Authenticity is sometimes difficult to define, but when it comes to providing a true Chicago experience, these classic spots come to mind. There are trendier restaurants, but these are the places that capture Chicago’s soul, serving the same families for generations. But they’re equally welcoming to newcomers and tourists.Read More
25 Classic Chicago Restaurants to Try
Give up your Chicago card if you haven’t dined at these icons
New York Bagel & Bialy Corporation
Conveniently located just off the Touhy Avenue exit of the Edens Expressway, New York Bagel and Bialy has been serving up freshly baked bagels 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 1964. At less than a dollar apiece, they’re one of the best bargains in the city. Of course, all the toppings and accouterments like cream cheese and smoked fish are also available. There’s a second location in Skokie, though it’s only open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Chicago is a great town for encased meats, and while the city has an abundance of hot dog stands, Superdawg in Norwood Park is a truly unique experience. It’s the city’s only true drive-in with carhops serving customers in the comfort of their automobiles. The proprietary hot dog is a variation of the Chicago-style wiener, with neon green relish, chopped white onions, a kosher dill pickle, mustard, a pickled tomato, and sport peppers for those who like heat. It doesn’t get much more classic than this. There’s a second location in suburban Wheeling.
Great Sea Restaurant
This Albany Park Korean Chinese restaurant is credited with popularizing the lollipop chicken wing (the inventor ran a rival neighborhood restaurant), and still serves up some of the best around, tossed in a signature sweet and spicy sauce. But don’t miss out on classic Korean Chinese dishes like cha chiang mein, or black sauce noodles.
Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern
Hidden in the middle of a residential block in Old Town, Twin Anchors is a family-friendly restaurant that’s crowded on the weekends, with seasonal cocktails, and barbecue ribs that come with a choice from a trio of sauces — the zesty is quite popular. The walls are covered with sports photos and signed pictures from Chicago legends. The space was also featured in The Dark Knight as it’s the kind of place real-life gangster Al Capone or Batman villain Carmine Falcone would hang out.
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Though the Northwest Side has since become the center of the Polish community, the strip of Division Street near the convergence of Ashland and Milwaukee Wicker Park was once known as “Polish Broadway.” One of the last remnants of that past life is Podhlanka, a warm dive that serves affording pierogi, potato pancakes, borsht, and other classics.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse
Gibsons is in the upper echelon of the classic Chicago steakhouse — a Rush Street restaurant where folks still want to be seen, especially the classic dark wood bar in the dimly-lit first-floor dining room where patrons can stroll up for a Manhattan. If customers aren’t stuffed by their mammoth steaks or chops, save room for a giant slab of cake.
Pizano's Pizza & Pasta
Chicago’s deep-dish pizza lineage is fascinating if not a little convoluted. Pizano’s, a mini-chain with four city locations and a fifth in the suburbs, was founded by Rudy Malnati Jr., whose dad opened Pizzeria Uno and whose brother Lou went on to found the chain that still bears his name. The well-seasoned dough — made with the original Pizzeria Uno recipe — is the star here; try it in deep dish or thin crust form.
Uncle Mike's Place
The story of Uncle Mike’s Place is unique. It started off as a traditional breakfast spot with pancakes and other morning fare diners would enjoy in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But as a ploy to differentiate itself, it slowly phased in Filipino favorites like bangus, marinated skirt steak, and longanisa. The pancakes remain on the menu, creating one of the most unique restaurants in town, one that’s crowded during the weekends.
The Walnut Room
Before Crate & Barrel and Lululemon, Marshall Field’s had a full restaurant inside its State Street store. Even though Field’s is now Macy’s, the wood-paneled Walnut Room endures, and it’s particularly popular at Christmastime when a giant tree takes over the center of the room. The chicken pot pie, allegedly invented by a millinery clerk back in the 1890s, is a classic dish. Recently, Macy’s has hosted a weekend drag brunch, hiring local talent, and standing tall in a world that isn’t so accepting of the LGBTQ community.
For decades, downtown workers have rushed to the Wabash Jewelers Mall to get their watches fixed and… some of the best falafel in the Loop? Yes, Oasis Cafe is a genuine hidden gem, found in the back of the store. A quick-serve restaurant with all the staples — kebobs, hummus, baba ganouj — with a few seats for customers to dine in. It’s a unique experience and an affordable one for Downtown Chicago.
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Perhaps no restaurant in Chicago is more classic than the Berghoff. Established as a nickel beer joint in 1898, it turned into a full restaurant during Prohibition. After repeal, it received the first liquor license in Chicago. The bar was men-only until 1969. In 2018, it established its own brewery. Today, this time capsule continues to serve traditional German food to tourists and locals alike.
