The Best Food in Chicago: A Bucket List
It's no surprise that a town once known as the heart of the meatpacking industry has a taste for simple beef and pork dishes—think hot dogs, hamburgers, and Italian beef. What visitors may not realize is that Chicago is also home to some of the country's finest restaurants and a thriving foodie scene. Any bucket list that tries to cover the best food in Chicago needs to represent both ends of the spectrum, which is why you'll find both gourmet dining and food you eat in your car on the list below.
1. Jibarito at La Bomba
3221 W. Armitage Ave. | Logan Square
There's plenty of backstory behind the Chicago favorite known as the jibarito, but all you really need to know is this: it's a steak sandwich, but instead of bread, you use fried plantains. La Bomba's version, with its light layer of melted cheese and thin and crispy plantains, is the quintessential take.
2. Single Burger at Au Cheval
800 W. Randolph | West Loop
There's a simple reason people wait for hours to get into Au Cheval: the restaurant serves what's widely hailed as the best burger in Chicago, if not the whole country. The "single burger," which somewhat confusingly consists of two patties, arrives on a toasted bun dressed with Dijonnaise, pickle, and American cheese by default, but you may want to add fried egg and thick-cut bacon. If you braved the line, you earned it.
3. Superdawg at Superdawg
6363 N. Milwaukee Ave. | Norwood Park
The anachronistic novelty of Superdawg's drive-in service would wear thin quickly if the restaurant didn't have the goods to go along with it. Fortunately the Superdawg delivers. The all-beef frank comes with a fine complement of mustard, dill pickle, hot pepper, and, yeah yeah, no ketchup.
4. Roasted Pig Face at Girl and the Goat
809 W. Randolph | West Loop
It's hard to choose a single dish to highlight at one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Chicago. The namesake goat—served in empanadas, as confit goat belly, and in full roasted leg form—is tempting, but the edge goes to the wood-fired pig face, with its complex mix of tender pork patties, crispy potato sticks, and sunny-side-up egg.
5. Deep-Dish Pizza at Pizzeria Uno
29 E. Ohio St. | River North
There's little consensus about the best Chicago deep dish pizza, but one thing's for sure: Pizzeria Uno got there first. The style's originator remains one of the most popular spots for visitors to try the dish, perhaps because its pie generally adheres to the rules of deep-dish: a buttery, inches-deep crust, heaps of cheese, and a thick, chunky tomato sauce on top. Down the block, second location Pizzeria Due serves up the same delectable recipe.
6. Seoul Sassy Wings at Crisp
2940 N. Broadway | Lakeview
This counter-serve Korean fried-chicken spot isn't exactly a secret to locals, but you can still duck in for a low-key meal if you come at the right time. Ordering the wings is a no-brainer, so all that's left to decide is the sauce. You can't go wrong, but our choice is the Seoul Sassy, a ginger, soy, and garlic concoction with a subtle sweetness.
7. Italian Beef at Al's Italian Beef
Founder Al Ferrari invented this beloved Chicago sandwich back in the '30s, and his recipe is still in use at the chain's numerous locations across the city (and imitated at countless more). Its simmered roast beef arrives au jus on a French roll and topped with either sweet peppers or hot giardiniera.
8. St. Louis Ribs at Smoque
3800 N. Pulaski Rd. | Irving Park
Before smoking their ribs over apple and oak, Smoque applies a Memphis-style dry rub so that a tasty crust will form. Finishing them off with BBQ sauce adds a hint of sweetness, which perfectly offsets the smoky flavor and the tender, fall-off-the-bone texture. Don't forget a side of creamy mac and cheese or hearty brisket chili.
9. Polish Buffet at Red Apple
3121 N. Milwaukee Ave. | Avondale
Chicago has long been the epicenter of Polish culture in America, so we'd be remiss not to include this buffet, which gives you the chance to sample 50 to 60 cold and hot Polish specialties in one affordable go. Highlights include the schnitzel, the cheese blintzes, and seven kinds of pierogi.
10. Garrett Mix at Garrett Popcorn
The Garrett family may have sparked Chicago's long-term love affair with popcorn when it opened its first shop in 1949, but they can't take full credit for the Garrett mix. That's because it actually came about from customers' habit of buying one bag of caramel corn and one bag of cheddar, then mixing them together on their own.
Sean is a senior editor and a gradually improving cook. He once asked a man at an airport if he was Kevin Sorbo, and the man said no, but it was totally Kevin Sorbo.