In Search of Chicago's Best Comfort Foods

In Search of Chicago's Best Comfort Foods

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel enjoys a comforting bite during a busy day

Chicago’s restaurant scene is second to none with its shiny Michelin starred establishments, the James Beard Awards and its impressive line-up of internationally acclaimed restaurants.

But what I really crave (especially at this time of the year) is our comfort food.

When it comes to comfort food, once again, I’d have to argue that Chicago is number one. It might have something to do with our big, non-pretentious hearts or our perceived lack of sophistication. Then again maybe it’s the bone-chilling cold–not to mention our recent bout with 27 below zero temperatures.

Traditionally Chicago is known for its Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago Style Hot Dogs and Italian Beef and to a lesser degree our Polish Sausage, the Big Baby (double-cheeseburger with grilled onions, mustard, cheese, ketchup, pickles on a sesame bun with the condiments traditionally located underneath the burger patties) and Rib Tips. 

But even more than the food, it’s where you eat the food and the memories attached to it. Is Portillos Italian Beef really better than Al’s Italian Beef? Is Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Pizza better than Giordano’s–and what about UNO’s–the birthplace of Deep Dish in 1943 (that continues to thrive in 2019).

“Chicago Eats” is on a mission  to comprise a list of “Chicago’s Best Comfort Food and Where to Get it.”

But we need your help.

Read “Chicago Eats” favorites, then check out more selections on Dining In – Eating Out. Let us know what you think.  Tell us your favorites (along with pictures if you have them) in the comment section or on Chicago Eats Facebook page. Keep in mind that the comfort food we are looking for is not for those who are counting calories or carbs.

Chicago style dog @ the Museum CampusChicagostylehotdog

When it comes to hot dogs in Chicago, the hands down choice is the Chicago Style Dog all-beef hot dog with a crisp natural casing typically from Vienna with yellow mustard, sweet green pickle relish, onion, tomato wedges, pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt on a poppyseed bun. We are lucky to have lots of places to get Chicago Style Hot Dogs but for my money I love the ones at Kim and Carlos’ hot dog cart/shack on the Museum Campus just outside of the Field Museum–especially on a cold day when the wind is blowing off the Lake at a good clip.

Italian Beef @ Al’sItalianbeefBuonas

To me, there is nothing more satisfying than stepping inside of one of Chicago’s iconic Italian Beef stands, on a cold day with icy snow pelts flying sideways, and biting into a warm juicy (Baptized) Italian Beef Sandwich. If you want a great Italian Beef, head to the west or south side where the Italian beef sandwich came to life sometime in the 1920’s or 1930’s depending upon who you ask. Many give Al’s the nod for starting it all in 1938. When it comes to who has the best you’ll hear Portillo’s, Buona Beef, Johnnies Beef (Elmwood Park) and others. Click here to check some of Chicago’s Italian Beef hotspots from the Chicago Tribune’s Food Bowl tour.

Cinnamon Rolls @ Ann Sather

Cinnamon rolls at Ann Sather. Photo: Emily Shepherd

Cinnamon rolls at Ann Sather. Photo: Emily Shepherd

Warm and inviting, Ann Sather’s has been a go-to comfort-food destination for Chicagoans since 1945. Perhaps best known for their hot, gooey, soft, yeasty cinnamon rolls dripping with icing, these babies will warm your heart, stomach and mood on the coldest days. And they are a real bargain: Get 2 rolls for $3.90 or bring home a 1/2 dozen for  $9.75 or go hog wild and get a dozen for $17.55.

Deep Dish Pizza @ Giordano’scomfortfooddeepdishsmall-deep-dish-pizza-1

Some love it, others hate it. Chicago’s Deep Dish pizza has been the butt of jokes on national television from the likes Jon Stewart and others calling it a [bleep]ing casserole,” ” “tomato soup in a bread bowl”  and things we can’t say here. But even haters would have a hard time denying that this cheesy high-cal mix can scare away the cold inducing a pizza coma that can last for hours.  Some people say Giordano’s is best, others argue that it’s Lou Malnati’s, Pizano’s or Pequod’s. What’s your favorite?

Tacos @ The Maxwell Street Market

Maxwell Street Market.

Maxwell Street Market.

The Maxwell Street Market’s (open every Sunday, year round) storied past dates back nearly 100 years to 1917 when immigrants arriving from various countries set up shop on Maxwell Street via open-air pushcarts to sell anything from shoelaces and carpets to live chickens and even stolen goods.

You’ll definitely want to plan on eating there. In addition to the bargains, the market offers an international buffet of street food at ridiculously low prices. You’ll find not only good deals, but great food, mostly made from scratch.

One of the most iconic finds at the market are the taco’s from longtime favorite, Rubi’s Tacos.

Pulled Pork @ Chicago Q

Pulled Pork at Chicago Q

Pulled Pork at Chicago Q

I was surprised how something as simple as Pulled Pork Shoulder could blow me away. But Chicago Q (1160 N. Dearborn) is not your ordinary barbecue joint. It’s pork is smoked, tender,  juicy and delicious.

New England Clam Chowder @ Portsmith

Portsmith New England Clam Chowder. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Portsmith New England Clam Chowder. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Although we don’t necessarily think of New England Clam Chowder when we think Chicago, Portsmith’s (660 N. State)  New England Clam Chowder may just have you think again. The chowder is served warm with nice chunks of clams, bacon lardons, potatoes and carrots in a bread bowl.

Biscuits & Gravy (w/ 2 Eggs) @ Feed

Biscuits and Gravy at Feed

Biscuits and Gravy at Feed

Humboldt Park’s Feed is a comfort food lover’s dream. The Biscuits & Gravy with 2 eggs is one of my favorites. You can get this for breakfast, even if you sleep in. It is available from 8a.m. to 3p.m. for $5.50 (cash only) at 2803 W Chicago Ave.

Bar Roma is another good choice for comfort foods, see my review here.

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