Famous Chicago Food: Deep Dish, Hot Dogs, Popcorn and More!

No matter how bad the weather is in the Windy City, one thing you can always do is enjoy some of the famous Chicago food!

What kind of food is Chicago known for? Deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and Chicago hot dogs are the most famous culinary creations in town.

The Windy City is also becoming known for a number of new trends, like donuts and cupcakes. Checking out the food scene is one of the best things you can do during a winter visit to Chicago.

Here’s an introduction to some of the best Chicago food that you must try when you visit the city!


Quick Summary: The Five Most Famous Chicago Food Dishes
1 Deep dish pizza
2 Chicago hot dog
3 Italian beef sandwich (dipped)
4 Garrett popcorn
5 Portillo’s chocolate cake shake

RECOMMENDED FOOD TOUR: If you want to try several of these items at once, consider hopping on a guided tour like the Chicago Favorites Ultimate Food & Walking Tour, which includes deep dish, hot dog, and Italian beef all on the same tour!

The Top 3 Most Famous Chicago Food Items

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Deep dish pizza is probably Chicago’s most famous food. It’s become so popular that you can find it in grocery stores across the country.

The slices are so much better when you have to eat them with a knife and fork because of the thick crust and the massive glob of gooey cheese underneath the top layer of sauce.

lou malnatis chicago pizza
The individual-sized deep dish pizza (BBQ chicken flavor) at Lou Malnati’s.

Deep dish is cool because the sauce goes on top of the cheese and toppings.

Some Chicagoans claim a favorite deep dish restaurant, but they’re all good to me. Try Giordano’s, Gino’s East, Lou Malnati’s or Pizzeria Uno.

To avoid the crowds, I suggest going for a very early lunch, or getting delivery, because deep dish places in Chicago are packed.

Also, prepare for a long wait: These pizzas take around 45 minutes to bake, so expect to be sitting for quite awhile as you await your order.

RECOMMENDED FOOD TOUR: Visitors to Chicago should consider taking a Pizza Tour where you can sample various brands of deep dish and thin crust styles.

Chicago hot dogs


The traditional Chicago hot dog features mustard, raw onions, hot peppers, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, green pickle relish, and celery salt.

Hot dog stands exist in pretty much every neighborhood and every corner of the city, so you’d have to try pretty hard not to find one.

But one word of warning: Whatever you do, don’t put ketchup on your Chicago hot dog!

Seriously, this is about as big a sin as you can commit in the Windy City. Don’t do it, or you’ll be arrested and charged with treason. Just kidding. Probably.

Chicago’s opposition to ketchup goes back decades, and there seems to be no particular reason for it, except that hot dog makers and connoisseurs believe the sugary spread defiles the true flavors of the beef and its salty toppings, ruining the meal.

Many hot dog vendors in Chicago don’t even carry ketchup and will not provide it if you ask. Trust me, once you start putting fresh tomato wedges on your dog, you’ll never go back to catsup.

If you’re searching for a “different” kind of Chicago hot dog experience, make sure to check out the Wiener Circle, the hot dog stand where the employees berate the customers during late-night hours. Be ready for a confrontation.

The Italian Beef Sandwich

The Italian beef is the most overlooked famous Chicago food. I didn’t realize until I saw an episode of Man vs. Food that Italian beef sandwiches are big in Chicago.

Italian beefs (“Italian beeves?”) are similar to the Philly cheese steak, but way better.

Like their Philadelphia counterparts, these beef sandwiches are served on a long roll. Thin slices of roast beef that have been simmered in a seasoned broth are stuffed inside the bread.

The beef is then topped with your choice of sweet peppers or a hot pepper mixture called giardiniera.

For the most authentic experience, you’ll want to get the sandwich “dipped,” which means the entire thing, bun and all, is submerged in a vat of beef juices.

Italian beef sandwich Chicago
The dipped Italian beef sandwich is a famous Chicago food experience.

Count on needing a fork or lots of napkins to help you scoop up this dripping, soggy (but delicious) mess. I’ve experienced many a food coma after gobbling down a hot beef.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef has been in business since 1938 and is the most popular beef joint, but many sandwich shops and delis serve them.

Other Current Popular Chicago Foods Worth Trying

Garrett’s Popcorn

Garrett’s is known for its delicious mix of caramel and cheese popcorn. This perfect blend of salty and sweet has become a nationwide favorite.

