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My Search for the Best Food in Chicago

Chicago is a food lovers paradise, with some distinctive local foods that you can’t find anywhere else!  Here are some ideas about where a foodie can find the best food in Chicago:

Chicago Style Hot Dogs at Portillos:  Portillos Hot Dog’s has been a Chicago food tradition since 1963.  I asked my hotel shuttle driver where I should go to find a solid example of a true, Chicago style hot dog and this is the first thing that came out of his mouth.

Portillos Hotdog Chicago 1

A Chicago Style hot dog, for those that are unfamiliar, is a tantalizing creation consisting of a good quality hot dog sandwiched in a soft poppy seed bun.  It is served with mustard, relish, onions, sliced tomatoes, all crowned with a kosher dill pickle spear and a couple of whole, hot peppers.

I am not normally a hot dog fan, so I was slightly dubious as I tentatively sunk my teeth into the firm meat of the hot dog (not at all the squishy, Oscar Meyer type.  No offense, Oscar, but I need a hot dog with some SUBSTANCE!)

A Chicago style hot dog at Portillos.

A range of flavors quickly assaulted my tastebuds; the sour, saltiness of the pickle mingling with the sharp taste of the onions and the tangy mustard (I had wimped out and taken the spicy peppers off after nibbling at the corner of one of them).

The slightly squishy poppy seed bun held all of the rest of the diverse flavors of this Chicago delicacy together in one neat, delicious package.  A must try if you are coming to Chicago!

Al’s Italian Beef:  The Italian influence is evident all over Chicago.  As I walked around downtown Chicago, I walked past countless restaurants that sound more like they belonged more in the south of Italy than in the chilly Chicago winter.

Als Italian Beef, the original Italian Beef Sandwich

Italians arrived in Chicago in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, and they brought with them their strong Italian food heritage, which mingled with Chicago’s Midwestern influence to create some delectable treats, including the ubiquitous Chicago Italian Beef sandwich.

Started by Italian immigrants in 1938 as a way to make scarce meat go further during the depression, Al’s Italian Beef is a local legend, and as soon as I bit into the sandwich, I knew instantly why.

My Italian beef Sandwich and homemade fries.  Yum.

My sandwich came to me with the juices already soaking through the wrapper.  It was a simple, no frills sort of sandwich – just the beef and a bun with a  sweet pepper on top (you can opt to order more toppings, and I might try some cheese, but I decided that for my virgin Italian beef experience, I didn’t want anything to come between me and the flavor of the beef).

I enthusiastically bit in and my first impression was that the thinly sliced and marinated beef was melting in my mouth.

The chewy white bun that cradled the beef gave my teeth a little resistance as it held the sandwich together nicely (a less chewy bun probably would have just disintegrated on contact with the prolific juices from the beef.)

The pepper that I had ordered to adorn the beef was just enough to provide a contrasting flavor to the beef to bring out the best of its flavors.

Paired with home made, hand cut french fries, this makes for a satisfying meal.  The sandwich was absolutely mouth wateringly yummy.

Gino’s East Pizza:  The wait was so worth it.  Each pizza is created by hand and baked to order.  I sat in Gino’s East on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Superior Street in Chicago, perusing the kitsch on the walls as my mouth watered and I waited.

What exactly constitutes a true Chicago style pizza?  It starts with a high crust around the edges,   I have been told that real Chicago style pizza has a crust which is thick around the edges, but relatively thin in the middle (unlike dough laden imitators).

Chicago Ginos Pizza

The rest of the height of the pizza is taken up by prolific amounts of cheese, sauce and toppings (it should be considerably messy to eat).  Chicago style pizzas are made with the cheese at the bottom, so that it doesn’t burn during the longer cooking time needed to cook such a thick pizza.

Chicago Ginos Pizza 2

Gino’s Pizza met all of the above characteristics.  I was stuffed to the gills at the end and have been craving more ever since.

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