Everyone knows Chicago's food scene for two things: deep dish pizza and hot dogs. I'm pretty sure my friends at school think those are the only things I eat at home (they're not wrong). But, us natives know that the city has a lot more to offer than just these two foods, however iconic, and tasty, they may be. One of the most underrated aspects of Chicago's food scene is its sandwiches.
Now, I don't wanna sit here and argue over whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich (thanks, Chrissy Teigen, for resurfacing that argument) no matter how good the hot dogs in Chicago are. So, for the benefit of us all, I didn't include any. Although there may be a few other close calls, they're all with good reason (*ahem* #36).
So, with that, here's your ultimate bucket list of sandwiches to eat in Chicago before you die:
1. Beef Sandwich from Al's Beef
Al's Beef is nothing short of a Chicago classic. And, with 8 locations throughout the city, this classic is never far away. For the authentic Chicago experience, order yours "dipped," meaning dipped in au jus before being wrapped up and with sweet or hot peppers. But, beware—the hot peppers are not for the faint of heart.
#SpoonTip: If beef sandwiches aren't your thing, check out Al's secret menu for more unique menu items.
2. Fried Chicken Sandwich from Do-Rite Donuts
Do-Rite knows how to do fried food. Their donuts are among the best in Chicago, and the same could be said for their fried chicken sandwich. If I'm being honest, I'd pick this sandwich over Chick-Fil-A any day.
3. Mac & Cheese Attack from Rockit Burger Bar
I realize there's definitely debate over whether a burger counts as a sandwich, but this coma-inducing combo deserves a place on this list regardless. Rockit Burger Bar in Wrigleyville has taken the classic burger to new levels by sandwiching it between 2 fried mac and cheese "buns" and topping it with lettuce, tomato, and sriracha ketchup. Served with a side of Tums—you'll need 'em.
4. El Cubanito from Nini's Deli
Everything about Nini's is refreshing, from the brightly colored walls to the unique drinks, to their Cuban spin on the classic egg and cheese breakfast sandwich. Try the El Cubanito once—with its egg, cheese, avocado, black beans and fried plantains—and it will quickly replace your morning BEC.
5. Truffle BLT from The Fat Shallot
If you haven't heard, the Chi's OG food truck has recently opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Loop's highly anticipated Revival Food Hall. If you're already a fan of The Fat Shallot, get to Revival ASAP to try this BLT with avocado and truffle aioli, a food hall exclusive (not sold via food truck). It makes braving the lunch rush in the Loop 100% worth it.
6. Torta from XOCO
Rick Bayless for president, who's with me? While XOCO is one of Bayless's more casual restaurants, the quality is still what you would expect from the Mexican food god of Chicago. While you will most likely be distracted by the decadent churros XOCO is known for, remember what your parents taught you and eat your dinner first, in the form of one of their piled-high tortas.
#SpoonTip: If you can't choose between all the mouthwatering options, order the Ahogada, one of the most popular tortas.
7. Egg Sandwich from Eastman Egg Company
Eastman Egg currently has 3 locations, one of which is in the Ogilvie Train Station, so I'm always tempted to stop for one of their incredible breakfast sandwiches whenever I'm leaving or entering the city. The format is build-your-own, so all sandwiches start with a base of eggs and white cheddar, and you customize from there.
You can feel good about eating at Eastman Egg Company because all their meats are locally-sourced from farms in Illinois and Iowa. Plus, they have their own app where you can submit an order for pickup and avoid the morning rush, so you have zero excuses not to stop for breakfast before work.
8. The Clayboy from Chicago Bagel Authority
Any bagel from Chicago Bagel Authority gives the notorious NYC bagel a run for its money. If you happen to find yourself near one of the three locations, pop in and you'll be sure to hear orders shouting for the Clayboy. This turkey steamwich is a favorite from CBA's long list of famous bagel sandwiches.
9. Crispy Spicy Garlic Shrimp Sandwich from Zenwich
Zenwich is a downtown lunch break fave with their Asian-inspired sandwiches. Some have a special place in their heart for the crab cake sandwich, but the unique combination of ingredients in the crispy, spicy garlic shrimp sandwich make it one-of-a-kind and definitely bucket list-worthy.
10. Cookie Dough Stuffed Cookie Sandwich from Sweet Mandy B's
Sweet Mandy B's is Lincoln Park's go-to dessert shop that features countless must-try funky bakery items. The cookie dough, which is sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies, is just one of these jaw-dropping treats. Prepare your sweet tooth and head up to Lincoln Park for this sugary sandwich.
11. Chicken Parmesan Sub from Nonna's
This West Loop Chicago favorite has arguably the best subs in the city. Nonna's is an Italian sandwich shop; it's small, but has earned a name for itself in recent years. Their chicken Parm (eggplant Parm if you're a vegetarian) just might be the most popular chicken Parm east of the Mississippi.
12. Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy from BIG & Little's
Famous for its appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, BIG & Little's is an awesome diner with three locations throughout Chicago. If you happen to find yourself at one of them, anything off the menu is a good choice, but this crab po' boy is unlike any other. Don't let the shape of it freak you out—slap on the special sauce-doused top bun and dig in.
13. Biscuit Sandwich from Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits
While I'm supposed to be talking sandwiches here, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention that Bang Bang has amazing pies. Definitely don't leave without a piece, but also don't leave without ordering the sausage biscuit: ginger sage sausage patty, cheddar cheese, and seasonal jam. I'm not drooling, you're drooling.
#SpoonTip: You can add an egg to any biscuit sandwich if you're an all day breakfast type of person.
14. Ice Cream Donut Sandwich from Firecakes
Just when you thought the Chicago donut scene couldn't get any better, Firecakes has come through big time with their donut ice cream sandwich. It's vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce surrounded by two glazed donut buns. I think everyone can agree that sounds pretty fire.
15. Breaded Steak Sandwich from Ricobene's
In 2015, USA Today named this the world's best sandwich, so I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't include it. It's also a known favorite of Anthony Bourdain's. With its crispy breaded and fried steak and healthy (read: unhealthy) portion of melty mozzarella, it's impossible to imagine anyone not loving this sandwich.
16. Cemita from Cemitas Puebla
Cemitas Puebla is one of the most highly regarded sandwich shops in the city by both college students and professionals alike. The restaurant is family-owned and bakes their signature sesame-covered rolls daily, using a traditional recipe from the owner's family in Puebla, Mexico. They're all dank, but if it's your first time, order the Cemita Milanesa, which is breaded pork loin.
17. Pastrami Sandwich from Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen
Anyone who's been to NYC must admit that Chicago is seriously lacking in the Jewish deli department. Thankfully, Manny's is always there for when you really need some matzoh ball soup. Or a pastrami sandwich as big as your head. Don't just take my word for it—Barack Obama was a lunch regular before he became pres.
18. The Mac from Cheesie's
A late night drunchie go-to for Northwestern students, Cheesie's serves up some hella good grilled cheeses. But it's not just for drunk college kids; besides Evanston, Cheesie's also has locations in Lakeview and Wicker Park, as well as a food truck. The Mac, with its homemade mac and cheese and tomato soup dipping sauce, is something all Chicagoans should try once.
19. Raspberry Gelato Churro Waffle Sandwich from MAD Social
MAD Social is known for their over the top takes on things like mac and cheese, poutine and chicken and waffles, but "over the top" is an understatement when it comes to this creation. Warm, crispy waffles covered in cinnamon sugar surrounding creamy raspberry swirl gelato is truly an out of this world combination.
20. Mr. G from J.P. Graziano
J.P. Graziano has been around since 1937, making it the oldest Italian market in the city, so you know they must be good at what they do. The Mr. G sandwich is their signature: it's got ALL the Italian meats (sopresatta, prosciutto, salami), provolone, artichokes, oil and vinegar of course, and a little bit of truffle mustard for good measure.
21. Blue Pig n' Fig from Pastoral
The people at Pastoral have a talent for two things: naming sandwiches and making sandwiches. The Blue Pig N' Fig is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Serrano ham (the pig), bleu cheese (the blue), fig and black tea preserves (the fig), Dijon mustard, and greens.
22. Bologna Sandwich from Au Cheval
You might think you outgrew bologna sandwiches as soon as you passed the 3rd grade, but boy are you wrong. Au Cheval's bologna sandwich makes you rethink this childhood deli meat. And TBH, it deserves just as much cred as their cheeseburger, which was named the #1 best burger in America.
23. Bánh Mì from Nhu Lan
I came to Nhu Lan for the homemade dough and stayed for the jaw-dropping, less-than-$5 Bánh Mì subs. Any of these subs are a great choice and sure to surprise your tastebuds if you've never had one of these Vietnamese sandwiches before. If you're unsure what to get, go with the Nhu Lan special.
24. This Little Piggy Went To China from The Little Goat
Even though I am completely over pig puns as breakfast sandwich names, this sandwich is good enough to ignore the punny name. The Little Goat offers loads of unique plates, but this breakfast sandwich is something else.
With a perfectly cooked sunny side-up egg and szechuan pork sausage stacked on a sesame cheddar biscuit, this breakfast biscuit is loaded with so much delicious flavor that you should probably order two.
25. Beef-N-Cheddar Croissant from Portillo's
Going straight for the classic beef would be be selling yourself short at Portillo's. The beef-n-cheddar croissant puts a unique spin on the arguably overdone Chicago beef sandwich. This Portillo's special (or basically anything else they serve on a croissant) is the best sandwich decision you could make.
