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Chicago is a city of invention and creativity.
From being the birthplace of skyscrapers, the Ferris Wheel, and Chicago foods like deep-dish pizza, the city’s creativity has no limits.
As culinary explorers who call Chicago home, we put a spotlight on the famous foods of Chicago.
While not exhaustive, this Chicago food guide celebrates 10 iconic Chicago foods that have achieved worldwide recognition.
Savor Chicago’s rich culinary tradition on your Windy City travels.
1. Gareth Popcorn
What started in downtown Chicago in 1949 as a humble snack has become a global phenomenon.
Capturing hearts and taste buds worldwide, that phenomenon is Gareth Popcorn, one of Chicago’s most iconic foods.
The signature flavor of this famous Chicago food is Garrett Mix, a sweet and salty caramel-crisp and cheese-corn combination.
Garrett’s popcorn is made in old-fashioned copper kettles following a secret family recipe passed down over three generations.
Small batches of popcorn are made throughout the day, and perpetual lines outside their stores are evidence of the freshness and quality of this Chicago food.
Garrett’s popcorn comes in signature blue striped tins and they are addictive. From our own experience, once you get started eating the popcorn, it’s hard to stop.
Garrett Popcorn is a symbol of Chicago’s culinary heritage and a testament to the power of a simple idea that can transcend borders and captivate the world.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST: If you are short on time and want to try these iconic Chicago foods, consider taking a food tour with a local guide. See our in-depth guide to The Best Food Tours in Chicago: Top 10 Windy City Culinary Experiences
2. Italian Beef Sandwich
The Italian Beef Sandwich is another one of the most iconic Chicago foods.
Originating in Chicago in the late 1920s, this iconic sandwich is now a staple in delis and restaurants nationwide.
This Chicago icon consists of thinly sliced seasoned roast beef cooked in flavorful au jus sauce.
The beef is then piled high on an Italian-style roll or “hoagie roll.”
You can have additional au jus sauce on the side. Or, in true Chicago fashion, have the sandwich dipped in the sauce for fuller beef flavors.
Although many claim the invention of Italian beef sandwiches, most agree the first recipe was created at Al’s #1 Italian Beef.
This Italian beef sandwich can be paired with a number of sides, like onion rings, French fries, potato chips, or salads. It’s hearty and filling and a much-loved classic Chicago food.
3. Deep Dish Pizza or Chicago Style-Pizza
Claire’s favorite and amongst the most loved Chicago foods is the Chicago deep dish pizza.
Also known as the Chicago-style pizza, this unique dish is known for its distinctive deep, thick crust.
The deep dish pizza has a tall thick crust that is at least one inch deep to allow for generous layers of cheese, toppings, and tomato sauce.
The crust is buttery, flaky, and more like a pie crust than a typically thin pizza crust.
Rather than layered on the bottom, the tomato sauce is placed on the top to prevent it from burning.
The origins of Chicago’s deep dish pizza are shrouded in mystery.
Its origins are attributed to two Italian-American immigrants who opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago’s Near North Side in 1943.
The story gets saucy and complicated after many former Pizzeria Uno workers went off to create their own Chicago-style pizza restaurants.
There is a never-ending debate about who has the best deep-dish pizza in Chicago.
As far as Chicago foods are concerned, this Chicago deep-dish pizza is a must-try on your visit to the Windy City.
Be aware the portion sizes are enormous. Intense layers of cheese, toppings of your choice, and tomato sauce fill the weighty slices.
Be prepared to wait as the pizzas are made to order and can take up to 45 minutes.
Resist the temptation to snack beforehand, as this iconic Chicago food is worth the wait.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST: If you are looking to eat like a local and savor the best Chicago deep dish pizza, consider taking this Chicago pizza tour. You’ll spend about 3.5 hours trying Chicago style pizza in four different neighborhoods. Along the way, you’ll learn about the history and cooking techniques of this famous Chicago food.
4. Chicago Style Hot Dogs
The Chicago-style hot dog is a culinary icon synonymous with the city of Chicago.
With sweet, salty, spicy, and tangy flavors, this Chicago hot dog is beloved by all.
This unique culinary creation starts with a steamed, all-beef Vienna hot dog snuggled in a poppy seed bun.
The toppings are yellow mustard, chopped onions, neon green relish, dill pickle spears, tomato slices, spicy sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt.
The toppings must be proportioned correctly in the hot dog bun for an unforgettable taste experience.
The Vienna beef sausage is never boiled, only steamed or charred. And ketchup is never used in this iconic Chicago food.
This celebrated Chicago food even has its own dedicated festival. The Windy City Hot Dog Fest is celebrated on the first weekend of June.
As one of my favorite Chicago foods, no visit to the Windy City is complete without savoring a Chicago dog.
The Chicago food scene is as inventive and innovative as the city itself.
Over 100 years ago, the first chocolate brownie, now an iconic American dessert, was invented in the city.
In 1893, at the Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, Bertha Palmer, a philanthropist, and socialite, charged the hotel pastry chef to come up with a dessert.
The dessert was for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where it was an instant hit.
The dessert later came to be known as the brownie, and the same century-old recipe is still in use today.
The best place to taste this decadent and fudgy-rich dessert is at the Palmer House.
You’ll find it at the hotel restaurants or pick up individually boxed brownies at the hotel to go.
