Chicago’s Take On 8 North American Classics

Before any angry fingers fly to the comments section, let’s get one thing clear: If you want a 100% true-to-form wiz-wit surly-service Philly cheesesteak, you go to Philly. A bendable, big-as-your-head New York slice? Get on a plane. However, barring a job with unlimited vacation days and a budget to rival the latest Powerball winners, it’s usually not in the cards to jet off to Quebec when you’re craving classic poutine. And that’s where these eight Chicago restaurants come in, each one paying homage to the iconic food of another city. No, they’re not the “real thing” — but they’re pretty darn close. Oh, and pretty darn delicious.
01_Piece-3Photo: Courtesy of Cara Hunt.
For New Haven pizza…
Pizza without mozzarella? First correction: That’s mootz, at least if you’re from New Haven. The city’s native pie — colloquially known as apizza — considers the white cheese an add-on, not a given. The mootz-less New Haven-style pizza at Wicker Park’s Piece Brewery and Pizzeria comes with tomato sauce, oregano, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and an apizza’s traditional ultra-thin crust, crispy to the point that it’s dotted with charred black spots, yet cooked at a high enough heat to leave the inside with some chew.
Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, 1927 West North Avenue (at Winchester Avenue); 773-772-4422.
For New York pizza…
Served by the large, greasy slice after a quick reheat in a giant oven, the thin-crust pies at Café Luigi are nearly dead ringers for what you’ll find at a typical slice shop in New York. Unfortunately, the hours aren’t. The small storefront closes anywhere between 9 and midnight depending on the day, cruelly eliminating our favorite time to get NY pizza — after last call.
Café Luigi, 2548 North Clark Street (at Deming Place); 773-404-0200.
For a Philly cheesesteak…
At Monti’s in Lincoln Square, husband-and-wife James Gottwald and Jennifer Monti — former Philadelphians — offer an appropriately named “cheesesteak wit” served with grilled onions and your choice of provolone or cheese sauce. The rib eye is more finely chopped than the long strips at Geno’s, and house-made aged cheddar sauce is a little too classy for an authentic cheesesteak, but props to the Amoroso roll and a genuinely delicious sandwich. There are even Tastykakes for dessert.
Monti’s, 4757 North Talman Avenue (at Lawrence Avenue); 773-942-6012.
02_Roots-7Photo: Courtesy of Cara Hunt.
For Quad Cities pizza…
With a sturdy crust that’s heavy on the malt and cut into strips with scissors, tomato sauce made with red chile flakes and cayenne, and pies cooked in a Roto-Flex oven, Roots Handmade Pizza brings to Chicago a littler known style of pizza: the Quad Cities pie, from the cluster of five cities at the Iowa-Illinois border. The hopping West Town restaurant even has a taco pie, thought to originate at Happy Joe’s pizza joint in Bettendorf, Iowa (one of the QC). It’s topped with tortilla chips, lettuce, and diced tomatoes, with optional sour cream on the side.
Roots Handmade Pizza, 1924 West Chicago Avenue (at North Winchester Avenue); 773-645-4949.
For Wisconsin cheese curds…
Will’s Northwoods Inn is named for the original bartender’s great-great-grandfather, a loyal Wisconsin resident born in the northwoods near Lake Superior. Were fried cheese curds a thing in the 1930s when ol’ Will was kickin’? We don’t know and we don’t care — they’re a Wisconsin delicacy now, and the basket at Will’s is just right — each curd is cradled in a crunchy beer-batter blanket, and the heap is served with housemade buttermilk ranch.
Will’s Northwoods Inn, 3030 North Racine Street (at Barry Avenue); 773-528-4400.
For Quebec poutine…
You’ll find poutines with ingredients like headcheese, black currant, and spiced ground lamb around Chicago, but the dish doesn’t have fancy roots — invented in Quebec as a pile of French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds, it’s a mainstay at diners, bars, and even fast-food chains across Canada. Find an authentic version at BadHappy Poutine, a relaxed BYOB spot that dishes out the traditional Quebecer alongside six dressed-up options.
BadHappy Poutine, 939 North Orleans Street (at Oak Street); 312-890-2165.
03_The-Southern-2Photo: Courtesy of Cara Hunt.
For Nashville hot chicken…
Chef Cary Taylor turns The Southern in Wicker Park into a taste of Nashville on Thursday nights with his hot chicken special: For $14, you get a platter of fried bird spiced with cayenne pepper until it’s fiery enough to rival hot chicken king Prince’s. Wash it down with $5 Jack Daniel’s cocktails and $3 Old Granddad shots.
The Southern, 1840 West North Avenue (at Honore Street); 773-342-1840.
For a New Orleans po’ boy…
Skip the newer, shinier River North location of Heaven on Seven in favor of the original lunch-only Loop digs, dedicated to serving New Orleans cuisine for the past 33 years. Chef Jimmy Bannos spreads his fried shrimp po’ boy with honey jalapeno mayo, a sweet-and-spicy take on the sammie’s classic mayo dressing.
Heaven on Seven, 111 North Wabash Avenue (at Washington Street); 312-263-6443.

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