With nearly three million residents, it’s no surprise that Chicago would have a wide range of delectable food to sample. From thoughtful gourmet fare to mouth-watering street chow that’s so good you’d have to eat it to believe it, this metropolis is an amalgam of tasty eats. Chicago is known for much more than our deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian Beef — although, you should try all of those. Here are a few of the must-have dishes at restaurants around the city.
Eating at avec is a bit like eating inside of a Finnish sauna — light wood panels line the walls, ceiling and floors and there are long, wide wooden tables that extend front to back. It feels like you’re dining with friends, even when they’re strangers. Originally designed as a wine bar, avec now has a lovely dining menu, yet it holds true to offering good wines with every dish. In addition to libations, try the wood oven roasted salmon with marinated red tomatoes, mint and smoked almonds, a new dish added to the menu.
Chicagoans take their pizza seriously. Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, The Original Gino’s East of Chicago and Pizzeria Uno have long been favorites of this city for their deep-dish, with special attention paid to the crust. Another hot spot, however, is Piece Brewery & Pizzeria. This award-winning brewpub takes the slice to the next level by adding toppings like Honey Butter Fried Chicken on their traditional red pizza — we love the collaboration.
Smashed avocado, a poached farm egg and pickled red onion on sourdough bread — what could be better for brunch? Owner, chef and best-selling cookbook author, Mindy Segal, trained in some of Chicago’s best restaurants, including Charlie Trotter’s, and she has been awarded a James Beard Foundation Award for her skills as a pastry chef. You can be sure that food in her restaurant, located just off Chicago’s The 606 in the Wicker Park neighborhood, will be stellar, especially the avocado toast.
Johnny’s Beef and Gyros in Lincoln Park serves up all the Chicago favorites under one roof: Chicago dogs, Philly steak sandwiches, Mediterranean gyros, char burgers, Greek fries and pitas. One of the most popular dishes, however, is the Italian Beef sandwich in au jus, served with peppers on a French roll. Consider yourself warned: this is a belly-buster.
Columbus Tap, a gastropub located inside the four-diamond Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, serves Midwestern fare with regional ingredients, alongside local craft brews. Order a burger with American gruyere, bread and butter pickles, bacon or egg, and fries with gravy on the side. On tap you’ll find a wide variety of light-to-dark beer as well as a hefty wine and cocktail list. Try, on tap: Goose Island, Revolution, Half Acre or a Maplewood beer.
Chicagoans love The Purple Pig for its, well, its pig — pork spare ribs, milk braised Berkshire shoulder, pork belly, neck bone gravy. All of the dishes have a suggested beverage that pairs nicely, taking the guesswork out of ordering. Dishes are served small plate-style, so it’s best to sample a variety and share with the table. Then, maybe, take a stroll to burn off some calories down Chicago's Magnificent Mile.
A little spicy, a little sweet, the Red Chile-Roasted Delicata Squash with salsa negra — chipotle and garlic — is just right with a little bacon and pepper jack cheese. For an appetizer, consider ordering a ceviche trio, a classic at Frontera Grill, with albacore and lime ceviche, shrimp and scallop ceviche verde and tuna ceviche tropical. Chef Rick Bayless has been on the public television series, Mexico-One Plate at a Time, has written several cooking books and was a winner on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
Order à la carte or let the chef decide for you, and fill your belly with oysters from Massachusetts, Washington, or British Columbia. Some have a cucumber taste, some melon and some are surprisingly savory. Weekdays, from 3:30-5:30 p.m., enjoy $1 happy hour oysters. You’ll love the vibe at The Publican — long wooden communal tables and funky lighting complete the rustic space.
Of course, you can get all the goat you want: goat legs, goat liver mousse, goat carpaccio, goat empanadas, confit goat belly but a favorite for many Chicagoans is the signature Wood Oven-Roasted Pig Face, with tamarind, cilantro, red wine-maple sauce, a sunny side up egg and fried potato stix. The food here has been talked up throughout Chicago for its bold flavor, created by the first female Top Chef winner — Stephanie Izard.
The Gage, on Michigan Avenue near the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park, has a menu dotted with rustic American fare. The location is perfect for stopping in for a bite while spending a day out exploring the Chicago Cultural Mile. Order the roasted beet salad, with orange, burrata and balsamic vinaigrette for a little nosh. Consider also adding the Chef’s Cheese board with a daily selection of cheeses, honeycomb and candied nuts.
Chicagoans love their sports and all of the greasy food that goes along with watching a game. Jake Melnick’s, the official Blackhawks bar, is your one-stop shop for tavern-type food. Have the server bring an Ake’s Tailgate Tower to your table and sample jumbo buffalo wings; nachos with jalapenos, tomatoes, green onions and guacamole; and Miller High Life beer. The Today Show announced that Jake Melnick’s is the top chicken wing spot in the U.S.
Visit The Palm Restaurant, located along the Chicago River in the Swissotel Chicago, and enjoy the broiled jumbo Nova Scotia lobster, a house specialty, in the newly renovated eatery. Order a side of wild foraged mushrooms as well to go along with the entree. The Palm Restaurant has been serving palatable dishes for nearly four decades.