Food may be a basic need, but good food does more than feed your loved ones. It brings people and cultures together and acts as a love language. The ethnic diversity of Illinois means that any food lovers wanting to visit the state are in good hands. The state is blessed in the food department, to say the least. The eclectic mix of ethnic groups living in the largest city of the state, Chicago, has brought together a mix of flavors to create a complex taste that is endemic to Illinois.
Food enthusiasts will have the time of their lives in Illinois, discovering new flavors and techniques that will open up their appetites. So, let’s take a look at some of the top favorites of Illinoisans.
1. Deep Dish Pizza
With two-thirds of the state’s population living in the Windy City, Chicago’s food scene is an excellent place to get a taste of Illinois, literally.
Deep dish pizza is to Chicago what cheesecake is to New York. In the words of the great Nick Miller, “thin crust pizza, no thanks, I’m from Chicago.” There are many variations on the classic, and locals will have a long list of their favorite pizza places you can try. But the signature Chicago-style deep dish pizza has a (duh!) deep, crisp crust and an Italian sausage top with chunky, flavorful tomato sauce. So, when in Chicago, the deep dish is a must-have.
2. Tavern-Style Thin Crust Pizza
Contrary to popular belief, deep-dish pizza is not the only pizza pie favored by the locals. While the Chicago area is full of deep-dish pizzerias, there are a bunch of local eateries in the suburban areas serving up some delish thin-crust pizzas that are just as good as the deep-dish counterpart.
These pizzas have long competed with the deep dish, and locals might have strong opinions regarding their preferred pizza type. But you should try both and decide for yourself.
3. Hot Dogs
Another favorite of the locals is the Chicago hot dog (lovingly called the Chicago dog by some locals), which is a simple dish that has won the hearts of locals.
Chicago dogs are known for their deep, green relish, as essential to the dish as the bun or the meat. The hotdogs are famously made without ketchup, and it is safe to say that you will not miss it among the tons of flavor provided by the relish, the mustard, and veggies of your choice.
4. Garrett’s Popcorn (Mix)
The most iconic popcorn of Chicago, Garrett’s, is more than just a popcorn place. For the locals, it is an institution. Since 1949, Garrett has been serving two of its iconic flavors, Caramel crisp, and cheese corn, and since the 70s, the Garrett Mix, a combination of the two flavors.
Other popcorn places have created their own versions of the Chicago Mix, as it is locally known, yet Garrett has managed to remain at the top. So, the next time you’re in Chicago, don’t forget to treat yourself to some Garrett’s.
Tamales are the perfect on-the-go meal, complete with their eco-friendly wrapping of corn husks. Claudio Velez, known as The Tamale Guy, is somewhat a local celebrity around the West Side of Chicago City. He has been selling his homemade tamales in bars around the city for more than two decades, and the locals have nothing but good to say about them.
6. Italian Beef
Italian beef has a long history associated with it. But the earliest stories of the classic Italian sandwich mention that it came from the Italian wedding roast, the leftovers of which were used to create some of the earliest Italian Beef sandwiches.
Roasted, thinly shaved beef topped with giardiniera, wrapped in a large French loaf, and dipped in jus, is as good as it gets. You cannot go wrong with one of these classic sandwiches if you want to enjoy food like a local.
While this list mentions the most popular local foods found in Illinois, the best part of living there is the melting pot of different cultures that lend their flavors and traditions to the food culture found there. So, if you truly want to eat like a local, try the local Greek, Italian, and Indian food places for an authentic local experience.
If you love to eat as much as we do, the next time you find yourself in Illinois, be sure to make the most of your trip by experiencing the food like a local. And if you have a favorite dish that we didn’t mention, be sure to let us know about that too!