Wondering what to eat in Chicago? Read on...
Chicago is a real foodie destination. When we visit a city we like to try its signature dish, and so we looked into what food Chicago is famous for. Turns out it has a few! Here are 5 iconic Chicago dishes you need to try on your next trip:
1. Deep dish pizza - Ask someone to name an iconic Chicago dish, odds are they will say deep dish pizza. This is the meal that we were most excited to try, and we went to Pequod's, an iconic venue that has had a loyal following since 1970. The restaurant is slightly out of town, up northwest in the Lincoln Park district (we took an Uber but you can also walk from the Armitage subway station), and they are famous for the caramelised mozzarella cheese crust around the outside of their pizza. It's blackened and chewy, like the best bits around the edges of a lasagne, and it is OUTSTANDING.
The pizzas are served in an iron skillet and the crust is actually pretty thin - the bulk of the volume is sauce, cheese and toppings, which is absolutely the right way round. Pequod's have an extensive list of toppings, and we chose their signature meatball-like ground sausage, mushrooms and fresh garlic. We ordered a medium, and only managed one large slice each - that stuff is filling! We took the rest home in a box, and it did us lunch for the next two days.
Other iconic deep dish pizza restaurants are Pizzeria Uno (who claim to have invented the style in 1943), Gino's East, Bartoli's and Giordano's, a local chain.
While Chicago is most famous for its deep dish pizza pies, Chicagoans do also eat thin crust. Known locally as 'Tavern Style', the base is crispy (which means it isn't foldable, like its New York cousin) and usually square cut.
2. The Italian Beef sandwich - Chicago, with its famous Union Stockyards, was once the meatpacking, beef industry capital of the world. The Italian beef sandwich is another Chicago signature dish, it's messy, it's savoury and it's so satisfying.
We headed to the company that claims to have started it all back in Chicago's Little Italy in 1938: Al's #1 Italian beef. The roasted sirloin beef is sliced very thin, marinated in a rich, garlic-y gravy jus and served in French bread with spicy giardiniera and sweet peppers. The recipe hasn't changed in 84 years, and Al's Beef is now a successful chain throughout the Chicago area. It's even been featured on Man vs Food (episode 6, 2008)!
Be sure to order your order "dipped", where the server uses tongs to literally submerge your sandwich in the beef jus. You'll want to eat in, this isn't a walking and eating type of sandwich! In fact Al's have patented the "Italian Stance", a special way of standing at a counter to eat your sandwich that allows you to get stuck in without spilling anything down your front.
3. Hot dog: Chicago style - the first and most important rule you need to know about eating a hot dog in Chicago? No Ketchup - Ketchup is for fries. The second rule? Pile that hotdog high with toppings! Chicagoans like their hotdogs to look "dragged through the garden," so heap on the mustard, diced onion, green relish, dill pickle, and tomato.
If you like your hot dog spicy, add some sports peppers, little bite sized medium heat pickled green peppers that look a bit like green chillies. The tricky part is taking a bite without spilling anything!
One other big difference between Chicago dogs and those sold elsewhere in the US? They're made of beef, not pork - they were first sold by Vienna Jewish immigrants Samuel Landany and his brother-in-law Emil Reichel from a cart outside the 1893 Chicago World Fair and were so popular that the men made enough money that day to open a bricks and mortar shop!
There are apparently more hot dog stands in Chicago than there are McDonald’s and Burger King, and we also found a quick and cheap version in the Seven Elevens - you can heap as many toppings as you like for about $2.50, which served as a great, inexpensive, easy snack on the go.
4. Garrett popcorn - this gourmet popcorn brand has been a Chicago favourite ever since the first store opened at 10 West Madison Street in 1949. The most popular flavour is the Garrett Mix, a blend of Garrett's top sellers CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn, a tangy cheddar cheese flavoured popcorn. We were dubious at first. We like salty and sweet mixed popcorn, but sweet with cheddar cheese? Really? We were so wrong, the flavours go together perfectly.
Other options you can buy include traditional buttery or plain popcorn and various mixes of the CaramelCrisp with pecans, macadamia nuts, cashews or almonds, and there are seasonal specials like the Christmassy Hot Cocoa CaramelCrisp Mix, which we tried in early January.
Garrett's popcorn is very rich and definitely a treat at about £4 per hand scooped bag, but the quality compared to supermarket popcorn is obvious. We kept a bag in our rucksack and had a handful or two each day as we walked around the city. Dangerously addictive!
5. Chicken and Waffles - for this traditional Southern soul food, head to Bronzeville down in Chicago's South Side. This dynamic African American neighbourhood, once known as the Black Metropolis, boomed following the Great Northern Migration of black Americans in the early 20th century as they escaped the Jim Crow laws and segregation of the South.
The combination of fried chicken with waffles was supposedly created in the jazz clubs of the 1930s for performers who had finished their sets in the early hours between dinner and breakfast. It's a pleasing juxtaposition of salty and sweet, crunchy and soft that really works.
Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles is at 3947 S King Dr, and their menu is heavenly. Huge pieces of crisp and juicy fried chicken can be paired with big soft waffles or a selection of traditional Southern sides like collard greens, mac n cheese, corn bread and potato salad. You could also sub your chicken for fried catfish, and be sure to finish up with a serving of peach cobbler and ice cream!
And one more silly one...
Wrigley's chewing gum - Created 130 years ago in Chicago, Wrigley's gum continued to be family run, passed from father to son across four generations all the way through to 2006 when it was bought by Mars. Wrigley's first release was Juicy Fruit gum, and other well known chewing gum products such as Spearmint, Doublemint, Hubba Bubba, and Extra.
While you can find Wrigley's gum pretty much anywhere, we thought it would be fun to buy it from the source: the Wrigley building on Michigan Avenue, a Chicago landmark on the Magnificent Mile, was the brand's headquarters until 2011, and there is now a Walgreens on the ground floor that sells, among other things, Wrigley's gum!
We bought a pack of Doublemint as it's not available in the UK anymore and we remembered really liking it.
While Chicago's most globally famous, iconic things to eat seem to be mainly traditional North American and Italian American dishes, if you have a few days in Chicago, be sure to explore the diverse range of cultural neighbourhoods such as Greektown, Little Village (Chicago's Mexican community) and Chinatown to try more mouth watering options from around the world. Foodie heaven.
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