Iconic Chicago Eats



By Adrian Naves




Al’s Italian beef.


If Thanksgiving wasn’t enough to fill your plate, or your stomach, then let’s take a gander at the hidden, and not so hidden, iconic Chicago eats. Whenever you travel out of the city, you usually encounter folks who can easily point out foods that originate from the Windy city, which is a typical lineup of hot dogs and pizza, but others have been flying under the radar. So pull up a chair, grab a plate, and loosen-up your belt as we take a trip for seconds.


Chicago-Style Hot Dog

The Chicago-style hot dog needs little introduction, simply saying Chicago-style and you can invoke a hot dog with everything on it…but no ketchup. Encased in a steamy poppy seed bun, piled high with relish, minced onions, sliced tomatoes, pickles, peppers, and good old fashioned mustard. The Chicago dog serves as a little lesson on Chicago cultural history for the city. The iconic Vienna Beef hot dog was introduced at the 1893 Columbian Exposition by Austrian immigrants Emil Reichel and Sam Landry, who later went on to open up a shop front serving their delicious creation.


Deep-Dish Pizza

Chicago and pizza are two words so synonymous with each other, saying one or the other, invokes the other one. This beloved cheesy goodness is as delicious as they come, with a thick crust baked in a deep pan, filled to the brim with cheese and layered out with chunky tomato sauce. The result is a hot and gooey mountain of pizza, that has become a Chicago classic. Many Chicago residents will tell you that thin crust is true local favorite, but deep-dish pizza will always be associated with Chicagoland…because the deep dish pizza was born here in Chicago.


Italian Beef

However you want it served, dry or wet, sweet or hot peppers, the Italian Beef sandwich is a cornerstone of Chicago. Hot summer days or Cold winter nights, this sandwich contains heaps of shredded roast beef, gravy, and peppers piled up on a warm and soft bread roll.

There’s a bit of debate over who was the original inventor and seller of the sandwich, most food historians agree that the origins of the sandwich can be traced back to an Italian tradition known as the “peanut wedding.” Italian immigrants in the United States would hold family weddings, which they served foods that could feed huge crowds, which included roast beef. Fast forward to today, many local businesses serve up this classic, including local legends like Portillo’s, Buona Beef, and Al’s Italian Beef.



Here’s a hidden Chicago icon that most didn’t know originated in Chicago, the brownie. Brownies were invented in 1893 at Palmer House by Bertha Palmer, a socialite and philanthropist, who gained a reputation as a skilled musician, linguist, writer, and politician. In 1870, she wed Potter Palmer, a successful Chicago millionaire and businessman, who constructed the Palmer House in 1871 and owned a portfolio of properties. Bertha chaired the Board of Lady Managers and obligated Pastry Chef Joseph Sehl to create a new dessert that would be easy to box and transport. At the time, the new invention wasn’t called brownies. The first reference to the word “brownie” appeared in the Sears Roebuck catalog published in Chicago in 1898.



This unique sandwich was born in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. The jibarito sandwich consists of thinly sliced meats, fresh vegetables, cheese, and garlic sauce, all sandwiched between two fried plantains.

Today, this beloved sandwich can be found at restaurants all over the Chicago area and has begun to gain traction around North America and the Caribbean. It’s widely credited to chef and restaurateur Juan C. “Pete” Figueroa, who added it to the menu at his Borinquen Restaurant back in 1996. Figueroa was reading a Puerto Rican newspaper, read when a sandwich using fried green plantains in the place of bread caught his eye. Figueroa made the dish his own by introducing proteins and giving the sandwich its name, which he pulled from a term conveying “someone from the rural, mountainous region of Puerto Rico,” according to Thrillist. Making this iconic Latin dish, an iconic Chicago dish.


There are more classic Chicago dishes and recipes, perhaps there will be a follow up to this article to cover the other iconic dishes. For now, we celebrate our Chicago culture foods that comes from all walks of life. Demonstrating to the rest of the country of what we bring to the table. The city tells the country, this is how we cook and we’re unashamedly very Chicago about it.