Illustration by Aly Miller

The Best Jewish Food in Chicago

Old school delis, an expanding Israeli restaurant scene, and the best kosher sausage too.

Chicago has a vibrant history as a food industry hub, from its 19th century role as a center for cattle trading, meatpacking, and candy production to its 20th century development of midwestern staples like deep dish pizza and the Chicago-style hot dog (which, for those who aren’t familiar, is an all-beef frank, yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions, a dill pickle spear, tomato, sport peppers, and celery salt on a steamed poppy seed bun). For the last five years, Chicago has even been home to the famed James Beard Awards, also known as the “Oscars of Food.”

Chicago’s Jewish community, the fourth largest in the United States, has a longstanding food culture that evolved within Chicago’s overall vibrant culinary landscape. Large number of Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe to Chicago around the turn of the century, bringing with them some of the hallmarks of American Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, like bagels and baked goods, and of course, the deli. Today, the Jewish community’s culinary institutions maintain ties to the Old World, as evidenced by its stalwart kosher markets that bear names like Romanian Kosher Sausage Co. (in Rogers Park) and Hungarian Kosher Foods (in Skokie). In fact, Romanian’s interior harkens back to another era, literally.

While a number of beacons of Jewish food have shuttered in Chicago over the years (RIP Silverstein’s on Roosevelt Road in Lawndale), there are still classic spots churning out corned beef on rye and New York-style bagels coexisting with an emerging scene of deli disruptors, hummus pop-ups, and fast casual Israeli restaurants. There are also farmers markets you can’t miss, Jewish-inspired baked goods with a twist (read: za’atar babka), and Passover pop-ups held at some of the hippest of restaurants. So, welcome to Chicago, where a good Jewish meal is only an “L” ride away.

Who said you can’t get a good bagel outside of NYC? Once Upon a Bagel is a bakery, bagelry, and deli rolled into one, but it’s their inventive bagel flavors that really make this place stand out. Try the rye bagel or the pretzel bagel schmeared with fresh cream cheese. Upper Crust Bagels, a New York-style bagelry, proofs their bagels for 24 hours before boiling and baking them. Try the hand-sliced Nova lox on a sesame or everything bagel. New York Bagel and Bialy Corporation is often touted as the best bagel in Chicago. If you’re looking for adventure, try a jalapeño bagel or their mish mosh bagel, which is essentially an everything bagel that includes caraway seeds.

Pro-tip: The Lincolnwood location of New York Bagel and Bialy Corporation is open 24 hours for late night or early morning bagel cravings.

Once Upon a Bagel
1888 1st Street
Highland Park, IL 60035
(847) 433-1411
Neighborhood: Highland Park

Once Upon a Bagel
1050 Gage Street
Winnetka, IL 60093
(847) 784-1411
Neighborhood: Winnetka

Upper Crust Bagels
2831 W. Dundee Rd
Northbrook, IL 60062
(847) 559-9229
Neighborhood: Northbrook

Upper Crust Bagels
835 Waukegan Rd.
Deerfield, IL 60015
(847) 405-0805
Neighborhood: Deerfield

New York Bagel and Bialy Corporation
3556 1/2 Dempster St
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 673-9388
Neighborhood: Skokie

New York Bagel and Bialy Corporation
4714 W Touhy Ave
Lincolnwood, IL 60712
(847) 677-9388
Neighborhood: Lincolnwood

Photo credit Manny’s

While many icons of Chicago deli have closed in the last century, some of the stalwarts are growing strong. Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen has operated downtown since 1942, and Ken Raskin, the second generation owner to take over this classic spot, is still serving delicious bowls of matzah ball soup, homemade kishka, and melt-in-your-mouth corned beef sandwiches, which is the go-to sandwich order for locals in the know. If you’re heading out to the suburbs, don’t miss Kaufman’s in Skokie, where everything on offer is homemade. Locals recommend anything smoked, be it meat or fish. Also outside of the city, Max and Benny’s has been in the deli business for over 30 years, serving classic sandwiches like Reubens, potato salads, and eye-catching decorated cookies, including their most popular: the smiley face cookie. The Bagel is a classic Chicago deli and has been for almost 70 years. Their lox platters are a must.

Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen
1141 South Jefferson St.
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 939-2855
Neighborhood: Near West Side

Kaufman’s
4905 Dempster St
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 677-6190
Neighborhood: Skokie

Max and Benny’s
461 Waukegan Rd.
Northbrook, Il 60062
(847) 272-9490
Neighborhood: Northbrook

The Bagel
3107 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 477-0300
Neighborhood: Lakeview

Photo credit Nicole Piekarz

Innovative new takes on the Jewish deli are gaining steam in Chicago. Steingold’s opened in 2017 and features sandwiches like the “Sister-in-Law” with dill kimchi and anchovy mustard and the smoked fish tartine, topped with breakfast radish, everything bagel spice, and fresh dill on rye bread. The deli aims to celebrate Jewish culinary heritage and elevate it with high-quality ingredients and updated techniques. Jesse Bloom of Half Sour is no newbie to deli culture; his family owned a deli in Minnesota when he was growing up. Half Sour is inspired and influenced by the Jewish deli, but goes far beyond the classics — the latkes are topped with applesauce, sour cream, and hot sauce, and their version of a Reuben sandwich actually comes in the form of a croquette. Eleven City Diner serves a robust menu inspired by the nostalgia of yesterday’s diners. Their rough-around-the-edges service reminds you of the iconic New York delis of yesteryear, but their black and white French toast and their challah grilled cheese and matzah ball soup combo offer deli innovation you can taste.

Steingold’s
1840 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 661-2469
Neighborhood: North Center

Steingold’s (carry out only):
825 N Sedgwick St
Chicago, IL 60610
Neighborhood: River North

Half Sour
755 S Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 224-1772
Neighborhood: South Loop

Eleven City Diner
1112 S Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 212-1112
Neighborhood: South Loop

Photo credit LaShuk

In recent years, the Israeli street food trend sweeping the U.S. has also hit Chicago. La Shuk, which had been the darling of local farmers markets, recently opened a stall of their own in Fulton Market’s Politan Row. La Shuk’s Chef, Yosi Alhadif (who spent some time at Philly’s famed Zahav), has gained major traction with smooth hummus bowls and savory toppings like ground beef, caramelized onions, roasted pine nuts, chives, and olive oil. Since it first launched about 10 years ago, Benjyehuda opened five locations around downtown Chicago and in Schaumburg. Owned and operated by Benji Rosen and his wife Stacy, the two have created a Chicago spin on Israeli food, which includes both falafel and French fries with a killer not-to-be-missed cup of Merkts cheddar cheese for dipping. For those longing for the foods of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, Benjyehuda should tide you over.

Pro-tip: For falafel cravings, Naf Naf Grill is a Chicago-based Middle Eastern fast-casual concept that has come a long way from its humble beginnings at their first location in Chicago’s western suburbs. Naf Naf, which means “fan the flame” in Hebrew, now touts over 30 locations around Chicago and as far away as D.C. and New Jersey. No doubt, its success is due to the fluffy, warm, freshly baked pita and crispy falafel, as well as delicious babaganoush and sumac onions.

LaShuk
111 N Aberdeen St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Neighborhood: West Loop

Benjyehuda
10 S. LaSalle St.
Chicago, IL
Neighborhood: The Loop

Benjyehuda
145 N Wells
Chicago, IL
Neighborhood: The Loop

Benjyehuda
Three additional locations across Chicago and Schaumburg
Full listing on their website.

Photo credit Milt’s Kosher Grill

Chicago has a bevy of kosher dining options. Near Wrigley Field in Lakeview, Milt’s BBQ For the Perplexed has become a must-visit destination for its house-smoked meats, particularly its brisket. For those who prefer eating plant-based, they have tons of delicious sides to choose from, like fries, green beans, and cornbread. Milt’s donates 100% of its profits to charity so you can feel good about your choices while chowing down on their complimentary pickles. At Mizrahi Grill, the pita is top notch and should be enjoyed with chicken shwarma, falafel, hummus, and baba ganoush — all made from family recipes handed down from generation to generation. Taboun Grill is a must-visit while in the ‘burbs. Taboun serves high quality Israeli food that also happens to be kosher-certified. In addition to the usual suspects (falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, and the like), their cabbage salad, Moroccan cigars, and Yemenite soup are worth the schlep from the city.

Pro-tip: At Wrigley Field, DanZstand cooks up kosher hot dogs and sausages in natural casings made locally by Romanian, the local kosher icon (see Old School section below).

Milt’s BBQ For the Perplexed
3411 North Broadway Street
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 661-6384
Neighborhood: Lakeview
*This restaurant is kosher.

Mizrahi Grill
215 Skokie Valley Rd
Highland Park, IL 60035
(847) 831-1400
Neighborhood: Highland Park
* This restaurant is kosher.

Taboun Grill
8808 Gross Point Rd
Skokie, IL 60077
Neighborhood: Skokie
(847) 965-1818
* This restaurant is kosher.

