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Any visitor to Chicago knows a deep-dish pizza and a Chicago dog are must-eats. These iconic foods are the first to come to mind when thinking of the Windy City’s dining scene. While we’ll defend the merits of those meals to the death, they really don’t begin to exemplify the diversity and deliciousness of dining in Chicago. To eat like a Chicagoan, you need to widen your scope and find those spots that locals love.
Wondering where to start? There’s no one better to ask than Steve Dolinsky. An expert in Chicago’s food world, Steve has been exploring the hottest new restaurants and the hidden mom ‘n pop spots since 1995. A winner of numerous James Beard Foundation Awards for his food journalism, he currently shares his finds on Chicago’s ABC 7 as “The Hungry Hound.” He can also be seen contributing on such shows as Iron Chef America and Unique Eats.
Drawing on his extensive experience eating in Chicago, we asked Steve to share his top 10 go-to meals. Hit up these spots, and you’ll really know how to eat like a Chicagoan.
10. Brisket at Smoque BBQ – This small restaurant just off the Kennedy Expressway has its priorities straight. Far from trendy with little décor, Smoque’s focus is on doing right by its barbecue in authentic Texas style. With an emphasis on slow smoking and simple seasoning, they stay away from the syrupy sweet, sauce-heavy dishes. Steve recommends the brisket, which is smoked for 14 hours, resulting in a meltingly tender, smoky and peppery meat.
9. Banh Mi at Nhu Lan Bakery – This Vietnamese bakery gets Steve’s vote for the best banh mi. From the traditional paté and head cheese to more modern tastes of lemongrass pork and chicken, these sandwiches, piled high with pickled daikon, fresh jalapeños, and cilantro, are a satisfying meal at an easy price. The key to Nhu Lan, however, is the bread: baked on site, the baguettes are the perfect balance of crackly and soft. Nhu Lan sells its bread to the other stores around town, so Steve suggests going straight to the source.
8. Breakfast at Meli Café – This restaurant is not usually the first name to come up when speaking about Greek diners, but Steve insists that it stands a step above. From authentic frappes, fresh-squeezed juice, and preserves made daily in-house, Meli Café spares no detail in its breakfast and brunch offerings. Steve highly recommends the Meli Cakes; “meli” means “honey” in Greek, and these sweet cakes are nothing short of heavenly.
7. Brunch at Hot Chocolate – Chicago loves a good brunch, and Hot Chocolate delivers. Steve calls pastry chef Mindy Segal one of the best in town and gives her pancakes top billing. This satisfying dish comes with a solo cake, spruced up with Indiana maple syrup and seasonal fruits and compotes. Light and fluffy, yet dense and substantial, it stands up as one of Chicago’s best breakfasts. The beer list is worth a look too, with unique offerings from brewers near and far.
6. Montreal Style Smoked Meat from Fumare – This small shop tucked into the Chicago French Market delivers the under-appreciated cured smoked brisket. Seasoned with coriander and black pepper, the beef is first cured, then smoked until it is perfectly tender. Steve suggests keeping things simple: enjoy the Fumare meats with yellow mustard and rye bread. It’s great for parties as the holidays near.
5. Monday Night Dinner at Lula Café – Lula Café is well-known for their weekend fare and crave-worthy brunches. However, Steve recommends avoiding the crowd and trying their three course farmers’ dinner. This industry folk favorite showcases seasonal and local foods acquired over the weekend and runs between $25 and $30.
4. Neapolitan Pizza at Spacca Napoli – Deep dish isn’t the only pizza in the Windy City. Steve satisfies his craving for pizza at Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood. The owners stay faithful to the Neapolitan style, relying on double zero flour and long dough fermentation. Pizzas are cooked at 900 degrees in a brick oven, and the results are just the right balance of crispy and tender.
3. Peking Duck at Sun Wah BBQ – While Steve admits that to be a real local, you need to spend some time in Chinatown, Sun Wah in Uptown gets his vote for this iconic dish. A family-run establishment than has been passed to the next generation, the three course duck is handled with care and given plenty of flavor. It is served in three courses: the first is carved tableside, followed by duck fried rice and duck soup. Steamed bao, pickled daikon, and a rich hoisin sauce round out the meal. Be sure to order ahead of time.
