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Chicagoist's Favorite Classic Restaurants

By Staff in Food on Apr 3, 2013 4:15PM

We spend plenty of time gushing over (and ripping down) the ever-changing group of trendy new restaurants that open every day in Chicago. Each one more spectacular than the last, these newcomers often have style, verve and innovative cuisine. What don't they have? History.

This week, we celebrate the classics - Chicago's restaurants that have lasted through the years. This isn't a comprehensive list (how could it be?) but every one of these places is guaranteed to make you feel like you've been transported back to an earlier time. They're part of what makes our city great, and you can't call yourself a real Chicagoan until you've been to at least half the places on this list.

Photo by Anne Petersen
When I first started working in the city, the CEO of our company would leave the office every day at the same time and disappear for exactly an hour. The straight-laced CEO was a creature of habit; everything was tied to a strict schedule. Still, we often wondered if he used that hour of the day to go crazy and go someplace like an underground fight-club. It wasn't until we asked one of the veteran employees where he was headed that we found out it was to go to Manny's Deli. Manny's is the sort of place where the lunch-time crowd is filled with regulars. This is not a fancy power-lunch spot, but you definitely will see people who wield power in the city. It's not uncommon to sit down next to an alderman, lawyer or judge eating alone and reading the paper. Manny's is not a flashy place, but the food is comforting, the portions are huge and prices are reasonable. The corned-beef sandwich is stacked so high that even Louis Sullivan would wonder how it stays intact. The potato pancake is just a dollar when ordered with a sandwich and is fried to golden brown crispy goodness. After seeing where my CEO was eating, I knew that although he was a creature of habit, he had pretty great taste. - Paul Leddy
Manny's Deli is at 1141 S. Jefferson Street.

The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.’s pizza pot pie is, like indoor plumbing and chance encounters with the Puppet Bike, one of those indispensable luxuries that by rights should have always existed. Once you savor its charms, the idea of living without its homemade sauce and triple-raised Sicilian dough is nothing less than horrifying. Our favorite Chicago pizza had its inception with owner Albert Beaver, who in 1972 purchased the fire-ravaged building along Clark Street in Lincoln Park, paneled its interior with aromatic pine, and incited a mushroom-shaped monomania that soon spread beyond its neighborhood boundaries. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and weekend crowds can be thick if congenial. Options are limited - either white or whole wheat crust, meat or vegetarian sauce, mushrooms or no - but there are no bad ones. Pair with a chef’s salad and some Mediterranean bread for a true old-school Chicago meal to which you'll soon feel fully entitled. - Melissa Wiley
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. is at 2121 N Clark St.

If no Greektown restaurants made this list, we'd be doing Chicago a real disservice. And if one restaurant in Greektown deserves the "classic" moniker, it's The Parthenon. The Parthenon has been going strong, owned by the Liakouras family, since 1968. They had their first line out the door later that year, and you can still count on a wait if you go on a weekend. They claim to have invented Saganaki, the flaming greek cheese that we all love, and if you want a show with your dinner, wait until one of their expert waiters lights up six platters at a time. Walking past the front window and seeing a roasting pig or lamb never fails to make me hungry. - Anthony Todd
The Parthenon is at 314 South Halsted Street.

Via Nuevo Leon's Facebook

Today, Chicago is known for its diverse Mexican cuisine, from corner taquerias and Maxwell St. stalls, to bachelorette-party margarita joints and Rick Bayless' Michelin-starred paragon of Mexican fine dining. But before most Chicagoans even knew what a taco was, Nuevo Leon was serving them up along with a wide ranging menu of traditional Mexican favorites. Opened in 1962 by the Gutierrez family, this Pilsen institution has now anchored 18th street for more than fifty years. Nuevo Leon's menu is heavy on the staples of Mexican cuisine, with excellent tacos, chile rellenos, queso chorizo and mole dishes. The diverse menu is popular with immigrants and gringos alike, and there are often big Mexican families piling around large tables and foodies who've ventured in search of the authentic. Great Mexican food may now be found throughout the city, but there are still usually lines out the door as people wait for tables at Neuvo Leon. - Benjamin Lipsman
Nuevo Leon is at 1515 W. 18th Street.

