I remember the first time I flew to Chicago. There was a hurricane in Florida and we were the last plane to depart. Sitting in the back during takeoff, I drank more than I would like to admit. Being thrown around in the plane, I was scared. And I wondered if it was worth it. Let me assure you it was.
Chicago is one of the biggest cities in America with a population of almost 3 million people and a sprawling city that covers 10 neighborhoods and sits on Lake Michigan. With all of that, it is easy to see why Chicago has such a vibrant food scene. The cosmopolitan nature of Chicago and its diversity in its residents make it a heavenly destination for foodies as there is just about any kind of cuisine imaginable here as well as some midwestern delicacies you’ll only find in the city.
Chicago is luckily one of the best cities for getting around in the U.S. The city was designed on a grid system making it very walkable and the transit system is also easy to navigate and pretty reliable. You might be wondering why this matters in the context of food. Well, that’s because Chicago’s various neighborhoods will cater to different styles of cuisine. Places like the Near East Side have Greektown, which will (unsurprisingly) have the best Greek food and the Devon Ave corridor is home to some of the best Indian food in the city. So it behooves visitors to get familiar with the transit system and see the various ethnic neighborhoods that make up the city.
Vito and Nick’s Pizzeria
People might be pretty familiar with the Chicago-style deep dish pizza but Vito and Nick’s Pizzeria brings the Chicago classic pizza to a format that most people will be familiar with. The restaurant has been serving pizzas since 1949 making them a Chicago institution and familiar landmark in the city. Vito and Nick’s Pizzeria specializes in thin-crust pizzas and their dining room gives people a real sense of an old-school pizzeria-style restaurant. They only accept cash so be prepared for that before you get here. Grab a few sodas, a packed pizza, and enjoy the bears game on TV. And I have to be honest, I will take a thin-crust pizza over a deep dish pizza every time.
Red Hot Ranch
Located in the Lakeview area of the city, Red Hot Ranch is almost a requirement for any Chicago native. If you ask any Chicagoan native they’ll probably tell you that they’ve only been here in the small hours of the morning when they might have had one too many to drink. Of course, that’s not a requirement but if you really want to feel like a local, then Red Hot Ranch is your go-to spot for a late-night greasy delight.
But what sets Red Hot Ranch apart from other than being open late? The delicious burgers at the low, low price of $5. For only a fiver, one of the city’s best cheeseburgers can be yours along with their thick-cut fries on the side. It’s greasy and delicious and one part of your night, you won’t regret.
For those looking for a dining experience that’s a little upscale, check out the old-school, yet still modern restaurant Proxi. The aesthetic here is art-deco meets upscale 60’s restaurant with a little Mad Men-esque vibe but the menu is anything but tied down. Created by Chef Andrew Zimmerman, the food choices here are a mashup of amazing ingredients and cuisines from all around the world. Indulge in a crispy Vietnamese-style crepe or a Mediterranean-inspired chicken with Mexican chilis. The goal here is to make you feel like you’re eating upscale food items you might find in a street market. If that market wasn’t located anywhere specifically.
Band of Bohemia
What is perhaps the first brew-pub style restaurant to be awarded a Michelin-Star, Band of Bohemia is a beautiful weird mix of things that all somehow come together. Enjoy a long list of craft beers and interesting cocktails while you dine on gourmet-level dishes, all within a pub-style restaurant. Although the restaurant does lean on the pub-style of things, the vibe here is a Victorian-inspired space with gold-lining around the bar, red velvet chairs, and intricate wallpaper. Dine on modern dishes, while feeling like you’ve stepped back in time. The restaurant is also vegetarian-friendly and pretty budget-conscious considering its Michelin-Star status.
Spiaggia is an upscale restaurant in the Mag Mile area and is a simple yet gorgeous restaurant serving some amazing food dishes. Supposedly the restaurant is a favorite of the Obamas and with its high windows and lofted ceilings simply sitting in the dining area is an experience. The food served here is Italian-inspired but they also offer an a la carte option with the kitchen offering some small dishes of its best available ingredients. We loved the truffle topped gnocchi and wagyu beef carpaccio.
Chicago loves its beef. But BoeufHaus brings classic beefy dishes inspired by the windy city in a new and interesting way. The restaurant twists the traditional steakhouse style and elevates it to something new. The restaurant itself serves about 20 tables at a time so make sure to book ahead or be prepared to wait. The menial design of the restaurant is contrasted between the French-inspired aged steaks. Alongside various small cuts of beef, you’ll have rich bordelaise sauce, creamy béarnaise, and peppery au poivres sauces to elevate the flavors of their dishes. It is no doubt a great spot for a romantic evening but also consider checking out their bar and their wide range of cocktails.
