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Red sauce drizzles from a cup over a basket of fried chicken and fries.
Harold’s fried chicken with mild sauce is the iconic food of the South Side.
Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Where to Eat Chicago’s Most Iconic Dishes

Classic foods every local needs to try at least once

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Harold’s fried chicken with mild sauce is the iconic food of the South Side.
| Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Some stereotypes exist for a reason, and yes, Vienna hot dogs are great, and yes, Chicago has a plethora of excellent steakhouses. But beyond downtown, out in the neighborhoods, there’s a far more wide-ranging and, frankly, interesting assortment of dishes that make up the menu of Chicago classics. Many of them are unavailable outside the city, or even the neighborhood where they were invented. The following map celebrates 20 Chicago culinary icons.

For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Great Sea Restaurant

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3253 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 478-9129
Visit Website

Lollipop Chicken Wings: Here is one of the best examples of a Chicago invention: the lollipop chicken wing, based on gam pong gi, a classic Korean Chinese chicken stir fry. A chef named Hsing-Tseng Kao at a nearby restaurant, the now-defunct Peking Mandarin, came up with the idea of using wings in gam pong gi, but it was Nai Tiao, Great Sea’s owner back in the 1980s, who first frenched the wings into a lollipop shape and drenched them in a sweet, spicy sauce. The rest is Chicago food history.

2. Gene & Jude's

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2720 N River Rd
River Grove, IL 60171
(708) 452-7634
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Depression Dog: The classic Chicago-style hot dog — a Vienna Beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun topped with mustard, onions, relish, tomatoes, sport peppers, pickle spear, and celery salt — is among the most revered foods in the Windy City. Legendary suburban stand Gene & Jude’s offers a variant, the “Depression Dog,” that withholds some traditional ingredients but tosses a heap of fries on top of the whole thing. Many critics and fans have hailed it as the finest of its kind. A note to visitors: ketchup is expressly forbidden.

Two Depression Dogs.
Long lines are the norm at River Grove’s celebrated hot dog stand.
Gene & Jude’s [Official Photo]

3. Jibaritos y Mas

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3400 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 799-8601
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Jibarito: The jibarito is another Chicago original, invented at Borinquen, a Puerto Rican restaurant in Humboldt Park, in 1996, when its owner, Juan C. Figueroa, was inspired by an article he read in a Puerto Rican newspaper about a sandwich that substituted fried plantains for bread. Jibaritos y Mas offers a textbook version of the original recipe with sliced steak, lettuce, tomato, and cheese, but plenty of other options are available, including a vegetarian version.

A jibarito sandwich.
The bread is replaced by fried plantains on this Chicago icon.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

4. Pequod's Pizza

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2207 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 327-1512
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Deep Dish Pizza With Caramelized Cheese Crust: The deep dish pizza is perhaps Chicago’s best-known, least-understood, and most-ridiculed exports. And it’s true that the exported versions — the Uno’s chain and Lou Malnati’s mail order — do a terrible job of representing it to the outside world. But outsiders would think differently if they knew about the deep dish invented by Burt Katz, the greatest innovator of the form after its inventor Ike Sewell. Katz had the genius idea to let cheese caramelize on the edge of the crust. Pequod’s was one of several pizzerias he founded, and it still serves a great example of that style. Milly’s Pizza in the Pan in Edgewater and Burt’s Place in suburban Morton Grove also have excellent caramelized crusts.

5. Johnnie's Beef

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7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL 60707
(708) 452-6000

Italian beef: There’s much debate over the best way to eat an Italian beef. Hot or sweet peppers? Dry or au jus? No matter the order, Johnnie’s will execute it to perfection. For an even meatier option, try the combo: an Italian sausage topped with shredded beef. There’s a second location in suburban Arlington Heights.

6. Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House

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1024 N Rush St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 640-0999
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Shrimp DeJonghe: Shrimp DeJonghe was invented in Chicago near the turn of the 20th century. It's a simple casserole of shrimp, garlic, breadcrumbs, and either wine or sherry. Many Italian and seafood restaurants in the area serve it, but Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House’s version is one of the best.

