visitors come to Chicago, they make a beeline for the Bean, the Sears Tower and
Wrigley Field. Along the way, they invariably ask where to pick up the best hotdog and deep dish
pizza, wholly ignoring
the fact that the city is also a haven for gastronauts.
iconic deep dish and hot dog make our list of must-eats, did you even consider
swinging by cult classics like Kuma’s Corner and Hot Doug’s? Of course, there’s
the bevy of celebrity chefs who call Chicago home. With temples to fine fare so
lauded, they are reason enough alone to visit. Here’s your essential guide to classic Chicago grub.
It’s probable that more
food fights have been started over Chicago-style deep dish than any other
foodstuff. Is it pizza, is it casserole, how can you eat so much cheese? Quit
your belly-aching, put on a bib and grab a knife and fork: It’s feeding time.
pizza—regardless of what you may call it—is a tried-and-true classic in the
city. Spots like Lou Malnatis, Gino's and Uno get the big, marquee treatment
because of their proximity to tourist hotspots, but the best, most subtle
version of the dish can be found at Pequod’s in a western corner of Lincoln
Park. Caramelized crust in the 2-inch deep pan keep the contents together,
while the cheese is more nuanced, gooey mass than Attack of the Killer Blob.
For sheer balance of ingredients alone, Pequod’s ‘za knocks the others out of
When it comes to mega-watt talent, the Second City is second to none.
Deep in the mad scientist kitchen of Alinea, Grant Achatz holds court, slowly
expanding his culinary empire with ticketed dinner lab Next and West Loop
watering hole The Aviary. Master of Mexican cuisine Rick Bayless slings more
than just tacos at any one of his incredible restaurants. His Frontera
Grill—the jewel in the crown—is a vibrant ode to Mexico’s myriad flavors, while
sister restaurant Topolobampo is a sleeker, classier affair. Former host of
PBS’s popular restaurant show Check Please!, Master Sommelier Alpana Singh’s
Boarding House is a must-visit for oenophiles seeking out interesting food
pairings. Former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat is a local
favorite, a delicious foodie magnet in the bustling West Loop.
Let’s give you a quick breakdown of a true Chicago hot dog. It begins with
the dog itself. The frank has got to have a characteristic “snap!” when you
first bite in. A meal unto itself, this beaut starts with resting the red hot
on a poppy seed bun, which is summarily topped with yellow mustard, chopped
white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or
wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. Some people will
threaten bodily harm if you add ketchup, but don’t mind them; Chicago is a live
and let live town. The best dogs come from Portillo’s, a Chicagoland chain,
Chubby Wieners in Lincoln Square, and Hot Doug's, the ultimate purveyor of
Speaking of which, Hot Doug’s knows how to fashion more than a
Chicago hot dog. Owner Doug Sohn’s cash-only “sausage superstore and encased
meat emporium” slings house-made sausages, which are deceptively simple in
their genius. Check the joint’s menu for availability, but be warned: a line
wraps around the block long before it opens.
cult favorite in Chicago is Kuma’s Corner, now with two rockin’ locations. What
started out as a humble metal-rock-themed bar serving the best local and
homegrown burgers east of the Mississippi is now a head-banging institution
of the first order – and
that’s just on first bite. Put down the menu and don’t get it twisted: you’re
here for Kuma’s burgers. Expect nothing less than gooey, messy burgers (and
pretzel buns!) topped with appropriately rock-and-roll ingredients, like the
Black Sabbath (housemade chili, blackening spice, pepperjack and red onion) or
the Goat Snake (herbed goat cheese, poblano-corn relish, Cholula lemon
vinaigrette and buttermilk-frizzled red onion). Don’t cry, vegetarians. Kuma’s
can make a veggie-friendly heavy metal burger for you, too.
What’s your favorite Chicago food staple?
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Raised in Southern California, Joseph left the temperate climes of the OC for the chilly winters of Chicago, where he earned his degree in magazine journalism. Along the way, he developed an impenetrable layer of blubber, thanks to the city's deep dish pizza and hot dogs. In recent years, he has edited an online travel magazine, helped produce two international TBEX conferences, and has written about fashion, food, wine, and travel for various online publications. Currently, Joseph is Assistant Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, where he geeks out on his interests regularly. Read Joseph's blog at Pith + Moment or follow him on Twitter.
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