This is more our style actually. Approaching the restaurant you’ll be greeted by the massive neon hot dog sign which bears the likeness of the founders and owners Maurie and Flaurie Berman. Superdawg Drive-In is a weird but local favorite restaurant serving hot dogs. But they don’t serve the standard traditional hot dog, they serve thick, all-beef sausages that come with mustard, green tomato, and diced Spanish onion. Aside from their delicious hot dogs, their restaurant is what brings in the business. The restaurant is a throwback to 1950s drive-in restaurants where you park your car and order through a crackling speaker before the “carhop” comes to bring you your food. The novelty is worth the trip alone.
Located above the elegant Waldorf Astoria’s lobby is the beautiful Margeaux Brasserie. Don’t let the name fool you into thinking this is your standard brew-pub fare because it certainly is not. The Margeaux Brasserie makes you feel like you took a step back in time to 1920s Paris with a swanky dining room complete with marble floors, leather chairs, and tons of mahogany wood and bronze accents. The food here is classic French bistro that includes things like escargot, duck, and foie gras. Of course with that comes a long list of amazing French wines to pair your dinner with and elaborate cocktails. Make sure you’re dressed up before you arrive because there is a dress code. Put on your best suit, have a cocktail, and feel like Hemingway might walk in at any minute. And anyone that knows me, knows that I would have loved to be part of the “Lost Generation”, and Margeaux Brasserie is probably the closest I will ever get.
For those familiar or even those unfamiliar, Demera Ethiopian is some of the best Ethiopian food you can find in the city. The restaurant has been around for over a decade and is a favorite not only for the Ethiopian community of Chicago but for any fans of Ethiopian food. The restaurant is so iconic in the community that most frequent visitors know the owner on a first-name basis. If you’re unfamiliar with the cuisine consider ordering a shareable messob which is a shareable plate loaded with veggies and your choice of meat. Despite its popularity and stacked plates, Demera Ethiopian is on the affordable side of things, so if you’re in the mood for something new, check them out on North Broadway.
A lot of folks might not be aware that Chicago has its own style of barbecue. Southern barbecue might be the reigning king in the country but Lem’s Bar-B-Q definitely gives it a run for its money. Lem’s is pretty popular and has essentially reached “institution”-levels of notoriety. Located in Chicago’s South Side, Lem’s Bar-B-Q has a unique aquarium-style smoker that weighs in at a whopping 64 square feet big. Their fried chicken is some of the best around but their rib tips and hot links are where Lem’s comes in to shine. Luckily they offer combo plates where you can get both. Lem’s Bar-B-Q also does not have a dining area so be prepared to eat in your car or take it home.
Located near Logan Square this small and easy to miss little restaurant is anything but small time. Lula Café is not just your average hipster run-of-the-mill farm to table restaurant. Lula Café has been in that business before it was a simple buzzword and they’re still around serving ethically-sourced food from local producers. They’ve been around for over a decade and people flock here for their highly sought-after dinners which are creative, fresh, and often vary depending on what ingredients are in season. Dishes change pretty often and they have lineups for dinner so plan ahead. If you’re not a fan of waiting, check out their Sunday brunch service when things are a little more low-key.
Mi Tocaya Antojería
Translated to “my namesake” in Spanish, Mi Tocaya Antojería is a beautiful little spot near Logan Square that serves some of the best Mexican while also elevating it to new and interesting flavors. Owner Diana Devila brings her mother’s recipe to the people of Chicago while delivering dishes they’ve never seen before in other Mexican restaurants. Enjoy succulent duck carnitas, boar barbacoa, and elote-style spaghetti squash. Mi Tocaya Antojería also has a wide variety of cocktails that too, are new and elevated.
Chicago has a ton of options for Middle Eastern food but Galit is not your average Middle Eastern restaurant. Acclaimed chef Zach Engel is a James Beard-winning chef from New Orleans who opened this spot up in Lincoln Park. Reservations here have been pretty hard to get since 2019 so if you’re looking to dine here, you might have to wait a while. What sets Galit apart is their long table where guests watch Engel and team make silky-smooth hummus right in front of their eyes along with wood oven-fresh pita bread. Enjoy an assortment of Israeli appetizers and coal-fired entrees.
So you’re probably not going to visit Chicago and not have an iconic deep-dish pizza. Although you can get a deep dish in just about any pizza spot in the city, Pequod’s Pizza doesn’t cater to tourists and is more of a place that has “local flavor”. Pequod’s Pizza is a popular spot likely due to their deep pan variety rather than the deep dish, Chicago pizza is more synonymous with. They also bake their cheese on their outside which may look like it is burnt, it is done on purpose for texture, so if you’re a lover of crispy cheese, this is the pizzeria for you.
Chicago is a food lovers’ paradise. No matter where you are in the city there is something delicious to be found just right around the corner. Enjoy the quintessential Chicago deep-dish pizzas but also make sure to indulge in other amazing things like the lesser-known Chicago barbecue or lake night burgers and hot dogs. Your diet can wait because the Chicago food scene can’t be missed!
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