Of the great unexplained mysteries of the food world, nothing quite boggles my mind more than the tradition of similar restaurants serving the same kind of food within a few yards of each other. Think about Pat's and Geno's in Philadelphia or Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island in Detroit. In Chicago, our most famous permanent restaurant showdown takes place on South Union Avenue, where two Polish sausage joints, Jim's Original and Express Grill, stand shoulder to shoulder. For people driving north on 90/94 into the city, this pairing is the last thing you see before you arrive downtown. Ever since I moved to the city, I've wondered which one was better.
Obviously, I'm not the only one. Numerous other publications have done this over the years, but most of the time they just compare the Polish sausages, maybe adding in the pork chop sandwiches. I can't blame them. Those are the primary reasons one would visit these stands. But I decided it was only fair to go all in and compare every single dish the two had in common. You know, just to be sure. Turns out Jim's Original and Express Grill share far more than a location, a similar color scheme, and one or two menu items. In fact, their menus are nearly identical, right down to the prices.
After comparing the two menus, I ended up with eight items. What did I leave out? Instead of trying the hamburger, double hamburger, cheeseburger, and double cheeseburger, I figured I could learn everything I needed to know from the single hamburger. That also explains why I didn't go for the double dog, opting only for the regular hot dog. Oh, and I also excluded the slice of cheese ($.35) option, because that theoretically would mean I'd have to order every item with and without cheese. No thanks.
- Beef Polish
- Pork Chop with Bone
- Chicken Breast
- Hot dog
- Fish Sandwich
The toppings here are pretty much limited to grilled onions and mustard. Sport peppers are available, and they both offer ketchup packets, but when you say to top an item with "everything," you'll get a mound of onions and mustard. It is impossible to eat here and not smell like onions for hours afterwards.
Though I predicted the outcome, even I was surprised by the blowout. Jim's Original won in a landslide, losing only one category. Though Express Grill had a few good items, the food often tasted like it was served without care. Jim's never did. The buns were always soft and warm, the sausages juicy, and the fries hot and crispy. Of course, timing could have played a huge role, but I went on two different occasions, and all the results pointed a win for Jim's.
But what do you think? Do you have an opinion on the Jim's Original vs. Express Grill debate? I'd love to hear it. Leave a comment and let me know!