Thanks for following along on my long, long RV trip. This week, among other topics, we will explore some iconic Chicago foods. As a foodie, these were high on my list.
When we last left off I was moochdocking at my friend Craig’s in the Chicago suburbs, which is where I remained this week too.
I still had RV electrical issues to be solved and I was also re-evaluating whether I truly wanted to continue this trip after a lot of extra expenses and hard times.
Because of my electrical problems, I had no power whatsoever when plugged in. Only off the battery could I run lights or the water pump, etc. Needless to say, A/C was out of the question.
I was stressing that I would be stuck with a four-figure repair bill on top of the $1,300 I had just spent on new tires.
Craig tried to put my mind at ease. He was pretty sure he could diagnose and fix my RV electrical issues, so all I would be out was the cost of the parts.
He was right.
RV electrical issues solved
Craig diagnosed my travel trailer’s electrical problem as a bad converter. But not before it let off big sparks while he was testing things and trying to track down the root of the problem!
This kind of freaked me out, but he assured me it was nothing to worry about and he had everything under control.
The exact part I needed is no longer made.
No problem for my super-mechanic friend. Not only did he find a suitable replacement part, but he also found a way to make the new part fit where the old one did. It took a little bit of creative modification, but everything aesthetically looked the same as before.
Presto! I had power again.
The fridge that had shut itself off in 100-plus degree heat in Kansas City seemed to have healed itself and was working fine again, as well.
Thankfully it was substantially cooler in the Chicago area. In fact, most of the time no A/C was needed, especially at night.
Over the next few weeks, Craig planned to inspect and, if needed, repack my trailer wheel bearings.
He also planned to repair the damaged wheel well lining from my recent explosive truck tire blowout. He was also going to generally inspect everything on the truck and trailer he could to cut down on future potential problems while I was on the road.
If I had to have RV and/or vehicle issues, I was lucky to land near a friend like Craig who was willing and able to help me with them. The new converter was only about $300.
Aside from working on trailer repairs, both of us work remotely in our “real jobs,” so we had plenty to do to keep us busy most days. I even got a new gig as RVtravel.com’s new video editor, which has been both fun and educational for me.
Iconic Chicago foods
Most of our explorations took place in the evenings and involved eating some of Chicago’s most iconic foods and regional dishes.
If you recall, this culinary exploration started last week with deep dish pizza at Gino’s East.
Since it was summer and every little town in the Chicagoland area offers free concerts in the park, we took advantage of these, as well.
Johnnie’s Italian Beef: My favorite iconic Chicago eatery
As much as Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza, it turns out this is NOT my favorite Chicago dish. Although, don’t get me wrong. A good Chicago pizza is pretty awesome.
However, on this trip, I discovered a regional Chicago favorite that somehow had never crossed my radar in the past: Italian Beef Sandwiches.
These are kind of like a French Dip sandwich, except the bun is pre-dipped before you get it, then stacked with flavorful lean beef. Options are sweet pepper or hot peppers. Some places also offer a melt of Provolone cheese.
When I quizzed locals as to who makes the best Italian beef sandwich, a lot said Portillo’s, which is now a chain, although it started in Chicago.
I tried theirs and it was indeed good. But not nearly as good as my new favorite Chicagoland dive restaurant, Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park.
Johnnie’s does not even offer the optional cheese, but their sandwiches are so flavorful they do not need it.
I love mine with hot peppers (pictured above right). The hot peppers served here and at countless other Chicagoland restaurants are actually spicy giardiniera. This hot meal accouterment is a staple in Chicago and one I can heartily get behind.
Even though my RV fridge has somewhat limited available real estate, I am leaving Chicago with a Costco-sized jar of these hot pickled peppers!
Craig’s favorite at Johnnie’s is the combo sandwich of Italian beef with grilled Italian sausage (pictured above left).
After you finish your sandwiches, be sure to get some of Johnnie’s refreshing house-made lemon Italian ice to cool down.
A meal at Johnnie’s will probably cost you less than a typical fast food burger joint but it is SOOOOO much better.
Searching for the best Chicago Hot Dogs
Who has the best Chicago Hot Dogs is another topic of culinary debate among Chicagoland locals. The most popular choice by far among the folks I quizzed was Portillo’s.
When it comes to Chicago-style hot dogs, I can get behind Portillo’s (but I still say Johnnie’s has better Italian Beef).
I must confess, I am generally not a big hot dog fan, but I do enjoy Chicago Hot Dogs. Maybe that is because there is so much stuff on them the hot dog itself almost plays a supporting role.
A runner-up for hot dogs among the locals I queried was Gene and Jude’s, which also seems to make a lot of 10 best lists. I was underwhelmed and would rate Gene and Jude’s as just OK. At least it was VERY inexpensive.
I did like the firm texture of the hot dogs they use, but they lack the typical Chicago Hot Dog toppings that I love, like tomatoes and a pickle spear. The homemade fries were good, though, although I am not sure I am a fan of serving them ON the dog.
Don’t even think about trying the “tamales” at Gene and Jude’s Those were terrible in every way.
Before I leave the topic of Chicago dogs, one other important point of information: NEVER EVER put ketchup on a Chicago Hot Dog. I am pretty sure it is against the law here. Locals take this rule extremely seriously.
Lincoln Park Zoo and Ricobene’s
One other local restaurant institution that friends kept recommending again and again was Ricobene’s.
This place is famous for its HUMONGOUS breaded steak sandwich served smothered with marinara sauce and melted cheese.
It is big, I will give them that. Craig and I each only ate half and took the rest home.
However, despite USA Today calling this dish “the world’s best sandwich,” as well as a ton of other national press, neither of us was that impressed with it.
Maybe we caught them on an off day? The meat was not crisp as it should have been. Had it been, the sandwich would have been much better, but it was almost as if we were served something that had been sitting around for a while and not made fresh.
I am not sure what kind of mystery meat cut it was either, but it was kind of funky.
The sandwich was edible, and we did eat them. At about $16 for a single sandwich, of course, we were going to eat them. But we have no desire to ever go back.
After leaving Ricobene’s we found ourselves in the general vicinity of Lincoln Park so decided to go for a walk.
Visitors to this gorgeous Chicago public park will find beautiful gardens and lots of green space. But on this day we headed towards the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Founded in 1868, the zoo is one of America’s oldest. They have an impressive collection of animals. My personal favorites were the majestic lions and the gorillas.
The entire family will enjoy strolling around the zoo’s manicured grounds.
Those on a budget take note. There are zero admission charges to visit this world-class zoo. You read that correctly: ZERO dollars to get in as the zoo is owned by the city of Chicago for the benefit of the public.
More iconic Chicago foods at the Taste of Chicago festival, plus visiting a circus graveyard
Previously in Cheri’s long, long RV trip:
- Week 7: Mochdocking in the Chicago burbs: Re-evaluating this trip
- Week 6: An EXPLOSIVE tire blowout and an emotional goodbye
- Week 5: RVing in Kansas, and an amazing campground
- Week 4: Having fun on more Colorado explorations
- Week 3: RVing during Colorado’s surprise snow, and a castle!
- Week 2: Friday the 13th, road trip woes set in
- Week 1: RVing sites and attractions in Las Vegas and beyond