20 Things You'll Only See In Chicago

20 Things You'll Only See In Chicago

There's a poutine factory. They make a hundred-dollar grilled cheese. A "Star Wars" museum could be in the works.

...and those aren't the only attractions that make our beloved Chicago unique. With a river, lake, museums, architecture, art and some darn ABSURDLY delicious food, everyone's favorite Midwestern cultural hub is home to more one-offs than you could ever imagine.

Hold on to your hats, because only in the Windy City -- and nowhere else on earth! -- will you find...

1. The original Portillo's
In 1963, Dick Portillo opened "The Dog House" in a 12-foot trailer hooked up to a garden hose. These days, meat fiends wait hours for juicy Italian beef sandwiches at 38 Portillo's locations in Illinois, Indiana, Arizona and California. With a buyout in the works, the char-grilled goodness might soon reach all corners of the nation.
portillos italian beef

2. Thirty-seven moveable bridges
Chicago has more moveable bridges than any city in the world -- at last count, there were nearly 40. Most are of a design called bascule, from the French word for teeter-totter.

3. Train crawls from the 'burbs to the beach
Tradition goes that you'll hop on Metra in your respective suburb and ride it into the city. Then, shoot down the Red Line on Chicago's "L" train and get off at one bar, two bars, three or more -- however many you can handle before falling asleep mid-ride. Good thing the line runs 24/7.

4. Water as blue as the Caribbean, but not in the Caribbean
Is that Barbados, or the Chicago lakeshore? We're never quite sure, because that water is so. Darn. Blue.

5. Hot dogs without ketchup
Some say it's because the relish is too sweet, and some say it's because ketchup is a taste bud attention hog. Whatever the case, Obama agrees: a real Chicago-style hot dog is comprised of bun, dog, mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle, sport peppers and celery salt. BAM!

7. Two concrete corn cobs
Chicago is famous for its architecture tours -- and the informative boat rides are anything but boring, because there are dozens of skyscrapers to ogle along the way. Some of our favorites are the "corn cob buildings," also known as Marina City. They're actually a set of condominiums built in the 60's.
marina towers chicago

8. A hundred-year-old ballpark
This year marks Wrigley Field's hundredth birthday. Yes, there are older ballparks out there. But they weren't the first park to let fans keep foul balls, and they don't have a manually-operated scoreboard from 1937. Nor are they home to the world-famous Chicago Cubs.

9. The fiercest pizza rivalry in the country
When Lou Malnati's beat out Pizzeria Uno, Gino's East and Giordano's as Chicago's best deep dish earlier this year, employees celebrated with a sauced-up version of the Gatorade shower. If this isn't a sign that the competition is fierce, then we don't know what is.

10. A bright green river
For more than 40 years, "a leprechaun" has dyed the Chicago River a brilliant shade of emerald, always just in time for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

11. Spitting LED faces
At the Crown Fountain art installation, 50-foot light-up faces spew water from their "mouths" at regular intervals, causing little kids to go pretty much berserk with glee.

12. America's hottest hockey bachelor
Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Blackhawks hockey team can be regularly spotted on the ice at United Center or at Chicago hotspots like Pony Inn, Chicago Cut and Studio Paris. We like to pretend Toews is single and ready to mingle... Lindsey who?
jonathan toews

13. Green Line beer
You'll only find this "honey-colored" pale ale -- named after the L's Green Line route -- on draft in Chicago bars. It's a way for local brewery Goose Island to reduce its carbon footprint.
green line pale ale

14. A stainless steel bean
It's actually called Cloud Gate -- the 110-ton structure was inspired by liquid mercury and meant to reflect the city skyline. At 33 feet high, it's one of the largest artworks of its kind in the world.

15. A single-double cheeseburger
The "single cheeseburger" at Au Cheval comes with two patties, and the "double" comes with three. It's confusing -- but when you're the best burger in America, you can do what you want.
au cheval burger

16. The original highchair for dolls
The American Girl Cafe -- complete with "Treat Seats" for your doll -- is every little girl's favorite part of American Girl Place. The store's flagship location is downtown on Michigan Avenue just outside the John Hancock Center.
american girl cafe chicago

17. Daaa Bears and Daaa Bulls
Probably no other sports teams have earned such late-night television fame... and we like it that way.
chicago bears

18. The world's first TILT
This engineering miracle in the John Hancock Center lets visitors "tilt" over the Chicago skyline in glass capsules from 1,000 feet high. Cue stomach drop.
tilt hancock

19. A giant red grill next to Nordstrom
Yup, that massive charcoal wonder marks the site of Chicago's Weber Grill Restaurant, located less than a block from the classy Nordstrom department store in The Shops at North Bridge. The restaurant dishes up baby back ribs, steak skewers and wood-fired crab cakes, all in an open kitchen... that's par for the course in the city that invented America's most iconic grill.
weber grill restaurant chicago

20. A pyramid on a city street
The base of the Tribune Tower has stones from 120 iconic spots around the world embedded in its exterior walls. It's the only way to lay your hands on the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Alamo and Notre Dame, all in one hour.

