Where to eat in Chicago

I’ve been in Chicago since December, 1986, and know the smaller, cheaper, and ethnic restaurants pretty well, though I’ve gone to some of the really fancy ones, too (Alinea, one of those molecular gastronomy joints, remains a goal, as well as the cheaper Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf, which I haven’t visited because you must reserve a long time in advance). But of an evening I prefer a homier joint—one where you don’t have to get dressed up beyond putting on a decent shirt.  And these places I know.

If you’re coming to Chicago, be aware that it’s one of the best eating towns in America: in fact, in terms of quality of the average meal in a random restaurant, as well as the average frequency of great restaurants among all restaurants, I’d consider it second only to New Orleans. We have local specialities (steak, hot dogs, deep-dish and stuffed pizza, Italian beef, rib tips, and so on), but we’re big enough to encompass a diversity of ethnic cuisines as well. Of all the places in America to get Indian food, you can’t beat Chicago, which has a huge Indian community around Devon Avenue to the north. We have great Polish restaurants, great Mexican restaurants, great Chinese restaurants (though not as many as I’d like)—in fact, save Burmese and Malaysian food, there’s nary a cuisine you can’t find here. And of course we have our share of good bistros as well.

One of the delightful things about eating in Chicago is that many restaurants have a BYOB policy, whereby you can bring your own wine. Sometimes there’s a “corkage fee” for opening the bottle and providing proper glasses, but I’ve never found it to be more than $15 per bottle—still much cheaper than buying wine in a restaurant, which routinely triples the retail price (meaning a sixfold increase over wholesale). Some, like Maude’s Liquor Bar (one of my favorites; try the cassoulet), have a “corkage fee” that involves pouring 3 or so ounces of wine from the bottle you bring, and allowing you to send the sample over to anybody you pick in the restaurant. I always enjoy seeing the surprise on someone’s face when they get a free glass.

At any rate, if you’re coming here, you’ll want to make food one of your priority items.  There are two sites which I’ve found comprehensive and reliable:

The “Great Neighborhood Restaurants” section of the LTH Forum. “LTH” stands for “Little Three Happiness”, a decent but not outstanding Chinese restaurant that has become the title of a great forum for Chicago eaters and foodies. Every year they compile a list of superb local restaurants, usually ethnic and inexpensive ones, but ones of high quality. And every year the Forum reassesses its list, adding new finds and dropping places that have gone downhill. The first link will take you to eaters’ paradise, and also has a map (click the “GNR” box) so you can find out what’s close. Restaurants are also sorted alphabetically or, more usefully, by cuisine. I’ve been to many of their selections and am rarely disappointed.

An Eater’s Guide to Chicago is compiled by the Eater website, and lists favorite places by food type and by neighborhood. It also has a useful glossary of local food terms (e.g., “giardiniera”), and tells you where you should reserve well in advance.

If you plan a trip here, peruse these sites before you come. You’ll be in one of America’s great food towns don’t want to waste your field work looking randomly for someplace to eat.

Finally, don’t miss the rib tips!

30 Comments

  1. Mack
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    You can often walk into Bavette’s and get a seat at the bar, it’s pleasant for parties of two and is made even easier by showing up a little on the early side!

  2. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Though I don’t live in Chicago, and have never been there, I’m chiming in to tout any restaurant run by Brendan Sodikoff http://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/power-20-2016/brendan-sodikoff: ARTS CLUB CAFÉ, AU CHEVAL, BAVETTE’S BAR & BOEUF, C.C. FERNS, THE CALIFORNIA CLIPPER, DOUGHNUT VAULT, GILT BAR, GREEN STREET SMOKED MEATS, HIGH FIVE RAMEN, MAUDE’S LIQUOR BAR, SMALL CHEVAL, SAWADA COFFEE; one of which, Bavettes, has been mentioned above.

    Full disclosure: He happens to be the son of a very old friend of mine, and though I haven’t eaten in any of his restaurants, I can attest to the fact that he’s a dynamite cook, and obviously an exceptional restaurateur. He’s also a sterling guy.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    We have local specialities (steak, hot dogs, deep-dish and stuffed pizza, Italian beef, rib tips, and so on) …

    No love for the brat, boss? (Though I do love me a jumbo char cheddar dog, too.)

    • Posted December 5, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Brats are from Wisconsin–Sheboygen, in particular. Not Chicago food. I do love them though.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 5, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Jeez, what’s next? You gonna try to tell me Old Style is brewed in La Crosse, WI?

        • Paul S
          Posted December 5, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

          God’s country, and she’s welcome to it.

        • Posted December 5, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          I can’t help the truth: brats are not identified as a Chicago food. But I’ll take a grilled brat with grilled onions and mustard (and a good beer) any time!

