Grilled Cheese: Who Does it Best?

Chicago sandwich joints square off in battle of the cheesiest

Could there be a food more closely tied to the American coming-of-age story than the grilled cheese? Maybe your relationship with this iconic comfort sandwich started with the tiny pieces your mom would chop it into so your toddler mouth could handle it. As a kid, it became your go-to favorite lunch and mom’s go-to weeknight dinner. Later, it was probably the first thing you learned to cook for yourself, and in college, grilled cheese probably represented the ideal solution to raging drunchies – or just sweet relief, in the form of comfort food, from exam-induced stress. For adults, grilled cheese is a repertoire staple of even the most accomplished cooks.

For these reasons and more, it’s difficult for anyone to be a snob about grilled cheese. It’s a straightforward, universally appealing sandwich that offers a tasty, no-frills meal to invoke feelings of coziness and comfort. But the more you learn about grilled cheese, the more you come to realize that its creation is truly an art form – one filled with nuance and endless possibilities, and one that’s spawned a competitive grilled cheese subculture. It begs the question: What truly makes for the ideal grilled cheese? Is it simply a taste? Is it an emotion? Is it an experience?

To settle the age-old debate, we set out on a cheesy quest through Chicago, a city that's home to restaurants with some of the country’s most renowned grilled cheeses.

Click the photos below for in-depth analyses of the two competitors, and read below for our verdict. Check out the original coverage of the competition in Northwestern University's Spoon magazine.

The Verdict

To be fair, it really comes down to what you want in a grilled cheese. What does grilled cheese mean to you? If it means unashamed, possibly drunken indulgence and a mindset so relaxed it borders on grunge-y, head to Cheesie’s. If you prefer a more streamlined, “designer” grilled cheese experience, Grahamwich prevails.

But if we had to make a decision, we’d have to go with Cheesie’s. Not only does it offer more options, which are each individually interesting, but the ambience of the bar and style of the sandwich are much more true to the entire grilled cheese ethos. Welcoming, comforting and delicious almost to a fault – you can’t get much better than that. No tomato soup necessary.