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Local Experts: Chicago, Amy Tara Koch

By Local Expert Amy Tara Koch

Best Classic Restaurants in Chicago

In recent years, the Third Coast has gone avant-garde (think the upcoming George Lucas art museum and Chef Toni Roberts’ sweet potato donut holes). Fortunately, that illustrious charm of silver screen mobsters, iconic sports heroes, and Prohibition-era glamour has been preserved in a spate of fabulous eateries. Third Coasters are proud of their heritage and prove their love by indulging in old school Midwestern standards like thick steak, piled-high hot dogs, old school burgers, and heaping pastrami sandwiches on toasted rye. It’s easy to spot these historic restaurants throughout the city: murals of a bygone mid-century Chicago on the walls of neighborhood nooks and Capone-esque crannies dating back to the late 1880’s.  Most of these haunts have not changed their signage or exteriors since opening day. What for? In this city classic is king, and decades of loyal patrons prove the truth in the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen

A favorite of President Barack Obama, this old school deli serves up heaping signature sandwiches, such as the corned beef and pastrami behemoth with coleslaw, Muenster, Thousand Island dressing, and a potato latke on the side. Manny’s hosts politicians, cops, and A-listers who are gladly equalized by the cafeteria-style queue. The family-owned operation is a Chicago institution, and has been famous for their corned beef since 1942. 

Super Dawg

This drive-in hot dog joint is as a major throwback. The original 1940’s menu hasn’t been touched, and includes malts, hot dogs, and burgers.  Order the Superdawg, a Chicago-style classic on a poppyseed bun with all the Windy City fixins, and a double chocolate shake. Meals are delivered Happy Days-style to waiting cars that bask in the shadow of a 12-foot winking hot dog figurine affixed to the restaurant roof.

Gene & Georgetti

This wrinkle-in-time steakhouse is adamantly against change; and the mural depicting Chicago as it was when this restaurant was first founded is proof. Seventy years later, locals and legends continue to dine together over plates of 32-ounce prime rib and the famous Garbage Salad, topped with everything from julienned salami and mozzarella to radish, cocktail shrimp, and roasted red pepper. 

Billy Goat Tavern

Established in 1934, this classic Chicago tavern was immortalized by comedian John Belushi's Saturday Night Live skit, where he demanded a “cheezeborger and cheeps.” Located underneath Michigan Avenue, this underground lair has been the dive de choix for journalists and tradesmen dropping down at lunchtime or after work. Adding to the tavern’s notoriety? Vlassic unveiled the world's largest pickle at the Goat in 1999.  

Twin Anchors

This is a neighborhood rib institution with a meaty pedigree. The former speakeasy serves the tastiest pork ribs in town, smothered in basic BBQ or a new “Prohibition Sauce,” with brown sugar, black pepper, and ghost pepper. Bold-face names from Sinatra to Conan O’Brien have been rubbing sticky elbows with the average Chicago carnivore since the Twin Anchors opened in 1932. Enjoy 15 tap beers with classic jukebox tunes. 

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