Photo credit Sandy Noto

Jewish and Israeli food meets mainstream dining at a few fantastic upscale spots around the city. Chicagoans and visitors alike have fallen in love with Ēma and Aba, some of popular restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You’s newest concepts. Both helmed by CJ Jacobson, they highlight his unique blend of California and Mediterranean-inspired cooking. Ēma is a bit lighter (read: more veggies), while Aba skews more meat-heavy and celebrates the Mediterranean summertime bounty. Aba’s rooftop bar has become a staple for folks looking to grab a drink and a bite. Both Ēma and Aba are booked weeks ahead of time, so make a reservation! The much-anticipated Galit opened recently in Lincoln Park and focuses on Middle Eastern and Israeli immigrant cuisines. Andrés Clavero and Zach Engel, James Beard Rising Star winner previously of New Orleans’ Shaya, have diners entranced with their salatim (salads), cumin carrots, and stuffed cabbage. Frunchroom’s Italian and Jewish influences provide a welcome twist at this Portage Park eatery. It was Chef Matt Saccaro’s goal to blend both parts of his heritage, and that’s showcased through dishes such as chicken liver mousse with pickles and sourdough as well as brioche French toast with tahini.

Ēma
74 W Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 527-5586
Neighborhood: River North

Aba
302 N Green St, 3rd floor
Chicago, IL 60607
(773) 645-1400
Neighborhood: West Loop

Galit
2429 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Neighborhood: Lincoln Park

Frunchroom
4042 North Milwaukee
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 853-2160
Neighborhood: Portage Park


Romanian Kosher Sausage Co. has been stuffing sausages and curing meats in Chicago since 1957. They even pack their goods for travel, so folks visiting from across the country know they can stop in for treats on their way out of town (or to ship to loved ones). Between their sausages, corned beef, garlic pastrami, and liver, carnivores will be especially happy here. Their hot dogs even enjoy cult status. Hungarian Kosher Foods in Skokie, owned for 45 years by the Kirsche family, has been a mainstay of the kosher community both for their delicious, kosher goods but also for the feeling of community that customers and staff feel after decades of shopping and working at the store. The store was opened by Sandor Kirsche and his wife Margit, both Holocaust survivors, who later passed it onto their children. Recently, the store has been taken over by new owners and is still going strong.

Romanian Kosher Sausage Co.
7200 N Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60626
(773) 761-4141
Neighborhood: Rogers Park
*This business is kosher.

Hungarian Kosher Foods
4020 W Oakton
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 674-8008
Neighborhood: Skokie
* This business is kosher.

 


Not all of Chicago’s best foods exist within the confines of brick-and-mortar restaurants, but rather as pop-up experiences and businesses. Masa Madre, which launched in 2018 based out of the Pilsen neighborhood, is baking up some unique Jewish and Mexican-inspired treats like dulce de leche babka. Diaspora Dinners is a series exploring the cuisine of the Jewish diaspora with creative menus that change each time.

With Bagel Chef, Max Stern is excited to share his love for bagels and bialys with the city through catering, delivery, and other retail outlets. The ricotta bialys are especially exciting. Lettuce Entertain You restaurants across the city and surrounding areas are well known to most Chicagoans, but these spots also host Jewish holiday meals for Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah. Whether you’re visiting Chicago during the holidays or you’re able to take one night off from Passover with your in-laws, they’ve got you covered. As the holidays approach, check their websites for updated offerings. The kosher fine dining pop-up Wandering Foods offers Passover and Sukkot dinners in Hyde Park. And Seven Species Supper Club offers intimate dinner gatherings for a great cause, with a heavy sprinkling of Jewish cuisine mixed into the vegetarian fare.

Pro-tip: If you make it to Hyde Park, the students at the University of Chicago Hillel organize an annual pop-up deli in mid-May called The Hyde Pickle Deli. On offer are Reubens, pastrami sandwiches, sabich, and pickles on the side. Follow UChicago Hillel’s Facebook and Instagram for details.

Masa Madre
Pick up or delivery in Pilsen, South Loop, and the Loop on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Order on their website.

Diaspora Dinners
Pop-up dinners across Chicago. Visit their website and Instagram for updates.

The Bagel Chef
Pick up at various locations across Chicago.

Lettuce Entertain You
Various locations across Chicago. Check back before major holidays for updates.

Wandering Foods
Pop-up dinners during Sukkot and Passover in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Visit the website for more information.

Seven Species Supper Club and Catering
Check website for a list of upcoming events.

With input from local experts: Stephanie Goldfarb (Seven Species Supper Club), Jason Diamond (author), Jon Posner (Wandering Foods Productions), Jessica Lott (Chicago expert).

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