8 recipes that real Chicagoans ought to know

8 recipes that real Chicagoans ought to know

Make thin-crust pizza, Italian beef, and jibaritos at home.

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hand holding pizza
The pizza Chicagoans really eat
Photo: Derrick Tung

Let’s face it: not all of us can just pick up and travel to another city whenever we please. Chicago is known for being quite the traveler’s destination, and part of its identity is seated squarely in the food. Our best dishes aren’t fancy or expensive, but they really are something that we’re proud of. And it’s not all pizza, either (though that’s a big part of it). The city’s cuisine features an array of great options, and we’ve gathered some recipes for iconic Chicago foods that you can easily make at home. Want to unofficially become one of us? Start here.

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The jibarito sandwich

The jibarito sandwich

jibarito closeup
Screenshot: YouTube / Chicago’s Best (WGN) (Fair Use)

The jibarito is a Puerto Rican sandwich quite unique to Chicago. Its defining characteristic is its absence of bread. Instead of slices, its fillings are bookended by flattened and fried plantains that are seasoned with a generous amount of garlic. You’ll typically find meat, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, and mayo contained within, and the concoction is as delicious as it is messy. You can indeed make one of these at home, and we suggest you do. Get the recipe for homemade jibaritos here.

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Italian beef

Italian beef

italian beef on tray
Italian beef is the sandwich of Chicago
Photo: John Carruthers

If you ask any Chicago native about which sandwich represents Chicago the best, chances are they’ll tell you about the Italian beef, which is so beloved it even comes with its own set of ordering instructions. At its heart, it’s a simple roast beef sandwich that’s dipped in its own cooking juices, or what we call au jus. This sandwich is easy to enjoy at home, since you can make a cheater version using deli roast beef (yes, it works) and you’ll be done with all of the work in no time. Get the recipe for Italian beef here.

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Italian beef combo sandwich

Italian beef combo sandwich

stacked combo
Arby’s, eat your heart out
Photo: Dennis Lee

One of the variations on Chicago’s Italian beef sandwich is simply called the combo. The word “combo” refers to a combination of Italian beef plus an entire Italian sausage, which we know is a hefty pairing. It’s like a sandwich stuffed with the contents of... another sandwich. But since the classic combo is served with all the ingredients jammed into a French roll, it’s not easy to eat; on top of being extra sloppy, it’s hard to get a bite with all the good stuff in it at once. So we thought about how to retool it. Why not reassemble everything in a different bun for a better configuration? Problem solved. Get the recipe for the Italian beef combo sandwich here.

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The Maxwell St. Polish

The Maxwell St. Polish

maxwell
Look at that glory
Photo: Dennis Lee

Listen, we love our hot dogs. In fact, we love them so much we once covered one in gold leaf to make ourselves feel like millionaires. But we do need a varied sausage diet, so we’d like to introduce you to its cousin, the Maxwell St. Polish. This unsung sausage dish is comprised of a grilled Polish sausage, yellow mustard, and grilled onions. That’s it. A sport pepper, which is a spicy pickled pepper much like a serrano, is the optional feather in its cap. If it sounds easy to make, that’s because it is. Try making some for a backyard gathering this summer. Get the recipe for the Maxwell St. Polish here.

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Tavern-style thin crust pizza

Tavern-style thin crust pizza

pizza in box
A thing of beauty
Photo: John Carruthers

It’s not a secret that Chicagoans don’t actually eat very much deep dish pizza. Our everyday pizza is of a different style: tavern-style thin crust pizza. True to its name, it’s got a thin crus—cracker-like, you could even say. It’s also not cut into triangle slices: We cut our pizzas into small squares, which makes for easier sharing and better snackability. You didn’t think we’d leave this list without a pizza recipe, did you? Try making one at home for yourself with this comprehensive explainer. Get the recipe for tavern-style thin crust pizza here.

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Leftover giardiniera oil has its uses

Leftover giardiniera oil has its uses

giardinera mayo
Giardiniera mayo, anyone?
Photo: John Carruthers

Giardiniera is one of Chicago’s favorite condiments. It’s a varied mixture of pickled peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery, green olives, bell pepper, and more (depending on where you get it), soaking in oil. We typically put it on sandwiches for a spicy and lively kick. But once you’re done with all the veggies, you’ll be left with quite a bit of spicy oil remaining in the jar, which has a whole range of culinary uses. Need some recipe ideas for what to do with it? Get our recommendations here.

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Green Stuff

Green Stuff

marshmallow salad in bowl
The Green Stuff!
Photo: MoniqueRodriguez (iStock by Getty Images)

If you’re from the Midwest, chances are you’ve seen a variation on this marshmallow and canned fruit salad (we use the term “salad” loosely). It usually makes its appearance in a big spread, such as a family Thanksgiving buffet. The recipe we have is affectionately called Green Stuff, as it’s often listed in midcentury church cookbooks; the green color comes from pistachio pudding mix, but other ingredients include items like crushed pineapple, the aforementioned mini marshmallows, and Cool Whip. Don’t knock it till you try it. Get the recipe for Green Stuff here.

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Taffy grapes

Taffy grapes

So easy to make
So easy to make
Photo: Marnie Shure

Taffy grapes are a relatively under-the-radar specialty sold around Chicago, and first began to get more widely popular around 2010. They’re a three-ingredient snack (or dessert, depending on how many you eat), and they couldn’t be easier to make. All it takes is green grapes, melted almond bark, and crushed peanuts. The final result is a miniature dead ringer for a taffy apple, and the recipe is so simple you don’t have an excuse for not trying them. Get the recipe for Taffy Grapes here.

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