What Makes The Food Of Illinois Different

The food scene in Illinois, particularly in Chicago, is renowned for its diversity and unique culinary contributions that make it stand out from the rest of the United States. Chicago’s food culture is a blend of historic immigrant influences, innovative chefs, and a love for hearty, comforting dishes. Here are some key aspects and local dishes that highlight what makes the Chicago food scene special:

Deep-Dish Pizza

  • What Makes It Special: Unlike the thin, crispy crust found in New York-style pizza, Chicago’s deep-dish pizza features a thick, buttery crust that rises high along the edges of a deep pan, creating a substantial pie that is filled with cheese, meat, vegetables, and sauce. The sauce is typically layered on top of the cheese, a reversal of the more common cheese-on-top approach.
  • Difference: The depth and construction of the pizza are what set it apart from other styles across the U.S., making it more of a hearty meal than a simple fast food.

Chicago-Style Hot Dog

  • What Makes It Special: The Chicago-style hot dog is an all-beef frankfurter that is steamed or boiled and served in a poppy seed bun. It is uniquely topped with yellow mustard, bright green relish, fresh chopped onions, tomato slices, pickle spears or relish, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. Ketchup is famously omitted.
  • Difference: The combination of toppings and the specific way it’s assembled differentiate it from other regional hot dog variations in the U.S.

Italian Beef Sandwiches

  • What Makes It Special: This sandwich consists of thin slices of seasoned roast beef, simmered and served au jus (in its own juices) on a long Italian-style roll. The roll is often dipped into the jus from the meat for extra flavor, and the sandwich can be topped with Chicago-style giardiniera (a relish of pickled vegetables in vinegar or oil) or roasted sweet peppers.
  • Difference: The juiciness and specific preparation method, along with local condiments like giardiniera, set it apart from other beef sandwiches across the country.


  • What Makes It Special: A creation from the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, the jibarito is a sandwich that uses fried green plantains instead of bread. It’s typically filled with marinated steak, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and sometimes cheese.
  • Difference: The use of plantains as the sandwich “bread” is a unique twist not commonly found in other regions of the U.S.

Garrett Popcorn

  • What Makes It Special: A Chicago snack favorite, Garrett Popcorn is known for its Garrett Mix (formerly known as the Chicago Mix), which combines sweet CaramelCrisp popcorn with savory CheeseCorn flavors in one bag.
  • Difference: The sweet and savory combination is a hallmark of the city’s snack food scene, making Garrett Popcorn a unique Chicago treat.


  • What Makes It Special: Although not a food, Malört is a bitter, wormwood-based liqueur associated with Chicago. It’s known for its distinctive, harsh taste, which has become a rite of passage for many in the city.
  • Difference: Its strong association with Chicago and its divisive taste profile make it a unique local specialty not widely embraced or found in other parts of the U.S.

These dishes and items are emblematic of Chicago’s food scene, reflecting the city’s history, its diverse population, and its willingness to embrace bold flavors and unique food concepts. Each contributes to the rich tapestry that differentiates Chicago’s culinary culture from the rest of the United States.