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Iconic Illinois Eats: Where to Eat the Greatest Foods in the Land of Lincoln

Here are the most-quintessential plates in the Prairie State — and the best spots to score them.

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Prairie Plates

When it comes to iconic food, Illinois is more than gut-bomb pizza and salad-topped hot dogs. Thanks to a diverse population, it’s also a culinary odyssey waiting to be discovered, rife with Polish, Latino, Italian and Pakistani-inspired fare. So dig in and discover the iconic dishes of Illinois.

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Photo: Derek Richmond

Bacon-Wrapped Chorizo-Stuffed Dates

Though Chicago features a world-class dining scene with thousands of restaurants, the scene is always changing. Menus turn over daily, and hundreds of new dishes are invented. One constant, and maybe one of the most-identifiable dishes other than deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, is Avec’s bacon-wrapped date. It’s a Mediterranean play on the classic Devil’s on Horseback, with the pork factor upped by stuffing chorizo into the sweet, caramelized fruit. Instead of eating it dry on a toothpick in classic form, the dates swims in a spicy, tangy piquillo-pepper tomato sauce that makes diners swoon.

Photo courtesy of Sandy Noto

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The Original Maid-Rite Sandwich

Though Maid-Rite was originally founded in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1926 by Fred Angell, generations of Illinoisans on their way to the quad cities or the historic Abe Lincoln sites in Springfield have made a special stop at a Maid-Rite. Most want the signature “original” Maid-Rite, a pillowy bun filled with zesty hot ground beef. Some people compare it to a sloppy joe, but Sloppy Joes are usually doused in a cloying tomato-based sauce that masks any meaty flavor, whereas the Maid-Rite’s rich beefiness is front and center, balanced by a tangy pickle or two.

Photo courtesy of Adam Reynolds

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Photo: Dimo Raychev

Deep-Dish Pizza

Because it’s a knife-and-fork affair that threatens your cardiac health, most Illinoisans eat deep-dish pizza only a few times a year. But when they do, the best places to get it are the restaurants run by the sons of deep-dish pizza co-inventor Rudy Malnati Sr.: Lou Malnati’s and Pizano’s (owned by Rudy Malnati Jr.). Rudy Jr.’s spot gets the edge over his brother’s, because his crust is more buttery and golden and a little less hefty. The sauce is delectably salty and ripe with tomato. You can get any topping, but if you want to keep it real, stick to — as the locals pronounce it —“ssaaah-sidge.”
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