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A bowl of smooth tomato basil soup topped with croutons and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.
Food isn’t medicine, but it vastly improve a day stuck in bed.
Mustard Seed Kitchen

The Best Sick Day Standbys to Order in Chicago

Soups, cookies, pancakes — and hot chicken wings to clear the sinuses

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Food isn’t medicine, but it vastly improve a day stuck in bed.
| Mustard Seed Kitchen

Winter is the season of sickness: stuffy noses, raw throats, throbbing sinuses, and queasy stomachs. The only sensible response is to crawl into bed and stay there until the illness passes. But a human cannot live on NyQuil alone. Here’s a guide to dishes at Chicago restaurants that may not be able to cure everything that ails you but can certainly make recovery more pleasant.

Patrons who are ill or experiencing symptoms can help keep hospitality workers safe by arranging for contact-free takeout and delivery.

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Egg Sandwiches at Smack Dab Chicago

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The most wonderful thing about the egg sandwiches at this Rogers Park bakery — described by the owners as “life changing” — is that customers can order them any way they want. Vegan? Sure, have the tofu. Gluten-free? Order it on cornbread. There are nearly 30 bread and topping options, so something is bound to appeal.

Tea Lattes at Eli Tea Bar

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When it comes to some of those pesky seasonal bugs, only hot liquids will do. Eli Tea, the Andersonville outpost of a popular Detroit-area cafe, has tons of options to try, and those who are feeling less than their best may find themselves drawn to the comforting calm of caffeine-free tea lattes. Try the Lavender Hazelnut Coconut, made with rooibos, honey, and steamed coconut milk; or the Rooibos Chai, which includes South African rooibos, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and clove.

Seolleongtang at Han Bat Restaurant

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Hidden away in the back of a parking lot on Lawrence Avenue, this unassuming Korean spot specializes in ox bone soup. Called seolleongtang, the milky white broth is known as a hangover remedy because of its simple-yet-comforting flavor. Each bowl also contains choice of brisket, flank steak, tripe, tendon, or tongue. It’s accompanied by rice and kimchi and can be seasoned to taste with salt, chopped green onions, and chili paste.

Grits at Luella's Southern Kitchen

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Southerners find grits immensely comforting because it appeals to their most primal memories. But even for Yankees, they’re an excellent sick food: they’re warm and creamy and bland, and they slide down the throat with little effort. Louella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square prepares an especially good specimen, and patients who are feeling a little better can order them with shrimp.

El Hongo Magico at XMarket Food Hall

Copy Link

The various mushroom tacos from El Hongo Magico, one of the vendors inside the food court at the all-vegan grocer, XMarket, are wonderful. The owners claim an all-vegan diet helped with various chronic ailments, and eating mushrooms was central to that effort. The tacos come with salsas that have a little kick, and are worth seeking out.

Vegan tacos on a plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

House Salad at Kale My Name

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It’s easy to think Kale My Name is style over substance, because the team really leverages Instagram. But the hype is real. For smart folks who know kale and other dark greens are key to health, grab one of Kale My Name’s great salads. Yep, they’re dairy- and meat-free, too. Perhaps more visits to this vegan restaurant would qualify as preventative care? The House Salad is nice, but so is the Neiman (kale, broccoli, carrot, corn, black beans).

Rasam and appam at Thattu

Copy Link

Thattu is a unique take on South Indian food in Avondale. While chef Margaret Pak takes creative license with many dishes, she also nails traditional items like rasam, a tamarind broth that’s served as a sidecar with its vegetarian meal combo (called chorum kariyum, but many will confuse it for the more popular term “thali.”). Every chef’s rasam is different depending on the mix of herbs, spices, and lentils, but there’s nothing better on a cold day. Pair it with a side of appam, the griddle discs for fermented rice and coconut. Of course, the beef fry is also a nice standby for non-vegetarians.

Chicken in the Pot at The Bagel Restaurant and Deli

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The Chicken in the Pot at the Bagel in Lakeview is exactly what it sounds like: a chicken (well, half a chicken) in a pot of broth, with a matzo ball and kreplach and noodles, and also carrots and potatoes because vegetables are necessary for good health. Even better, it yields plenty of leftovers, perhaps enough to sustain a person for two or three days. It’s the next best thing to having an actual Jewish mother on call.