2. Stuffed Dates & Focaccia at avec – Paul Kahan is a big name in the Chicago dining scene, and according to Steve, this is the chef-restaurateur’s ultimate expression of Mediterranean peasant food. The kitchen, currently headed by chef-de-cuisine Perry Hendrix, is always finding new inspiration. However, the dates, stuffed with chorizo, and the focaccia, topped with taleggio and truffle oil, are constants on the menu for good reason. This is Steve’s must-go when visitors are in town.
1. Char Dog at The Wiener’s Circle or Superdawg – Visitor or local, you just haven’t eaten like a true Chicagoan until you’ve had a proper Chicago char dog. Superdawg is an institution of more than 60 years, with drive-in service and pickled green tomatoes. The Wiener’s Circle is a classic, serving up a crispy, charred hot dog with those crucial toppings in a poppy seed bun. Add some cheddar fries. For Steve, this is the quintessential Chicago experience.
Honorable mention goes to Logan Square’s Bang Bang Pie Shop. Goose lard is used in their dough, creating completely decadent seasonal pies. Steve suggests going for the biscuits, the “dark horse” of the menu; they come with unique butters and preserves. Breakfast sandwiches boasting ingredients like candied bacon, sausage, and egg will make any morning. Beloved by locals and still maintaining that “hipster” vibe, this is a place only a true Chicagoan would know.
Ready to eat your way through the Windy City? We hope you’re hungry!
Where to Eat Lunch in Chicago
When people hear "Chicago," they think deep-dish pizza. But when we asked chefs for their favorite places to go for lunch in the area, the infamous crust did not make the cut — Mexican food and banh mi sandwiches did. Find their recommendations below, keeping in mind that Jeff Mauro is a trustworthy local. Whether you're heading to Food Network in Concert this September or are a Chicagoan yourself, this list will come in handy when you're on the hunt for an afternoon bite in the Windy City.
Geoffrey Zakarian: Frontera Grill — Rick Bayless' place.
Anne Burrell: The Tavern on Rush is always fun to sit outside and people-watch, and Kuma's Corner (pictured above) has even better burgers.
Marc Murphy: I recently went to the The Purple Pig for lunch and everything was incredible! They offer so many selections of cured meats and smears that are great for sharing. The chef, Jimmy Bannos Jr., was so friendly and generous it was an all-around great time. Tony Mantuano's Cafe Spiaggia is a fantastic option for lunch. It has a relaxed atmosphere where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch and eat delicious, rustic Italian fare. Order any of their signature pizzas or pastas, especially the cacio e pepe.
Jeff Mauro: We love the griddle burgers at Burger Boss in Elmwood Park. Also, the Chicago French Market has everything you could possible crave in one convenient location — smoked meat sandwich from Fumare, BBQ from Lily Q's, cheese from Pastoral and banh mi from Saigon Sisters.
Alex Guarnaschelli: I love Antique Taco. Great ingredients, tasty tacos. Casual setting. And maybe it's the chef in me, but I love the spirit (and the hot dogs and fries) at The Wiener's Circle. Really delicious with a side order of jokes.
Bill Telepan: Seven on Heaven. It's a fun, casual spot. Not only is the food delicious, but it's run by the Bannos family, and I always like to stop by for a visit when I'm in town. Terzo Piano is a really nice, pleasant place to have a great lunch. Plus, it's a great reason to pay a visit to the Art Institute.
Are you from Chicago? FN Dish wants to know your favorite local lunch joint.
Eat Like a Sicilian: 15 Delicious Recipes from This Beautiful Italian Island
The island of Sicily is a collection of many wonderful things. Over centuries it has been influenced by a succession of invaders, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Islamic Arabs, and Spanish&mdashand it has the culinary inheritance to show for it. There's a brightness and simplicity to its food but also many layers of flavor. The local produce is amazing: We love its fragrant lemons, tender greens, and juicy tomatoes. In the rolling hills are wild fennel, pistachios, and almonds, and along the coast, anchovies, sea salt, and capers. We admire the piles of juicy peaches at the Ballaro market, and the live snails and trumpet-like squash and we ogle the purple octopus, massive tuna, and glimmering sardines in Catania.