7. Gene & Georgetti

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500 N Franklin St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 527-3718
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Chicken Vesuvio: The origins of Chicken Vesuvio are murky, though the Vesuvio Restaurant (now long gone) takes the credit, hence the name. It’s a simple Italian American dish: chicken sauteed in garlic, oregano, olive oil, and wine then baked until the skin is crisp and served with seasoned wedge potatoes and sometimes peas. The classic steakhouse Gene & Georgetti serves a good, pea-less variation; it can also be found at Harry Caray’s and other Italian restaurants around the city.

8. Isla Filipino

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15 W Washington St #105
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 242-1672
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Lumpia: Chicago’s Filipino community has been active for more than a century, and starting in the early 2000s, Isla Pilipina in Lincoln Square was one of its chief gathering places. The restaurant closed in 2020, moved downtown, and changed its name to Isla Filipino, but the pork-filled lumpia Shanghai haven’t changed.

9. Greek Islands

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200 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 782-9855
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Saganaki: Flaming saganaki originated in Chicago, dating back to the late ’60s at the now-shuttered Parthenon. The dish is a spectacle that involves servers bringing out a platter of white cheese (sheep’s milk cheese is commonly used), setting it on fire at the tableside, and yelling “opa!”

10. Jim's Original

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1250 S Union Ave
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-7820
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Maxwell Street Polish: While hot dogs get all the glory, the Maxwell Street Polish — a kielbasa sausage topped with mustard, grilled onions, and sport peppers — is also a Chicago classic that was first sold at Chicago’s old Maxwell Street Market.

11. Rubi’s Tacos

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1316 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 318-9526

Tacos: Chicago has one of the largest Mexican American populations in the U.S., and Chicagoans take their tacos very seriously. Rubi’s, which existed as a stall at the Maxwell Street Market for 20 years, recently moved to a permanent storefront on 18th Street in Pilsen. The mole rojo (braised pork on a fresh corn tortilla) stars. The pastor is also worth ordering. But anything tastes better due to the delicate yellow corn wrappings. These are some of the best tortillas in the city.

12. Birrieria Zaragoza

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4852 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 523-3700
Visit Website

Birria: Long before quesabirria tacos swept the nation, this beloved mom-and-pop operation was introducing Chicago to traditional Jalisco-style birria. The fragrant, mouth-watering stew is made with organic goat meat that’s been steam-cooked for hours, marinated in an ancho-based mole, and then finished in the oven. It arrives at the table accompanied by corn tortillas, cilantro, onions, fire-roasted salsa, and a side of consommé so that diners can assemble what are arguably the most exceptional tacos in town. Online ordering is available here.

A table full of birria, consommé, and sides.
Goat is the specialty at this Mexican spot.
Jaclyn Rivas/Birrieria Zaragoza

13. Harold's Chicken Shack

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1208 E 53rd St
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 752-9270

Fried chicken with mild sauce: A favorite among locals and celebrities, Harold’s dishes out what many consider to be the best fried chicken in the city. (Its closest rival is Uncle Remus.) The chicken’s distinctive flavor is a result of being cooked to order in vegetable oil and beef tallow. Mild sauce is also a condiment of utmost importance, a sweet and tangy liquid that locals abide by. Even though the chicken and sauce recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant, a Harold’s half chicken dinner covered in mild sauce is a quintessential Chicago meal. There are dozens of locations in the area, with a majority on the South Side.

14. Weber's Bakery

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7055 W Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60638
(773) 586-1234
Visit Website

Atomic Cake: Born on the city’s South Side, this lesser-known dessert that dates back to the Atomic Age (aka the 1950s) is an indulgent combination of banana, yellow, and chocolate cake. The three layers are separated by glazed strawberries and sliced bananas with Bavarian custard, and topped with rich fudge and whipped cream frosting. Long-standing Weber’s Bakery calls its version a “Banana Split Torte.”

15. Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots

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7242 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60636
(773) 633-8196

Mother-in-Law: The mother-in-law, a tamale served on a hot dog bun with all the fixings, is an example of how Chicago is a true immigrant melting pot: it was invented by John Pawlikowski, the Polish proprietor of Fat Johnnie’s, who was inspired by a Lithuanian guy he knew growing up who sold tamales in a bun with ketchup. The tamales themselves are made with cornmeal in the style of the Mississippi Delta, brought north by Black transplants during the Great Migration, but the biggest manufacturer is Tom Tom Tamales, run by a Greek family. The sandwich got its name, according to one vendor, because it gives you heartburn, like a mother-in-law. And that joke is universal.

