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March 1, 2023

The NASCAR fan’s guide to enjoying Chicago


bubba wallace climbs out of his no. 23 toyota in front of skyscrapers

This July, NASCAR comes back to the Windy City for the inaugural Chicago Street Race on Sunday, July 2 (5:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, Sirius XM, NBC Sports App). While this isn’t the first time the sport has held races in the area, as suburban Joliet hosted Cup Series events at the 1 1/2-mile Chicagoland Speedway from 2001-2019, it’ll certainly be one of the most unconventional. (At least since downtown’s football stadium Soldier Field held a Grand National division race in 1956). The 2.2-mile track, the first city-set street course of its kind for NASCAR, will utilize parts of the city’s iconic streets Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive as well as Grant Park’s gorgeous Buckingham Fountain. Ask a local and they’ll tell you Chicago in the summertime is the best place to be.

MORE: NASCAR reveals plans for 2023 Chicago Street Race | Xfinity Series to take part, too

Because you’ll be spending time downtown at the races (both the Xfinity Series and Cup Series are hitting the track that weekend), this will be a guide for anyone who wants to explore this great city even more. While Chicago’s skyline is certainly iconic and its downtown area is full of shops, great restaurants, and scenic views, it’s the neighborhoods that really make this city one of the best in the world. Just look at a map: the place is huge! It’s the Talladega Superspeedway of Midwest cities. This locally-sourced roundup will take you around town, give you expert recommendations on cuisine staples, and tell you about the hidden gems that people who actually live here frequent.

BUY TICKETS: 2023 Chicago Street Race

Hot Dogs

The hot dog wasn’t invented in Chicago – we can thank 12th-century Germans for that – but hundreds of years later it has been perfected in this city. The Chicago-style hot dog is a culinary miracle and better than deep-dish pizza and Italian beef, the city’s other two famous exports. A creation of working-class Chicagoans in the ’30s, it’s a wiener (usually Vienna Beef) placed in a poppy seed bun and topped with mustard (never ketchup), neon-green relish, onions, tomatoes, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt. You can get this iteration at the popular chain Portillo’s, which is the platonic ideal of a local hot dog. However, Superdawg, the city’s only drive-in restaurant in Jefferson Park on the northwest side has its own creation: the Superdawg.

nascar drivers look at the bean in chicago
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It boasts a house-made beef sausage and a simpler ingredient list in relish, mustard, sport peppers, and chopped onions. Redhot Ranch, a cash-only dive in Bucktown and Lakeview, sells “Depression dogs” which can feature two links in one bun, mustard, relish, onions, sport peppers, and always french fries on top.

Pizza

You’ve heard the debates: Chicago deep-dish or a New York-style slice? While deep-dish, a thick, lasagna-like pie whose ingredients, including the cheese, are buried under tomato sauce, can be delicious, a large portion of born-and-raised locals only eat it when their aunt from Wisconsin is in town. Instead, the true Chicago favorite is tavern-style with a thin and crispy crust, and the entire thing is mostly cut into squares. Some people like the cheesy center squares while the real heads go for the tiny, triangle-shaped crust-only bites. Vito and Nick’s is the leader of this specialty in Ashburn on the southwest side while Barnaby’s in the northern suburbs is also worth a look. However, one of the best places for a pizza here actually makes New Haven-style, another thin-crust variety. Piece in Wicker Park arguably takes the top spot with its Hot Doug’s Atomic Sausage Pizza and house-made beers. If you’re still curious about deep-dish after reading all this, just go to Pequod’s in Lincoln Park.

RELATED: NASCAR’s Chicago connections | Scenes from race announcement

Sandwiches

If there is one thing FX and Hulu’s The Bear got right, it’s that Chicagoans love sandwiches. You can get an Italian beef sandwich like one from that TV show, conveniently, at the shop where they filmed it: Mr. Beef in River North. An arguably superior version of this local specialty of thin-sliced roast beef, giardiniera (pickled peppers), and au-jus comes from Al’s #1 Beef, specifically the one on Taylor street in Little Italy. In the South Loop, Manny’s Deli is an iconic Jewish deli and the best pastrami in town. Elsewhere, you can buy a life-changing Italian sub at Bari Foods in River West while Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich near Chinatown must be experienced to be believed. Chicago: The City That Meat Made isn’t an official slogan but it should be.

Live Music

There will be a lot of music to take in during the Chicago Street Race weekend. NASCAR is hosting a two-day music festival in Grant Park with Miranda Lambert, The Chainsmokers, The Black Crowes, Charley Crockett, and more all slated to perform. However, that won’t be the only gig in town. This city thrives on its vibrant music community and wealth of historic, small venues that constantly host great artists of all genres. If you’re into country music, venture up the north side to Uptown where there’s Carol’s Pub, a late-night honky tonk where you can buy a bologna sandwich while you take in a band. Not too far from Carol’s is the legendary Green Mill, an old-school jazz club and cocktail lounge that once counted Al Capone as a regular. In Lincoln Park, blues run the game at Kingston Mines while the Hideout is a favorite among local indie rockers, punks, and alt-country lovers.

MORE: Star-studded musical lineup for 2023 Chicago Street Race

Walking Around

Don’t let Chicago’s size intimidate you: it’s a great place to walk around, especially in the summertime. You may be already familiar with the gorgeous Lakefront Trail but even locals take advantage of this impossibly scenic route for bicyclists, runners, and those on leisurely strolls. A bit west is the 606, also known as the Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated 2.7-mile path that stretches from Bucktown to Humboldt Park. If that’s not enough nature for you, the Garfield Park Conservatory on the west side is a perfect place to take in exotic greenery, gorgeous floral displays, and art installations. The city also has multiple beaches thanks to Lake Michigan. Check out Loyola Beach or Montrose Beach on the north side.

kurt busch sings at wrigley field

Sports That Aren’t Motorsports

When NASCAR visits Chicago, it’ll be during baseball season. The Cubs play on the north side at Wrigley Field while the White Sox call Guaranteed Rate Field on the south side home. They’ll both be in town during the days surrounding the Chicago Street Race. At Soldier Field, home of the Bears, you can also find Chicago Fire taking on their opponents in Major League Soccer. Not too far from that stadium is Winstrust Arena, where you can catch the city’s WNBA team the Chicago Sky focusing on young talent to reclaim the winning ways that won them the 2021 title.

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