Chicago is a great city for so many reasons, but I think it really stands out on dining. It’s the reason that I left 10 or so more pounds (let’s be real, 15) heavier than when I arrived. Some of it is no doubt age. Some of it is no doubt tapas.
There are, I’m sure, a bunch of other “where to eat” guides for Chicago, and talk to any local and they’ll likely poo-poo on my list in favor of a lengthy one that they’ve crafted themselves. I get it, it’s HARD. Thankfully, I have a few friends in my back pocket and while I’m offering my favorite places to eat in Chicago, they’re also offering theirs.
If you come to Chicago, any native will tell you to leave the Mag Mile behind and venture into the neighborhoods, and this dining guide is no different. The life and personality of the city is found outside the Loop, high-rises and fancy hotels and often times so is the best hole-in-the-wall dive, or the family run hidden gem. There are so many that you may see on other lists that aren’t on mine and that simply may be that I didn’t make it there to try it. My list was long and ever growing and really, there are only so many days in a week.
So here is how you can Eat The World: Chicago, Hungary Buddha (and friends) style:
Lincoln Park/Old Town
It’s this neighborhood that I called home for my entire tenure in Chicago. It’s young and fun and so is the food.
Jam ‘n Honey. (for breakfast/brunch). You must get the Italian benedict! Must. Also, cash only.
Orange (with a peel) (for breakfast/brunch). You must get the chai stuffed french toast. Must.
Cafe-Baba-Reeba (lunch/dinner, great for a group). IMO, the best tapas in the city. I think I’m biased, but everything is good, and when I have friends in town, it’s a visitor favorite.
Taco Joint (lunch/dinner). Also with a location in River North, these street-style tacos no doubt are perfect for any Taco Tuesday. Or Taco Wednesday. Or Taco Thursday…
Athenian Room (dinner). For some of the best Greek food out of Greek town (or in the city), head here. Rumor has it that it was a Tina Fey favorite.
Marge’s (dinner). Per Grape, you must get the beef bourguignon. Must.
The Barrelhouse Flat (for drinks). Like your Old Fashioneds and Manhattans? This place is for you.
Old Town Social (to watch the game). This can be a bit douchy, but I love the cozy atmosphere, and the food. Perhaps an unsuspecting place to watch the game.
Butcher & the Burger (for a quick bite/counter service that isn’t fast food). I really wanted to make it here one more time before I left but there wasn’t any time. Craft your own custom burger, and this place legit has the best fries. Make sure you save room for dessert because they also make their own frozen custard, and you know how I feel about that. Swoon.
Homeslice (for pizza). West coast style pizza that goes beyond your standard Chicago deep dish. I rarely ate pizza, but when I did, this was my favorite girlfriend date-night spot with Nectarine.
Prost (to start a late night). Long, wooden tables and giant Bavarian style pretzels and brews make this a favorite amongst my friends for celebrations with big groups.
White Oak (for brunch/dinner). Totally a local haunt, this places serves good food with a little bit of pretension, just the way Lincoln Parkers like it!
Sweet Mandy B’s (cupcakes/dessert). I don’t buy cupcakes when I can make them myself, but I’d pay $3 for one from SMBs.
(courtesy of Mesclun and Grape)
Baker and Nosh (breakfast). ohmyfuckingodthebreadisamazing! The pastries don’t suck either.
m.Henry (brunch). Brunch and lunch here are insanely good. It’s a struggle to decide savory or sweet when you walk in, so “both” is usually the best answer…along with boatloads of coffee. Worth the inevitable (on weekends) wait.
Dib Sushi and Thai (dinner).
Demera (dinner). Famously the best Ethiopian place in the city, make sure you come hungry and with clean hands.
Hopleaf (dinner/drinks): Belgian-style bistro with Belgian style beer. Always crowded for a reason! You’ll have a hard time resisting some of the hallmarks like the modules & frites and CB&J, but their seasonal options have never disappointed. One of the best beer list in the city for years.
Tank Noodle (ramen). My favorite ramen place!
Fireside. Great burgers (mmm pretzel buns!), beer (good selections on tap), fun rotating weekly specials (e.g. “Irish egg rolls” around St. Paddy’s Day), and solid comfort food (e.g. meatloaf). Not every option (e.g. bruschetta) is a winner, but there are way more winners than duds. There’s also this large back/beer garden restaurant ‘extension’ past the bar area, so it’s a bigger place then the facade would lead you to believe.
(courtesy of Apple Crisp)
This area is a bit of a hike from downtown, but it’s worth it as you walk through the Square, chock full of little shops and some authentic German restaurants.
Goosefoot (fancier dinner). They’ve redone the style of the restaurant since I’ve been, but since the owners are the same, I’m confident that this special night out will remain just as special).
