Three Little Piggy Sandwich from the Silver Palm ($13.95)
One of Chicago's very best sandwiches, and perhaps one of the greatest sandwiches anywhere, is steps away from the Chicago Blue Line stop. Described by Anthony Bourdain as the "apex of the sandwich making art," this gargantuan creation gets its name from the trifecta of pork, which includes a breaded pork tenderloin, a few slices of bacon, and a slab of double smoked ham. If that weren't enough, the sandwich also features melted gruyere, an onion ring, and a fried egg. It shouldn't work—at all. Yet, for some inexplicable reason it does. I should note that the sandwich is so filling, a stop here will effectively end any food tour you had planned for the day.
Al Pastor Taco at Tierra Caliente
A few years ago, a stop at the Division Blue Line stop would have meant one thing and one thing only: a carne asada taco at La Pasadita. But the quality has slipped at the mini taco chain, and my favorite location on the east side of the street even closed (there are two others across the street—it's a long story). Anyway, now you'll have trek a little further, but the al pastor taco at Tierra Caliente is worth the effort. Marinated pork is stacked high and cut off in nice, big hunks, making for a truly substantial taco. Read more here >>
Tierra Caliente #1, 1402 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 773-772-9804
Tacos at Big Star
You've probably already heard about this place. I even included it in the list of 10 Touristy Spots in Chicago That Are Actually Good, and what I said then is just as true now:
"Never have I strolled passed Big Star and seen it empty. Never. Doesn't matter if it's the dead of winter or some summery afternoon in July. Considering the crowds, Big Star could be forgiven for dishing out sub-par tacos as long as the margaritas kept coming, but the quality, even on the busiest nights, remains shockingly high. Getting a table to sip margaritas can take awhile, but if you just need a taco fix, head straight for the takeout window where you can usually get served in minutes. For some reason, though the al pastor always hits the spot, the vegetarian tacos are usually better." Read more here >>
Hot and Sour Soup at Belly Shack ($4.00)
Belly Shack is located underneath the Western Blue Line stop, making a quick visit incredibly easy. The only hard part is trying to settle on what to eat. All of the sandwiches are worth a look, and if they happen to be on the menu, don't pass up the wings. But if I had to choose one dish to recommend, it would have to be the hot and sour soup, which is basically a cross between a Chinese hot and sour soup and Mexican pozole. It's kind of hard to describe, but it manages to be both warming and comforting, while remaining acidic, spicy, and vibrantly flavored.
Hot Dog with Fries at Redhot Ranch ($2.71)
At Western you'll also find one of our very best hot dogs, even if it doesn't match your preconceived notion of a Chicago-style hot dog. You won't find the classic, dragged-through-the-garden version here. Instead, Redhot Ranch specializes in the Depression Dog, a barebones creation, which is actually quite popular around town. The natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog is extra snappy, the steamed bun is soft, and the toppings are straightforward and assertive. Plus, each hot dog is topped with a handful of astonishing hand-cut fries—just make sure to ask for them "extra crispy."
Redhot Ranch, 2072 N. Western Avenue, Chicago IL 60647 (map); 773-878-9898
Adobado Taco at Taqueria Moran ($1.75)
Located across the street from the entrance to the California Blue Line, Taqueria Moran is one of the better old school taquerias around. While not everything works, the restaurant does has one unquestionably awesome offering: the adobado tacos. The little hunks of griddled pork are juicy, with a deep chile backbone from a marinade. If you're not in a taco mood, or if you just feasted at Big Star, the chilaquiles are also a good option.
Taqueria Moran, 2226 North California Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-235-2663
Pie and/or Biscuits with House Made Jam and Butter at Bang Bang Pie Shop
Less than a quarter mile south of the California Blue Line, Bang Bang Pie Shop (as the name suggests) serves some exceptional pies, which you should get paired with a cup of the joint's robust coffee. But the buttery, yet still light biscuits make this place a true destination. Of course, the free jam and butter help tremendously.
Bagels or Pizza at Reno
Step off the Blue Line at Logan Square, and you'll find Reno waiting for you on the corner. What you get totally depends on what time of day you stop by. In the morning go for the bagels, which are tiny and malty. The regular cream cheese gets the job done, but I'm also a fan of the artichoke schmear. If you stop by at night, you have to go with one of the thin crust pizzas. The 14-inch pies feature a blistered crust from the wood-fired oven, and come with some creative topping options, including one with thinly sliced butternut squash, Gruyère cheese, sage, and walnuts. Oh, and what about lunch? Then you'll have to try The Pine, a fried chicken thigh sandwich topped with dill pickle slices and hot honey sauce.
Just About Everything at Longman & Eagle
Oh, Longman & Eagle. This Michelin-starred saloon (honestly, there are rooms upstairs) does many things, and it does them all almost annoyingly well. It's hard to go wrong with the massive grilled burger with crispy bacon or the wild boar sloppy joe, especially since both come with beef fat fries. But that's just the beginning. Go with the PBR Breakfast, and you'll get crispy house potatoes and exceptional housemade sausage, though don't forget about the chicken and waffles. Heck, even the vegetarian options are wonderful. Of course, this isn't exactly a secret. It may be located far from downtown, but don't expect to just stroll in on a Saturday night. Fortunately, you can grab a bite to eat at the bar.
All-Veal Bratwurst at Mirabell
Hot Doug's should be close to the top of any visit to Chicago. Sadly, it isn't located near a train stop, so it doesn't make this list. But since Chicago is something of a Sausage City, there are still options. One of the best, and most convenient, options is Mirabell, an old school German restaurant right next to the Addison Blue Line stop. There you'll encounter what our old sausage expert, Blake Royer, called "quietly the best traditional bratwurst I've ever eaten."
Brisket at Smoque
It may surprise some, but Chicago has a serious barbecue scene. If you have the time to really delve in, check out this guide. If you're rushed, one of the best options happens to be right off the Irving Park Blue Line. Smoque is the kind of place with a four page manifesto, and that passion is evident in all of the smoked meats. Honestly, it's hard to pick a favorite. What I do know is that you won't find a better brisket in the metropolitan area.
Chorizo and Egg Torta at Tortas Frontera
The Blue Line ends at O'Hare, but even if you failed to stop at any of the previous stops, you still have one serious option. That is, if you're lucky enough to fly in or out of Terminal 1 or 3. If you are, then you're basically contractually obligated as a Serious Eater to stop at Tortas Frontera. The quick-service torta joint is a great way to experience Rick Bayless's restaurant empire for cheap. I'm definitely not the only one to recommend a stop. Kenji had this to say about the chorizo and egg torta: "Not only was this the finest bit of food I've had at an airport, it sits proudly in the upper echelon of breakfast tortas I've had anywhere."