9 Essential Chicago Sandwich Shops
Chicago's must-try sandwich shops offer everything from classic Italian beef subs to creative Mexican tortas. Here, nine of F&W's favorites.
1. Johnnie's Beef
Philly has its cheesesteaks, but Chicago has its Italian beef—thin slices of gravy-soaked beef on an equally gravy-soaked roll, best served with sweet or hot peppers and pickled vegetable giardiniera. Johnnie's tops just about every "Best Of" list in town, known for its superior gravy, always-juicy beef and charcoal-grilled sausages for those who prefer a combo sandwich.
2. Au Cheval
Masters of upscale comfort food, this self-described "bar and diner" serves sandwiches as simple as they are delicious, including a legendary burger and a fried house-made bologna sandwich that wins over even the most hardened bologna skeptics.
3. Little Goat
Fusing chef Stephanie Izard's knack for international flavors with the comfy vibe and gut-busting portions of an American diner, the Little Goat excels at innovative comfort food—from a Reuben accented with kimchi and "special sauce," to the grilled cheese with pork guanciale and smoked tomato.
Rick Bayless, known for decades as Chicago's master of refined Mexican food, creates brilliant tortas at his two locations of Xoco. Among the best combinations are goat barbacoa with pasilla-tomatillo salsa and avocado, and the Pepito (braised short rib, caramelized onion, Jack cheese, black beans).
5. Al's #1 Italian Beef
The franchised shop has outlets all over town, but it's the original that serves the best Italian beef, with intricately spiced gravy, properly soaked bread and perky giardiniera.
6. J.P. Graziano
This fourth-generation family-owned grocery hasn't always sold sandwiches, but given their decades of expertise in Italian meats and cheeses, it's no surprise they make a superior sub, particularly the house special "Mr. G" with soppresatta, prosciutto di Parma, Genoa salami, imported provolone, marinated artichokes and an awful lot more.
7. Cemitas Puebla
While tortas are more widely known, the cemita is an impressive Mexican sandwich in its own right. It's distinguished by a sesame-seeded, slightly sweet bun and formidable stack of fillings—refried beans, meat, chipotle, avocado, the herb papalo, white cheese and more. Cemitas Puebla, now with two Chicago locations, is the undisputed city favorite.
8. Publican Quality Meats
Paul Kahan's meat-centric beer hall The Publican has been a Chicago favorite since the day it opened, and its neighboring butcher shop–café, Publican Quality Meats, is just as impressive. Top-flight meats and fresh-baked breads unite as especially remarkable sandwiches like the "Almost Famous," with roast beef, comte, caramelized onion, horseradish and au jus.
9. Bari Italian Deli
Italian-style subs are the obvious draw at this old-school grocery, and they are indeed beautifully layered creations of meat, cheese and, if you're smart about it, giardiniera. But Bari's Italian beef is just as impressive, among the best in Chicago.