From deep-dish pizza to 5-star fine dining, Chicago has earned a reputation worldwide as a food lover’s paradise. While the classics are alive and well, the city’s chefs continue to come up with innovative takes on old favorites. Bring this guide on your next visit to experience the best of both worlds – and leave your diet at home.
The Chicago-style hot dog -- poppy-seed bun, yellow mustard, pickle spear, sliced tomatoes, chopped onion, green relish, sport peppers, celery salt, and definitely no ketchup -- can be found everywhere from Wrigley and U.S. Cellular fields to late-night hot dog stands. Two of the oldest spots are Superdawg, a drive-in on the Far Northwest Side, and George’s Hot Dogs in the trendy Bucktown neighborhood, both open since the ‘40s. For more modern dogs, locals flock to Hot Doug’s in Avondale for everything from goat to alligator sausages, and Lincoln Park’s Franks ‘n Dawgs features gourmet concoctions like a truffle mac ‘n cheese-topped bratwurst on a brioche bun.
Deep-dish pizza may be Chicago’s culinary claim to fame, and with the tomato sauce on top and the cheese in middle, many say it resembles a pie much more than a traditional pizza. You can be the judge at institutions like Lou Malnati’s, whose original location opened in suburban Lincolnwood in 1971, Giordano’s or Gino’s East. But deep-dish isn’t the only kind of pizza in town -- great Neapolitan-style pies come out still bubbling from the wood-burning oven at Ravenswood’s Spacca Napoli, and Piece in Wicker Park attracts lines out the door for its New Haven-inspired thin crust.
The Windy City may not have a signature burger, but locals have nothing but love for this American staple. Thanks to the classic “Saturday Night Live” sketch, Billy Goat Tavern is world-famous for its “cheezborgers” and “no fries -- cheeps!” More recently, burger joints like the heavy metal-blasting Kuma’s Corner, chef-driven DMK Burger Bar in Lakeview and The Bad Apple in North Center have shown Chicagoans that nearly anything tastes better on a burger, from deep-fried chiles to pastrami to peanut butter.
Though many assume that Polish is Chicago’s largest ethnic group, there are more than four times as many residents of Mexican descent, and their cuisine can be found in every corner of the city. A good place to start is the Pilsen neighborhood, where Nuevo Leon has been serving traditional enchiladas, tamales and fajitas since 1962. For more upscale dining, hit up “Top Chef Master” Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo or Frontera Grill in River North, or venture further north to “Top Chef” contestant Chuy Valencia’s underground hot spot, Chilam Balam, for updated small plates like blue marlin ceviche and chocolate chile mousse.
Travelzoo Tip: For some truly contemporary, avant-garde cuisine, buy a Local Deal for a 10-course tasting dinner with drink pairings at the Michelin-recommended iNG Restaurant. Starting at $99 per person, this unique culinary journey has to be experienced to be understood.