6. Rainbow Cone
The Rainbow Cone is a Chicago tradition for more than 95 years and is a refreshing and unmissable food in Chicago.
The thriving business started in 1926, as a simple ice cream stand in the city’s south side.
The original Rainbow cone consists of the following five flavors. Orange sherbet, pistachio, palmer house, strawberry, and chocolate.
These flavors are sliced and piled high into a cone or cup.
You’ll find several locations spread out in the greater Chicago area. And, if you are in the downtown Chicago area, some of the most convenient locations are Lincoln Park, Navy Pier, and the Shedd Aquarium.
However, the hours and availability of the Rainbow trucks vary based on the time of year.
Ideally, on a hot day, this signature Chicago food is worth trying on your visit.
7. Old Fashioned Donuts
Old Fashioned Donuts, located in the south Roseland neighborhood, is one of the most appreciated sweet Chicago food.
Since 1972, this family-owned and operated donut shop has been attracting fans from all over the city.
There are the classic sugar-glazed donuts or the ones topped with chocolate icing.
The buttermilk donuts are some of the most celebrated, though you’ll not go wrong with any.
Old Fashioned Donuts also makes a “Texas” donut about the size of four regular donuts.
Another favorite Chicago food worth seeking out on your Windy City visit.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Chicago has a long history with donuts and the current donut trend has its origins in the city. If you love donuts, we recommend joining Chicago’s first donut tour, The Underground Donut Tour. We took this tour and had a lot of fun sampling different kinds of donuts at various iconic locations. The tour is 2 hours, family friendly, and quite informative. A fun activity for sweet lovers of all ages.
8. Steak – Top US Chicago Steakhouses
Steak is an emblematic and famous Chicago food with a long-standing tradition of excellent steakhouses.
In the early 1900s, the Union Stockyards in Chicago processed more meat than anywhere else in the world.
Chicago, at the time, was known as the “Hog Butcher of the World”.
Chicago steakhouses pay homage to this famous food by serving high-quality steaks upholding the meat-centric legacy.
You’ll find many exceptional steakhouses to try this famous food of Chicago.
There are many other iconic steakhouses in the Windy City, each with its history and specialties.
To savor one of the most iconic Chicago foods, the rich steakhouse tradition in the Windy City is not to be missed.
9. Flaming Saganaki – Flaming Greek Cheese
Flaming Saganaki, or flambéed Greek cheese, was created in Greektown, Chicago, in the late 1960s.
While not a traditional Greek recipe, it’s a product of Chicago made by Greek immigrants.
Flaming Saganaki is an appetizer served tableside at Chicagoland Greek restaurants.
A variety of different Greek cheeses are used depending on the restaurant.
The cheese is placed in a shallow cast-iron pan, doused in Metaxa or Ouzo brandy, flambéed at the table, and extinguished with a pinch of lemon juice while shouting “Opa!” in the background.
A now-closed Parthenon restaurant in Greektown Chicago invented Flaming Saganaki, whose idea came from a suggestion from customers.
Other Greektown Chicago restaurants quickly adopted the idea, which has now spread throughout the Chicagoland area and the country. One of our favorite restaurant in Greektown for Saganaki is Artopolis.
Before you dine on famous Chicago foods, start out with Flaming Saganaki for a taste of Chicago tradition.
Watch a Virtual Tour of Chicago Greektown
10. Jibarito – Chicago Puerto Rican Plantain Sandwich
Jibarito, is one of the most famous foods of Chicago, created in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.
It dates back to the 1990s to Juan Figueroa, owner of the Borinquen Puerto Rican Restaurant in Humboldt Park.
Instead of bread, the Jibarito uses twice-fried plantains flattened with a tortilla press.
A Jibarito sandwich begins with mayonnaise smeared on the bottom plantain.
Lettuce, tomato, and cheese are added, including protein like pork, chicken, or steak.
The sandwich is topped with the other plantain and cut in the middle.
A tiny spoonful of garlic tops off the sandwich for an explosion of flavors.
This delicious sandwich is made to be eaten by hand.
The Midwest and Chicago in particular, is home to a large Puerto Rican community.
While Puerto Ricans eat a lot of plantains, the Jibarito is a uniquely Chicagoan invention.
FAQs – Chicago Foods
What type of food is Chicago famous for?
Chicago is famous for its diverse foods scene. Some of the most famous Chicago foods are deep-dish pizza, Chicago style hotdog, Italian beef sandwiches, Garrett’s Popcorn, and more.
What food is local to Chicago?
Chicago is known for inventing many unique recipes, like the brownie at the Palmer House, Flaming Saganaki, the Jibarito, and more.
What is a Chicago staple?
One of the most iconic Chicago foods is the deep dish pizza, which is considered a Chicago staple.
Chicago is a top culinary destination in the United States and the local food scene is constantly evolving.
Innovative chefs and new concepts continuously push the culinary boundaries to create local specialties with national and international recognition.
From the world-famous brownies, hotdogs, steaks, and traditional steakhouses the Windy City never ceases to impress.
As you explore Chicago’s magnificent architecture, music, and sports scenes, let this Chicago food guide complement your adventures.
In the comment section below, please tell us which one of these Chicago foods is your favorite.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
Find out more about Authentic Food Quest