16. Lem's BBQ House

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311 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60619
(773) 994-2428
Visit Website

Rib tips: Rib tips are an often overlooked barbecue specialty but they’re the main attraction at this old-school joint. The tender, flavorful cuts are cooked in a customized aquarium smoker — the largest in the city — and slathered in a sweet sauce so expect to get a little messy. While pork is what Lem’s is famous for, turkey tips have risen in popularity in recent years.

17. Stony Sub

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8440 S Stony Island Ave
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 978-4000

Gym shoe: It’s unclear where the gym shoe sandwich (sometimes spelled Jim shoe) was created or how it got its name, but this South Side shop is one of its most well-known purveyors. Despite the odd name, the gym shoe is a tasty trifecta of roast beef, gyro meat, and corned beef stuffed in a hoagie roll and topped with giardiniera, sweet peppers, onions, tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, mayo, and Swiss cheese.

18. Vito & Nick's

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8433 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60652
(773) 735-2050
Visit Website

Tavern-style pizza: Most outsiders associate with Chicago pizza with deep dish, but tavern style is just as important to the city’s culinary identity. It’s what Chicagoans eat on a regular basis; deep dish is for special occasions, like entertaining out-of-town visitors. This essential pizzeria makes what is arguably the finest thin crust in town, topping the crispy dough with ingredients like sausage, sliced beef, shrimp, and giardiniera. And in true Chicago fashion, the pies are best enjoyed with a cold pint of Old Style.

A thin crust pizza.
Vito & Nick’s is an exemplar of tavern-style pizza.
Vito & Nick’s [Official Photo]

19. Rainbow Cone

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9233 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60643
(773) 238-7075
Visit Website

Rainbow Cone: Why settle for one flavor when you can have five? This South Side institution has been scooping colorful frozen treats for over nine decades. The namesake dessert is a combination of orange sherbet with chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts), and pistachio ice cream that both adults and children love.

20. Home of the Hoagy

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1316 W 111th St
Chicago, IL 60643
(773) 238-7171
Visit Website

Sweet steak: Chicago’s counterpart to the Philly cheesesteak is a sweet variant from the South Side. While it’s not as widely known as Italian beef, this hoagie — featuring coarsely-chopped rib eye, tomatoes, bell peppers, and a signature sweet sauce — has earned loyal fans in Morgan Park.

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1. Great Sea Restaurant

3253 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Lollipop Chicken Wings: Here is one of the best examples of a Chicago invention: the lollipop chicken wing, based on gam pong gi, a classic Korean Chinese chicken stir fry. A chef named Hsing-Tseng Kao at a nearby restaurant, the now-defunct Peking Mandarin, came up with the idea of using wings in gam pong gi, but it was Nai Tiao, Great Sea’s owner back in the 1980s, who first frenched the wings into a lollipop shape and drenched them in a sweet, spicy sauce. The rest is Chicago food history.

3253 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

2. Gene & Jude's

2720 N River Rd, River Grove, IL 60171
Two Depression Dogs.
Long lines are the norm at River Grove’s celebrated hot dog stand.
Gene & Jude’s [Official Photo]

Depression Dog: The classic Chicago-style hot dog — a Vienna Beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun topped with mustard, onions, relish, tomatoes, sport peppers, pickle spear, and celery salt — is among the most revered foods in the Windy City. Legendary suburban stand Gene & Jude’s offers a variant, the “Depression Dog,” that withholds some traditional ingredients but tosses a heap of fries on top of the whole thing. Many critics and fans have hailed it as the finest of its kind. A note to visitors: ketchup is expressly forbidden.

2720 N River Rd
River Grove, IL 60171

3. Jibaritos y Mas

3400 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
A jibarito sandwich.
The bread is replaced by fried plantains on this Chicago icon.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Jibarito: The jibarito is another Chicago original, invented at Borinquen, a Puerto Rican restaurant in Humboldt Park, in 1996, when its owner, Juan C. Figueroa, was inspired by an article he read in a Puerto Rican newspaper about a sandwich that substituted fried plantains for bread. Jibaritos y Mas offers a textbook version of the original recipe with sliced steak, lettuce, tomato, and cheese, but plenty of other options are available, including a vegetarian version.

