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A plate of fries topped with duck.
The duck frites at Attagirl are formidable.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicago’s Best Comfort Food

Defeat the snow with these hearty dishes

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The duck frites at Attagirl are formidable.
| Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Even Chicagoans get the blues, especially amid the grey skies and biting winds of winter. Fortunately, the city is equipped with many countermeasures and antidotes in the form of comfort food: dishes that tickle a nostalgic thread in the subconscious or generally produce a sunnier disposition.

The exact definition of comfort food is tricky to pin down, and largely depends on family, heritage, and native region. Still, even those who didn’t grow up eating carbonara or congee can find solace in a warm meal made with love.

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Rib Tips at Lem's Bar-B-Q

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Chicago is synonymous with rib tips, and rib tips are synonymous with Lem’s. It’s a simple equation, and one that draws locals and visitors to the South Side barbecue haven in all kinds of weather. Save time and just order the crispy, tender, messy delights by the bucket.

Grilled Cheese at The Fat Shallot

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This gourmet sandwich spot channels childhood grilled cheese memories into a creation fit for grown-up tastes with a version that combines melty munster, sauteed spinach, and caramelized onions between two slices of sourdough. It’s also available at the Fat Shallot food truck and outposts in Evanston, the Merchandise Mart, and Revival Food Hall.

Congee at Chi Cafe

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Congee — a rice porridge popular throughout many Asian countries — may just be the ultimate comfort food. Like kimchi jjigae, many fans grew up eating the dish when they were sick, and fostered a lifelong an affection for its flexibility and glutinous texture. Chinatown spot Chi Cafe features a number of versions, including preserved egg with vegetable and clam; salted pork bone; and abalone and shredded chicken.

Baby back ribs at Twin Anchors

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This Chicago landmark in Old Town is filled with photos of a bygone era. The family-friendly restaurant and bar is famous for its North Side-style barbecue baby back ribs (it’s not meat Jello; the meat doesn’t fall off the bone). It’s a familiar taste that’s endured since 1932. 

Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen

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Jewish deli icon Manny’s has built its identity around providing comfort to patrons of all backgrounds, with the arguably most famous attraction being its pastrami sandwich. A testament to tradition on rye, it’s an order that will reliably improve nearly anyone’s day.

A sandwich a plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Short rib poutine at Beard & Belly

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For those who take comfort in the messy, meaty marvel that is poutine, take note of this Edgewater spot that serves a version with a significant fanbase. It’s a Canada-meets-Midwest masterpiece: French fries, cheese curds, and short ribs smothered in three-day gravy, white cheddar sauce, and fresh herbs. There’s also an ever-changing lineup of top-notch pies that hold up well on the ride home.

Deep Dish at Pequod's Pizza

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However one feels about the efficacy of deep dish as a symbol of Chicago cuisine, the fact remains that a difficult day is always improved with pizza. Pequod’s, adored for its caramelized crust, has earned a reputation for offering one of the best pies in town — one so carb-heavy that it’ll lull any diner to pleasant dreams in short order.

Pierogis at Podhalanka

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Podhalanka has warmed the cold, craggy hearts of Chicagoans for years with unadulterated Polish classics. Newcomers and regulars would be well served by seeking out its super-popular pierogis, or Polish dumplings, stuffed with potato and cheese, cabbage, or meat.

Pozole en Pepian Mole Verde at 5 Rabanitos Restaurante & Taqueria

Copy Link

Pozole, a traditional hominy-based Mexican stew, is an ideal antidote to wintertime blues, and chef Alfonso Sotelo’s (XocoTopolobampo) version comes with wonderful depth and complexity. The bowl is packed with pork or chicken, avocado, juicy lime, and topped with a pile crunchy chicharron and sliced radish.

Mushroom Adobo at Kasama

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Adobo is seen by many as the heart of Filipino cuisine — a dish loaded with history that varies between households. Chef Tim Flores taps into that nostalgia with his meat-free version, dubbed mushroom adobo (soy-braised mushroom, garlic rice, fried egg) at Kasama, which he runs with wife and chef Genie Kwon in Ukrainian Village. In 2023, the James Beard Foundation selected Flores and Kwon for the best chef: Great Lakes award.