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Before You Go

Sometimes the wetter the sandwich, the better.
While the beef is (of course) the star here, Chicago's signature Italian beef sandwich (tastiest at Mr. Beef or Fiore's) is nothing unless it's DOUSED with beef jus and giardiniera. The more the beef jus has infiltrated the bread, the tastier the sandwich. Don't worry, you'll figure out a way to pick this up without making a giant mess. We have faith in you.
Cheese and caramel, the perfect flavor marriage.
Garrett Popcorn/Facebook
No, this is not weird AT ALL. Garrett Popcorn sells this "Chicago mix" by the heaping tubful to tourists -- and some locals, too -- with good reason: it's dang tasty. Why does this feel so right?
Nobody goes to Wrigley Field for the food.
That's what The Cell is for. (Though not too many people go there period.)
No one really goes to the Taste for the food anymore either.
Especially now that the barbecued turkey legs are off the menu at Chicago's premier food festival, you're kind of out of luck unless you're just going to see Chaka Khan.
Stephanie Izard can do no wrong.
Getty Images
A 7-pound whole goat's leg? A Cheez-It wedding cake? Whatever crazy thing you tell us to stuff in our mouths, we gladly will, Stephanie! Chicago would probably elect this Top Chef winner mayor if they could.
Rick Bayless does not make Chicago's best Mexican food.
Getty Images
Repeat after us: Rick Bayless does not make Chicago's best Mexican food, so please stop saying Rick Bayless makes Chicago's best Mexican food. (Xoco is pretty darn flawless though.)
For Chicago's best Mexican food, you go to Pilsen or Little Village. The end.
Nuevo Leon Restaurant is the king, but there are plenty of princes along 18th Street in Pilsen in particular. Go to any of them and please promise us to never say Rick Bayless makes the city's best Mexican food ever again.
Fried plantains beat bread pretty much every time.
The jibarito was invented at Borinquen Restaurant in Humboldt Park and is one of the most distinctive dishes that traces its roots to Chicago. Having grown in popularity, the Puerto Rican speciality is now available from many restos on the West Side in particular.
When the Tamale Guy arrives at your dive bar of choice, just empty your wallet.
This is the perfect complement to a night of too much boozing, and you will be very thankful the next morning. Track the Tamale Man's every move via Twitter.
The only way to make a tamale better is putting it on a bun and smothering it with chili.
Meet the mother-in-law, a South Side specialty. She's topped with tomatoes, peppers but -- you guessed it -- never ketchup and she's less intense than her only-in-Chicago sandwich counterparts like the Gym Shoe and the Big Baby. Get your hands on one at Johnny O's in Bridgeport.
If there were any justice in this world, this is the pizza Chicago would be known for.
Piece Pizzeria/Facebook
While we're the deep dish capital of the world, our thin crust pizzas -- like this one from Piece -- are -- shhh! -- often superior.
And when you do see us satisfying a rare deep dish craving, you won't see us at Uno's.
Pequod's all the way!
It makes total sense to wait in line for an hour or more for a hot dog.
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
At least, that is, if it comes from Hot Doug's. (Those duck fat fries? The cherry on top of this encased meat sundae.)
Out-of-town relatives will always ask you for tickets to Alinea.
For next week, of course. Bless their hearts.
Sometimes you just want to be screamed at.
No one quite understands why, but go ahead and get yourself to the Wieners Circle anyway. This place is known for their hot dogs, burgers and verbally abusive (yet still loving) employees. Whatever you do, don't order the double chocolate milkshake unless you want an eyeful of flesh!
You go to Devon ready to eat a day's worth of food in one sitting.
Ghareeb Nawaz/Facebook
No shade, because West Rogers Park is home to so much incredible Indian or otherwise South Asian food you pretty much can't go wrong no matter where you go.
Lentil soup can, actually, be so good it inspires tears of joy.
Joseph Erbentraut/The Huffington Post
It might not be much to look at and we don't quite know what's in the lentil soup at Taste of Lebanon, but this Andersonville hole-in-the-wall's signature dish has earned its cult following.
Poutine. It's not just a thing in Canada.
Big Cheese Poutinerie/Facebook
Chicago has seemed to be on the verge of a poutine boom for years now -- now that Wrigleyville's Big Cheese Poutinerie has 30 varieties of the stuff, now could be the time. This is the next frontier of Chicago-style gluttony.
Ordering breakfast can be more stressful than taking the SAT.
Valois in Hyde Park is notorious for its long lines -- we're guessing the president is pretty much the only person who gets to cuts to the front here at this cafeteria-style South Side institution.
Some of the best milkshakes in the world contain no milk whatsoever.
The vegan milkshakes at the Chicago Diner are so extraordinary, it'll blow your mind that they are dairy-free. Skeptical? The chocolate peanut butter shake will make you a believer.
The only real reason to get up early on a weekend is for a doughnut.
Doughnut Vault/Facebook
The line at Doughnut Vault can be killer, Glazed and Infused frequently runs out of their most donuts early and -- what was that you said? You want fresh paczki (the popular Polish pastry) for Paczki Day? Hope you made a game plan ahead of time because Chicago is serious about its baked goods -- especially when they're deep-fried.
You'd do pretty much anything for a slice of Bang Bang pie.
And no one could possibly blame you one bit for it. The Logan Square pie shop's line for pre-sale pickup ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday last fall stretched around the block.
No trip to Greektown is complete without saganaki.
After all, this is a dish that was reportedly originated in Chicago -- the Parthenon claims to have invented the flaming Greek cheese. OPA!
Argyle is not just a clothing pattern.
It's also the street you go to for some of the best pho you could have ever dreamed of. Pho 88 is where it's at.
And while we're at it..
The banh mi from Ba Le is probably the most out-of-this-world banh mi you will ever sink your teeth on. The key is the fresh French bread.
The phrase "smoked chubs" means something to you.
Calumet Fisheries/Facebook
If it does, you probably have Calumet Fisheries, the takeout-only Far South Side treasure renowned for smoked fish that even mystified Anthony Bourdain, to thank.