Known mostly for its deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago is a culinary treasure trove where many cult food items were born. Among its claims to fame include the Italian beef sandwich, Maxwell Street Polish, cheese fries, Chicken Vesuvio, jibarito, Shrimp de Jonghe and saganaki, each with unique stories and origins, but all created within Chicago city limits.[find-an-apartment]
If you’re traveling to Chicago and want to explore it through its native cuisine, keep reading to find the best spots to try each.
Tony’s Italian Deli & Subs
What: Italian Beef Sandwich
Why: Though you can’t go wrong with any of the subs or specialty food items at Tony’s, the real stand-out is the Hot Beef, which has thinly sliced beef simmered in au jus, served on an Italian roll. To make it traditional, top it with sweet peppers, and to up the flavor factor, add hot peppers and mozzarella cheese.
Where: 6708 N. NW Highway, Chicago, IL 60631
Jim’s Original Hot Dog
What: Maxwell Street Polish
Why: Traditionally a grilled or fried Polish sausage in a bun topped with grilled onions, yellow mustard and sometimes sport peppers, the Maxwell Street Polish originated at Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market, located in one of Chicago’s oldest residential districts. At Jim’s, which is the original Polish stand from Maxwell Street, you’ll know Polish sausage perfection when you bite into it and the outside snaps slightly with a crispy char. For $3.50, you get a Polish sausage sandwich and a bag of fries.
Where: 1250 S. Union Ave., Chicago, IL 60607
What: Cheese Fries
Why: Long ago, someone smart figured out that the only hangover remedy better than cheese and French fries separately was putting them together. At Hot Doug’s, already famous for its Chicago-style hot dogs, cheese fries are a welcome distraction on the menu. Fries are fresh-cut and inexpensive, and dipped into or topped with yellow cheese sauce, they reach a whole other level.
Where: 3324 N. California Ave., Chicago, IL 60618
Il Vicinato Ristorante
What: Chicken Vesuvio
Why: Though the origins of this Italian immigrant-inspired dish are unknown, Chicken Vesuvio is believed to have gained fame in the 1920s at the Vesuvio Restaurant, just a few blocks from the Chicago Harbor. Il Vincinato’s makes one of the city’s best, with chicken on the bone, baked until crisp and served with potato wedges, green peas, garlic, oregano, white wine and olive oil.
Where: 2435 S. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60608
Papa’s Cache Sabroso
Why: Originally only available with steak, jibarito has expanded to also include chicken, pork and vegetarian versions. This sandwich is made with flattened, fried green plantains (more salty than sweet) as the “bread” and filled with garlic mayonnaise, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Chicago restaurateur Juan “Peter” Figueroa created jibarito at his Puerto Rican restaurant, Borinquen, and named it from the Puerto Rican word “Jibaro,” which refers to its mountain peasants.
Where: 2517 W. Division St., Chicago, IL 60622
Edgewater Beach Café
What: Shrimp de Jonghe
Why: Similar to shrimp scampi, shrimp de jonghe has a layered bread crumb topping mixed with garlic, butter, paprika, parsley and white wine, usually sparkling white wine but sometimes can be sherry. Some consider the best part to be the buttery sauce left in the dish after the shrimp is gone, which is excellent sopped up with crusty bread. Shrimp de Jonghe hails from DeJonghe’s Hotel and Restaurant from the early 20th century, possibly from the late 19th century.
Where: 5545 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60640
Mythos Greek Taverna
Why: What could be better than fried cheese? How about salty kefalotyri or sheep’s-milk feta cheese dredged in flour, fried in olive oil, spritzed with lemon and sprinkled with pepper, otherwise known as saganaki? At restaurants in Greektown, saganaki is lit on fire at the table, but a better-tasting version can be found at Mythos (they credit it with purchasing better-quality cheese and not drowning it in liquor). Saganaki originated at The Parthenon restaurant in Chicago’s Greektown after a customer suggested it and was named after the sagani pan, a two-handled pan used to cook the dish.
Where: 2030 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago, IL 60618
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Brent Hofacker