Chicago is a dream for everybody who loves food! You’ll love the great choice of restaurants and cafés! There’s this preconception that it’s hard to find good food in the US. Not in Chicago… my research for this Chicago food guide wasn’t difficult. I have to admit that I often have difficulties in the USA when it comes to getting food. Burger are certainly okay from time to time, but in the long run, fried, over-salted food, less fresh fruits and vegetables and no taste variety is boring. In big cities you can still find alternatives, expensive as usual, but not very spectacular or worth the price. Chicago, on the other hand, is a paradise for those who like good food: Here, one amazing restaurant follows the next, as well as great bars with good bartenders. These are my favourites in Chicago:
1) Gino’s East: The Original Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
The Deep Dish Pizza is probably the most famous Chicago dish. Invented by Italian immigrants, deep dish pizza is as much a part of Chicago as the Willis Tower. You really shouldn’t leave Chicago without trying a Deep Dish Pizza once. At the same time, the Deep Dish Pizza is so very different from the traditional Italian pizza.
It’s smaller and thicker, similar to a quiche, and secondly, the toppings are placed in a different order, almost exactly the other way around. The dough is yellowish because it’s made of corn flour and is more like a mixture of puff pastry and shortbread. The cheese goes on the bottom of the pizza, tomato sauce and other toppings on top. Cut the pizza into quarters, and when you lift the pizza slice, the abundant cheese pulls oodles of strings.
Gino’s East has been one of Chicago’s institutions when it comes to deep dish pizza since 1966! The special thing about this location is not only the pizza, but the fact that every guest is lent a sharpie with the pizza, with which he can immortalize himself somewhere on one of the walls in this restaurant, which extends over several floors! And nothing is painted over! The probability is therefore very high that you’ll find your piece of art at the next visit!
2) Lou Mitchell’s: American Diner on Route 66
There’s also real American food in Chicago! Located right at the end of the famous Route 66 (the beginning is on the parallel street, as both streets are one-way), Lou Mitchell’s is a classic American diner. The food is authentic, heavy as usual, and perhaps therefore not everyone’s cup of tea. However, what impressed me much more than the food (and that’s why I included it here in the list) is the absolutely authentic American diner atmosphere with the vintage interior. There’s really no better place to start a road trip along Route 66!
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3) Chicago Hot Dogs at the Navy Pier
As with the pizza, I didn’t know that there was a Chicago-style hot dog, which is available on every corner in Chicago and is much more popular than the traditional versions with fried onions or sauerkraut.
The beer garden at Navy Pier has a particularly tasty hot dog! You get a fantastic view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline for free. By the way, the Chicago hot dog has all kinds of fresh stuff on it: diced white onions, lots of tomato chunks, pickles, mustard and pickled vegetables. The bun is sprinkled with poppy seeds, the sausage is made of beef only. Colorful and delicious! Plus, ketchup is an absolute no-go on the Chicago-style hot dog!
4) Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House
Yes, I really did it: I ate frog legs. And what can I say? They taste like chicken! Of course! :) Hugo’s Frog Bar is the Chicago institution for frog legs, the French influence has left its mark in Chicago. Hugo’s is a bit more high-priced, but also unbeatable when it comes to quality. I love to eat fish anyway, seafood like crabs and mussels rather less, but at Hugo’s I even ate king crabs with pleasure.
Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, by the way, is owned by the best steakhouse in town, Gibson’s (right next door), and also serves the best Black Angus beef if you’re not into seafood. My filet was divine! The ambience is also classic American. Large bar, lots of dark wood, tables with checkered tablecloths and attentive service. Be careful with the desserts: One serving is easily enough for five – or you can take the rest in the doggy bag and still invite guests for coffee the next day.
5) Imperial Lamian
The Imperial Lamian offers modern Chinese cuisine and is known for its noodles (lamian) that are made fresh daily. You can even watch the pasta making through the fully glazed kitchen! What else to try: The different colored Xiao Long Baos with the most unusual fillings from duck to truffle to Gruyère.
But the dessert takes the absolute cake. It’s called Lunar Blossom, in case you want to reorder, and it’s actually only listed as pandan pie on the menu. But then our waitress came to our table with a huge, bright ball on her plate, pulled out a small pot of chocolate sauce – and I couldn’t get out of my amazement!
6) The Allis: Afternoon Tea at Soho House
A Soho House is always a guarantee of a nice cafe as well. In Chicago, you’ll find The Allis on the first floor of Soho House, nice for coffee, breakfast or afternoon tea. The decor is something between an English library and an American clubhouse, cozy but zero dusty. Drink coffee and be amazed.
7) Dove’s Luncheonette: Chicago Blues & Soul from the 70s
Another diner. This time, however, a successful symbiosis of retro look and modern Tex-Mex cuisine. The interior with wood paneling and jukebox immediately transport you to the 70s. In addition, the cuisine is modern: No overloaded plates, as you might be used to from Mexican cuisine in the USA, lots of fresh ingredients and unusual combinations.
Dove’s Luncheonette is located in Wicker Park just below the Damen CTA station. By the way, there are lots of exciting places to eat in the area, and right around the corner is Milwaukee Avenue, a really nice shopping street where you can find smaller boutiques, but also bigger stores like Urban Outfitters. Perfect if you don’t feel like shopping malls or the hustle and bustle around Michigan Avenue downtown.
In which area are the best locations?
Chicago has much more to offer, of course, but I think this is a nice sampling that represents well the range of possibilities. Discovering on your own is also fun – here are a few more areas where you can find great places to eat:
- West Loop: a former industrial area, around Fulton Market and along Randolph Street you will find a lot of great places to eat and drink, also a nice nightlife area. Once a year there is the food festival “Taste of Randolph” with lots of music and food from the surrounding restaurants (I already wrote about it in my summer travel guide for Chicago ).
- Wicker Park: around the Damen station, along Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street.
- around Logan Square
- and of course Downtown
All articles about Chicago and Illinois at a glance:
- Chicago: boat ride, architecture and the best view of the Chicago skyline
- Chicago Food Guide: 7 restaurants you shouldn’t miss
- Route 66: A road legend and its stories.
- Best Things to Do in Springfield, Illinois
- Illinois, USA: Old Joliet Prison on Route 66
- The Route 66 in Pontiac, Illinois: Meet my hero Bob Waldmire.
- 20 Best Things to do in Chicago!
I was invited on the trip to Chicago and Illinois by Enjoy Illinois.