Today's Obsession: So You're Coming to Chicago

Bill Kim, Belly Shack. Photo: John J. Kim, Chicago Sun-Times

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.

Don’ts:

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.

Do’s:

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.

3 thoughts on “Today's Obsession: So You're Coming to Chicago

  1. Patric King Post author

    okay, fair. i hate giordano’s, but a lot of people like it. my 4AM favorite is this awful, rot-gut place called philly’s best at belmont and clark. i’f i’m sober, maybe a newer place named pizza serio at belmont and paulina. but for the most part, pizza in chicago is like gumbo in new orleans.
    everyone claims to make “the real thing”—and some actually might—but the definition of “the real thing” is so ambiguous and layered with personal story that it no longer matters until you look at it from a historical perspective.
    when i say locally sourced, i’m not speaking of it from ambiguous locavore terms—i’m speaking from chicago’s history: we’re in the middle of the bread basket with a long history of butchery and encased meats behind us. the recipes for encased meat originated chicago actually do taste different.

  2. Raoul

    Nice suggestions here but I have to say that I take total exception to your position on Chicago being a “stupid folk legend” and that you have not seen good “locally-sourced pizza in a while”.  I’m not a Chicago resident and so  when I visit, “Chicago deep dish”  pizza is as real of a thing to me as my beloved NYC pizza.  It’s an entirely unique experience to what we have on the East Coast and while YOU might be jaded, you fail to look at it from a visitor’s standpoint.  I would reccomend Giordano’s to any of your readers. I really think the sneering elitism of that first paragraph is what gives “foodies” a bad name. I’ve had better in London? Really? I’m all for locally-sourced too, but sometimes pizza is just pizza, knowwhatimean? 

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