While we have our favorite Chicago restaurant recommendations, no trip to Chicago would be complete without experiencing these 20 Must-Eat Chicago Foods. (And don’t worry, they are all kid-friendly!)
Must-Eat Chicago Foods
It’s a well-established fact that I plan my travel exclusively around the foods offered and foodie cred that a city holds.
Very few other criteria get factored into my decision to add a city or country to my bucket list.
Chicago is a foodie dream – it has so many amazing restaurants for every conceivable cuisine or concept. Some of the world’s best gourmet restaurants can be found here, rubbing shoulders with the ubiquitous hot dog carts, BBQ joints, and gourmet donut and cupcake shops.
There are also many diaspora populations here – the largest Ukrainian population outside of the Ukraine is in Chicago, the third largest Hispanic community in the United States, and there are considerable Swedish, Irish, Italian, German, Polish, and Assyrian populations. These vibrant communities ensure that amazing food offerings from a variety of cultures are also available in the city – so if you’ve never had authentic pierogis, or Swedish pastries, or German spaetzle, your trip to Chicago is your chance!
I’ve tried to keep the first half of the list non-location specific so that you don’t have to spend your vacations tracking down specific restaurants (like I do) but I did provide our favorite recommendations for each must-eat food; and for the second half, I’ve picked our favorite restaurant-specific offerings – like the to-die for Apple Pear Bread Pudding at Pinstripes (3 minutes from Navy Pier).
Must Eat Chicago Classics
Let’s get this very obvious – and very necessary – Chicago staple out of the way.
A true Chicago Dog is a kosher, all-beef dog on a poppyseed bun topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. Most hot dog carts don’t even carry ketchup – and some even carry signs claiming that it is an offence!
It is as filling as a sandwich and is the perfect light option to get you through an afternoon of sight seeing.
There are so many great places to grab a delicious Chicago dog, but we really love Portillo’s – and be sure to grab a frozen custard and a slice of chocolate cake while you’re there.
Italian Lemonade or Gelato
There are many great gelato shops all over Chicago, and if you can make it to an authentic Italian Lemonade stand (like Mario’s Italian Lemonade) you will be in for a real (frozen) treat.
Italian Lemonade is really Italian Ice – with flavoring and real chunks of fruit mixed in. My favorites are when they offer a sweet ice with a bit of savory spices on top, like a cantaloupe with cajun seasoning – but a good lemon ice is a classic.
If you don’t have a good mom and pop pierogi shop in your city or town, you need to experience pierogi as they were intended – not that frozen boxed kind you can get at the grocery store.
Each Slavic or Baltic culture has it’s own take on pierogi, so don’t just try one variety – and be sure to try fruit-filled pierogi, as well as potato- or cheese-filled varieties. They are also available baked, boiled, or
While you’re going to find a ton of delicious offerings in the Ukrainian Village, you can also follow the Pierogi Wagon for a convenient food truck option.
Hot Italian Beef Sandwich
The Italians have made their impression on the Chicago food scene and though this classic is the subject of much debate, I love it – especially if you dip it in the hot dipping sauce. (Anyone complaining that it’s bland or dry didn’t eat theirs properly!)
The sandwich is packed with thin slices of seasoned roast beef, dipped in au jus (gravy) and served on an Italia roll. You can add peppers and ask for additional dipping sauce (regular or hot), as desired. It’s messy, but worth it.
We loved the sandwiches at Al’s Beef – and Ella spotted a picture of Anthony Bourdain on the wall which was probably the highlight of the visit for her.
With the second largest Hispanic population in the States, you can bet that Mexican and Puerto Rican offerings in Chicago are top notch.
While there are more authentic and diverse Latin dishes that you may want to try, Chicago has an amazing array of unique taco concepts popping up all around the city.
I honestly have not eaten enough tacos in Chicago to really give a recommendation – so I’m going to share this list of the 25 Best Tacos in Chicago instead.
Deep Dish Pizza
Yea, it’s basically an upside down pizza and maybe you’re trying to do the low-carb thing, but I guarantee you will regret not trying a deep dish pizza while in Chicago.
The butter crust has a high edge which allows it to hold an impressive amount of cheese, toppings, and chunky tomato sauce. You probably won’t be able to eat more than two slices in a sitting.
We’ve eaten at three of the city’s most recommended deep dish joints, and our favorite is Lou Malnati’s.
Chicago has proven itself as a great mecca of all things BBQ. In the city you will find Southern-style BBQ intermingling with elevated, fusion takes on the comfort food classic.
Almost every restaurant will have a nod to this Chicago mainstay, proving you don’t have to eat at an expensive Chicago steakhouse to have some great meat!
Again, I can’t pretend to be an expert on this one either so I’m throwing out this list of the Best BBQ & BBQ Sides in Chicago.
Our first trip to Chicago, we did a self-guided Cupcake Tour, but Chicago is increasingly becoming a city known for it’s gourmet donuts!
No matter where you find yourself in the city, you will be within walking distance to an amazing donut shop.
While I am looking forward to trying out even more locations on our next trip, I have to shout-out to Stan’s Donuts because not only do they have amazing donuts, they make an out of this world Biscoff Cookie Butter shake (just make sure the person making yours adds an extra spoonful or two of the cookie butter).
Chicken and Waffles
It may be a southern classic, but Chicken and Waffles is a way of life in Chicago. There are entire restaurants dedicated to it, and some delicious interpretations can be found all over the city.
There are so many good spots, but Kanela Breakfast Club’s Fried Chicken and Waffles with honey sriracha sauce is hands-down my favorite.
Chicago Mix Popcorn
Alright, you know this classic from Garrett’s had to make the list – Chicago Mix Popcorn is a sweet-and-salty combination of caramel popcorn and cheesy cheddar popcorn mixed together in equal quantities. I always have to eat one piece of each together, but Ella has taken to eating just the cheddar popcorn out of the bag and leaving me with nothing but caramel.
(She’s getting her own just cheddar bag next time.)
Must Eat Chicago Favorites
Apple Pear Bread Pudding at Pinstripes
The best bread pudding I’ve ever had in my life, their offering is flash-fried for a caramelized, crunchy exterior and fluffy, fruit-filled interior.
Churros at XOCO
Alright, if you read my Ten More Chicago Restaurants for Foodies with Kids! you know that I’m not a huge fan of XOCO but so many people love these that I had to include them.
Burgers and Fries at Billy Goat Tavern
Ok, not the best burgers – but a cultural institution. Order the double or triple, or you will have more bun than meat. The fries are a must-order as well.
Hot Chocolate at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
Sundaes at Margie’s Candies
Pot Roast Poutine at ETA
Cinnamon Rolls at Ann Sather’s
Rainbow Cone from the Original Rainbow Cone
Did I leave out one of your favorite Chicago Must-Eats? Let me know in the comments below!