One person’s (excellent) take on the best Chicago eats

February 19, 2023 • 1:45 pm

I found this video while trawling YouTube, and of course I had to see what this person considered the five best eats in Chicago. (By “eats”, he means the peoples’ food, not haute cuisine, and he’s on the money.)

He’s pretty close to right in his selection, too: here’s his list:

1.) Portillo Chicago-style dog, “dragged through the garden”

2.) Al’s Italian Beef: order it “wet”, dipped in the jus, and either “hot” (hot giardiniera) or “sweet” (with sweet peppers). Mario’s Italian Lemonade is right across the street, but opens only in May. It’s fantastic. Eat your beef sandwich, and then cool off with a big glass of frozen lemonade, complete with seeds. There’s nothing better on a hot summer night.

3.) Giordano’s stuffed pizza (a must). There is no decent stuffed pizza outside of Chicago.

4.) Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich (order with plenty of cheese and giardiniera)

5.) Carnitas Uruapan.  There are two in Chicago, and one is not far from me:on 55th Street on the Way to Midway Airport.  It’s totally authentic, and the one time I went I pigged out on carnitas chicharrones, tortillas, peppers, and other sides, and was the only non-Hispanic in the restaurant. In fact, I had trouble ordering since the waitress spoke little English.  A fantastic place, packed with locals.

I tell you, this guy has a fantastic palate.

Now the only one of these items I haven’t tried is the Ricobene’s sandwich, which has been rated the best sandwich in America. I found about this only recently, and believe me, I’ll be tucking into one within a few weeks.

And so yesterday I decided to hie myself to Ricobene’s for the vaunted sandwich (it’s near Chinatown, and I’ve driven by it a million times) But then I was late, and said, “Okay, I’ll settle for a stuffed pizza instead.” There’s a Giordano’s in Hyde Park, where I always take visitors who want unique Chicago pizza (I always bring some beer or good wine, too, as it’s BYOB). And so I got myself a medium stuffed “Edwardo’s Special”, and decided to take it home, where I had a bottle of good Bordeaux waiting.  Although this is the local pizza, it has to be eaten with a good nonlocal wine or a good non-IPA beer.

Below: my dinner last night. (Two to three pieces = one meal.) I’ll report on the Bordeaux tomorrow

14 thoughts on “One person’s (excellent) take on the best Chicago eats

    1. I’ve been to three
      Frontera Grill: very good but very touristy and CROWDED
      Topalobampo (sp?): High end Mexican. Overprices for what you get; avoid
      Xoxo: his street food restaurant. VERY good; chocolate and fresh hot churros are to die for. Eerything I’ve tried is great.

      If you want Mexican, there are better and cheaper places.

  1. Back in the day as a UC grad student on a tight budget (60’s & 70’s) I tended bar at Nicky’s Pizza on 53rd, would get tasty burgers at the Woodland Tap (Jimmies), and the “specials” at Harold’s Chicken Shack. Occasionally my friends and I would gather at Valois for the variety. Any of these still serving the UC crowd?

  2. It’s weird how every Chicagoan has a take on the canonical foodstuffs of our fair city…

    1: Chicago-style Hotdogs; a hundred red-hots stands serving Vienna Beef dogs – pick one!
    2: Italian Beef; Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park – causes arguments as technically in the ‘burbs.
    3: Deep Dish pizza (casserole to New Yorkers); Burt’s Place, Pequod’s, Lou Malnati’s – in that order. Stuffed Pizza, is, maybe, a sub-genre?
    4: Ricobene’s – like our host, haven’t tried, will.
    5: Carnitas… how one could ever discover the ‘best’ – it’s like finding the ‘best’ taco in Mexico?!?

    After ~30yrs in Chicago… Y’all know what opinions are like.

    PS At leas Jimmie’s Woodlawn Tap is still going – cheeseburger and fries on a paper plate and an Old Style, perfect.

  3. For a cross-over with the immediately prior piece, shouldn’t there be a trigger warning for Chicago in winter, since it’s not every day when you have no goggles, only a ski mask, and so need walk backwards so your eyes don’t freeze owing to wind blowing in off the lake?

    Food? I was simply trying to feel warm. At any point in time, not just when rather adjacent to the lake.

    For one more crossover, way back in the day, recall watching, though not understanding, the Watergate hearings, so that’s the when, was at Peabody with my mom (she was on sabbatical in midst of obtaining her bio PhD). Was ball-boy for their futbol/soccer team. Fun times. U of G (Athens), Ft. Campbell, KY, etc. (or hipsters, sidewall haircuts, etc.). Fun times.

  4. Pro tip: the next time you attempt the trip to Ricobene’s for the breaded steak, I recommend also trying the pepper-and-egg sandwich, if you haven’t had one before. Like the Italian beef sandwich, it’s somewhat of a Chicago regional specialty.

    Bonus pro tip: Honey One BBQ on 43rd for southside-style “aquarium smoker” barbeque. Cash only, but worth every penny.

        1. Uncle J’s is closed, and with it went my heart. It had the best rib tips I’ve ever had in Chicago, though I haven’t been to Honey 1. I went to Lem’s about two weeks ago, but their tips were lame. Honey 1 is close: on 43rd and Cottage Grove, and Uncle J’s was close to. It was SOOO good. It won’t reopen. I will try Honey 1 very soon, you can be assured.

  5. I’ve never been big on deep dish pizza. I prefer the European style of very thin crust. But, I think you have me converted — certainly for a trial (or two or three or four …).

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