Viet dip at Phodega

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Phodega is a Vietnamese American restaurant with creative riffs on traditional dishes. There are several comforting options, from Hainanese chicken rice — served with breaded fried chicken — to traditional pho. The pho becomes the basis for a Vietnamese version of a French dip, with a banh mi dunked in the broth.

Suan Tang Shui Jiao at Lao Peng You

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When brothers and veteran Chicago chefs Daniel and Eric Wat opened Lao Peng You in West Town, they said the restaurant was inspired by their memories of family pot lucks. It follows, then that their feature item — suan tang shui jiao, or dumplings in a hot and sour broth (aged dark soy, vinegar, chili oil) — make diners feel like they’re part of the family too.

Egg rolls at Orange Garden Restaurant

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Though its famous neon sign now belongs to Smashing Pumpkins frontman (and Highland Park resident) Billy Corgan, Orange Garden remains a nostalgic favorite among Chicagoans in the know. The restaurant’s hand-rolled egg rolls (shrimp and pork or vegetarian) are Cantonese American and made with a hint of peanut butter. Most restaurants don’t make them like this anymore.

Kimchi Jjigae at Cho Sun Ok Restaurant

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Korean barbecue often gets top billing at Cho Sun Ok, a neighborhood favorite since 1980, but those seeking a spicy, soulful emotional Band-Aid should hold out for for kimchi jjigae. The bright red soup balances intense kimchi heat and flavor with tofu, chili garlic, and ginger to create a concoction one could cuddle up with.

A small black bowl of bright red soup with kimchi
Cho Sun Ok’s kimchi jjigae
Cho Sun Ok [Official Photo]

Oxtail Stew at Garifuna Flava

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Though it hails from the tropics, there are few dishes better suited to Chicago winters than oxtail stew. Garifuna Flava, serving food of the Caribbean and Central America, has a rich and fragrant version that’s well worth venturing out of doors.

Beef fry and appam at Thattu

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Southern India is as diverse as any place in the world, and the birthplace of pepper. At Thattu, in Avondale, the restaurant explores the cuisine of Kerala with a unique menu thanks to Korean American Margaret Pak who uses recipes from her mother-in-law back in India. The beef fry is sensational, especially paired with the griddled appam, a flatbread that doesn’t receive as much attention compared to naan or paratha. Made of rice and coconut, these round snacks sop up the delicious gravies prepared in the kitchen.thatt

A smattering of dishes from Thattu. Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Steak Burrito at Mi Tocaya Antojería

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Burritos are a way of life for many, as acclaimed chef Diana Dávila well knows. That’s why she compliments her fiercely innovative, boundary-pushing menus with a staple known and loved by many Chicagoans: an unfussy steak burrito outfitted black beans, beer-marinated onions and banana peppers, and avocado.

Duck frites at Attagirl

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Attagirl, the spiritual successor to Cafe Marie-Jeanne, thrives in Logan Square as a sibling to Table, Donkey, and Stick. They recently expanded the menu and added pasta dishes from Wilson Bauer’s Flour Power. The frites have become a staple and are cut slightly thicker than standard fries, but not as thick as steak fries. The texture remains crispy and the interiors remain creamy; the shape also proves versatile. Any fry can be enjoyed on their own or with dips, but these fries genuinely excel either way. The smoked duck version is probably the most popular.

A plate of fries topped with duck. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The Midwestern salads at TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop

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Delivery-friendly TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop is an offshoot of Honey Butter Fried Chicken with mastermind chef Rebecca Grothe professing her love for Midwestern sandwiches. There’s plenty that will make customers feel good from the iconic MaidWrong, a tribute to Ohio’s classic loose meat Maid-Rite sandwiches, to a take on Springfield’s Horseshoe. But don’t forget the Midwestern salads, thoughtfully put together veggies that are sometimes pickled and held together with some sort of dressing. Taste the success story that’s the ranch broccoli salad, made with herbed ranch and sprinkled with cheddar. Even cold salad can warm the soul when the temps fall toward freezing.

