Huffpost Food

26 Food Things Only A Chicagoan Would Understand

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If you think deep-dish pizza and ketchup-free hot dogs are all there is to understanding Chicago food, you've got another thing -- or 26 -- coming.

Chicago is a city of many, many neighborhoods, all of which come with their own culinary traditions. It leaves the city's residents with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the diverse dishes that are often only a hop on the 'L' away. And no, they don't eat deep dish every day -- or even every month.

These are the food truths only a Chicago local can truly grasp.

  • 1
    Sometimes the wetter the sandwich, the better.
    While the beef is (of course) the star here, Chicago's signature Italian beef sandwich (tastiest at Mr. Beef or Fiore's) is nothing unless it's DOUSED with beef jus and giardiniera. The more the beef jus has infiltrated the bread, the tastier the sandwich. Don't worry, you'll figure out a way to pick this up without making a giant mess. We have faith in you.
  • 2
    Cheese and caramel, the perfect flavor marriage.
    Garrett Popcorn/Facebook
    No, this is not weird AT ALL. Garrett Popcorn sells this "Chicago mix" by the heaping tubful to tourists -- and some locals, too -- with good reason: it's dang tasty. Why does this feel so right?
  • 3
    Nobody goes to Wrigley Field for the food.
    That's what The Cell is for. (Though not too many people go there period.)
  • 4
    No one really goes to the Taste for the food anymore either.
    WikiMedia:
    Especially now that the barbecued turkey legs are off the menu at Chicago's premier food festival, you're kind of out of luck unless you're just going to see Chaka Khan.
  • 5
    Stephanie Izard can do no wrong.
    Getty Images
    A 7-pound whole goat's leg? A Cheez-It wedding cake? Whatever crazy thing you tell us to stuff in our mouths, we gladly will, Stephanie! Chicago would probably elect this Top Chef winner mayor if they could.
  • 6
    Rick Bayless does not make Chicago's best Mexican food.
    Getty Images
    Repeat after us: Rick Bayless does not make Chicago's best Mexican food, so please stop saying Rick Bayless makes Chicago's best Mexican food. (Xoco is pretty darn flawless though.)
  • 7
    For Chicago's best Mexican food, you go to Pilsen or Little Village. The end.
    WikiMedia:
    Nuevo Leon Restaurant is the king, but there are plenty of princes along 18th Street in Pilsen in particular. Go to any of them and please promise us to never say Rick Bayless makes the city's best Mexican food ever again.
  • 8
    Fried plantains beat bread pretty much every time.
    WikiMedia:
    The jibarito was invented at Borinquen Restaurant in Humboldt Park and is one of the most distinctive dishes that traces its roots to Chicago. Having grown in popularity, the Puerto Rican speciality is now available from many restos on the West Side in particular.
  • 9
    When the Tamale Guy arrives at your dive bar of choice, just empty your wallet.
    This is the perfect complement to a night of too much boozing, and you will be very thankful the next morning. Track the Tamale Man's every move via Twitter.
  • 10
    The only way to make a tamale better is putting it on a bun and smothering it with chili.
    Meet the mother-in-law, a South Side specialty. She's topped with tomatoes, peppers but -- you guessed it -- never ketchup and she's less intense than her only-in-Chicago sandwich counterparts like the Gym Shoe and the Big Baby. Get your hands on one at Johnny O's in Bridgeport.
  • 11
    If there were any justice in this world, this is the pizza Chicago would be known for.
    Piece Pizzeria/Facebook
    While we're the deep dish capital of the world, our thin crust pizzas -- like this one from Piece -- are -- shhh! -- often superior.
  • 12
    And when you do see us satisfying a rare deep dish craving, you won't see us at Uno's.
    Pequod's/Facebook
    Pequod's all the way!
  • 13
    It makes total sense to wait in line for an hour or more for a hot dog.
    AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
    At least, that is, if it comes from Hot Doug's. (Those duck fat fries? The cherry on top of this encased meat sundae.)
  • 14
    Out-of-town relatives will always ask you for tickets to Alinea.
    For next week, of course. Bless their hearts.
  • 15
    Sometimes you just want to be screamed at.
    No one quite understands why, but go ahead and get yourself to the Wieners Circle anyway. This place is known for their hot dogs, burgers and verbally abusive (yet still loving) employees. Whatever you do, don't order the double chocolate milkshake unless you want an eyeful of flesh!
  • 16
    You go to Devon ready to eat a day's worth of food in one sitting.
    Ghareeb Nawaz/Facebook
    No shade, because West Rogers Park is home to so much incredible Indian or otherwise South Asian food you pretty much can't go wrong no matter where you go.
  • 17
    Lentil soup can, actually, be so good it inspires tears of joy.
    Joseph Erbentraut/The Huffington Post
    It might not be much to look at and we don't quite know what's in the lentil soup at Taste of Lebanon, but this Andersonville hole-in-the-wall's signature dish has earned its cult following.
  • 18
    Poutine. It's not just a thing in Canada.
    Big Cheese Poutinerie/Facebook
    Chicago has seemed to be on the verge of a poutine boom for years now -- now that Wrigleyville's Big Cheese Poutinerie has 30 varieties of the stuff, now could be the time. This is the next frontier of Chicago-style gluttony.
  • 19
    Ordering breakfast can be more stressful than taking the SAT.
    JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
    Valois in Hyde Park is notorious for its long lines -- we're guessing the president is pretty much the only person who gets to cuts to the front here at this cafeteria-style South Side institution.
  • 20
    Some of the best milkshakes in the world contain no milk whatsoever.
    WikiMedia:
    The vegan milkshakes at the Chicago Diner are so extraordinary, it'll blow your mind that they are dairy-free. Skeptical? The chocolate peanut butter shake will make you a believer.
  • 21
    The only real reason to get up early on a weekend is for a doughnut.
    Doughnut Vault/Facebook
    The line at Doughnut Vault can be killer, Glazed and Infused frequently runs out of their most donuts early and -- what was that you said? You want fresh paczki (the popular Polish pastry) for Paczki Day? Hope you made a game plan ahead of time because Chicago is serious about its baked goods -- especially when they're deep-fried.
  • 22
    You'd do pretty much anything for a slice of Bang Bang pie.
    And no one could possibly blame you one bit for it. The Logan Square pie shop's line for pre-sale pickup ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday last fall stretched around the block.
  • 23
    No trip to Greektown is complete without saganaki.
    After all, this is a dish that was reportedly originated in Chicago -- the Parthenon claims to have invented the flaming Greek cheese. OPA!
  • 24
    Argyle is not just a clothing pattern.
    It's also the street you go to for some of the best pho you could have ever dreamed of. Pho 88 is where it's at.
  • 25
    And while we're at it..
    The banh mi from Ba Le is probably the most out-of-this-world banh mi you will ever sink your teeth on. The key is the fresh French bread.
  • 26
    The phrase "smoked chubs" means something to you.
    Calumet Fisheries/Facebook
    If it does, you probably have Calumet Fisheries, the takeout-only Far South Side treasure renowned for smoked fish that even mystified Anthony Bourdain, to thank.


Just admit it, you want to move to Chicago now. Totally understandable and warranted, but please promise us you'll never eat at the Hancock Building Cheesecake Factory or order in from Pizza Hut. Deal?

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