Anthony Bourdain's legacy is that he inspired Americans to learn about other cultures across the globe through the food that is shared over a conversation. He was a curious and intelligent traveler, who cut to the quick of what a destination is really like off the beaten path. Bourdain was the king of letting people on his show tell their own stories without claiming that he had discovered anything—he listened and, therefore, was privy to insights that grabbed the viewers attention. Bourdain also, clearly, loved good food—so of course he visited Chicago to feature some of his favorite eateries on CNN's now-defunct show The Layover.
On a spring 2016 edition of Parts Unknown, which also aired on CNN, Bourdain featured even more of the city's top, yet underrated eateries. Plus, throughout his media career, he had given the Windy City plenty of love, so we've highlighted some of the very best, from high-end to down-scaled dining destinations.
Chef/owner Paul Kahan made this West Loop pioneer a Chicago culinary fixture with his ever-changing menu and austere, yet serene dining room. Blackbird was also the first in Kahan's culinary empire, which also includes next-door avec, plus Big Star, Nico, Publican and The Violet Hour. It may be the oldest in the group, but it continues to be extremely popular with locals and visitors. 619 W. Randolph St., 312-715-0708
Curiosity more than anything made Bourdain stop over at this deservedly hyped up pastry shop in River North where customers patiently wait in line for up to an hour for doughnuts. Doughnut Vault is adjacent to contemporary American eatery Gilt Bar, and its biggest draw are the artisan treats that change daily and helped kick off the doughnut crazy in Chicago. Popular choices include Old Fashioned, apple fritters and pistachio. There's also a Doughnut Vault-branded food truck that visits popular venues and events throughout the city.
401 N. Franklin St.
The Northwest Side spot, which is only about 10 minutes away from Wrigleyville, boasts burgers piled high with toppings and named after popular heavy metal bands. Its eponymous signature burger (bacon, cheddar, fried egg) and Led Zeppelin (topped with pulled pork, bacon, cheddar, pickles) should be held personally responsible for the extended wait time it takes to get a table in the dive-like dining room. You'll also find Megadeth (chorizo, red potato hash, pico de gallo, cayenne avocado cream, tortilla strips) and Metallica (Buffalo sauce, bacon, bleu cheese dressing) on the menu.
Kuma's is a no-frills type of place, yet it attracts the occasional celebrity such as Lady Gaga, who quietly enjoyed a burger and beer at the bar when she was in town for Lollapalooza in 2010. Forget about even thinking about coming here on the weekends because those waits are sometimes up to two hours (a second location, Kuma's Too, opened in February 2013 at 666 W. Diversey Pkwy.). 2900 W. Belmont Ave., 773-604-8769
A Michelin star recipient several years in a row, L&E first gained recognition for its incredibly satisfying and crave-worthy wild boar sloppy joe paired with beef fat hand-cut fries. It also offers one of the best brunch programs in town. Diners will find an entrée on this menu that's meant to appeal to its hipster heavy neighborhood: the PBR Breakfast of two eggs, bacon or house-made sausage, house potatoes and an ice-cold can of PBR. Longman & Eagle is located in Logan Square. 2657 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-276-7110
"He loved our pie, and expressed the deepest of disdain for deep dish pizza," says owner Billy Jacobs, who had the pleasure of sharing one with Bourdain at his Wicker Park restaurant in the fall of 2015. Piece's pizzas consist of traditional New Haven-style ingredients with parmesan cheese, oregano and olive oil. Order a Honey Butter Fried Chicken pizza, a topping that was inspired by Jacobs' friendship with HBFC's owners Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp. 1927 W. North Ave., 773-772-4422
With so many fantastic breakfast-focused eateries around town, it had to be difficult for Bourdain to choose only one. During one of his excursions to Chicago, he dined at this family-run breakfast spot with a long history in Little Italy. Sweet Maple Cafe continues to have a hour or longer wait for old-fashioned pancakes and omelets served with thick home fries. 1339 W. Taylor St., 312-243-8908
This popular Vietnamese restaurant is not to be missed, and according to the late Bourdain, definitely worth the trip to the far North Side. Favorites include stir-fried egg noodles, stir-fried rice noodles, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and hot pot noodles. 4953-55 N. Broadway, 773-878-2253