Garlic scallion noodles at Bixi Beer

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Bixi Beer takes wide noodles and turns them into a fusion dish, an Asian-inspired version of fettuccine Alfredo topped with garlic, an egg yolk cured with soy sauce, oyster sauce, and a healthy amount of cheese. It’s a decadent pasta dish that’s special.

Butter chicken at Scofflaw

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Chef Fred Chung (Kasama, Oriole) brought about a sea change at cocktail destination Scofflaw when he joined the team in 2022, upping the bar’s food game with submissions inspired by his street food experiences in Seoul and New York City. Chung manages to hit several cozy, comforting notes in a single dish: butter chicken served in the style of Japanese chicken katsu, with a panko-fried chicken breast atop a pile of basmati rice and a pool of simmered butter chicken masala.

Four plates full of food on a table. Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Momo at Chiya Chai Cafe

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Dumplings are arguably one of the most adorable foods, as they are essentially little pockets of joy delivered in their own edible wrappers. Chiya Chai’s momo are a case in point, with varieties including vegetable, Darjeeling pork, prairie bison, and lamb with dill —all perfect for filling the emotional void of a Chicago winter.

Shrimp and grits at Soulé

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Chef Bridgette Flagg’s hip soul food restaurant in West Town proves that comfort can come in stylish packages. Soulé, which has a reputation for attracting well-known musicians and athletes, has earned fans since 2017 with its creamy, buttery take on shrimp and grits.

Birria ramen at TacoSur Birreria Tijuanense

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Birria is a rich and comforting experience all on its own, but birria ramen — a modern invention that rounds out a bowl of broth and tender meat with flash-fried ramen noodles — offers a delightful twist on a Mexican classic. TacoSur’s version makes for a hefty, belly-warming meal.

A bowl of birria ramen. Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Miso ramen at Chicago Ramen

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Originally invented in the snowy city of Sapporo, Japan, miso ramen has a special way of warming the heart and belly. This suburban restaurant from lauded ramen chef Kenta Ikehata offers bowls of both red and white miso, along with springy noodles and an optional dollop of spicy chili paste.

Rib Tips at Lem's Bar-B-Q

Chicago is synonymous with rib tips, and rib tips are synonymous with Lem’s. It’s a simple equation, and one that draws locals and visitors to the South Side barbecue haven in all kinds of weather. Save time and just order the crispy, tender, messy delights by the bucket.

Grilled Cheese at The Fat Shallot

This gourmet sandwich spot channels childhood grilled cheese memories into a creation fit for grown-up tastes with a version that combines melty munster, sauteed spinach, and caramelized onions between two slices of sourdough. It’s also available at the Fat Shallot food truck and outposts in Evanston, the Merchandise Mart, and Revival Food Hall.

Congee at Chi Cafe

Congee — a rice porridge popular throughout many Asian countries — may just be the ultimate comfort food. Like kimchi jjigae, many fans grew up eating the dish when they were sick, and fostered a lifelong an affection for its flexibility and glutinous texture. Chinatown spot Chi Cafe features a number of versions, including preserved egg with vegetable and clam; salted pork bone; and abalone and shredded chicken.

Baby back ribs at Twin Anchors

This Chicago landmark in Old Town is filled with photos of a bygone era. The family-friendly restaurant and bar is famous for its North Side-style barbecue baby back ribs (it’s not meat Jello; the meat doesn’t fall off the bone). It’s a familiar taste that’s endured since 1932. 

Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen

Jewish deli icon Manny’s has built its identity around providing comfort to patrons of all backgrounds, with the arguably most famous attraction being its pastrami sandwich. A testament to tradition on rye, it’s an order that will reliably improve nearly anyone’s day.

