Food & Drink | January 3, 2023 7:00 am

Your Guide to Chicago’s Best Giardiniera-Topped Hot Beefs, Hot Dogs and More

As curated by one of Chicagoland’s top butchers

Homemade Pickled Giardiniera
Homemade Pickled Giardiniera
bhofack2 via Getty

Giardiniera is as much a Chicago staple as the iconic hot beef sandwich — and its profile has soared right alongside it, propelled to new levels of fame by The Bear and a generally heightened appreciation for this pickled veggie-centric condiment. 

Where to try Chicago’s best giardiniera-topped dishes? For suggestions, we talked to Brad Knaub, the co-owner of Carnivore Oak Park and one of the top butchers in the Chicago area. Knaub really knows his beef and his giardiniera — and happily, he filled us in on where he goes whenever he wants a fix. 

Johnny’s Beef, 7500 W North Ave., Elmwood Park

It would be easy to miss this spot if not for the line wrapping around the block — it’s little more than a stand selling Italian beef sandwiches, fries and Italian ice. But it does them so well. Knaub always orders the Combo Juicy Hot: an Italian beef sandwich with an Italian sausage, dipped together in au jus and topped with giardiniera — which, Knaub says, “brings the whole experience together.” But, he says, “If you’re driving past Johnny’s and there are fewer than seven people outside, keep driving. If there’s a long line, that’s when you get it because they’ve got the beef going.” They are a cash-only joint. 

Luke’s on Harlem, 3130 N Harlem Ave., Chicago

“This is a nondescript Chicago hot dog and pizza kind of joint, but the giardiniera in the context of a 1:15-in-the-morning, six-drinks-in, greasy-hot-dog craving…is just life-changing,” Knaub says. (Note: they close at 1 a.m.). He admits he doesn’t know how the family-owned spot is processing the giardiniera or who does it. But, Knaub says, “Sometimes, pickled relishes like that can be a little too soft, but the giardiniera here is snappy and it’s fun to chew on, which is kind of unusual for a pickled product.” 

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Carnivore Oak Park, 1042 Pleasant, Oak Park

Knaub decided to do some self-promotion simply because he honestly believes that his giardiniera is one of the best in town (we just happen to agree). “We use giardiniera from Caruso Provisions that we use in our combination brat, which is a beef and pork sausage seasoned like an Italian sausage with a big handful of the giardiniera,” Knaub says. “People love them and we make them all the time.” 

Parky’s Hot Dogs, 329 Harlem Ave., Forest Park 

At this totally no-frills spot (blink and you’ll miss it), they make a classic Chicago hot dog and a depression hot dog, and their giardiniera is on the milder side, Knaub says. There’s no dine-in, but there is a small outdoor eating area (which is usually full in the summer). 

Pete’s Red Hots, 6346 Roosevelt Rd., Oak Park

This place is a classic. They’ve got gyros, tamales, hot dogs and even a Greek chicken dinner. But what really stands out for Knaub is the bratwurst sandwich, slathered in giardiniera.