Pierogi at Staropolska Restaurant

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Pierogi are essentially carbs — mashed potatoes — wrapped in more carbs — dumpling skins — and then coated in butter or sour cream or both. Can they possibly be any more comforting? There’s plenty of pierogi in heavily-Polish Chicago, especially along Milwaukee Avenue, but some of the finest specimens come from Staropolska in Logan Square.

Dal at Mild 2 Spicy

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Dal — the soft, slow-simmered pulses (lentils, peas, beans) stew found across many South Asian countries — has long served as comfort food for millions. Versions vary significantly from kitchen to kitchen, and Mild2Spicy has three strong contenders on the menu: daal makhani (black lentils, kidney beans, split chickpeas, tomato and onion gravy), daal palak (spinach, split chickpeas), and daal thaduka (yellow lentils, curry leaves).

Cookies at Sugar Moon

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There’s an odd kind of nostalgia that some may associate with the sick days of childhood, curled up in front of daytime TV with a smorgasbord of snacks to pass the hours. For an upgrade on those bygone days, peruse the cookie options — including a smash-hit tahini chocolate chip with smoked sea salt.

Turkey Sandwich at Lula Cafe

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Longtime local favorite Lula Cafe knows how to tug at heartstrings, leveraging a rotating menu and impeccable produce to achieve excellent renditions of the classics. The cozy vibe is neatly encapsulated in the Lula ’99 turkey sandwich, layered with avocado, tomato, red onion, and sprouts. Those who feel up to gilding the lily can add cheddar and bacon.

Grilled Cheese at The Fat Shallot Lincoln Park

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It’s easy to make a grilled cheese, but very hard to make a good one. The Fat Shallot, the food truck that has found a permanent home in Lincoln Park, has a very good one: it packs ooey gooey melted muenster cheese with sautéed spinach and caramelized onions. And then order a bowl of tomato bisque soup to dip it in. There’s an additional outpost at Revival Food Hall.

Pollo Guisado at Ponce Restaurant

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Tender chicken can be just the thing for folks feeling under the weather, and Puerto Rican destination Ponce in Hermosa squarely hits that target with its pollo guisado — a stew of potatoes with chicken legs and thighs that fall off the bone.

Peanut Sauce Lover at Opart Thai House - West Town

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Sickness notoriously kills the appetite, but the sauce in the signature dish at this West Town standby is rich and spicy and, for a peanut butter-lover, completely addictive — the sort of thing you want to keep eating, to the point of licking the plate. It comes with a choice of protein and six different spice levels and garnished with green onions and cashews.

Lao Peng You

Copy Link

Dumplings come in many forms, and the Northern Chinese specialties from Lao Peng You come in a tasty broth which folks with throat ailments will want to guzzle. But have patients and enjoy the delicately hand-rolled dumplings. 

A variety of Chinese dishes on a large table. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Souffle Pancakes at Hanabusa Cafe

Copy Link

Illness causes many people to revert to a needy, infantile state. When that happens, the best thing to do is to eat nursery food, like pancakes. But the Japanese souffle pancakes at Hanabusa are lighter and fluffier than American diner pancakes, which makes them more soothing, and they’re served covered in chilled whipped cream and custard.

Soto Ayam at Minahasa

Copy Link

Soto ayam is chicken noodle soup Indonesian style. This means it has some extra spice from sambal; texture from fried shallots, bean sprouts, and tomatoes; and anti-inflammatory properties from a dose of turmeric, all bathed in a deep and delicate chicken broth. Find it at Minahasa, the mother-and-son-run regional spot inside Revival food hall.

A bowl of soto ayam filled with shredded chicken, tomato, sliced eggs, and more.
The herbal broth is gentle on upset tummies.
Minahasa

Dry Chili Chicken at Lao Sze Chuan

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There’s nothing like a hot pepper to clean out the respiratory system, and there are no hot peppers like Sichuan peppers. The dry chili chicken is one of the signature dishes at Tony Hu’s empire — which has eight locations in the city and suburbs — and the chefs are not messing around.