A sandwich a plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Short rib poutine at Beard & Belly

For those who take comfort in the messy, meaty marvel that is poutine, take note of this Edgewater spot that serves a version with a significant fanbase. It’s a Canada-meets-Midwest masterpiece: French fries, cheese curds, and short ribs smothered in three-day gravy, white cheddar sauce, and fresh herbs. There’s also an ever-changing lineup of top-notch pies that hold up well on the ride home.

Deep Dish at Pequod's Pizza

However one feels about the efficacy of deep dish as a symbol of Chicago cuisine, the fact remains that a difficult day is always improved with pizza. Pequod’s, adored for its caramelized crust, has earned a reputation for offering one of the best pies in town — one so carb-heavy that it’ll lull any diner to pleasant dreams in short order.

Pierogis at Podhalanka

Podhalanka has warmed the cold, craggy hearts of Chicagoans for years with unadulterated Polish classics. Newcomers and regulars would be well served by seeking out its super-popular pierogis, or Polish dumplings, stuffed with potato and cheese, cabbage, or meat.

Pozole en Pepian Mole Verde at 5 Rabanitos Restaurante & Taqueria

Pozole, a traditional hominy-based Mexican stew, is an ideal antidote to wintertime blues, and chef Alfonso Sotelo’s (XocoTopolobampo) version comes with wonderful depth and complexity. The bowl is packed with pork or chicken, avocado, juicy lime, and topped with a pile crunchy chicharron and sliced radish.

Mushroom Adobo at Kasama

Adobo is seen by many as the heart of Filipino cuisine — a dish loaded with history that varies between households. Chef Tim Flores taps into that nostalgia with his meat-free version, dubbed mushroom adobo (soy-braised mushroom, garlic rice, fried egg) at Kasama, which he runs with wife and chef Genie Kwon in Ukrainian Village. In 2023, the James Beard Foundation selected Flores and Kwon for the best chef: Great Lakes award.

Viet dip at Phodega

Phodega is a Vietnamese American restaurant with creative riffs on traditional dishes. There are several comforting options, from Hainanese chicken rice — served with breaded fried chicken — to traditional pho. The pho becomes the basis for a Vietnamese version of a French dip, with a banh mi dunked in the broth.

Suan Tang Shui Jiao at Lao Peng You

When brothers and veteran Chicago chefs Daniel and Eric Wat opened Lao Peng You in West Town, they said the restaurant was inspired by their memories of family pot lucks. It follows, then that their feature item — suan tang shui jiao, or dumplings in a hot and sour broth (aged dark soy, vinegar, chili oil) — make diners feel like they’re part of the family too.

Egg rolls at Orange Garden Restaurant

Though its famous neon sign now belongs to Smashing Pumpkins frontman (and Highland Park resident) Billy Corgan, Orange Garden remains a nostalgic favorite among Chicagoans in the know. The restaurant’s hand-rolled egg rolls (shrimp and pork or vegetarian) are Cantonese American and made with a hint of peanut butter. Most restaurants don’t make them like this anymore.

Kimchi Jjigae at Cho Sun Ok Restaurant

Korean barbecue often gets top billing at Cho Sun Ok, a neighborhood favorite since 1980, but those seeking a spicy, soulful emotional Band-Aid should hold out for for kimchi jjigae. The bright red soup balances intense kimchi heat and flavor with tofu, chili garlic, and ginger to create a concoction one could cuddle up with.

A small black bowl of bright red soup with kimchi
Cho Sun Ok’s kimchi jjigae
Cho Sun Ok [Official Photo]

Oxtail Stew at Garifuna Flava

Though it hails from the tropics, there are few dishes better suited to Chicago winters than oxtail stew. Garifuna Flava, serving food of the Caribbean and Central America, has a rich and fragrant version that’s well worth venturing out of doors.

