US cities plus a store in Canada. But this doesn’t mean that the Chicago Eataly hasn’t retained its charms.
Locals and tourists who shop at Eataly today can buy premium Italian meats, fresh made pastas, a range of Italian wines and the store’s special assortment of Italian cheeses and salumi. Hungry shoppers can eat at its pizzeria or enjoy a late day aperitivo at the wine bar. Those who plan ahead can also participate in one of the store’s pasta making classes or special wine dinners.
Chicago Sweet Treats
When it comes to food, Chicago isn’t a one-trick pony. The city doesn’t just excel at savory food – its desserts are great too.
These are our favorites Chicago desserts and the ones you shouldn’t miss:
19. Ice Cream
You might think that Chicago’s cold winters would negate the city’s interest in ice cream. If so, you would be wrong. Instead, Chicago is a city with an ice cream museum and a signature ice cream cone.
That signature cone is the rainbow cone at the Original Rainbow Cone, a local institution with multiple shops including its original shop in the Beverly neighborhood. The cone is a literal ice cream rainbow that piles five flavors – chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio, and orange sherbet – on a cone in that specific order with orange sherbet on top.
For us, though, Chicago’s most lick-worthy cones are scooped at Eli’s Ark in the city’s Bucktown neighborhood. At first glance, these cones, shaped like animals, are merely kitsch. However, topped with top quality gelato, they taste like pure bliss.
Where to Eat Ice Cream in Chicago
Black Dog Gelato, BomboBar, Eli’s Ark, FRIO Gelato Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Kurimu, La Michoacana Premium, Legend Tasty House, Lickity Split, Margie’s Candies, Pretty Cool Ice Cream, Rainbow Cone, Scooter’s Frozen Custard, Sundae Stop, Vaca’s Creamery and Windy City Sweets
20. Garrett Popcorn
We first experienced Garrett Popcorn’s ‘Chicago Mix’ at O’Hare Airport during a long multi-airport journey to Tokyo back in 2013. Since then, we’ve eaten tastiest treat every time we’ve connected through Chicago. But what is it?
Now called Garrett Mix since a Minnesota popcorn company beat the company to the ‘Chicago Mix’ trademark, it’s a combination of CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn kernels. When you taste the salty, caramelized, sweet, crunchy, cheddary combo for the first time, you likely exclaim “Why didn’t I think of that?” before you take your next bite.
Garrett Popcorn, which opened in 1949, has made the list of “Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Things” multiple times. It’s also experienced enormous growth over the years. There are now Garrett Popcorn stores in Asian countries like Japan, UAE and South Korea. We personally encountered a kiosk on our way out of Bangkok in 2018. And, yes, we bought a bag of Garrett Mix for the flight.
Where to Eat Garrett Popcorn in Chicago
Garrett Popcorn has multiple Chicago locations including stalls at both major airports.
21. Baked Goods
It’s no challenge to find baked goods. In fact, its too easy.
The challenge, instead, is narrowing down options that include both old school and modern bakeries. Some of these bakeries have seating while others, like Mindy’s Bakery, sell grab and go pastries.
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with eating a brownie at Chicago’s The Palmer House, the hotel where the brownie was invented in 1893. In fact, doing otherwise would simply be wrong.
Where to Eat Baked Goods in Chicago
Alliance Bakery, Aya Pastry, Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits, Bittersweet, Brown Sugar Bakery, D’Amato’s Bakery, Delightful Pastries, Donya Bakery, Floriole, Goddess and the Baker, Good Ambler, Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafters, Hewn, Loaf Lounge, Kasama, Lost Larson, Mindy’s Bakery, Roeser’s Bakery, Scafuri Bakery, Sugar Moon Bakery, Sweet Mandy B’s, TeaPotBrew Bakery and Weber’s Bakery
Donuts are popular in Chicago. Really popular. We learned this when we ate donuts at the city’s most popular donut shops, Doughnut Vault and Firecakes Donuts, during our visit.
And why not?
With more than a dozen donut shops in town, there isn’t one type or style of donut in Chicago. Firecakes Donuts takes the concept a step further with its donut ice cream sandwich stuffed with house-made ice cream and topped with sweet sauce.
Taking an Underground Doughnut Tour is a great way to experience four of Chicago’s best donut shops (Doughnut Vault, Firecakes Donuts, Stan’s Donuts & Coffee and Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken) in just two hours. Another option is to take a self-guided tour like we did. There’s no bad choice here.
Where to Eat Donuts in Chicago
2D Restaurant, Beacon Doughnuts, Bombobar, D&D’s Place, Dat Donut, Do-Rite Donuts, Doughnut Vault, Firecakes Donuts, Liberation Kitchen, Old Fashioned Donuts, Smack Dab and Stan’s Donuts
Chicago Drinks | What To Drink In Chicago
Drinking is serious business in Chicago.