3400 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

4. Pequod's Pizza

2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

Deep Dish Pizza With Caramelized Cheese Crust: The deep dish pizza is perhaps Chicago’s best-known, least-understood, and most-ridiculed exports. And it’s true that the exported versions — the Uno’s chain and Lou Malnati’s mail order — do a terrible job of representing it to the outside world. But outsiders would think differently if they knew about the deep dish invented by Burt Katz, the greatest innovator of the form after its inventor Ike Sewell. Katz had the genius idea to let cheese caramelize on the edge of the crust. Pequod’s was one of several pizzerias he founded, and it still serves a great example of that style. Milly’s Pizza in the Pan in Edgewater and Burt’s Place in suburban Morton Grove also have excellent caramelized crusts.

2207 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

5. Johnnie's Beef

7500 W North Ave, Elmwood Park, IL 60707

Italian beef: There’s much debate over the best way to eat an Italian beef. Hot or sweet peppers? Dry or au jus? No matter the order, Johnnie’s will execute it to perfection. For an even meatier option, try the combo: an Italian sausage topped with shredded beef. There’s a second location in suburban Arlington Heights.

7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL 60707

6. Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House

1024 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

Shrimp DeJonghe: Shrimp DeJonghe was invented in Chicago near the turn of the 20th century. It's a simple casserole of shrimp, garlic, breadcrumbs, and either wine or sherry. Many Italian and seafood restaurants in the area serve it, but Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House’s version is one of the best.

1024 N Rush St
Chicago, IL 60611

7. Gene & Georgetti

500 N Franklin St, Chicago, IL 60654

Chicken Vesuvio: The origins of Chicken Vesuvio are murky, though the Vesuvio Restaurant (now long gone) takes the credit, hence the name. It’s a simple Italian American dish: chicken sauteed in garlic, oregano, olive oil, and wine then baked until the skin is crisp and served with seasoned wedge potatoes and sometimes peas. The classic steakhouse Gene & Georgetti serves a good, pea-less variation; it can also be found at Harry Caray’s and other Italian restaurants around the city.

500 N Franklin St
Chicago, IL 60654

8. Isla Filipino

15 W Washington St #105, Chicago, IL 60602

Lumpia: Chicago’s Filipino community has been active for more than a century, and starting in the early 2000s, Isla Pilipina in Lincoln Square was one of its chief gathering places. The restaurant closed in 2020, moved downtown, and changed its name to Isla Filipino, but the pork-filled lumpia Shanghai haven’t changed.

15 W Washington St #105
Chicago, IL 60602

9. Greek Islands

200 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60661

Saganaki: Flaming saganaki originated in Chicago, dating back to the late ’60s at the now-shuttered Parthenon. The dish is a spectacle that involves servers bringing out a platter of white cheese (sheep’s milk cheese is commonly used), setting it on fire at the tableside, and yelling “opa!”

200 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60661

10. Jim's Original

1250 S Union Ave, Chicago, IL 60607

Maxwell Street Polish: While hot dogs get all the glory, the Maxwell Street Polish — a kielbasa sausage topped with mustard, grilled onions, and sport peppers — is also a Chicago classic that was first sold at Chicago’s old Maxwell Street Market.

1250 S Union Ave
Chicago, IL 60607

11. Rubi’s Tacos

1316 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

Tacos: Chicago has one of the largest Mexican American populations in the U.S., and Chicagoans take their tacos very seriously. Rubi’s, which existed as a stall at the Maxwell Street Market for 20 years, recently moved to a permanent storefront on 18th Street in Pilsen. The mole rojo (braised pork on a fresh corn tortilla) stars. The pastor is also worth ordering. But anything tastes better due to the delicate yellow corn wrappings. These are some of the best tortillas in the city.

1316 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608

12. Birrieria Zaragoza

4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60632
A table full of birria, consommé, and sides.
Goat is the specialty at this Mexican spot.
Jaclyn Rivas/Birrieria Zaragoza

Birria: Long before quesabirria tacos swept the nation, this beloved mom-and-pop operation was introducing Chicago to traditional Jalisco-style birria. The fragrant, mouth-watering stew is made with organic goat meat that’s been steam-cooked for hours, marinated in an ancho-based mole, and then finished in the oven. It arrives at the table accompanied by corn tortillas, cilantro, onions, fire-roasted salsa, and a side of consommé so that diners can assemble what are arguably the most exceptional tacos in town. Online ordering is available here.