Related Maps

Beef fry and appam at Thattu

Southern India is as diverse as any place in the world, and the birthplace of pepper. At Thattu, in Avondale, the restaurant explores the cuisine of Kerala with a unique menu thanks to Korean American Margaret Pak who uses recipes from her mother-in-law back in India. The beef fry is sensational, especially paired with the griddled appam, a flatbread that doesn’t receive as much attention compared to naan or paratha. Made of rice and coconut, these round snacks sop up the delicious gravies prepared in the kitchen.thatt

A smattering of dishes from Thattu. Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Steak Burrito at Mi Tocaya Antojería

Burritos are a way of life for many, as acclaimed chef Diana Dávila well knows. That’s why she compliments her fiercely innovative, boundary-pushing menus with a staple known and loved by many Chicagoans: an unfussy steak burrito outfitted black beans, beer-marinated onions and banana peppers, and avocado.

Duck frites at Attagirl

Attagirl, the spiritual successor to Cafe Marie-Jeanne, thrives in Logan Square as a sibling to Table, Donkey, and Stick. They recently expanded the menu and added pasta dishes from Wilson Bauer’s Flour Power. The frites have become a staple and are cut slightly thicker than standard fries, but not as thick as steak fries. The texture remains crispy and the interiors remain creamy; the shape also proves versatile. Any fry can be enjoyed on their own or with dips, but these fries genuinely excel either way. The smoked duck version is probably the most popular.

A plate of fries topped with duck. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The Midwestern salads at TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop

Delivery-friendly TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop is an offshoot of Honey Butter Fried Chicken with mastermind chef Rebecca Grothe professing her love for Midwestern sandwiches. There’s plenty that will make customers feel good from the iconic MaidWrong, a tribute to Ohio’s classic loose meat Maid-Rite sandwiches, to a take on Springfield’s Horseshoe. But don’t forget the Midwestern salads, thoughtfully put together veggies that are sometimes pickled and held together with some sort of dressing. Taste the success story that’s the ranch broccoli salad, made with herbed ranch and sprinkled with cheddar. Even cold salad can warm the soul when the temps fall toward freezing.

Garlic scallion noodles at Bixi Beer

Bixi Beer takes wide noodles and turns them into a fusion dish, an Asian-inspired version of fettuccine Alfredo topped with garlic, an egg yolk cured with soy sauce, oyster sauce, and a healthy amount of cheese. It’s a decadent pasta dish that’s special.

Butter chicken at Scofflaw

Chef Fred Chung (Kasama, Oriole) brought about a sea change at cocktail destination Scofflaw when he joined the team in 2022, upping the bar’s food game with submissions inspired by his street food experiences in Seoul and New York City. Chung manages to hit several cozy, comforting notes in a single dish: butter chicken served in the style of Japanese chicken katsu, with a panko-fried chicken breast atop a pile of basmati rice and a pool of simmered butter chicken masala.

Four plates full of food on a table. Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Momo at Chiya Chai Cafe

Dumplings are arguably one of the most adorable foods, as they are essentially little pockets of joy delivered in their own edible wrappers. Chiya Chai’s momo are a case in point, with varieties including vegetable, Darjeeling pork, prairie bison, and lamb with dill —all perfect for filling the emotional void of a Chicago winter.

Shrimp and grits at Soulé

Chef Bridgette Flagg’s hip soul food restaurant in West Town proves that comfort can come in stylish packages. Soulé, which has a reputation for attracting well-known musicians and athletes, has earned fans since 2017 with its creamy, buttery take on shrimp and grits.

Birria ramen at TacoSur Birreria Tijuanense

Birria is a rich and comforting experience all on its own, but birria ramen — a modern invention that rounds out a bowl of broth and tender meat with flash-fried ramen noodles — offers a delightful twist on a Mexican classic. TacoSur’s version makes for a hefty, belly-warming meal.

A bowl of birria ramen. Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Miso ramen at Chicago Ramen

Originally invented in the snowy city of Sapporo, Japan, miso ramen has a special way of warming the heart and belly. This suburban restaurant from lauded ramen chef Kenta Ikehata offers bowls of both red and white miso, along with springy noodles and an optional dollop of spicy chili paste.

Related Maps