We attempt to resolve this critical issue with a highly unscientific genre-by-genre comparison.
Chicago and New York have a longstanding rivalry. From which city has a better music scene, to which has funnier comedians, to which has bigger buildings, loyal residents of both cities have always argued in favor of their city’s superiority. (Chicago’s nickname of “Second City,” alludes to this competition; the term was first used as a not-so-subtle dig at the Midwestern metropolis in a piece by A. J. Liebling in the New Yorker in the 1950s.)
But the real point of contention is one that deserves closer scrutiny: which city has better food? To answer this weighty question, we put together an entirely opinionated side-by-side—really, bite-by-bite—comparison.
Pizza: New York
Let’s start with an obvious heavy hitter: New York City pizza is fantastic. Whether you love a classic NYC slice or an old-school Neapolitan pie, your options are endless: Di Fara, Roberta’s, Luigi’s, Paulie Gee’s, Joe’s. You can hardly throw a MetroCard without hitting a slice shop. And the classic Chicago deep-dish pie, though it’s certainly crafted to some people’s taste, is also quite possibly the “tomato soup in a bread bowl” that Jon Stewart deemed it. Certainly there are some great pizza places in Chicago these days, but when it comes to pies, this one’s no contest.
Hot Dogs: Chicago
Most Chicagoans, when asked about that town’s best food, will instinctively say “hot dogs.” The all-beef dogs traditionally come nestled in a poppy-seed bun decked out with yellow mustard, celery salt, minced onion, neon-green relish, pickles, fresh tomatoes, and peppers—a fiercely protected canon of toppings. New York has its dirty-water dogs and upscale frankfurter joints (including dog-cocktail speakeasies), but Chicago has NYC on this one. Even Hot Doug’s, a beloved shop that closed in 2014, has been (sort of) reincarnated by former employees.
Mexican Food: Tie
Chicago has a straight-up fantastic Mexican restaurant scene, especially in its variety of regional specialties. Those in the know head to Birria Reyes de Ocotlan, one of several restaurants specializing in birria, a goat stew hailing from the state of Jalisco rarely spied in New York, and several extraordinary Oaxacan spots featuring a rich variety of that region’s famed seven moles. If you want upscale Mexican, the city has it, including Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill. But New York has several Pueblan enclaves, and for cemitas, tortas, and tacos, the Big Apple’s Sunset Park and Bushwick brim with options—not to mention Cosme, an elegant spot that Mexico City’s Enrique Olvera opened in Manhattan last year.
Madcap Cocktails: Tie
Aviary, the cocktail bar co-owned by Grant Achatz of Alinea, is renowned for its extraordinary, eye-catching drinks, but so is Booker and Dax, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where main mixologist Dave Arnold is also the inventor of the Searzall, a handheld broiler attachment, and might send your drink out to you quite literally still smoking.
Fine Dining: Tie
Chicago has Alinea. New York has Eleven Madison Park. Chicago has Girl & the Goat, Schwa, Elizabeth, and Blackbird. New York can counter with Del Posto, Sushi Nakazawa, and Le Bernardin. This one’s a draw.