I present the 27 food and drink destinations that best represent Chicago’s intangible cultural heritage.
Here’s why I felt compelled to compile this list, and how. At a recent dinner, I discovered that someone at WBEZ has never had Garrett’s popcorn, specifically Chicago Mix, the unique sweet and savory mélange of caramel and cheese corns. Yes, he moved here from Alaska, but about a year ago, and he’s a big food fan, plus there’s a Garrett’s at Navy Pier where the radio station is also located. I was so shocked that I literally slammed my fist on the table. How had I let this happen?
But then I realized we might have been saved by a close call. This particular first taste of our city is best had in a real part of our city, not the pier. For me it’s the Madison Street location, the oldest remaining of the popcorn shops that first opened in 1949. Preferably at the end of a long hard day, slipping in line with a cross section of our fellow Chicagoans, to receive a moment of restoration in a waxed paper bag.
It’s not just the food or drink but the place and people too.
Jimmy’s Red Hots [Warning: autoplay audio] (1954). Chicago style Depression dog: plain bun, hot dog, mustard, onions, relish, and sport peppers. Order a hot dog with everything, fries are included. No ketchup available.
Vienna Beef (1893), factory cafeteria (1972). Chicago style hot dog: poppy seed bun, Vienna Beef hot dog, mustard, neon green relish, onions, tomatoes, pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt. Order a hot dog with everything.
Jim’s Original (1939). Polish sausage: sandwich on bun with Polish sausage, mustard, grilled onions, and sport peppers. Order a Polish with everything, onions well done, fries included.
Superdawg Drive-In [Warning: autoplay audio] Chicago location (1948). Superdawg: proprietary beef hot dog on poppy seed bun with pickled green tomato wedges, mustard, chopped Spanish onions, neon green piccalilli relish, sport peppers, and kosher dill pickle spear. Order Superdawg with everything, with crinkle cut Superfries. Can be ordered without fries, and 2-for-1 with WBEZ MemberCard.
Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots (1973). Mother in Law: Chicago style tamale in chili, in Chicago style hot dog bun or cup. Order a Mother in Law on a bun with onions, and sport peppers. Thanks to Peter Engler, Investigator of Southside Culinary Oddities, aka Rene G on LTH Forum.
Hot Doug’s, The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium (2001). Order the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel; duck fat fries on Fridays and Saturdays only.
Al’s Beef (1938) Taylor Street location. Italian beef: sandwich on Italian style bread roll with thinly sliced, wet roasted, seasoned roast beef, topped with hot Chicago style giardiniera or griddled green sweet peppers. Order a beef, wet and hot.
Pizzeria Uno (1943). Invented Chicago style deep dish pizza, sausage preferred.
Vito & Nick’s Pizzeria (1932). Chicago style thin crust pizza, sausage preferred.
Burt’s Place (1971). Pizza-in-the-pan, sausage preferred.
Mario’s Italian Lemonade (1954). Order lemon, peach in season.
Garrett Popcorn Shops (1949) Madison location. Order a bag of Chicago Mix, CaramelCrisp caramel popcorn mixed with CheeseCorn cheese popcorn.
Original Rainbow Cone (1926). Rainbow Cone: five layered slabs of ice cream with chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (New York vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio, and orange sherbet on a plain cone. Order a small Rainbow Cone.
Borinquen Restaurant (1996) California Avenue location. Jibarito: sandwich between fried plantains with steak, American cheese, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise, and garlic.
Billy Goat Tavern (1934) original lower Michigan Avenue location only. Order cheeseburger, chips, Coke, and beer.
Nicky’s The Real McCoy (1969) Kedzie location. Big Baby: griddled sesame seed bun, grilled onions, griddled beef patty, American cheese, second griddled beef patty, pickles, mustard, and, ketchup. Thanks to Peter Engler, Investigator of Southside Culinary Oddities, aka Rene G on LTH Forum.
Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern (1932). Baby back ribs.
Lem’s Bar-B-Q (1951). Chicago style rib tips and hot links.
Calumet Fisheries (1948). Smoked fish, order chubs when available.
Orange Garden (1924). Chicago-style egg rolls: Golden fried, filled with cabbage, pork, shrimp, and peanut butter.
Italian Village (1927). Chicken Vesuvio: Roasted chicken and potatoes with garlic, white wine, and herbs.
Gene & Georgetti (1941). Garbage salad: shrimp, salami, mozzarella, iceberg lettuce, pimento, radish, red onion, celery, Parmigiano-Reggiano; plus order steak.
Myron & Phil [Warning: autoplay music] (1971). Shrimp DeJonghe: shrimp baked in butter, garlic, and sherry, under buttered garlic sherry breadcrumbs. Please note the restaurant is currently closed due to a fire.
The Parthenon (1968). Invented flaming Saganaki: kasseri cheese flamed with brandy.
The Walnut Room (1905). Mrs. Hering’s 1890 Original Chicken Pot Pie.
Calumet Bakery (1935) Chicago location. Atomic Cake (1940s to 50s): three layers of cake and three layers of filling including banana cake with banana filling, yellow cake with strawberry filling, and chocolate cake with fudge topping. Available as a single serving cup by Orland Park Bakery at the Taste of Orland Park.
Follow Louisa Chu at @louisachu.