How to Eat Like a Chicago Local

Many travelers head to Chicago with an epicurean checklist in mind, a must-eat of Chicago foodstuff. The truth, of course, is that it's impossible to truly taste Chicago in just one visit; even locals are constantly learning about new chefs and stumbling upon old eateries they just didn't notice before. Here are some Chicago foods to place at the top of your list.


The undisputed deep-dish king of the country, Chicago-style pizza is often imitated, but there's nothing like tasting the thick crust, mountains of cheese, and chunky tomato sauce in its birthplace. You'll see tourists flock to the big-name places, but these aren't tourist traps—they're the real deal. And if deep-dish isn't your thing, there are many pizza joints that offer Chicago-style thin-crust pizza, with a firm, crunchy crust that some locals will claim is just as good, if not better, than its deep-dish cousin.

Hot dogs

Most cities have plenty of indiscriminate hot dog vendors, but in Chicago, the hot dog is an art. For traditional Chicagoans the condiment list is set in stone: yellow mustard, white onions, sweet pickle relish, whole spicy peppers, and celery salt. Any requests for ketchup will not only mark you as a tourist, but might even garner a few scoffs. No need to get picky with a place—wander into any place with a proud "Vienna Beef" sign in the window and you'll be satisfied. Be on the lookout for places that offer both classic recipes and other rarer meat combinations (antelope hot dogs anyone?).

The Steak House

For a slightly more upscale Chicago dining experience, you'll find a huge number of steak houses, all ready for you to sit back and indulge in a classic porterhouse and a glass of red wine. You can hardly walk a block in River North or the Gold Coast without spotting a dark, classy steak house inviting you to kick-it old school. Midwestern farms from neighboring states mean a constant influx of fresh, local beef to the city, making a steak dinner a perfect way to begin and/or end any trip.

Mexican food

If you're in Chicago, you're a long way from Mexico, but that doesn't mean you have to eat like it. Mexican immigrants have been making Chicago their home for decades and bringing their culinary traditions with them. Pilsen is the neighborhood for tortilla factories, Hispanic grocery stores, and plenty of soulful, inexpensive Mexican cooking. For a hip Chicago spin on south-of-the-border cuisine, head to Near North, where you'll find an array of eclectic eateries that offer a bold and unforgettable taste of Mexico.

Asian fusion

For a cheap and classic Asian meal, head to Chinatown, but more adventurous eaters should travel north for a taste of Bill Kim's "belly" empire. The chef has set up shop in two trendy neighborhoods, each transforming standard Asian fare with unexpected and delicious twists. Belly Shack in Humboldt Park meshes Kim's Korean roots with his wife's Puerto Rican heritage, while Belly Q and Urban Belly in theWest Loop go the Korean-BBQ route.

Italian beef

Yep, more meat. These delicious sandwiches are found wherever hot dogs are sold, but they certainly deserve some attention of their own. Slices of seasoned roast beef are layered with sweet peppers and onions on a long roll with varying amounts of meat sauce, creating a messy and classic Chicago meal. There's heated debate over where to get the best sandwich (every local has their opinion), but don't fret—your options are virtually endless and you'd have to try hard to find a place that doesn't deliver the goods.

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