The iconic neon sign has drawn patrons into this historic diner near Union Station since 1923. Come for hearty, classic diner fare at breakfast and lunchtime, alongside baked goods and complimentary Milk Duds.
Harold’s Chicken Shack
Harold’s is the fried chicken Chicago natives crave the most when they leave town, especially garnished with mild sauce. Since they’re all individually-owner franchises, each location is slightly different but they all make their food to order. There’s seating, but Harold’s is primary a takeout operation.
Al's Italian Beef
Al's Beef has been a Chicago legend since 1938, and though it has branches of varying quality all over the city, the Taylor Street location is the original and always reliable and consistent (unlike most other locations, they still make the beef on-premises). Order a beef dipped with hot peppers, and then assume the proper eating stance — hunched over — so you don’t drip gravy all over yourself.
Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen
Manny's Cafeteria and Deli is the epitome of a Chicago classic, serving outstanding corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, potato latkes, and other Jewish deli favorites to an eclectic crowd. It’s also a favorite of local politicians for weekend power breakfasts.
Jim's Original claims it was the birthplace of the city's "original" Polish sausage back in 1941. Although it moved from Maxwell Street in 2001, Jim’s still touts itself as the longest continuously-operating hot dog stand to have once done business there. The Polish and hot dogs are can't-miss, but the pork chop sandwich is also a Chicago essential. The restaurant added a North Side location in August 2022.
Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant
“Carnitas culture” — the ritual of waiting in line indoors and watching workers prepare the pork delicacy — suffered during COVID-19, but slowly it’s returning, and family-run Carnitas Uruapan is one of the best places in the city to observe it. The pork is seared on the outside until golden brown and then slow-cooked for two hours. Order it by the pound and then pile it onto tortillas for sublime tacos. The Pilsen restaurant is takeout only but a second location in Gage Park is full-service and features tortillas made on-site.
The breaded steak sandwich is a scary and messy proposition that’s gained a following at Ricobene’s, a restaurant that specializes in Italian American food and that stays open late. Yes, a fried and breaded cutlet with mozzarella and tomato sauce is a cardiologist’s nightmare, but “lighter” fare includes, burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef, and pizza slices. This isn’t a place with a juice bar; it’s Chicago Italian American fare in a casual atmosphere near Sox Park.
There are few brighter spots in Chicago than this unpretentious Archer Heights restaurant. The menu is simple: stewed goat and handmade tortillas, which customers assemble into tacos. Don’t expect a gooey cheese pull to show off on Instagram. This is classic Jalisco cooking that never disappoints.
The gimmick at this Hyde Park landmark is the promise that customers can “see your food.” But for loyalists, Valois is no novelty: the cafeteria-style restaurant has been an essential part of the community since 1921. The items on the line rotate in and out throughout the day. Church groups assemble for breakfast and politicians make sure to be photographed here during election season. The restaurant has made loyal customers out of famous Chicagoans over the years, including former President Barack Obama and the late White Sox owner Bill Veeck.
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Many Chicago food enthusiasts exalt Lem's rib tips as the best barbecue in town, and its longevity — opened in 1954 — only supports that claim. The meats are cooked in an aquarium smoker and topped with a thick, tomato-based sauce. Folks who don’t know Lem’s are missing out on true Chicago-style barbecue.
Josephine's Southern Cooking
A popular stop for performers like Aretha Franklin, Josephine’s Southern Cooking is known for soul food staples like gumbo, fried catfish, and pork chop. But Franklin isn’t the restaurant’s most esteemed celebrity. That title goes to the owner and chef Josephine “Mother” Wade, a figure so beloved that she has a street named after her.
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Vito & Nick's Pizzeria
Tavern-style pizza sliced into squares is also known as Chicago-style thin crust or party cut, and it’s the specialty at Vito & Nick’s in Ashburn. Order a sausage, green pepper, and onion, and enjoy it with a frosty Old Style.
Don't miss this James Beard-honored monument to smoked fish on the far South Side, in business since 1948. Get a paper bag of salmon, shrimp, or black cod, and be prepared to eat in the car or on the sidewalk.
Home of the Hoagy
The Chicago-style hoagy isn’t well known beyond the South Side communities where it originated. The sandwich isn’t made by the Instagram generation. It’s a sub roll (usually Turano) stuffed with thin-cut beef, onions, green peppers, and addictive sweet sauce. That all gets rolled up in paper, which compresses the entire thing. Be prepared to wait in line at Home of the Hoagy, which has been in business since 1969.