Here are a few places to get a taste of Chicago's blue-collar, no-pretenses food, no matter when you travel there.

Better plan ahead if you want to experience the sublime deep-dish pizza at Gino's East (in downtown Chicago at 162 E. Superior St. and also at 633 N. Wells). We had reservations on the night we visited, and there was a block-long line of less lucky Chicagoans and tourists alike, waiting to get in.

Some of those same people were still waiting when we left, two hours later.

What's the attraction? Simply put, it's pizza like most non-Chicagoans have never experienced: mountains of delicious toppings in a golden cornmeal crust that's both thick and tall, with straight sides to hold everything in.

The men in our group liked the sausage pie, with its enormous, pizza-size patty of savory sausage, chunky tomato sauce and cheese. But my favorite was the supreme, with sausage plus loads of fresh, sweet onions, green peppers and mushrooms.

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Pasta, stromboli, salads and sandwiches also are available, as is the thin-crust pizza that many Chicagoans claim is real Chicago style.

Owned by the same company is Ed Debevic's (downtown at 640 N. Wells), which has been providing chili, meatloaf and burgers to hungry Chicagoans for decades.

Another local fixture is Portillo's (downtown at 100 W. Ontario), which serves up hot dogs just about any way you'd want one, plus burgers, sammies, pasta, ribs, desserts and a big kitschy dose of Chicago history, heavy on the Al Capone era.