From high to low, sweet to amaro, and everything in between, Sicily can seem like a series of contrasts: It is the aggressive heat of the beating sun and the delicate touch of a lemon ice. The rich, crunchy pastries with creamy ricotta fillings. It can be over the top, like Palermo's Baroque churches, ornate curves, dusty alleys, and loud markets. And it can be incredibly serene when you stand under towering Greek temples, amongst ancient olive trees, and in peaceful citrus groves, you can feel the quiet weight of the centuries. Sicily can be as decorative as a gold-leaf ceiling or a jewel-like cassata, and as poor and rugged as its bumpy country roads. It's a thrifty sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs, a handful of briny olives, and bowl of pasta or couscous. Sicily is complex yet direct place that deserves exploring, whether in person or through its recipes.
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Learn to Travel Switzerland Like a Pro
Host Kelly Rizzo shows you how to use the Swiss Travel System to navigate around Switzerland like a pro.
She uses the scenic Gotthard Panorama Express boat and train system to get from Lucerne to Bellinzona in style – and you can too!
To see more videos from Eat, Travel, Rock by Kelly Rizzo, click here!
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Kelly Rizzo, a native Chicagoan who now also calls Los Angeles home, is the blonde Sicilian with a rocker-chic personality behind Eat Travel Rock. Kelly is host of "Eat Travel Rock TV," the popular on-demand entertainment series where she goes behind the scenes and off the cuff with master chefs, rockstars, and other creative industry heavyweights, while traveling the world. In 2017, she was named “Travel Queen” by Modern Luxury’s Michigan Avenue Magazine for her jet-setting career. You can also find her coast to coast as a food, travel & lifestyle expert, featured everywhere from from national talks shows on ABC & VH1 to regional broadcasts Fox Good Day Chicago and WCIU The Jam. Follow along with her adventures in Eating, Traveling, and Rocking out on @EatTravelRock.
Deep dish is not the pizza of choice for most Chicagoans
As a lifelong Chicagoan, sure I’ve heard the many cracks about how dumb we all are to eat deep-dish when other pizza exists. They culminate in this particular legendary rant by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, who calls deep-dish “a fucking casserole.”
As a kid in the illustrious suburb of Worth “The Friendly Village,” Illinois , every Friday of my grade-school life, my family ordered take-out (never delivery) pizza from Pizza Pete at the corner of 111th Street and Oak Park Avenue. This pizza had a beady-eyed mascot I will remember until the day I die, crumbly fennel-filled sausage, and—thin crust.
My southwest Chicago-side family, friends, and neighbors knew of deep dish, of course, but it was a special occasion kind of thing. Like downtown tourists, my teenaged friends and I would make a special trip to Gino’s East off the Mag Mile to taste the Chicago classic, or hit the Giordano’s at 127th and Harlem for stuffed pizza after school dances. But deep-dish pizza, for as much as it’s touted as the official Chicago food, was no more a part of our daily lives than holiday eggnog or the Plush Horse ice cream parlor on Southwest Highway. Thin-crust, tavern-style pizza cut into squares, on the other hand, made up a significant portion of my diet.
I am not alone in my frustration over excellent Chicago pizza that gets overlooked by deep-dish madness. Steve Dolinsky, a longtime Chicago food reporter, appears to have made spreading the work about Chicago’s other pizza one of his driving forces in life. His new book, Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town goes even further to dispel the national myth that all Chicagoans eat deep-dish pie and nothing else. He also runs Pizza City, USA , a guided two-to-three-hour pizza tour that covers a variety of different Chicago pizza styles—not just deep dish.
To discuss our mutual pizza crusade, Dolinsky suggested that we meet at Chicago’s legendary Pat’s Pizza , now a third-generation pizza joint. Pat’s wafer-thin, crisp-and-never-soggy crust has made it a staple for my own family’s Friday night dinners (although we always do delivery). Steve tells me that at Pat’s, “they have actually drilled an extra hole on their dough sheeter” to get the pizza even thinner, because the standard sheeter didn’t get the pizza as thin as they wanted. That actually explains a lot. See, I’m already learning.
The Takeout: How did deep dish pizza become such a Chicago signature?
Steve Dolinsky: It started here in 1943 at Ricardo’s Bar. They wanted to give the GIs coming back from the war something more valuable. Remember how the Chicago dog was born at the World’s Fair? A lot of the competition between Italian street vendors kind of one-upping each other—we’re going to add a pickle, we’re going to add peppers for a nickel—the same thing with the pizza.
