Illustration by Sarah Becan
Gym Shoe Illustration: Sarah Becan

The Jibarito

Identifying traits:Steak, garlic oil, mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes, with fried plantains swapped in for bread. Onions and cheese are acceptable additions.

Origins:An article in a Puerto Rican newspaper in the 1990s about a plantain sandwich. It inspired Chicagoan Peter Figueroa to give it a try.

Natural habitat:Borinquen Lounge (3811 N. Western Ave., Humboldt Park), run by Peter’s relatives

The Gym Shoe

Identifying traits:Three beefs (roast, corned, and gyro’ed), plus gyro sauce, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, and a variety of other toppings — basically stuff you’ll find lying around a Chicago sub shop — in a sub bun

Origins:Ambiguous, though the consensus is that it originated on the South Side. Some say it’s a result of the melting pot of immigrant communities (Greek, Irish, maybe even Jewish) that once called its neighborhoods home.

Natural habitat:Stony Sub (8440 S. Stony Island Ave., Calumet Heights), the sandwich’s spiritual home

The Italian Beef

Identifying traits:Shaved slices of sirloin with lots of gravy soaking into a long Italian roll, often with peppers, onions, and giardiniera

Origins:Very likely Italian immigrants seeking to stretch their food dollar by upping the gravy-to-meat ratio to unprecedented levels

Natural habitat:Johnnie’s Beef (7500 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park), which happens to be home to blogger Titus Ruscitti’s No. 1 sandwich (see “The 10 Best Sandwiches”)

The Mother-in-Law

Identifying traits:Look for the carb double-threat: A tamale in a hot dog bun, drenched with chili sauce. Occasionally, you’ll see Chicago-style hot dog toppings in there too.

Origins:Disputed, though in a city with so many tamales and hot dog buns, something like this was bound to happen. As for the name, most purveyors point to the sandwich being spicy or difficult.

Natural habitat:Any Chicago dog stand worth its celery salt, like Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots (7242 S. Western Ave., Marquette Park)

The Pepper and Egg

Identifying traits:Green peppers and scrambled eggs stuffed into an Italian sandwich roll

Origins:Observant Catholics, who turned to this veggie option during Lent

Natural habitat:Fiore’s Delicatessen (2258 W. Erie St., West Town), which claims to be the first shop to have sold a pepper and egg during Lent. (Now you can get the sandwich year-round.)