Creamy Tomato Soup at Mustard Seed Kitchen

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Celebrated Chicago chef and restaurateur Erick Williams (Virtue) in 2021 debuted Mustard Seed Kitchen, a takeout-only restaurant starring American “everyday eats” — salads, sandwiches, burgers, and entrees like salmon and skirt steaks. Williams also applies his expert touch to a smooth, blended tomato basil soup that shouldn’t be missed.

Sausage and Giardiniera from Phil's Pizza

Copy Link

There’s an old Bill Murray quote, “every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself.” And while carbs and cheese aren’t what doctors want you to ingest to improve health, sometimes a pizza is just want you need to get over a slump. Order a sausage and giardiniera from Phil’s Pizza in Bridgeport, a tavern-style legend, and benefit from a hot beef injection plus Chicago’s favorite spicy pickle mix. 

Chicken Wings at Honey 1 BBQ

Copy Link

It’s conventional wisdom that there’s nothing like honey to soothe a sore throat, and that surely must apply to honey barbecue chicken wings. Even if the magical properties of honey are dulled by the presence of other ingredients, the barbecue sauce is still spicy enough to clear out blocked nasal passages, and that’s important, too.

Birria at Birrieria Zaragoza

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One of the classic recommendations for a cold is hot consomme, which happens to be a key ingredient in birria, and the goat birria at Birrieria Zaragoza in Archer Heights is some of the city’s best. Order a large, steaming bowl, and let it do its work.

Coconut Conch Chowder at 14 Parish

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Caribbean-inspired 14 Parish in Hyde Park does belly-warmers island style. Grounded Chicagoans who are under the weather can find respite in its creamy coconut conch chowder, a light yet filling nod to warmer climates.

Belizean Stew Chicken at Garifuna Flava: A Taste of Belize | Jerk Chicken Chicago

Copy Link

In Garifuna Flava’s rendition of the national dish of Belize, chicken is marinated in bell peppers, paprika, and other spices and stewed until it’s soft and so tender that, even if you don’t feel like eating, you’ll eat.

Hot Chi Chicken & Cones

Copy Link

Hot Chi Chicken has taken over a former Harold’s Chicken Shack on 87th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway with a unique brand of spices that combines many international traditions. The Palestinian-American menu is creative and the Popeyes Ain’t !@#$ fried chicken sandwich hits a little sweet, and then powers through with Kashmiri chiles that provide the heat that no fast-food scientist could come up with. This will clear your sinuses if you want, or you could show some restraint and order it milder.

A platter of two chicken sandwiches, two chicken tenders, and crinkle fries. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Egg Sandwiches at Smack Dab Chicago

The most wonderful thing about the egg sandwiches at this Rogers Park bakery — described by the owners as “life changing” — is that customers can order them any way they want. Vegan? Sure, have the tofu. Gluten-free? Order it on cornbread. There are nearly 30 bread and topping options, so something is bound to appeal.

Tea Lattes at Eli Tea Bar

When it comes to some of those pesky seasonal bugs, only hot liquids will do. Eli Tea, the Andersonville outpost of a popular Detroit-area cafe, has tons of options to try, and those who are feeling less than their best may find themselves drawn to the comforting calm of caffeine-free tea lattes. Try the Lavender Hazelnut Coconut, made with rooibos, honey, and steamed coconut milk; or the Rooibos Chai, which includes South African rooibos, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and clove.

Seolleongtang at Han Bat Restaurant

Hidden away in the back of a parking lot on Lawrence Avenue, this unassuming Korean spot specializes in ox bone soup. Called seolleongtang, the milky white broth is known as a hangover remedy because of its simple-yet-comforting flavor. Each bowl also contains choice of brisket, flank steak, tripe, tendon, or tongue. It’s accompanied by rice and kimchi and can be seasoned to taste with salt, chopped green onions, and chili paste.

Grits at Luella's Southern Kitchen

Southerners find grits immensely comforting because it appeals to their most primal memories. But even for Yankees, they’re an excellent sick food: they’re warm and creamy and bland, and they slide down the throat with little effort. Louella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square prepares an especially good specimen, and patients who are feeling a little better can order them with shrimp.