The pizza was a freebie in the bar. As Mark Malnati told me, it was an afterthought. They’d pass the pizza around the bar, cut it into small squares, they want to get you to get something salty in your mouth so you keep ordering beers, keep drinking. So, the idea of charging people for a pizza was crazy. They talked to Blodgett, which is the oven company they still use, for specs on a pan which didn’t exist, so they used a cake pan and sort of created this pie. It was literally born at Ricardo’s Bar, which became Uno’s in ’55. Because in ’55 when they opened up Due down the street, they decided they should call the first place they had something else besides Ricardo’s Pizza, so they called it Uno .
They were they only ones in town and it became this tourist attraction—that’s why we’re known for it. Because there was no one else in the country doing this deep-style pie. And then the guys at Giordano’s on the South Side took it one step further and created stuffed pizza. So the fact that we have both of those that were created here, gives us the credibility and the history in terms of deep.
TO: As a Chicagoan, even with thin crust, I don’t understand the giant triangles of New York pizza I grew up fighting over square center pieces and the teeny triangle corners of the tavern cut.
SD: Yep. It’s a very Midwestern thing. I would say they were born here because they’re the oldest—for sure there are records of it back in the ’30s—mostly Taylor Street in Little Italy. But, if you go to Milwaukee, if you go to Michigan—we’ve had square-cut pie in the Midwest for a long time. And we call it the square-cut, the party-cut, the tavern pie. You don’t have to be from Chicago to know that.
How to Cook Cicadas, According to 3 Richmond, Va., Chefs
Ever since the summer of 2004, I've been hungry for bugs. That's when Cicada Brood X made its last 17-year appearance, and when a Google search turned up an all-cicada cookbook from West Virginia, with dozens of recipes by women named Bea and Mabel. I was at once revolted and compelled. My wife was just revolted.
Nearly a decade on, and that book has vanished from the Internet, as unlikely to resurface now as Brood X. (Maybe in 2021?) But it was real, I swear, and it was my first proof that I was not the only adventuresome eater yearning to invite this occasional entomological guest to dinner.
The Ancient Greeks, for example, were enthusiastic eaters of cicadas for our western example. Forget phyllo, Aristotle wrote, "The larva of the cicada on attaining full size in the ground becomes a nymph then it tastes best, before the husk is broken. At first the males are better to eat, but after copulation the females, which are then full of white eggs."
Another great civilization loves cicadas, too: ours. From West Virginia, where that cookbook touted the pleasures to be had from this "shrimp of the dirt," to Maryland, where in this cookbook cicadas get the star treatment normally reserved for blue crab, and on down South, the East Coast has lavished attention on this ultimate seasonal delicacy, whose season comes but once every 17 years or so.
Which is why I longed to know what all the buzz was about. I grew up in Tidewater Virginia, and I recall eating some unusual stuff--pimento cheese, squirrel, and pickled okra pop to mind. But cicadas?
Turns out for all the lore about Southern cicada-eating traditions, living witnesses to such meals are as much myth as anything the Greeks ever cooked up. No one I knew had ever eaten them.
Not to be deterred, I decided to get to the meat of the matter, and to do it in high style. To mark the return of Brood II, I corralled some well-regarded chefs from my adopted hometown of Richmond, VA, to legitimize the endeavor:
* Jason Alley , owner of Comfort and Pasture, two of Richmond's most popular and celebrated restaurants, and a devoted practitioner of haute Southern cuisine
Will Wienckowski, head chef at the vegan restaurant Ipanema , but a carnivore (and aspiring entovore) himself
John Seymore rules the kitchen at Lunch. , but spent nearly 12 years at Richmond staple--and soggy journalist's watering hole--Joe's Inn, which built its reputation on baked spaghetti dishes
Now I just had to find the pests. As it turns out, the hardest thing about catching a biblical plague is finding a biblical plague to catch.
For all the big talk of Brood II swarming the central mid-Atlantic, drowning out all sunlight as they ascend from their 17-year burrows in a great throbbing drone, the little buggers were downright coy. Owing partly to a wet, chilly spring, our cicada swarm was fashionably late.
Within hours of their first emergence in late April, cicadas gained near-equal social media status to kittens. With the Internet awash in reports of pulsing hordes to the west and north of Richmond, it seemed safe to assume Iɽ simply scrape the nearest deck chair or parked car's hood into a freezer bag and ferrying dinner off to my waiting chefs.
But two weeks in, and after wasting gallons of gas on central Virginia's back roads tracking eyewitness reports, I decided the thrill of the hunt was a buzzkill. Enter a willing Facebook friend who tends to wake early enough to collect the most tender cicadas for me.
