Biting into a flavorful Cubano in Chicago seems out of place, but you'd be surprised by how right it feels. Although Chicago's most famous sandwich is the Italian Beef, this city is teeming with other options that should not be overlooked. So I compiled a list of the the 20 best places to find a sandwich, and no, I did not include burgers or hot dogs.
I know I just said that there are other options besides Italian beef, but Al's Beef happened to be the first alphabetically, so we're going to start out with the sandwich Chicago is (rightfully) known for. The original Al's Beef on Taylor Street was founded in 1938 and has been serving ever since. Get it dipped with hot and sweet peppers, and don't worry about what this is doing to your arteries.
Andorka's made Zagat's 30 under 30 for Chicago in 2015, and has since been quietly providing Pilsen with healthy, delicious sandwich options. Its sandwiches come on homemade bread with homemade potato chips, giving it an extra edge of quality. Andorka's also has vegetarian-friendly options, which makes them stand out from the meat-loving mentality that characterizes most of this list.
This French-German inspired brasserie has a menu that varies with the season to provide the best quality food. Known for its grass-fed, sustainable steak, Boefhaus allows you to order sandwiches featuring said its famous steak. The Boeuf on Weck is a meat-loaded crowd favorite and makes the trip out to West Town worth it.
Centrally located in The Loop, Cafecito offers cheap and wonderful takes on Cuban sandwiches. Pretend you're kicking it back in Miami instead of toiling through another Chicago winter (even if it's a mild winter like this one, January and February are still pretty rough).
Cemitas Pueblas added a location in Hyde Park, and I was nothing short of thrilled. If you don't go to UChicago, don't worry: they have two other locations. Their most famous sandwich is the Cemitas Atomica, though they have several other options including tacos in case you're not up for sandwiches.
How many places do you know specialize in grilled cheese variants? And how many of those places offer "The Mac" (grilled cheese with mac and cheese) or "The Frenchie" (stuffed with french fries)? Cheesie's is a Lakeview and Evanston staple and although french fries inside a grilled cheese might seem a bit bizarre, I can confirm that it's a godly combination.
Chop Shop is a butcher shop, so you're guaranteed to have several high-quality meat options. Paninis, subs, burgers—there's something for everyone at this Wicker Park eatery (including vegetarians, although I will admit that isn't their focus).
Food trucks are an ideal lunch option because they minimize walking and wait times during the short lunch hour. The Fat Shallot is a gem amongst them. The BLT with truffle aioli is indulgent, but not excessive. Although many of the best sandwiches in Chicago are cheesy, greasy explosions, you might not eat that way all the time.
Hannah's Bretzel isn't as life-changing nor as decadent as some of the other places on this list, but I think it's worth a mention. It was pretty tasty and has a lot of healthy options, and finding something fast and cheap in River North can be rather challenging. Hannah's Bretzel makes the list more for its overall solidness rather than for one distinct quality.
Hopleaf is an all-around ideal establishment. It has an excellent beer selection, a relaxed vibe, a campaign for Planned Parenthood, and tons of delicious food (including aioli sauce for the fries...in case you can't tell, I love aioli). Its CP&J is an inspired take on a classic PB&J with cashew butter, fig jam, and Raclette cheese.
Another Wicker park find, Irazu is home to Costa Rican deliciousness and has been featured on Food Network. The Pepito has been dubbed a "Chicago favorite," and in a city with a cult following for Italian beef, their dedication to another sandwich is a notable feat.
Another family-owned business to make the list, J.P. Grazino's is the oldest Italian market in the city of Chicago. The Grazinos added on a sub shop to offer sandwiches featuring the imported Italian ingredients they sell in their market. These sandwiches are often battling for the title of the best sub in the city.
Over the summer, a few of my friends and I had planned to make a late-night Lucky's run after some Wrigleyville shenanigans. The night was ruined when we realized Lucky's was already closed. All of their sandwiches come with fries and coleslaw ON the sandwich. It's amazing. They also have a sandwich-eating challenge for the competitive souls who are looking for more than just a sandwich.
Manny's Cafeteria is the "Original Chicago Deli" and serves legendary corned beef creations, firmly establishing it as one of the best sandwiches in Chicago. The history of this homey and delicious eatery is detailed through the newspaper clippings which cover the walls and amplify the enjoyable experience of eating there.
While Nhu Lan Bakery is a bit out of the way in Lincoln Square, this Vietnamese bakery makes excellent (and cheap) bahn mi sandwiches with fresh ingredients that offer a refreshing change to your lunchtime regime. This is another particularly vegetarian-friendly option.
West Loop is packed with hip and inventive food, and Nonna's fulfills both standards. This sandwich shop is run by the same people who are behind Formento's, so you know there will be a lot of options. The meatball sub is reported to be particularly good.
Do yourself a favor and drop by the family-owned, Bridgeport-located sandwich haven, Ricobenes, to get the cheesy indulgence that is the breaded steak sandwich. USA Today called it "the best sandwich in the world." I recommend ordering it with mozzarella and hot giardiniera.
Anthony Bourdain dubbed the Three Little Piggy sandwich "the greatest sandwich in America." I know, I just pushed Ricobene's as having the best sandwich in world -- how can this be the best sandwich in America? Clearly the only solution to this debate is for you to hit up both and form your own opinions.
Sultan Market is a vegetarian paradise (more so than any other place on this list). Their signature item is the falafel sandwich, but you don't need to be vegetarian to appreciate the wonders of falafel. It's in Wicker Park and worth the Blue Line ride.
The torta is the most-ordered thing on the menu at XOCO, which might lead you to believe that XOCO specializes in sandwiches. But, nope, it's just Rick Bayless working his magic and making XOCO a great place for inventive and flavorful food (but seriously, you should order the torta).