El Hongo Magico at XMarket Food Hall

The various mushroom tacos from El Hongo Magico, one of the vendors inside the food court at the all-vegan grocer, XMarket, are wonderful. The owners claim an all-vegan diet helped with various chronic ailments, and eating mushrooms was central to that effort. The tacos come with salsas that have a little kick, and are worth seeking out.

Vegan tacos on a plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

House Salad at Kale My Name

It’s easy to think Kale My Name is style over substance, because the team really leverages Instagram. But the hype is real. For smart folks who know kale and other dark greens are key to health, grab one of Kale My Name’s great salads. Yep, they’re dairy- and meat-free, too. Perhaps more visits to this vegan restaurant would qualify as preventative care? The House Salad is nice, but so is the Neiman (kale, broccoli, carrot, corn, black beans).

Rasam and appam at Thattu

Thattu is a unique take on South Indian food in Avondale. While chef Margaret Pak takes creative license with many dishes, she also nails traditional items like rasam, a tamarind broth that’s served as a sidecar with its vegetarian meal combo (called chorum kariyum, but many will confuse it for the more popular term “thali.”). Every chef’s rasam is different depending on the mix of herbs, spices, and lentils, but there’s nothing better on a cold day. Pair it with a side of appam, the griddle discs for fermented rice and coconut. Of course, the beef fry is also a nice standby for non-vegetarians.

Chicken in the Pot at The Bagel Restaurant and Deli

The Chicken in the Pot at the Bagel in Lakeview is exactly what it sounds like: a chicken (well, half a chicken) in a pot of broth, with a matzo ball and kreplach and noodles, and also carrots and potatoes because vegetables are necessary for good health. Even better, it yields plenty of leftovers, perhaps enough to sustain a person for two or three days. It’s the next best thing to having an actual Jewish mother on call.

Pierogi at Staropolska Restaurant

Pierogi are essentially carbs — mashed potatoes — wrapped in more carbs — dumpling skins — and then coated in butter or sour cream or both. Can they possibly be any more comforting? There’s plenty of pierogi in heavily-Polish Chicago, especially along Milwaukee Avenue, but some of the finest specimens come from Staropolska in Logan Square.

Dal at Mild 2 Spicy

Dal — the soft, slow-simmered pulses (lentils, peas, beans) stew found across many South Asian countries — has long served as comfort food for millions. Versions vary significantly from kitchen to kitchen, and Mild2Spicy has three strong contenders on the menu: daal makhani (black lentils, kidney beans, split chickpeas, tomato and onion gravy), daal palak (spinach, split chickpeas), and daal thaduka (yellow lentils, curry leaves).

Cookies at Sugar Moon

There’s an odd kind of nostalgia that some may associate with the sick days of childhood, curled up in front of daytime TV with a smorgasbord of snacks to pass the hours. For an upgrade on those bygone days, peruse the cookie options — including a smash-hit tahini chocolate chip with smoked sea salt.

Turkey Sandwich at Lula Cafe

Longtime local favorite Lula Cafe knows how to tug at heartstrings, leveraging a rotating menu and impeccable produce to achieve excellent renditions of the classics. The cozy vibe is neatly encapsulated in the Lula ’99 turkey sandwich, layered with avocado, tomato, red onion, and sprouts. Those who feel up to gilding the lily can add cheddar and bacon.

Grilled Cheese at The Fat Shallot Lincoln Park

It’s easy to make a grilled cheese, but very hard to make a good one. The Fat Shallot, the food truck that has found a permanent home in Lincoln Park, has a very good one: it packs ooey gooey melted muenster cheese with sautéed spinach and caramelized onions. And then order a bowl of tomato bisque soup to dip it in. There’s an additional outpost at Revival Food Hall.

Pollo Guisado at Ponce Restaurant

Tender chicken can be just the thing for folks feeling under the weather, and Puerto Rican destination Ponce in Hermosa squarely hits that target with its pollo guisado — a stew of potatoes with chicken legs and thighs that fall off the bone.

