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Chicago’s 8 Essential Sandwiches

By Sarah Freeman
April 1, 2014

The essentials for a sandwich are two slices of bread, some sort of meat or veggie filling or spread and the ability to stack them into a neat pile. Deciding on Chicago's essential sandwiches was less straightforward. We searched the city's delis and casual restaurants to find eight must-try sandwiches that truly are the best thing since sliced bread.

  • Fried Bologna at Au Cheval

    Although often overshadowed by the burger, and hindered by memories of floppy school lunch meat, the fried bologna is anything but pedestrian. Thin-sliced mortadella, made in-house, is crisped on the flat top before it's piled high on a soft bun and covered with American cheese.
    Price: $10.95
    Insider Tip: This is one of the few menu items at the retro diner that is best served without the addition of an egg.

    800 W. Randolph St.; 312-929-4580

  • Corned Beef at Manny’s

    This traditional delicatessen is one of the few remaining within city limits. It stuck around due in large part to the corned beef, which is made in-house with a recipe that dates back 50 years. Have it sliced to order and served in a heaping pile on mild rye with mustard.
    Price: $11.95
    Insider Tip: Manny's signature corned beef is also available in wholesale at select retailers.

    1141 S. Jefferson St.; 312-939-2855

  • Mr. G at J.P. Graziano's

    If you want an Italian sub, this is the only place in Chicago worth visiting. The namesake Mr. G has it all, including sharp imported provolone, hot soppressata, prosciutto di parma, Volpi genoa salami, truffle mustard balsamic vinaigrette, hot oil, marinated Roman-style artichokes, fresh basil, lettuce, red wine vinegar and oregano.
    Price: $8.25
    Insider Tip: Add hot or mild giardiniera, made from a family recipe that dates back to 1960, for 25 cents.

    901 W. Randolph St.; 312-666-4587

  • Torta Ahogada at XOCO

    This gravity-defying sandwich is a signature at Rick Bayless’ fast-casual concept. It starts with golden pork carnitas topped with spicy arbole chile sauce and pickled onions between the house torta bread. It's served standing on its end in a bowl of tomato broth.
    Price: $10
    Insider Tip: For the authentic eating experience, don’t order it to-go; enjoy it hunched over the high-top counter.

    449 N. Clark St.

  • CB&J at Hopleaf

    The quality of the food at this Andersonville beer bar never ceases to amaze. Case in point is the CB&J, a combination of housemade cashew butter, fig jam and Raclette cheese on sourdough bread. It's pan-fried and served with Stilton mac 'n' cheese and potato chips.
    Price: $11
    Insider Tip: This popular beer bar is often packed during dinner, but it’s also open for lunch during the week.

    5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851

  • Italian Beef at Al’s #1 Italian Beef

    Between the eight locations, chances are good an Italian beef sandwich is never far in Chicago. They may not have kept the prices from the 1983 opening, but the recipe for the thinly sliced beef remains authentic.
    Price: $7.35
    Insider Tip: While the sandwich shop has since franchised and expanded around the country, the original still stands on Taylor Street.

    1079 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-4017

  • Return of the Gyro at Publican Quality Meats

    This gourmet sandwich shop knows a thing or two when it comes to artisanal meat and bread. One of the tastiest signatures reinvented is the gyro with braised pork belly, raita, escalivada, pea shoots and Calabrian chile vinaigrette on griddled flatbread.
    Price: $11
    Insider Tip: The menu changes regularly, so check online to make sure it's available before you go.

    825 W. Fulton Market; 312-445-8977

  • Carne Enchilada Cemita at Cemitas Puebla

    Not your average taco stand, this off-the-beaten-path restaurant specializes in the cemita sandwich. The creation is made with avocado, chile guajillo-marinated butterfly pork chop, adobo chipotle peppers, fresh Oaxacan cheese and papalo on sesame seed bread.
    Price: $6.50
    Insider Tip: The popular Humboldt Park sandwich shop will be expanding to trendy Fulton Market this spring, according to Eater.

    3619 W. North Ave.; 773-772-8435


Places Mentioned

Hopleaf Bar


Food24 Decor19 Service19 Cost$29
Cemitas Puebla

Mexican • Humboldt Park

Food24 Decor6 Service18 Cost$11

Mexican • River North

Food27 Decor16 Service18 Cost$19
Al's Beef

Sandwich Shop • Lakeview

Food22 Decor9 Service16 Cost$11
Au Cheval

American • West Loop

Food25 Decor21 Service20 Cost$35
Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen

American • Garfield Ridge

Food24 Decor9 Service17 Cost$18
Al's Beef

Sandwich Shop • Little Italy/University Village

Food22 Decor9 Service16 Cost$11
Al's Beef

Italian • Fuller Park

Food22 Decor9 Service16 Cost$11
Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli

UIC/Near West Side

Food24 Decor9 Service17 Cost$18
Al's Beef

Sandwich Shop • Wicker Park

Food22 Decor9 Service16 Cost$11
Al's Beef

Sandwich Shop • Avondale

Food22 Decor9 Service16 Cost$11
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