In Chicago, long lines of tourists wait at every Garrett’s location to take home some of the “Chicago mix.” If you’ve never tried it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!

famous chicago food - garrett popcorn

Full disclosure: I once named the most overrated Chicago business. But that wasn’t due to a lack of quality. Rather, I thought they simply didn’t offer enough flavors of popcorn to reach their full potential.

When you’re so good at making popcorn, why stick to only two flavors?!?

Thankfully, that has changed. Garrett has expanded its selection to include flavors like: Chocolate, Macadamia CaramelCrisp, Pecan CaramelCrisp, and more.

The Chocolate Cake Shake at Portillo’s

Portillo’s is a Chicago institution. They have a lot of the most famous Chicago foods on their menu: hot dogs, Italian beef, pasta, and numerous other dishes.

But the main reason you should visit is to get one of their chocolate cake shakes. It’s a milkshake with real chunks of chocolate cake and icing swirled inside.

It’s ridiculously decadent and full of calories, but you’ll be glad you tried it.

portillo's cake shake - best chicago food
The Portillo’s cake shake is a Chicago food legend.

Portillo’s has been expanding to several other states, including Florida, California, and Texas, so you may to get enjoy their treats in your hometown soon.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

The popularity of gourmet cupcakes has soared in Chicago in the past few years. Places like Sprinkles offer a variety of innovative cupcake flavors.

Oprah once named Sprinkles one of her favorite things. Find Sprinkles in Chicago at 50 East Walton Street – and they have other nationwide locations now too.

One of the best things about Sprinkles is the cupcake ATM, which itself became a tourist attraction. If you find yourself with a hankering for cupcakes at 3 am, don’t worry!


You can’t beat the novelty of stepping up to a machine and withdrawing a treat from a cupcake ATM!

You can find the ATM outside the store’s main location downtown. There’s another Sprinkles ATM vending machine at O’Hare Airport as well.

The best things about Sprinkles are the moist, gooey consistency, and the wide selection of flavors.

Current offerings include triple cinnamon, banana, chocolate marshmallow, lemon blueberry, carrot, vanilla milk chocolate, plus vegan, sugar-free, and gluten-free options.

Chicago Donut Shops

Donut fans have many hot spots to check out, from the Doughnut Vault to Do-Rite Donuts.

My favorite used to be Glazed and Infused, which got creative with the shapes of its donuts, including a donut shaped like a gingerbread man. Sadly, Glazed and Infused is now permanently closed.

But the Doughnut Vault is still a great option. Their donuts are massive – at least twice as big as a normal donut.


This place typically has lines that stretch around the corner, so get there early if you want to enjoy their birthday cake, pistachio, and blueberry old-fashioned donuts.

Recommended Chicago Restaurants

I won’t try to encapsulate the city’s entire restaurant scene, because attempting to do so would take tens of thousands of words. But I’ll mention a few of my favorites.

In the warmer months, outdoor sidewalk seating is the way to go, but in the winter you’ll be chased indoors. Don’t let that stop you from making an effort to seek out some of the city’s best eats.

Chicago has lots of great upscale restaurants. Check Time Out Chicago and you’ll find numerous suggestions.

Rio's D'Sudamerica Chicago
Dinner at Rio’s D’Sudamerica in Bucktown.

For a more affordable option, try the Chicago Diner in Lakeview or Logan Square. Despite its humble name, the Chicago Diner is a modern vegan and vegetarian restaurant that serves the most satisfying ice cream treat I’ve ever had: a chocolate chip cookie dough peanut butter vegan milkshake. Yes, it’s just as good as it sounds.

Kuma’s Corner is a famous burger joint with a rock & roll theme. They serve massive, pretzel roll-stuffed burgers named after metal bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica, with unusual toppings that include herbed goatcheese, grilled pineapple, a chorizo and red potato hash, tortilla strips, and breaded deep-fried chiles.

Expect at least an hour wait at Kuma’s unless you show up at like 3:30 on a weekday afternoon.

Some of my other favorite affordable hangouts include the 90 Miles Cuban Cafe, Big Star in Wicker Park for tacos, the Kingsbury Street Cafe for brunch, El Cid for authentic Mexican, and Rio’s D’Sudamerica for Peruvian.

Most of these places are on the west side, since that’s where I tend to hang out. Expect long waits at Big Star and Kingsbury Street if you go during peak dining hours.

Many of these spots can fit into a 2-day Chicago itinerary, so try to visit at least a couple of them!

Where would you eat if you visited Chicago?