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How to Navigate the Food Scene in Chicago

July 12, 2022 By CityPASS

One of the best parts of traveling is getting to explore the local dining scene and taste some of the best dishes that the city has to offer. When you travel to Chicago, you’ll quickly discover that there’s no shortage of places to dive into the culinary scene, from food trucks to markets to Michelin-star restaurants. If you consider yourself a foodie, here’s the food in Chicago that you absolutely need to try.

6 Places Known for the Best Food in Chicago

Trying to narrow down the best food in Chicago is tough, but here are six spots that are treasured by locals and tourists alike. If you’re ready to take a food tour of The Windy City, here are the spots that you can’t miss.

1.) Enjoy a Deep Dish Pizza at the Iconic Lou Malnati's

When you think of Chicago food, surely a slice of thick, cheesy deep-dish pizza comes to mind. There’s no better place to try one of Chicago’s signature dishes than at Lou Malnati’s. A Chicago legend since 1971, this eatery serves up some of the most popular food in Chicago.

Besides a full menu of pizzas, both deep-dish and thin crust, Lou Malnati’s has pasta, salads, sandwiches, and more. There are currently 59 locations spread across the Chicagoland area, but it’s advised to make a reservation to avoid the long lines that these restaurants tend to draw. A good location to try is in Lincoln Park, which isn’t too far from popular attractions like the Lincoln Park Zoo and North Avenue Beach.

2.) Try an Authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog at Portillo's

Something as simple as a hot dog usually isn’t considered a top dish, but in Chicago, it is. Next on your list is Portillo’s for a Chicago-style hot dog. Since 1963, this casual restaurant chain has been serving up Italian beef sandwiches, chocolate cake milkshakes, and hot links on poppy seed buns that locals just can’t get enough of.

A Chicago-style hot dog has seven key ingredients piled high on an all-beef frank: yellow mustard, diced white onions, sweet pickle relish, tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt. Depending on how hungry you are, you can get a regular or jumbo dog at Portillo’s. Whatever you do, don’t ask for ketchup! Chicagoans consider it a sin to ruin a perfect hot dog with this tomato-based condiment.

3.) Enjoy Iconic Dishes at Oriole, a Michelin 2-Star Restaurant

Oriole is leading the dining revolution in Chicago with its award-winning tasting menu. Led by master chef Noah Sandoval, this restaurant has earned two Michelin stars, along with the Jean Banchet Best Restaurant of the Year Award. Chef Sandoval has also been nominated for a James Beard award.

The tasting menu is contemporary American cuisine with rotating dishes. You’ll also note some Japanese flavors blended in. Oriole’s tasting menu costs $215 a person, and the accompanying wines, paired by a sommelier, cost $125 a person.

Oriole is located in the Fulton Market neighborhood, which is famous for its dining scene. Here, you’ll find food halls, like the Time Out Market Chicago, along with other famous eateries like Girl & the Goat and Next.

4.) Devour Honey Butter Fried Chicken

Head to the Avondale neighborhood to discover some of the best fried chicken Chicago has to offer at Honey Butter Fried Chicken. The (not-so) secret ingredient here is the restaurant’s signature honey butter sauce that gets slathered all over the crispy fried chicken. Something unique is that Honey Butter Fried Chicken only serves boneless breasts and thighs, so the meat stays tender and juicy while the outside keeps crisp.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken is worth supporting since $1 of each fried chicken sandwich sold goes to a charity selected by staff that supports Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) organizations and communities. If you want to try something delicious and do something to make a difference, grab yourself a Honey Butter Fried Chicken sandwich and enjoy.

5.) Explore Cantonese Cuisine at Dolo Restaurant

What is the best food in Chicago that’s a little bit different, you ask? Gourmet dim sum at Dolo in Chinatown, located on the south side of Chicago. Dolo mixes traditional Cantonese cooking with modern touches to create unique, balanced bites. Some of the restaurant’s signature dishes include the pan-fried pork bun and the durian pancake, something that you can only get at this restaurant.

Dolo uses only fresh, never-frozen ingredients, including live seafood. If you like seafood, the crown jewel at Dolo is the seafood combo: five pounds of crab legs, clams, shrimp, crawfish, sausage, corn, and potatoes, slathered in a Cajun sauce. Dolo is also the only restaurant in Chinatown with a full bar.

6.) Take a Bite of Vienna Beef at Johnnies

Head to Elmwood Park, just outside the city limits, and you’ll find Johnnie’s Beef, a legend when it comes to food in Chicago. This no-frills food stand is famous for its Italian beef sandwiches, along with Vienna beef hot dogs and Polish sausage. There are a few picnic tables outside where you can chow down on a delicious sandwich, but other than that there’s no other seating. It’s a common sight to see hungry folks wrapped around the window waiting for a juicy beef sandwich, and then digging in outside their car in the parking lot.

To complete your meal, Johnnie’s has a generous portion of fries that can easily be split between two people, along with Italian ice, a frozen lemon treat. Johnnie’s is rated as one of the top Italian beef sandwiches, and once you take a bite, you’ll understand why.

Don't Go to the Chicago Attractions on an Empty Stomach

Since there’s so much to see and do in Chicago, fill up your belly and then head out to do some sightseeing. The best way to see the city’s top attractions is by purchasing Chicago CityPASS® tickets.

Depending on the number of attractions that you want to see, you have two options: Chicago CityPASS® tickets or Chicago C3® tickets. Chicago CityPASS® tickets get you into five attractions, including the Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, and the Field Museum, with two others of your choice. For a shorter stay, Chicago C3® tickets let you choose three attractions to work into your travel itinerary.

If you’re hungry for adventure, CityPASS® tickets are they key to seeing the best of Chicago.

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