He contacted me on a Monday and we arranged for a pickup the following day. His yard, he assured me, was full of them every morning. And his trees were packed by midday. Sure enough, I arrived the following day around 9 a.m. to see his bugs taking to the trees, where they joined the incessant hum of the swarm. The ground, which at dawn's early light, apparently had looked like a crawling carpet of newly emerged nymph cicadas, was bare. But in his fridge in two large freezer bags, my friend had gathered nearly 100 bugs, plucking them before their carapaces dried and while their wings were still too dewy to fly.
(For the record, my source assured me his cicadas were organic. He uses no lawn chemicals, which means my lunch hadn't marinated for 17 years in an Ortho brine. Good to know.)
For all you interested in trying this at home, the early bird gets the bug. Hit the snooze button and your prey's wings dry enough to take to the trees, making catching them not worth the energy spent climbing and running after them. Most important, it's the newly emerged cicadas that make the best, most tender eating--especially if you snag them while they're still a milky-white color.
They also freeze very well. While two of my chefs worked with with fresh cicadas, Alley's efforts were delayed by a week. There was no noticeable difference in taste or texture. They all tasted, as Alley succinctly put it, "like bugs."
And if ever a bug deserved our culinary attention, it's the cicada--succulent inside a tender-but-firm carapace that chews easily. Revealing delicate flavors if properly seasoned (i.e., just add salt), they recall the taste and texture of soft-shell crab, but with subtle overtones of boiled peanuts, the kind only a backroads gas station can really do right.
And when you hand over buckets of them to chefs like Alley, Wienckowski, and Seymore, they're a revelation.
Eat Like an Ikarian
If you want to live as long as the inhabitants of Ikaria, whom Dan Buettner wrote about in this Sunday’s magazine, you might want to start by eating like one. Don’t be daunted by their habit of walking out into the fields and returning with what Buettner describes as “handfuls of weedlike greens.” Unless you are an extreme urban forager or Dan Barber , it’s not necessary. There’s nothing here that isn’t in the supermarket or your local farmers’ market.
And don’t forget the wine! (For the flavonoids, of course.) Though Ikarian wine is hard to find in the United States, consider rounding out the meal with a good red like Frank Cornelissen’s from Mount Etna, which was recently called “some of the most natural in the world” in our Oct. 14 Food & Drink issue.
Make sure to stay up late and take naps after lunch, too.
Here are three recipes by Athina Mazari, the cook at Thea Parikos’s Inn in Nas, Ikaria.
1 pound of black-eyed peas
1 medium onion chopped
Freshly grated or chopped tomatoes, according to taste. (From Thea: We usually don’t make this with a lot of tomato.)
3 leaves of kale
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 chopped carrot
1 tablespoon chopped dill or fennel
salt, according to taste
Put beans in the pot, cover with water and bring to boil. Strain the beans and cover with water again. Cook over medium high boil until they are almost cooked, about 1½ hours. Add the vegetables and herbs. When the beans are done, add salt to taste. Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Pumpkin or winter squash pie
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
One-half pound coarsely chopped spinach
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dill
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint
2 chopped onions
1 pound cubed pumpkin or winter squash
Savory pastry dough*
Sauté all ingredients with a little olive oil (enough to cover bottom of pan) until soft. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt. Brush the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Put one piece of pastry dough on the bottom add filling, cover with the other piece of dough. Brush with a little olive oil. Slice the top into desired portions, just enough for the dough to separate. Cook and enjoy!
*The dough is similar to pizza dough. Thea says they make it with flour, olive oil, water, a little salt and a little yeast and knead it for about ten minutes.
2 medium eggplants coarsely cubed
2 coarsely chopped potatoes
2 zucchinis coarsely cubed
2 green peppers coarsely cubed
2 medium onions coarsely cubed
1 or 2 large ripe cubed tomatoes
In medium to deep frying pan put enough olive oil to cover pan. Add vegetables and a little salt. Cook covered on a very low fire. Approximately 20 minutes cooking time. When done sprinkle a little oregano and raw olive oil.
At the end of the day, though, it’s natural to wonder whether the good health of the Ikarians may have as much to do with what they’re not eating. As Gary Taubes, a journalist who often writes about science and nutrition (and who wrote a 2011 cover article for the magazine on the case against sugar), says in Buettner’s article, 𠇊re they doing something positive, or is it the absence of something negative?”