          • Hempenstein
            Posted December 6, 2017 at 7:29 am | Permalink

            Come back to Pittsburgh and I’ll take you to a little place that serves up (Johnsonville) brats with rolled oats, usually seasoned with celery seed and rosemary and any of a variety of vegetables for breakfast. Yesterday it was kale and leek. T’was excellent!

            • Hempenstein
              Posted December 6, 2017 at 7:39 am | Permalink

              PS, we have giardiniera here, too. And for Indian, I’ll put the Gobi Manchurian at a place I know up against any from Chicago.

      • Posted December 6, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        I agree, brats are, in particular, a ‘Skahnsen thing.

        And do I love them! 🙂

  4. Posted December 5, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Yum, yum! Thanks!

  5. Liz
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I was in Chicago basically for a day while traveling to WI for the weekend. I tried the hot dogs and they were amazing. I went to a place Greg Mayer suggested on here called Trolley Dogs in WI. When in Chicago, I found a Pizano’s Pizza on N. Dearborn St. and Chicago Ave. They didn’t have slices so I still have to check that out if I’m ever back there. Everything sounds delicious.

  6. Joe
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    At first glance, I read giardiniera without the nier. Giardia IS sort of a food/drink term, in the Appalachian Trail diet.

  7. Simon Hayward
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Since you note the lack of Burmese and Malay:

    http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=44040

    Recently opened, and not tried it yet, but it’s on W. Devon, so probably worth the shortish drive to check it out.

  8. Nicholas K.
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    My wife has but one request for any funeral/memorial service for her: serve Chicago rib tips.

    She loves them that much.

    • Paul S
      Posted December 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I used to get them at Moo & Oink under the Skyway on Stony on my way home from work.
      My friend made a sweet BBQ sauce with Gerber’s peaches, liquid smoke and who knows what else.
      I’m starting to drool.

  9. Mark R.
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Is there an Eataly in Chicago?

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted December 5, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes, on East Ohio a couple of blocks west of Michigan Ave, north of the river

      • Mark R.
        Posted December 5, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        They’re popping up all over…I think the last was in Rome; it looked like a small village. I live in Washington, and hope Batali will open one in Seattle; it is his home city and state after all. Not a huge Italian population here though, so I’m not crossing my fingers.

    • Kurt Lewis Helf
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I ate there just last week!. I had the marinated, grilled Polpo appetizer: very tender and flavorful. My entree was trout roasted with piquillo pepper butter and bread crumbs with an arugula salad and shaved fennel: delicious. All with a couple of generous glasses of Barbera to wash it down. I could’ve spent hours browsing their grocery aisles. What a neat place!

  10. Taskin
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I adore cassoulet. My favourite restaurant that served a lovely rendition has closed and I have yet to find a replacement.

  11. rudolphpaul
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Restaurants are fine but I prefer to make my own blasphemy burgers. Ground sirloin, bacon and cheese from ALDI’s create a meat, dairy and pork combo that tastes great and is to some religions offensive. Think of it as infidel communion.

    • claudia baker
      Posted December 5, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      “infidel communion”

      Hahaha – I love this.

  12. Posted December 5, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Chicago ruined me for all other US dining locations. I still say to my wife, do you remember the meal we had at The Bakery or The Cape Cod Room? Those were special occasions, of course. But I remember Pizzaria Uno with great fondness, and Ribs and Bibs near where I lived at 53rd and S Dorchester. That was our take-out when we were too lazy to cook, which was often. Now gone, but not forgotten.

    I want to visit Chicago again just to go to Alinea.

  13. simonchicago
    Posted December 5, 2017 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    1. Unfortunately Mixteco Grill is gone.

    2. Ethiopian restaurants: (Selam, Demera)

    3. A hole in the wall Indonesian food — get Rijstafel! at Rickshaw Republic on Lincoln.

    3. Almost Chinese, almost high class Han 202 BYOB. Prix fixe menu.

    4. Saigon Sisters — surprisingly good and inexpensive downtown 567 W Lake.

  14. Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Chicago does sound like it could be indeed a very good place for diverse foods. Shame I can’t really get back any time soon.

    I would have thought there would be more Eastern European. No Russian?

  15. Wendy Smith
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    When my daughter lived in Chicago we visited and had a grand meal at Chicago Cut. Very fancy and very good steakhouse.

  16. Andrea Kenner
    Posted December 8, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    When we visited Chicago two summers, we went to Eleven City Diner for lunch one day. It was great! Good food and lots of fun. http://www.11.elevencitydiner.com/home

  17. Posted December 10, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Hi Andrea,

    Hey, here’s the blog I read that had mentioned eateries in Chicago. There may be something that looks good to you. Chicago is a pretty amazing place.

    Talk soon, Georgene ________________________________

    • Andrea Kenner
      Posted December 10, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Georgene! Chicago was great and I would love to go back there sometime.


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