This is the midwest. Our food is fried and greasy and cheesy and horrible for you and that's the way we like it. This is also a big city, so yeah, we have a predictable number of uber-fancy, molecular gastronomy monstrosities that consistently top every "Best Restaurant in Chicago" list month after month. This is not one of those lists.
This is a list of the fried and greasy and cheesy and horrible-for-you shit, because let's be honest, if you're reading this, you can't afford a meal at Alinea, let alone commit to a reservation six months in advance.
Deep dish is king in Chicago, and it's delicious, OK? Chicago locals rarely eat it unless we're entertaining curious guests, but we still like it because it's a fucking cheese-filled pie. Yes, one slice is enough to keep you full and farty for days, but it's still a cheese-filled pie. No one is complaining.
But not all deep dish is created equal. By far the best in town is at Pequods in Lincoln Park, where the added touch of caramelized cheese on the crust sets it far above the rest. We can already hear all the Lou Malnati's fanboys calling for our execution, but we stand by the assessment. Lou's is legit, though, as is the pizza pot pie at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. and the stuffed pizza at Art of Pizza. If you're still not down with deep dish, try the floppy thin crust at Jimmy's Pizza Cafe in Lincoln Square. The white pizza is the stuff of legends, and their garlic knots have been known to trigger orgasms. Oh and Piece Pizza in Wicker is pretty tasty, too.
Now this sandwich is a Chicago staple we actually eat on the regular, and any place that sells one also cooks up a mean Chicago Dog. Portillo's has to be mentioned as an option, and it's a good one, although definitely not the cheapest. Then you've got Al's Beef, which has locations all around the city, Jay's Beef in Wicker Park (try the grilled chicken sammy for a change of pace), and the Southside classic Tony's Italian Beef. Here's a secret, though: It's hard to go wrong walking into any hole-in-the-wall with a Vienna Beef sign hanging out front. The greasier, the better.
Burgers are a national pastime and Chicago is no exception to this rule. Kuma's Corner in Logan is the metal bar/burger joint mashup of your fatass rocker dreams. Go early or expect to wait, but it's worth every impatient minute. DMK Burger Bar is heaven in your mouth and if you don't order a milkshake and the parmesan truffle fries, we're not friends anymore. Au Cheval is bougie and the line is long but oh my god. Just go, you'll see.
Then there's Big & Little's, which is so much more than a burger joint. You may have seen human sea anemone Guy Fieri snarfing down their foie gras fries (which are underwhelming and like $30) on TV, but you gotta get the porkbelly po'boy. Or the lamb gyro burrito. Or literally any of the tacos. They also deliver. You're welcome.
Look, this is a giant city. There is a lot of food. It doesn't all fit into neat little categories. Visit these places and your tastebuds will thank you. Your muffin top, too.
Crisp sells out-fucking-standing Korean fried chicken and rice bowls. Get the Foodie's Choice sandwich and Seoul Sassy wings, and make sure you wait until after you pay to ask for extra Alison's Atomic sauce to go or they'll charge you $0.50 for each (which is bullshit because you can get it for free when you eat in, but whatever). You're gonna want extra. Trust us.
Tango Sur is an affordable and unreal BYOB Argentine steakhouse. Think giant piles of meat and actual serving platters filled with molten broiled cheese and peppers. Bring all the wine, order all the food. Then waddle home, go to bed, and eat leftover steak sandwiches for the next six days straight.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken literally serves fried chicken with a side of honey butter. It's glorious.
Carbon's steak tacos will change your life, the red pepper sauce will end it, and the crack chips and guac will raise you from the dead.
Yes Thai is incredible. When someone proclaims a particular Thai restaurant to be the best in the city, it's usually because it's across the street from that person's apartment. This is probably not across the street from yours, but you should take the trip up to Ravenswood for the ground pork crazy noodles anyway. The duck pad Thai is also amazing. So are all the curries.
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! sells tapas and strong sangria. Take your mom here and have her buy you everything because it's all so good.
Leghorn is home to what is easily the best fried chicken sandwich in the world. You can customize it to your liking and get it on a warm flaky biscuit or a soft burger bun. Either way is delicious and the umami fries are nothing to sniff at either. Also: fried pork skins.
Irazu has inexpensive Costa Rican goodness and it's also BYOB. Like, you can bring your own liquor and they'll make drinks for you. If you think that's exciting, you should try the sandwiches.
Valois is a cash-only cafeteria-style Hyde Park staple. President Obama was a regular back in his HP days, and if you want to eat like the leader of the free world, there's a separate menu listing all his faves. Barry's into the steak and eggs and the Mediterranean omelette, but anyone who's eaten here will tell you all their food up to Presidential par.
The Duck Inn offers an upscale cocktail bar option in Bridgeport with a savory menu to boot, if you're into all things duck (think sticky duck wings in a sweet Asian glaze and a full rotisserie bird—BRB DROOLING) and drinks, you won't go home unhappy.
Yassa African Restaurant is a Bronzeville eatery that specializes in traditional Senegalese cuisine, a genre of food that's hard to come by in Chicago. The (mostly-meat based) food is packed with flavor, the waitstaff is friendly and it's BYOB so, like, why aren't you eating there right now?