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Oak Street Beach outdoor café in downtown Chicago, Illinois

Illinois

Chicago, Illinois Must-Eats: Classic Bites and Can’t-Miss Restaurants

By: Idoia Gkikas

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  • States:
    Illinois

Whether it’s upgrading the unassuming hot dog or setting the standard for steak, Chicago’s culinary style is as renowned and exciting as its wide variety of attractions.

The city’s friendly Midwestern hospitality, cultural diversity and maverick spirit make for an only-in-Chicago food scene. If you’re looking for the foods you can’t skip when visiting this iconic Illinois destination, read on.

Chicago-style Foods

Pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef: You haven’t eaten in Chicago if you haven’t tried them. Chicago-style pizzas include several indulgent varieties: deep-dish (meaning deep-molded crusts layered with cheese, toppings and sauce), stuffed (similar to deep-dish but covered with a second crust, then topped with sauce) and thin-crust (featuring a crunchy crust cut into squares). Try Lou Malnati’s, where the buttery crust and meticulously crafted ingredients make it a Chicago institution.

When it comes to the classic Chicago dog, look for tomato slices, relish, onions, mustard, a pickle spear, sport peppers and celery salt on a poppy-seed bun – no ketchup! Get the real deal at Portillo’s. The line is long but moves quickly. Finally, try an Italian beef sandwich at Al’s Italian Beef, the go-to for thinly sliced beef on an Italian roll served with either sweet peppers or spicy giardiniera (pickled vegetables), then dipped in pan juices. Grab extra napkins for this one.

A Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, a deep-molded crust layered with cheese, toppings and sauce

A Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, a deep-molded crust layered with cheese, toppings and sauce
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Classic Steakhouses

The Midwest is a hub for cattle ranching, influencing Chicago’s long tradition of steakhouses. Dry-aged beef is the standard, with Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse at the forefront. Known for huge cuts of prime angus beef and classy cocktails, Gibsons is the only restaurant in the USA with its own USDA Certified Angus Beef program. Needless to say, it’s a must-try. To sample more of the city’s finest steaks, hop on the Chicago Steakhouse Tours bus to try three quintessential Chicago steakhouses. Part history lesson, part culinary tour, Chicago Steakhouse Tours is the tastiest way to learn about the city’s affinity for beef.

Dry-aged steak at Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse, one of the classic steakhouses in Chicago

Dry-aged steak at Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse, one of the classic steakhouses in Chicago
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Can’t-miss Chicago Experiences

Chicagoans love a good ribeye, but there’s plenty of fresh and leafy cuisine to be found, too. Cindy’s Rooftop at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel features ultra-fresh, seasonal ingredients along with an innovative menu of chic cocktails. It doesn’t hurt that the open-air terrace boasts one of the most spectacular views in the city, overlooking Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

For the vegans, vegetarians and veggie lovers out there, the Michelin Bib Gourmand-recognized Mana Food Bar offers up an eclectic menu of Asian, Indian and American influences alongside cocktails and beer – not a morsel of meat to be found. Stop by for the popular happy-hour special of two veggie sliders and a beer.

Lunch at Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant, which uses fresh, seasonal ingredients and serves gourmet cocktails

Lunch at Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant, which uses fresh, seasonal ingredients and serves gourmet cocktails
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Nick Gerber

Getting There

Chicago serves as Illinois' and the Midwest’s major transportation hub, with two international airports offering worldwide service. Fly in to O’Hare (ORD) or Midway (MDW); both airports offer multiple transportation options into the city, including trains, shuttles and rental cars.

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