Via Sabatino's Facebook
If you ever wanted (or needed) to recreate the scenario from the first season of Mad Men where Don gets Sterling hammered on vodka martinis and stuffed full of oysters over lunch, Sabatino's would be he place to stage your scene. An old-school Italian joint of the first degree, complete with the crisp white tablecloths and tuxedo'd waiters, Sabatino's presides over the Northwest Side with a kind of knowing stoicism. Its Irving Park neighborhood has changed over the years, but the huge portions, generous wine pours and jovial staff (many still speaking with a discernable accent of the motherland) remain. - Lizz Kannenberg
Sabatino's is at 4441 W Irving Park Road.

My choice is Schaller's Pump. Among the oldest restaurants in Chicago and is its oldest continuous running tavern with a rich history linking Chicago politics and the White Sox together. Some of the menu items to enjoy are the corned beef and cabbage, butt steak burgers, fried chicken and shrimp, an amazing prime rib and their pot roast, which is among the best on the South Side. Order some pot roast and a couple of beers and talk about how much the Cubs suck. - Chuck Sudo
Schaller's Pump is at 3714 S. Halsted Street

2013_4_3_Tufanos.jpg.jpg In 2008 Tufano's Vernon Park Tap was named one of "America's Classic Restaurants" by the James Beard Foundation, but nobody's putting on airs here. No wonder that accolade hasn't smothered any of its old-school warmth and tradition — if 82 years and the neighborhood's transformation from Little Italy into University Village couldn't throw them, what's one James Beard award? Co-founder and family matriarch Teresa Tufano DiBuono used to pass her home-cooked dishes through a kitchen window that connected to the restaurant when they opened in 1931. That opening still exists today, and so does the personal touch — Teresa's grandson Joey DiBuono, his sisters and his twin daughters run the restaurant, often greeting customers. Tufano's counts Nelson Algren and Frank Sinatra among its high-profile visitors, but the Italian mainstay will treat anyone like family. - Chris Bentley
Tufano's is at 1073 W. Vernon Park Place.

On a tiny little strip of South Oakley there's a neighborhood that the old timers call "Heart of Chicago," alternately, "Heart of Italy." Of the handful of restaurants in this Little Little Italy, Bruna's, serving since 1933, is the best. While he's not the original owner, the long time signor dell' ristorante is Luciano Silvestri, who hails from Siena in Tuscany. The menu definitely skews old school, with Italian-American classics like chicken (saltimbocca and Vesuvio), but I go for the spaghetti carbonara and a peek at the wine list, which holds some classic Italian gems. - Erin Drain
Bruna's Ristorante is at 2424 South Oakley Avenue.

This place is the real deal. Twin Anchors has been around since 1932, serving up baby-back ribs in the Old Town neighborhood to common folks and celebrities alike. It was an old favorite of Frank Sinatra's, who is said to have tipped each member of the waitstaff $100 apiece on occasion when he came through town. If Sinatra isn't enough to impress you, the restaurant was also used to shoot a scene for The Dark Knight a few years back. Sinatra and Batman? That should do the trick. What really did it for us though, is that while the food is just as good as it ever was, the owners have expanded the beer selection over the past few years to include some of our favorite American Craft brews. - Jason Baldacci
Twin Anchors is at 1655 N. Sedgwick Street.

When I think “classic Chicago” dining I imagine a warm room with dark wood, maroon carpeting, intimate low lighting, and an bar that invites you to spill your secrets. Then I realize I’m standing in the Gale Street Inn. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Gale Street has earned its status as a Jefferson Park staple by serving spot-on classic dishes. While you can’t go wrong with fish or a filet, many come for the slow cooked ribs that tenderly fall off the bone. According to Gale Street’s neon sign, they’re “Chicago’s Finest Ribs.” From the staff, many of whom have made Gale Street their home for over 20 years, to the neighborhood patrons, it’s one of those rare places with a genuine familial ambiance. Live jazz most evenings adds to the vintage charm of Gale Street, and if you don’t feel neighborly yet they’ll always make room for you at the bar. - Jessica Mlinaric
Gale Street Inn is at 4914 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

A few bonuses. Check out this old commercial from Manny's.

Also, this "history" of the invention of "Opa!" from The Parthenon.