26. Italian Bresaola from Hannah's Bretzel
Hannah's Bretzel makes fresh sandwiches on her special bretzel baguette, which you can probably tell by the name is a pretzel-bread baguette. Honestly, any of the bretzel baguette sandwiches are great, but the Italian bresaola—from the white truffled goat cheese to the shaved fennel—is truly a culinary masterpiece that you can't miss out on.
27. La Bomba from Cafe L'Appetito
La Bomba—literally meaning "the bomb"—lives up to the name. It's a speciality at Café L’Appetito and is made up of genoa salami, mortadella, capicollo, provolone, and all the fixins'. It's hard to say how anyone (Italian or not) could turn down this beast of a sandwich.
28. Surf & Turf Po' Boy from Heaven on Seven
Created by Chef Jimmy Bannos, this fried shrimp and beef po' boy is one-of-a-kind. We've had loads of shrimp po' boys, but the surf & turf is an exciting twist. This sandwich and Heaven on Seven will make you feel like you're in NOLA without leaving the streets of Chicago.
29. Any Pita from Dox Quality Greek
All pitas have the same basic ingredients, but the ones from Dox stand out. The Braised Lamb Pita with its raved-about beet tzatziki and the tender, delicious Pork Shoulder Pita are both great choices. Two come per order, but you're definitely gonna want more than that.
30. Anything from Publican Quality Meats
The menu items at Publican Quality Meats change seasonally, but since it's a butcher, rest assured that the sandwiches are always A1. If you catch them at a time when they're offering The Reuben or The Revenge of the Shredder, consider yourself in luck because these are some of their best.
31. Truffle Grilled Cheese from 3 Arts Cafe
Go for the ambiance, stay for the truffle grilled cheese at 3 Arts Cafe, located in the Restoration Hardware in the Gold Coast. With its white marble tabletops and copious amount of chandeliers, this bougie atmosphere calls for a meal worthy of its glamour, and it doesn't get any bougier than truffles.
32. Fried Chicken Biscuit Sandwich from The Roost Carolina Kitchen
Chicago, surprisingly, has a lot of options when it comes to fried chicken, and they're all good, but none of the other places can put a fried chicken sandwich together like The Roost. Be sure to order yours on a biscuit with pickles, and do not, under any circumstance, forget the chipotle ranch.
33. Any Sandwich from Goddess and Grocer
When I say any sandwich, I mean any sandwich. Literally. They're all amazing. Picking out just one for you to try would be seriously unfair to the others, especially since the specials change weekly—that's a lot of sandwich possibilities. Goddess and Grocer has truly perfected the art of sandwich combinations.
34. Pulled Pork Sandwich from Green Street Smoked Meats
Everyone knows that Green Street Smoked Meats is the destination for quality barbecue in Chicago. One of Brendan Sodikoff's numerous restaurants, Green Street serves up the best pulled pork sandwich you can find without actually stepping foot in Texas.
35. Po' Boy from Wyler Road
This po' boy is one of the biggest in the city. Located in Logan Square, Wyler Road serves their famous po' boy with catfish (recommended) or a fried cauliflower version for all you herbivores out there.
36. Grilled Cheese Burger from Jake Melnick's Corner Tap
No, your eyes are not deceiving you—that really is a burger with grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. While not officially on the menu, this is the type of #foodporn that you regularly see being served up at Jake Melnick's.
37. The Popular from Panes Bread Cafe
At Panes Bread Cafe, you could easily try a different sandwich every day and all for under $6, but as the name says, this sandwich is a popular one and a definite go-to for your first visit. Everything from the caramelized onions to the tomato bread transform this sandwich into perfection.
38. Anything from Jerry's
Jerry's makes "cosmic" sandwiches in Andersonville and Lincoln Square—claiming its name for literally how out-of-this-world the sandwiches are. With over 50 sammies on the menu, you will want to go again and again until you've tried everything from meatloaf to fried shrimp sandwiches.
39. The Cubano from Cafecito
Named the best Cuban sandwich in Chicago by Time Out, this sandwich is quite literally stacked as you can get it made to order. People come from all around for the unique flavors of the lechon asado (Cuban roasted pork), which is marinated in Cafecito's homemade mojo. Drool-worthy, I know.
40. Italian Sub from Bari
Often called the best Italian sub in Chicago, this sub from Bari is one of the most sold items on the menu. A 9-inch sub is only $5.25, but if you're really hungry, or bring your friends with—like any great Italian deli—you can also order the 3-foot sub.
So, next time you're in Chicago, think twice before you default to deep dish or hots dogs for dinner (unless it's your first time... then devour that sh*t like there's no tomorrow). But, if you're looking to switch it up, you most definitely need to try at least one of these 40 Chicago sandwiches.
And, for the record, hot dogs are NOT sandwiches. Case closed.