4852 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60632

13. Harold's Chicken Shack

1208 E 53rd St, Chicago, IL 60615

Fried chicken with mild sauce: A favorite among locals and celebrities, Harold’s dishes out what many consider to be the best fried chicken in the city. (Its closest rival is Uncle Remus.) The chicken’s distinctive flavor is a result of being cooked to order in vegetable oil and beef tallow. Mild sauce is also a condiment of utmost importance, a sweet and tangy liquid that locals abide by. Even though the chicken and sauce recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant, a Harold’s half chicken dinner covered in mild sauce is a quintessential Chicago meal. There are dozens of locations in the area, with a majority on the South Side.

1208 E 53rd St
Chicago, IL 60615

14. Weber's Bakery

7055 W Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60638

Atomic Cake: Born on the city’s South Side, this lesser-known dessert that dates back to the Atomic Age (aka the 1950s) is an indulgent combination of banana, yellow, and chocolate cake. The three layers are separated by glazed strawberries and sliced bananas with Bavarian custard, and topped with rich fudge and whipped cream frosting. Long-standing Weber’s Bakery calls its version a “Banana Split Torte.”

7055 W Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60638

15. Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots

7242 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60636

Mother-in-Law: The mother-in-law, a tamale served on a hot dog bun with all the fixings, is an example of how Chicago is a true immigrant melting pot: it was invented by John Pawlikowski, the Polish proprietor of Fat Johnnie’s, who was inspired by a Lithuanian guy he knew growing up who sold tamales in a bun with ketchup. The tamales themselves are made with cornmeal in the style of the Mississippi Delta, brought north by Black transplants during the Great Migration, but the biggest manufacturer is Tom Tom Tamales, run by a Greek family. The sandwich got its name, according to one vendor, because it gives you heartburn, like a mother-in-law. And that joke is universal.

7242 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60636

Related Maps

16. Lem's BBQ House

311 E 75th St, Chicago, IL 60619

Rib tips: Rib tips are an often overlooked barbecue specialty but they’re the main attraction at this old-school joint. The tender, flavorful cuts are cooked in a customized aquarium smoker — the largest in the city — and slathered in a sweet sauce so expect to get a little messy. While pork is what Lem’s is famous for, turkey tips have risen in popularity in recent years.

311 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60619

17. Stony Sub

8440 S Stony Island Ave, Chicago, IL 60617

Gym shoe: It’s unclear where the gym shoe sandwich (sometimes spelled Jim shoe) was created or how it got its name, but this South Side shop is one of its most well-known purveyors. Despite the odd name, the gym shoe is a tasty trifecta of roast beef, gyro meat, and corned beef stuffed in a hoagie roll and topped with giardiniera, sweet peppers, onions, tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, mayo, and Swiss cheese.

8440 S Stony Island Ave
Chicago, IL 60617

18. Vito & Nick's

8433 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60652
A thin crust pizza.
Vito & Nick’s is an exemplar of tavern-style pizza.
Vito & Nick’s [Official Photo]

Tavern-style pizza: Most outsiders associate with Chicago pizza with deep dish, but tavern style is just as important to the city’s culinary identity. It’s what Chicagoans eat on a regular basis; deep dish is for special occasions, like entertaining out-of-town visitors. This essential pizzeria makes what is arguably the finest thin crust in town, topping the crispy dough with ingredients like sausage, sliced beef, shrimp, and giardiniera. And in true Chicago fashion, the pies are best enjoyed with a cold pint of Old Style.

8433 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60652

19. Rainbow Cone

9233 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60643

Rainbow Cone: Why settle for one flavor when you can have five? This South Side institution has been scooping colorful frozen treats for over nine decades. The namesake dessert is a combination of orange sherbet with chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts), and pistachio ice cream that both adults and children love.

9233 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60643

20. Home of the Hoagy

1316 W 111th St, Chicago, IL 60643

Sweet steak: Chicago’s counterpart to the Philly cheesesteak is a sweet variant from the South Side. While it’s not as widely known as Italian beef, this hoagie — featuring coarsely-chopped rib eye, tomatoes, bell peppers, and a signature sweet sauce — has earned loyal fans in Morgan Park.

1316 W 111th St
Chicago, IL 60643

Related Maps