Chicago: The Best In Chow

Chicago food
Italian beef sandwich from Al’s Beef (Photos courtesy of Chicago Food Planet)

Whenever I travel, it’s a no brainer that my stomach comes along for the ride. Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza, hot dogs and hot beef sandwiches among other things, so naturally as a tourist, you’re going to want to sample as much as you can. That’s where Chicago Food Planet comes in. What many call the best food experience in Chicago, marketing director for Chicago Food Planet, Inc. Randi Alexander would agree.

“We like to call our tours ‘Neighborhood Food Experiences’ as we believe they are more than just a food tour. We connect people to the neighborhoods through the food, history and architecture that we share on each experience,” said Alexander of the six different tours available with the food tour company that was the first established in Chicago and has been running for 12 years. “Our goal is to showcase Chicago as the greatest food city in the world, because of the great quality and variety of food represented here.”

Portillo’s Hot Dogs (Photo by Jennifer Fauci)

I was on the Best in Chow tour, which by recommendation I am told was the best way to experience the staple foods the city has to offer. And it did not disappoint. If you take any of these walking tours, come hungry as sizable portions will be enough to sustain you for the day, but you want to be sure to have room in your stomach for all the delicious offerings.

“Since food is the focus, we bring you to award-winning or locally loved restaurants that we feel represent the best of the area and teach you some history of the establishments that we have learned from the owners and chefs themselves,” said Alexander. “You get to learn about their versatile histories, taste the best foods they offer, and in some cases go behind the scenes and interact with the chefs or owners. We know how to deliver a fun and engaging first-class experience.”

As a first-time tourist in Chicago, I highly recommend any food tour, but the Best in Chow will give you that cultural craving of Chicago that everyone keeps telling you about. And whenever you turn on the Food Network, you’ll be able to say “hey, I ate that and it was awesome,” like a proud and honorary Chicagoan.

For more information on Chicago Food Planet and available tours when you’re in Chicago, visit or stay connected on social media by following and tagging @chifoodplanet.

Lou Malnati’s

439 N Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60654

A true Chicago-based staple, Lou Malnati’s has a major influence in Chicago’s food history. A sweet, buttery flaky crust lends way to a gooey mozzarella pie (yes, the cheese comes first) topped with chunky tomato sauce. Inside Lou Malnati’s there is baseball and historical memorabilia on the walls and the smell of that buttery crust wafting throughout the eatery. As a New Yorker, I personally don’t understand the rivalry and would call Chicago’s deep dish a pie more than a pizza, but it was tasty.

Al’s Beef

169 W Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60654

Celebrating 80 years, Al’s Beef honors the Italian meat sandwich. Flavorful, seasoned beef and French bread is all you need in one bite, although some people put “hot” giardiniera or sweet peppers on them. Photos of celebrities enjoying Al’s beef sandwiches adorn the walls of the 1983 establishment that prove all you need in life to be happy is a good sandwich. Having been to Philadelphia, I dare say Al’s is 100 percent better and more flavorful than a Philly cheesesteak.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs

100 W Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60610

You can’t leave the Windy City without trying a Chicago-style hot dog. Known for their hot dogs, chocolate cake and salads, Portillo’s delvers on the quintessential hot dog. The perfect snappy bite comes in the form of a beef hot dog, placed in between a perfectly steamed fluffy poppy seed bun, which is then piled high with mustard, relish, celery salt, freshly chopped onions, sliced red tomatoes, a kosher pickle and sport peppers. Chicagoans call this “dragging the dog through the garden,” and after your first taste on the tour, you are sure to be back to Portillo’s.

Garrett Popcorn Shop

151 Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60601

As many Chicagoan transplants have told me, they are not allowed to visit their families back home unless they have at least two tins of Garrett’s popcorn under their arms. Choose from Buttery, Cheese, the Garrett Mix (a favorite among locals which includes caramel and cheese in one delicious bite), Almond CaramelCrisp, Cashew CaramelCrisp or Macadamia CaramelCrisp flavors and create your own tin to keep as a collectible. With several locations, Garrett Popcorn won’t be hard to find; just follow your nose to the sinful smell of caramel and butter.

Copper Fox Gastropub

165 E Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60611

(Photo source: Facebook)

Located steps from the Magnificent Mile, this art-Deco inspired eatery serves New American cuisine and is known for two things: biscuits and brownies. As part of the tour, guests get to sample a full sized Nutella brownie covered in caramel sauce. The secret? There is no chocolate in this brownie, only Nutella, which lends to a balanced bite that is not overpoweringly rich or sweet. As for the biscuits, Chef Cortney Pierce named them #16 biscuits, as it took him 16 tries to get the recipe just right. As part of the tour, the chef will distribute cards to guests, which entitle them to one order of specialty biscuits on the house for breakfast upon their next return to Copper Fox Gastropub.

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Jennifer Fauci
Jennifer Fauci is the former managing editor of Long Island Weekly, Anton Media Group's award-winning special sections and Anton’s local magazines. Her passion for literature, travel and the arts lend to the unique content in her publications. In her time at Anton, she has received first place in the Folio Awards, second place for the NYPA awards and is the recipient of six PCLI awards.

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