Chicago is one of the best food cities in the world, and you can eat exceptionally well here if you know what you’re doing. On the flip side, if you bring amateur hour to this town, you’ll miss out on the best food the city has to offer and probably get laughed at by locals in the process. Follow our do’s and don’ts for eating in Chicago and you’ll respect our food culture, fit right in, and most importantly, eat some amazing food.
1. DON’T eat your pizza with a fork and knife.
Chicagoans take our pizza very seriously, and we don’t eat it with silverware. We can already hear someone shouting “but what about deep dish?!?” and okay, yeah, we do use silverware to eat the deep dish pizza we’re so well-known for. Most locals though, don’t actually eat deep dish all that often. The majority of the pizza we eat here is Chicago tavern-style, with a thin, crispy crust, and we cut it into squares, not pie slices. Order this, eat it with your hands, then go tell a New Yorker how ours is better.
2. DO baptize the beef.
An Italian beef sandwich is one of the classics of Chicago food. If you don’t know, it’s seasoned roast beef slowly stewed until it’s super tender, then heaped onto an Italian-style roll. Add your choice of hot or sweet peppers, and then baptize it by asking for it “dipped” — dunked into the jus that the meat was simmering in. It’ll make the bread start falling apart in a hurry so these don’t keep well for later, but it’s so good you pretty much have to get it dipped.
3. DON’T order your tacos with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, or sour cream.
Chicago is one of the best places in the country to get great tacos, and the city is full of taquerias. Some of these get fancy with their ingredients but most are working-class joints for a city on the move. Get your tacos with onion, cilantro, and squeeze of lime juice. Add red or green salsa to taste. Enjoy.
4. DO try new foods and cuisines.
Chicago is an incredibly diverse city, full of people who have come from all over the world. Lucky for us, they brought their cultures and cuisines with them. The city is packed from one end to the other with restaurants serving food from across the globe. There’s everything from Indian, Ethiopian, Polish, Vietnamese, and so much more. And there’s food from the different regions within each of those countries as well. The diversity of food offered may be the best part of Chicago’s restaurant scene.
5. DON’T snooze on the giardiniera.
Giardiniera is a chunky Italian relish of pickled vegetables that is a mainstay in Chicago. Numerous local companies make their own to supply homes and restaurants, and we put it on Italian beef, sausages, sandwiches, salads, pasta, and pizza. It comes in mild and spicy, and it’s absolutely delicious. We pronounce it jar-din-air-ah, and even that last syllable is optional. Order it on your food, and buy a couple of jars to take home with you. You won’t regret it.
6. DO bring your own beer.
No, not to Chicago with you — we have plenty of great beer here, but we mean out to the restaurant. A lot of Chicago restaurants are BYOB, letting you bring your own beer or wine, and usually not even charging a corkage fee. You always need to check before you go, either by calling or looking it up on a restaurant’s website. Plenty of places allow it, and it’s usually if they don’t have a liquor license to sell their own. BYOB restaurants are one of the best things about the Chicago dining scene and they can save you a ton of money on a dinner out, letting you drink much better wine than perhaps your normal restaurant budget would allow.
7. DON’T eat big chain fast food.
There’s just too much good food to be had at great prices in Chicago to mess around with the usual greasy burgers, fried chicken, and Tex-Mex from the big chains. Go to a local restaurant and you’ll eat better and have a much more Chicago-esque experience. There are, however, a few local chains that we can get behind and that you can find all over the city. Al’s Beef, Potbelly’s, Harold’s Chicken Shack, Lou Malnati’s, and Portillo’s all have pretty decent food. Just please avoid the clown, the king, and the colonel.
8. DO check out some of the neighborhoods further out.
Downtown and all the trendy neighborhoods on the near-North Side have lots of great restaurants, but there’s amazing eating all over the city. Try some Mexican in Pilsen, soul food in Hyde Park, Polish in Avondale, and Ghanaian in Uptown. The city is so full of great food that even locals have a hard time trying it all.
9. DON’T put ketchup on ya damn hot dog.
You knew this was going to appear on this list somewhere since it’s pretty much common knowledge by now. Just don’t do it.