(courtesy of Tomato and Fava)
Southport Grocery (brunch). Always busy for brunch. Expect a wait.
Esencia Urban Kitchen (breakfast).
Tango Sur (dinner/drinks/show). Peaches RAVES about this place and is a standby for this Uptown local.
Tac Quick (no frills Thai)
Corridor Brewery (lunch/drinks/dinner/late night). This place just opened last summer, I think, and it quickly became my favorite. Excellent food, more excellent (and cheap!) beer.
Sushi Para II (sushi)
Dry Hop (drinks/brewpub).
Mag Mile/River North/ Streeterville
If you do spend your whole trip downtown, you won’t starve. The area does boast some pretty amazing restaurants for both tourists and locals alike.
Beatrix (brunch/lunch/dinner). Known for it’s lemon pancakes, a great spot to hit up for brunch. Two locations- but check Streeterville for less of a wait.
Farmhouse (for dinner/drinks). I’m not a cheese curd person, but the ones from here made me a believer.
The Purple Pig (for dinner/drinks/light bites). The Purple Pig is always full (and doesn’t take reservations), but it boasts small shared plates and a wide array of wine. NOTHING is bad here.
Devon Seafood Grill (happy hour/dinner). This is national chain, but it has always been a favorite of mine and Grape’s. You must order the lobster mac and cheese because it really is my favorite of anywhere in the city. Their happy hour menu is a great deal and delicious and often forgot by many.
Frontera Grill (brunch/lunch/dinner). This was one of the first places that my whole family went, and it got a hearty thumbs up from all (not an easy feat). Rick Bayless does Mexican right, and he’s definitely worth all the hype.
Slurping turtle (lunch/dinner): Japanese comfort food, approved by Tomato
Gaylord’s (dinner). While they’ve done away with the lunch buffet, still worth heading there for some quality Indian food, Rutabaga approved.
Maple & Ash (fancier dinner). Just over a year old, this place won the heart and stomach of me and mom. A steakhouse, off the regular.
Fig & Olive (small plates). Lots of shareables; a favorite amongst my work peeps.
London House (drinks).
Bucktown/Wicker Park /Ukrainian Village
(courtesy of Lima and Kettle Corn)
The Bedford (dinner/drinks). According to Lima, the best atomosphere.
Chris’s Northland Tavern (drinks): best dive bar ever, according to Kettle Corn, who is a very regular.
The Map Room (drinks/beer)
Jane’s (for dinner). A cozy little spot off the main Bucktown drag, this charming bistro has all the comfort food you’re looking for.
Piece (pizza). Also a brewery, this, like pizzeria, offers New Haven-style thin crust for those that are no enamored with deep dish. A definite favorite.
Las Palmas (Mexican).
Pub Royale (bar/dinner). Pub food meets India. How can that be bad??
Lillie’s Q (BBQ). Whatever your style of barbecue, Lillie’s Q has got you covered.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (brunch/dinner/dessert). Here’s another place I didn’t return to enough. Delicious from start to finish.
The West Loop/Fulton Market/South Loop
This area is chock full of new restaurants and a lot of them are really worth checking out. My faves?
Au Cheval (for THE burger). Yes. It really does have the best burger in the city. Yes, it is worth the minute wait, so show up early, put your name in and head to one of many other nearby establishments for a drink. Once you get there, make sure you order your burger “au cheval,” which means with bacon and eggs. Yes you have to do it and yes you can. Don’t forget to order fries for the table. No reservations.
Lou Mitchell’s (breakfast). An establishment- not to be missed!
Carnivale (drinks/dinner/brunch). I never went here enough, but I’ve always had a soft spot for South American food and this place delivers. Make sure you get a drink (mojitos are my fave) and the rope vieja. It melts in your mouth. (Also, if you have time, they have really fun drink making classes that you could check out).
Pork chop (lunch/dinner). I love barbecue and while I’m not a true connoisseur, I can tell when it’s done wrong, and I can tell when it’s definitely done right. Everything that I’ve had here, from the mains to sides hits the mark. They even make their own Chicago-style BBQ sauce, which boasts rosemary and vodka, one that I’ve been meaning to recreate myself.
The Allis (coffee/tea/lunch). Located inside Soho House, this is the perfect place to mingle and mix and be.
Acadia (drinks/dinner). A favorite cocktail spot, the bar also serves fantastic 2 Michelin star food at amazingly reasonable prices.
The Duck Inn (brunch). Tomato swears this is her most favorite brunch in the whole city
El Milagro (Mexican). Yup, those tortillas…
This list is long, yes, but by no means comprehensive. It excludes areas- Pilsen, Chinatown, Devon Avenue, Greektown, Hyde Park, Logan Square and more- all that are very much work checking out should you have the time. However, if you don’t, I hope you’ll try some of these. They really are some of the best.
Now I’m really hungry.