After drinking at several of the city’s watering holes, these are our picks for the best Chicago beverages:
Taking a crawl of the best Chicago cocktail bars would take several days and would involve even more stops. Accordingly, the better plan is to pick a couple cocktail bars to visit during your trip. But which couple?
One option is to visit James Beard winners like The Aviary and The Violet Hour – both bars are cocktail royalty. The Aviary, part of the Alinea group, provides a full sensory experience. The Violet Hour, hidden in plain sight, is where the Paper Plane cocktail was invented.
Another option is to drink at the Milk Room, a historic speakeasy inside the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel or at the Berkshire Room in the lobby of The Acme right near Eataly (see above). You could hypothetically stay at one of these hotels, which is what we did, simplifying the commute home after a night at the bar.
Where to Drink Cocktails in Chicago
After, Aviary, Bar Sotano, Berkshire Room, Billy Sunday, Bokeh, Broken Shaker, The California Clipper, Celeste, Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar, The Drifter, Heavy Feather, Kumiko, Lazy Bird, The Matchbox, Milk Room, Moneygun, Moonflower, Mother’s Ruin, Nobody’s Darling, The Office, Ørkenoy, Osito’s Tap, Outside Voices, Scofflaw, The Sixth, The Sportsman’s Club, Three Dots & a Dash, Violet Hour, Vol. 39 and The Whistler
Several American cities like Asheville, Denver and Portland claim to be the country’s most prolific beer city. Chicago is one of those cities too. But Chicago’s self-proclaimed status is nothing new – Chicagoans have been producing and drinking beer since the 19th century.
Today, beer travelers won’t be bored in Chicago whether they take a dedicated beer tour or not. Beyond mega-brewers like Goose Island and Lagunitas, there are more than 150 smaller breweries plus a seemingly endless number of dive bars, beer gardens and taprooms in the city
Where to Drink Beer in Chicago
Bangers & Lace, Beermiscuous, Centennial Crafted Beer & Eatery, First Draft, Goose Island, Half Acre, Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Hopleaf Bar, Lagunitas Taproom, Local Option, Map Room, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, Moody Tongue Brewery, Old Irving Brewing Co., Old Town Pour House, Revolution Brewing, Sheffield’s Beer & Wine Garden, Sleeping Village, Small Bar and The Tapster
25. Third Wave Coffee
Chicago joined coffee’s third wave when Emily Mange and Doug Zell started roasting coffee in Chicago’s Lakewood neighborhood in 1995. Their Intelligentsia Coffee now has shops in Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, New York and (of course) Chicago.
Fast forward almost three decades and Intelligentsia’s three Chicago coffee shops are far from the only third wave game in town. The city now has enough spots crafting cappuccinos and pour overs to fuel the city’s thirst for good coffee and then some.
Where to Drink Third Wave Coffee in Chicago
Check back soon for our Chicago coffee guide.
Useful Chicago Facts
Food In Chicago FAQs
Chicago is famous for its Deep Dish Pizza, Italian Beef Sandwiches and Chicago-Style Hot Dogs. These iconic foods are just three of the great foods to eat in Chicago.
Food prices in Chicago run the gamut. While you can easily spend well under $20 at hot dog stands and sandwich shops, dining at the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants are $$$ experiences.
Yes. The standard is 15-20% though you may want to leave more for excellent service.
Anthony Bourdain visited Billy Goat Tavern, Burt’s Place, Calumet Fisheries, Doughnut Vault, Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots, Girl & The Goat, Hot Doug’s (permanently closed), Jimmy’s Red Hots, Johnnie’s Beef, L2O (permanently closed), L&L Tavern, Longman & Eagle, Moto Restaurant (permanently closed), Old Town Ale House, The Palm – Chicago, Publican, Ricobene’s, Simon’s Bar, Sweet Maple Cafe, Sze Chuan Cuisine (permanently closed), Taqueria El Asadero, Topo Gigio, urbanbelly and Valois Cafeteria while filming the second season of The Layover, the fifth season of No Reservations and the seventh season of Parts Unknown.
Phil Rosenthal visited Al’s Beef, Bang Bang Pie Shop, the Chicago Athletic Club, Fresh Moves Mobile Market, Jim’s Original, Monteverde, Pequod’s Pizza, Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream and Virtue while filming the third season of Somebody Feed Phil.
People usually eat dinner between 6pm and 9pm in Chicago. However, some restaurants are open much later – especially spots that serve hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.
Reservations are absolutely necessary at popular Chicago restaurants.
Hungry For More In Chicago?
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
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Original Publication Date: April 26, 2023