Once upon a time, in those medieval days before Michelin stars and James Beard galas, Chicago was stereotyped as a meat and potato town, notorious for its stockyards (thanks, Upton Sinclair) and enough meat processing plants to make it a scary moniker “Pig Butchers of the World”. However, things have evolved significantly over the last hundred years. Sure, the Midwestern metropolis still loves its meat and potatoes, but sometimes they come in the form of hot dogs with crinkle-cut fries, or Reuben sandwiches with latkes, or a 38-ounce dry-aged tomahawk Rib eye with rosemary roasted potatoes.
Meaty or not, many enduring restaurants have grown with Chicago as it morphed into the epicurean epicenter it is today. The city now boasts stunning tasting menus and celebrity chefs, but it’s these old-fashioned classics that help the city stay rooted, and Chicagoans have just as much room in their hearts for an old-school steakhouse or diner as they do for the hot new thing .
With the pandemic causing the closure of popular institutions like Dinkel’s Bakery, Yoshi’s and Everest, she has increased appreciation for these venerable mainstays and their importance to the city’s food scene. From fine dining to casual neighborhood sub-shops, and from cinnamon buns to salad bars, the old guard is rich with persistence and nostalgia, and they’re just as crucial to the city’s gastronomic DNA as the fine dining icons, the served with translucent pumpkin pie. Let’s educate an Old Fashioned about these pioneering old-school Chicago restaurants.