Peanut Sauce Lover at Opart Thai House - West Town

Sickness notoriously kills the appetite, but the sauce in the signature dish at this West Town standby is rich and spicy and, for a peanut butter-lover, completely addictive — the sort of thing you want to keep eating, to the point of licking the plate. It comes with a choice of protein and six different spice levels and garnished with green onions and cashews.

Related Maps

Lao Peng You

Dumplings come in many forms, and the Northern Chinese specialties from Lao Peng You come in a tasty broth which folks with throat ailments will want to guzzle. But have patients and enjoy the delicately hand-rolled dumplings. 

A variety of Chinese dishes on a large table. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Souffle Pancakes at Hanabusa Cafe

Illness causes many people to revert to a needy, infantile state. When that happens, the best thing to do is to eat nursery food, like pancakes. But the Japanese souffle pancakes at Hanabusa are lighter and fluffier than American diner pancakes, which makes them more soothing, and they’re served covered in chilled whipped cream and custard.

Soto Ayam at Minahasa

Soto ayam is chicken noodle soup Indonesian style. This means it has some extra spice from sambal; texture from fried shallots, bean sprouts, and tomatoes; and anti-inflammatory properties from a dose of turmeric, all bathed in a deep and delicate chicken broth. Find it at Minahasa, the mother-and-son-run regional spot inside Revival food hall.

A bowl of soto ayam filled with shredded chicken, tomato, sliced eggs, and more.
The herbal broth is gentle on upset tummies.
Minahasa

Dry Chili Chicken at Lao Sze Chuan

There’s nothing like a hot pepper to clean out the respiratory system, and there are no hot peppers like Sichuan peppers. The dry chili chicken is one of the signature dishes at Tony Hu’s empire — which has eight locations in the city and suburbs — and the chefs are not messing around.

Creamy Tomato Soup at Mustard Seed Kitchen

Celebrated Chicago chef and restaurateur Erick Williams (Virtue) in 2021 debuted Mustard Seed Kitchen, a takeout-only restaurant starring American “everyday eats” — salads, sandwiches, burgers, and entrees like salmon and skirt steaks. Williams also applies his expert touch to a smooth, blended tomato basil soup that shouldn’t be missed.

Sausage and Giardiniera from Phil's Pizza

There’s an old Bill Murray quote, “every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself.” And while carbs and cheese aren’t what doctors want you to ingest to improve health, sometimes a pizza is just want you need to get over a slump. Order a sausage and giardiniera from Phil’s Pizza in Bridgeport, a tavern-style legend, and benefit from a hot beef injection plus Chicago’s favorite spicy pickle mix. 

Chicken Wings at Honey 1 BBQ

It’s conventional wisdom that there’s nothing like honey to soothe a sore throat, and that surely must apply to honey barbecue chicken wings. Even if the magical properties of honey are dulled by the presence of other ingredients, the barbecue sauce is still spicy enough to clear out blocked nasal passages, and that’s important, too.

Birria at Birrieria Zaragoza

One of the classic recommendations for a cold is hot consomme, which happens to be a key ingredient in birria, and the goat birria at Birrieria Zaragoza in Archer Heights is some of the city’s best. Order a large, steaming bowl, and let it do its work.

Coconut Conch Chowder at 14 Parish

Caribbean-inspired 14 Parish in Hyde Park does belly-warmers island style. Grounded Chicagoans who are under the weather can find respite in its creamy coconut conch chowder, a light yet filling nod to warmer climates.

Belizean Stew Chicken at Garifuna Flava: A Taste of Belize | Jerk Chicken Chicago

In Garifuna Flava’s rendition of the national dish of Belize, chicken is marinated in bell peppers, paprika, and other spices and stewed until it’s soft and so tender that, even if you don’t feel like eating, you’ll eat.

Hot Chi Chicken & Cones

Hot Chi Chicken has taken over a former Harold’s Chicken Shack on 87th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway with a unique brand of spices that combines many international traditions. The Palestinian-American menu is creative and the Popeyes Ain’t !@#$ fried chicken sandwich hits a little sweet, and then powers through with Kashmiri chiles that provide the heat that no fast-food scientist could come up with. This will clear your sinuses if you want, or you could show some restraint and order it milder.

A platter of two chicken sandwiches, two chicken tenders, and crinkle fries. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

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