If you love good food, travel to Chicago for a visit. The city is filled with amazing, fan-favorite, and award-winning restaurants. You can dine as extravagant as one of the best restaurants in the world (Alinea) or as simple as a Chicago dog at a local chain. The options are endless. For our trip to Chicago, we went with a list and a plan. While we weren’t able to go to all of the places on our list, we enjoyed every restaurant we went to and have plenty of options for a next visit to Chicago!
Some quick notes:
–Chicago-style pizza is deep dish with a hearty, thick crust. Pizzas may have sauce covering the toppings or like a normal pizza. There are several popular pizza restaurants with multiple locations around Chicago. See Lou Malnati’s below and the accompanying note.
–Chicago-style hot dog is loaded with a pickle spear, mustard, chopped white onions, relish, tomato slices, and pickled peppers. This is known as “dragged through the garden.” Chicagoans think ketchup on this hot dog is unacceptable. See Portillo’s below.
-There are many craft breweries in Chicago. I had Revolution Brewing and Goose Island Beer Company (purchased by Anheuser-Busch in 2011). I really enjoyed Revolution Brewing’s Fist City.
Here are some restaurant options I enjoyed.
XOCO is celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ restaurant. The restaurant echoes his expertise: traditional Mexican cuisine with a twist. I had the restaurant favorite Ahogada sandwich and a wonderful coconut milk horchata. The Ahogada sandwich is filled with tender pork carnitas and is set in a chile broth. I didn’t fully enjoy the sandwich because it was pretty spicy for me but I enjoyed the components and execution. We also enjoyed a churro with chocolate and the flan. I definitely recommend these.
449 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (Sister restaurant is XOCO Bistro)
Quick summary: hearty sandwiches; traditional Mexican food with a twist; don’t skip dessert!
Avec was my favorite meal of the trip. They do not take reservations and at 8 p.m. on a Saturday, our wait was two hours long, which was doable for us because of the heavy, late lunch we had. The problem about eating at 10 p.m. was trying not to fall asleep at the table, but the excitement as the food came out kept us wide awake. We ended up sharing the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates wrapped in bacon (4 to a plate) and each ordered a main “entree.” The restaurant’s menu is divided by small and large plates that can be easily shared. I really enjoyed my dish – the smoked whitefish on thick bread – and the burrata pizza with eggplant, cherry tomato confit, basil, and calabrian chili honey. We also enjoyed the butcher’s steak and squid ink pasta at our table. Other dishes that caught my eye on their menu were: the cauliflower, paella, and all their desserts. This cozy and simply designed restaurant will please your taste buds!
615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
Quick summary: expect a long wait; highly-rated foodie restaurant; shared plate menu format
We enjoyed Sunday brunch at Bongo Room. This Vegetarian Croissant Sandwich had a lot going on but it was amazing. It’s got sprouts, mushrooms, an over-medium egg, spinach, cucumber, and tomato, all on a butter and flaky toasted croissant. I added bacon to it and it suddenly became a “Non-Vegetarian Vegetarian Croissant Sandwich.” Totally acceptable. It comes with flavorful potatoes that are the perfect texture – not too mushy and not too hard. We also had the special white chocolate, caramel and pretzel pancakes that were incredibly rich.
Three Locations in Chicago
Quick summary: great brunch; about an hr wait for brunch; plenty of sweet and savory options
Pizza! Pizza! Though it takes about 30 minutes or so for the pizza to arrive at your table, it is worth the wait. Of course, get their world famous Buttercrust for 75 cents more. A large Pepperoni and a medium “Lou,” which has mushrooms, spinach and sliced Roma tomatoes, was able to feed 7 people with no leftovers. I enjoyed the Lou more than the Pepperoni. They also have a gluten-free, crust-less option for those with dietary restrictions. All handmade with fresh ingredients, Lou Malnati’s will have me visiting again!
Multiple locations around Chicago
Quick summary: Crowd-pleasing deep dish pizza plus many side options on the menu
Known for their Italian beef sandwiches, Portillo’s also offers Chicago-style hot dogs along with a long list of menu items such as salad, pasta, and dessert. The counter service is quick and their food is tasty. The Chicago dog was a burst of flavors and the Italian beef sandwich was juicy. You have the choice of adding spicy or sweet peppers to the Italian beef sandwich. I missed it this time but their chocolate cake and cake shake are recommended!
Multiple locations around Chicago
Quick summary: Quick sandwiches; don’t forget dessert
This popcorn shop has locations around town and is a great snack to share when you’re out and about. A small bag mix of caramel and cheese popcorn is $5.57 including tax. It’s a popular Chicago original but I didn’t find anything too special about it other than being handmade and very fresh. Ours were a little stale the next day so eat it up quickly! There are also locations around the U.S. Don’t forget wet wipes; it’s messy!
Locations all over town, including the O’Hare airport
Quick summary: though it seems expensive, it’s a good snack option
My favorite cupcake place outside of Austin – Molly’s Cupcakes – has a location in Chicago (and also in New York) but was out of the way from where we spent our time, so I let the fate of the cupcake find me. And behold, it did. We passed by a Chicago Cupcake food trailer and I had to stop and try it. Good thing because this cheesecake-like cupcake was decadent. I tried the Birthday Cake (vanilla with sprinkles, like funfetti) and while there was a lot of frosting, the cupcake was perfectly sweet and a hit on my list!
Two roaming trailers in Chicago; check the website for daily location
Quick summary: cupcake trailer with cheesecake-like, moist cupcakes
Check out this local foodie post from MVMT Blog. Take a look at these websites for the most updated information about Chicago’s restaurants.
Time Out Chicago
What Chicago restaurants would you recommend?
Want more recommendations? Check out my Top 8 Things to Do in Chicago.