Chicago is a great town. I visited 2 years ago for non-food reasons: required pilgrimage to Wrigley Field (if you are a baseball fan, you must go). I was immediately impressed by the variety of dining options. That first trip, we sampled the following: Polish pierogis, Chinese dim sum, Mexican street food, deep-dish pizza, gelato. One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry as a tourist in Chicago.
This summer’s visit didn’t disappoint on the food, either. But, before I get to the dining, I want to say a few things about this fantastic city. I was really impressed with the friendliness here. People help you at the El station. They offer help if you look a bit lost on the street. The drivers are incredibly responsive to pedestrians. When we needed to cross a busy street at a crosswalk, the drivers just stopped as soon as we stepped off the curb. Not like “slam on the brakes”stop. They were expecting us to cross and were obviously paying attention. If only the drivers in my own little city paid as much attention!
The parks in Chicago are a welcome respite from a city dense with housing and a skyline bristling with dramatic skyscrapers (another plug: check out the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s River Cruise for a relaxing and information packed view of a city boosting so many important buildings). We strolled through Lincoln Park on the north side, Grant Park in the middle, and Jackson Park to the south. We watched a spectacular free concert in Millennium Park – the venue there, designed by Frank Gehry, is incredible. A huge crowd of people were in attendance, just having a wonderful time picnicking and enjoying the show. Lots of kids running around – such a low-key way to introduce your children to Mozart!
There are so many reasons to visit Chicago: architecture, world-class museums, parks, sports, a beautiful lakefront. And there is food…
For All Things Italian: Eataly, at 43 E. Ohio St in the Shops at North Bridge (at the south end of the Michigan Ave. Shopping District). Two floors of food, wine, dining, housewares. There are 9 different restaurants here. We had pizza and pasta. The prices are quite reasonable and everything was delicious. I could stroll through this place for hours. Save room for gelato or their jewel-like pastries
Mexican from street food to fine dinning: Rick Bayless has 3 restaurants on N. Clark. I’ve only eaten at Frontera Grill, but I have no doubt they are all great. Xoco is breakfast and sandwiches and churros! served from a counter. Frontera is the middle ground, casual with an amazing selection of street food as well as fancier entrees. It’s all served in a beautiful dining room filled with fun art. Recommend you go with a crowd so you can share. Absolutely get a cocktail; the alcohol-free ones are great too. Topolobampo is gourmet fine-dining, a favorite of the Obamas when they lived in Chicago. You will absolutely need reservations to get in there and I strongly recommend you get them for Frontera Grill too.
Deep-Dish Pizza: It’s totally Chicago, a gutbomb of dough and cheesy goodness. And, it’s delicious. We went to Lou Malnati’s for our take-out pizza. There are lots of locations. Get the sausage. Chicago is a meat town and Lou Malnati’s sausage is a perfect addition.
Hyde Park Sandwiches: We visited the Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-style home built in 1909. A short walk from there, you can find wonderful sandwiches at Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe. The choices are impossible here – so many delicious combinations. Stroll around Hyde Park and the University of Chicago campus after lunch.
Cafe Vienna: We stayed in the Lincoln Park neighborhood which is a wonderful base of operations in Chicago. We could easily walk to the Red Line, buses, the lake, shopping, and dining. A very pleasant neighborhood where you just don’t need a car to get around with so many shady streets for strolling. Cafe Vienna has a full menu as well as coffee. But, you should go for the European pastries. If you are lucky, like us, you will show up late on Sunday when they are trying to make them all disappear before they close. They are closed Monday-Wednesday and anything left on Sunday has to go. Two for one pastries and desserts! I particularly liked the apple strudel, the chocolate cream tart, and the Sacher Torte. Somehow we managed to eat them all before I could get a photo. 😉