Sooooooooo, rumor has it a lot of you are coming to our own City of the Big Shoulders next week for… whatever it is designers do together in a big room. I’ve had a few people ask where they should go when they visit, from a native perspective. Here’s my list of favorites.
Spend all your time looking for “Chicago Pizza.” That’s a stupid folk legend; pizza is pizza. It’s not a destination meal. I’ve had better in London, and they can’t even pronounce it. (But if you happen across a great slice, tackle it. I’ve not seen amazing locally-sourced pizza here in a while.)
Set your heart upon a table at Alinea. (But the meal’s not to be missed if you can get it.) From what I understand, they’re constantly booked. Small parties have a better chance.
Check out Pilsen. It’s a wonderful pan-Latin neighborhood on the south side.
Pullman, on the South Side, is a lovely planned small town, a relic of the industrial age during which moguls would build entire towns to serve their work.
If you’re a whiskey and punk rock fan, go to Delilah’s on the North Side, and if you want something more classic rock, hit the original Small Bar (just a half-block from my house!) in Avondale. For pub and gastro fans, hit Hopleaf way up north in Andersonville. If like your cocktails swank, go to The Violet Hour just off of Wicker Park, and across from Big Star, which is a phenomenal late-night taco joint. If you want a great dive bar, hit the Town Hall Pub in Boystown near Wrigleyville, or The Burlington on the West Side in Logan Square.
Longman & Eagle is near Kuma’s (where you will never, ever ever get a table, but is widely known for its burger menu) on the edge of Logan Square/Avondale on the West Side if you want something pubby. It’s been blessed with praise far and wide for the two? three? years it’s been open, and deservedly so.
Go to Lula in Logan Square. It’s a small neighborhood place specializing in farm to plate. If you want something closer to full service, go to Lula’s big brother, Nightwood in Pilsen. Same owners, same overall aesthetic, but rendered as a gorgeous farm-to-plate meal in a different menu every day.
If you’re a fan of fusion, check out Bill Kim’s street-food autobiography, Belly Shack, just north of Wicker Park under the Western Avenue Blue Line El stop. This place is amazing, and cheap too. Bill has designed it as an autobiographical love letter between himself and his wife, Yvonne Cadiz-Kim, who’s Puerto Rican. Think dishes like tortilla sweet & sour soup, a south-of-the-border bibimbop, and a Chicago style Korean dog on Iranian bread, made fresh on the Far North Side, with kimchee atop.
if you’re looking for Chicago’s Latin eateries, just look around you. We have the country’s largest urban Latino population outside of Los Angeles—folks from Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, everywhere. My favorite Latino joints are, in no particular order: Riques Regional Mexican, which does an amazing prix fixe setting from a different Mexican region each week, El Cubanito, an unpretentious little sandwich joint, and Macondo, a little Colombian empanada joint tucked into Lincoln Park.
So. Welcome to Chicago. If you have questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll answer what I can.