When you have a place that combines distinct mountain culture with an urban-sized appetite for…
Swimsuit season is long over, and you know what that means: It’s eating season! Chicago is one of my favorite food towns. From hot dogs piled high with accoutrements to some of the world’s best fine dining, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into in Chi-town. Here’s a few of the best places to eat in Chicago.
Let’s start with the hot dog. Chicago is known for serving dogs that have been “dragged through the garden.” It’s an all-beef dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with a vibrant green pickle relish, pickle spear, tomatoes, onions and mustard. Want ketchup? Order it at your own risk. Chicago dog fanatics believe ketchup has no business on a tube steak. The most iconic place in town to get your hot dog on is the Wiener Circle. This order at the window joint that slings dogs with a side of insults. Yes, seriously, the place has built their business on saying whatever the heck they want to customers, and of course the customers eat it up. No pun intended.
Another food Chicago put on the map? The deep-dish pizza. There are plenty of food nerds who don’t think this pizza-like casserole is much to write home about. However, lines pouring out the doors of deep dish pizzerias say diners think otherwise. You’ve probably heard of Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s, but the Art of Pizza is more of a local joint for great ‘za without the dog and pony show.
On your next trip to Chi-town, seek out a great Italian beef. This simple sandwich features slow-cooked beef topped with gravy, peppers and giardiniera. Al’s #1 Italian Beef is a favorite, as is Portillo’s. Be sure to arm yourself with a stack of napkins before digging in. These things are messy!
There’s a few chefs synonymous with Chicago, and Rick Bayless is one of them. Chicagoans obsess over his versions of Mexican street fare, like carnitas, tacos and tostadas at Fronterra Grill. For something a little more upscale, check out Topolobampo, where diners can elect a seven-course tasting menu featuring the culinary styles of Mexico—past and present.
James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Kahan operates a variety of amazing restaurants in Chicago. Not tied to any one style, Kahan put himself on the map with Blackbird, a fine dining homage to Midwestern cuisine. He’s since opened avec (next door to Blackbird, and much more casual), a taco spot (Big Star), an Italian restaurant (Nico’s Osteria), a casual Tex-Mex diner (Dove’s Luncheonette) and what may be the most fun—The Publican. Known for serving meat, meat and more meat, Publican might not be the place to take your vegan bestie (though they do have an extensive vegetable menu), but it’s great for everyone else. Their pork rinds are legendary, as are their aged hams and charcuterie platters.
Top Chef Winner Stephanie Izard opened the Girl and the Goat in 2010 to rave reviews. The always fun and buzzing restaurant specializes in globally inspired dishes. Think calamari bruschetta, made with goat milk ricotta, goat bacon and green tomato; or crisp braised pork shank with buttermilk dressing, grilled spring onion kimchee and naan, served family-style. She’s since opened Little Goat, a more casual diner and Duck Duck Goat, what she calls “reasonably authentic Chinese food.” No matter which of her restaurants you’d like to check out, know that reservations are a good idea.
Lastly, there’s Grant Achatz, chef at what’s considered America’s Best Restaurant, Alinea. Eating here is more of an “experience.” Diners don’t receive a menu. Instead, they’re served 20+ courses, each one looking more like a modern art piece than the next (everything tastes good, too). Want to eat here? You better buy a ticket (like you would for a concert) months in advance. People are known to fly from all over the world for dinner at Alinea. Crazy? Sure, but if food is your thing, think of it as bucket list worthy.
The Breakfast Club
John Hughes was all about Chicago, and the Breakfast Club is one of my favorites Hughes movies. So, why not indulge in an awesome breakfast or two? For fancy pastries and excellent coffee, check out Floriole Bakery in Lincoln Park. If you’re into Instagramming your food, you’ll undoubtedly blast images of your latte next to a savory scone (or walnut coffee cake… or sticky bun).
For a breakfast with a side of hipster sensibility, check out Lula Café in Logan Square. Their brunch means cornbread French toast, paired with caramelized cinnamon crème anglaise and honey granola. Yum! And there’s the adorable and off-the-beaten-path spot, The Breakfast Club in the West Loop. It’s not reinventing breakfast in any way, and that’s precisely what I love about it.
A Little Bit of This and That
A few other great spots worth mentioning, in no particular order: Not so into the deep dish pizza? Check out Spacca Napoli, specializing in rustic Neapolitan pizza that’s fired in a wood burning oven. They do pies with artisan ingredients often sourced from Italy, but there’s just something about their Margherita pizza, topped with blended San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte, basil, and pecorino gran cru.
There’s no shortage of great burgers in this town. However, gastropub Au Cheval might do the best cheeseburger in town. Kuma’s Corner in Avondale, open since 2005, also does legendary burgers served with a side of rock and roll. Try the Metallica, a beef patty topped with bacon, bleu cheese dressing, buffalo sauce, lettuce and tomato.
Just down the street from Kuma’s, you’ll find another local favorite: Honey Butter Fried Chicken. Known for their delicious fried chicken, pimento mac and cheese, and cornbread served with honey butter, it’s not the thing you want to eat during swimsuit season. Luckily, that time of year is a long ways away.
What do you think are the best places to eat in Chicago? Share in the comments!
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