Rye Deli & Drink
25 S. Halsted St., Greektown
The twist Deli favorites with Middle Eastern and Texan influences
The skinny Billy Caruso has dipped into Jerusalem’s culinary melting pot, using, for example, labneh as a bagel spread (try the thyme and sea salt bagel slathered with charred strawberry and honey labneh) and making brik, a Tunisian pastry filled with potato and egg. His Austin, Texas, roots are on display, too, most notably with the pastrami, which he makes like the barbecue joints by giving a whole brisket (not just the flat) an extra-long smoke over oak and applewood. Try it in the Reuben with sauerkraut and Gruyère ($16).
Must order The matzo ball soup ($13), made with blue corn matzo balls, loaded with shredded chicken and veggies, and topped with a radish and herb salad
Jeff & Judes
1024 N. Western Ave., Humboldt Park
The twist Southern takes on deli classics, plus a standout bakery program
The skinny Ursula Siker grew up in Los Angeles, a city with a rich deli culture. She named this spot after her parents and took inspiration from their backgrounds (her dad comes from a Jewish family in Pittsburgh and her stepmom is from North Carolina). That means bites like a sweet potato and pimiento cheese knish ($8) alongside a thick corned beef Reuben on housemade marble rye ($18). Don’t miss the clever baked goods: Siker transforms her cinnamon challah into bread pudding ($8) and fills rye hamantaschen with cream cheese, red onion, and dill and crusts them with everything bagel spice ($7).
Must order The fried chicken sandwich ($10), an übercrisp thigh brined in buttermilk and pickling spices and dredged in matzo. It’s finished with mayo and bread-and-butter pickles and served on a potato bun.
Sam & Gertie’s
1309 W. Wilson Ave., Uptown
The twist Vegan versions (you heard right!) of deli staples
The skinny Andy Kalish may have named his restaurant after his grandparents, but the place is not exactly old-school. He re-creates traditional deli offerings like whitefish, corned beef, and chopped liver using beans, veggies, and other plant-based ingredients. Take his “pastrami,” which you can get with mustard on rye ($12.75) or as a Reuben (the Levin, $14.75); he combines wheat gluten with three types of beans (white, red, and garbanzo) to add texture and color, plus a secret seasoning blend that imparts a smoky, peppery bite.
Must order The Fishman ($13.75), a tangy smoked “whitefish” salad (made with hearts of palm, vegan mayo and cream cheese, green onions, and dill) on an onion bun with lettuce, tomato, onions, and capers