Food & Drink

Eat your way around Chicago with this nose-to-tail pork guide

Published On 08/26/2013 Published On 08/26/2013
Chicago Pork Guide

Chicago may no longer be hog butcher for the world, but that doesn't mean the city's culinary minds don't know what to do with pork -- and given the appearance of the average local, it's quite clear the citizenry hasn't forgotten either. With that in mind, here's a guide to our favorite ways to enjoy various parts of the pig, in various parts of the city

A couple of caveats: we realize this list doesn't cover every porcine nook and cranny (sorry, tripe), but it covers quite a bit of porky ground. Also, pinning down one specific area from which sausage comes is difficult, but don't worry, there are still some sausages name-checked within. Click here to get an expanded, printable view of the checklist, and if you have a favorite you think warrants mentioning, let us know in the comments.

Anthony Thalier

Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face
Girl & The Goat, West Loop
There's a reason Stephanie Izard's perpetually packed Randolph St mother ship keeps this as a menu staple. Mouth-wateringly crisp discs of a rolled & sliced porcine grill (tongue included) get hit with a sunny-side up egg, maple gastrique, and are served over crispy potato shoestrings, making this possibly the best brunch ever, you know, if they served brunch. Tamarind vinaigrette and cilantro oil give just the right notes to remind you it's dinnertime.

Sean Cooley

Pig Ears With Malt Vinegar & Cornichon Aioli
Billy Sunday, Logan Square
You don't NEED one of Billy Sunday's outstanding cocktails to enjoy these fried pieces of porky goodness, which are perfectly complemented by a delightfully tangy aioli. But... it doesn't hurt.

Spiaggia

Cappesanta
Spiaggia, Gold Coast
So, full disclosure: Cappesanta means "scallop" in Italian. What's this doing here, you ask? Good question. Said bivalve is paired flawlessly with crispy dewlap (the loose, flappy end of the jowl, mmm), and it felt right to celebrate pork's ability to steal the show even when it doesn't seem to be the star (I have been watching a lot of Chopped). Also, this dish is a documented Obama fave. Which, depending on your beliefs, may or may not be a selling point.  I am now mildly concerned about the comments section.

Monica Wang

Pork Neck
Mott St, Wicker Park
The newest dish to crack this list, Mott St delivers an impossibly tender plate of pork that's marinated in whiskey (quit trying to rip off TGI Friday's, Ruxbin team!). But seriously, this dish makes you briefly wonder if you're ingesting too much pork fat, then makes you quickly decide that you don't care as you dip another hunk into the Nam Jim Jaew (that's Thai for "crazy addictive spicy dipping sauce").

Baby Back Ribs
Smoque, Irving Park
Whatever your speed, St. Louis or baby back, you can't really go wrong with the perfectly smoky and tender offerings from this early entrant into the Chicago BBQ boom. Their "bite 'em not fight 'em" approach, as outlined in their exhaustive BBQ Manifesto, lands in the perfect sweet spot between not quite tender enough and falling off the bone, while also describing Mike Tyson's occasional boxing style.

Why Evolution Is True

Rib Tips
Uncle John's BBQ, Greater Grand Crossing
Okay fine, we kinda doubled up on ribs, but these things are a bit of a different creature, and basically Chicago's only true claim to homegrown BBQ style. Get in line, don't be off-put by the bulletproof glass, and order yourself some tips. (Better yet, a tips & links combo -- get some sausage in the mix!). I tend to prefer the sauce mixed on the side (options are hot & sweet), so you can get the unadulterated smokiness on occasion. Even with that, it's still gonna get messy. Embrace it.

Derek Richmond

Wood Oven-Roasted Pork Shoulder
Avec, West Loop
Okay, it was tough not giving this to a pulled pork dish (Lillie's Q is a favorite), but things were starting to get a little BBQ heavy ("What's wrong with that?" says a hypothetical person who makes a reasonable point.). Regardless, this slightly more-upscale hunk of shoulder is outlandishly tender. The supplemental players tend to rotate, but the results are inevitably spot-on.

Berkshire Pork Chop
Tortoise Club, River North
So the chop kinda hangs out in the same region as the ribs, but it felt wrong not to give some specific love to Peter Brady's favorite pork cut. It would have felt equally wrong to omit TC's rendition... which is a generous helping of high-quality pig with abundant juiciness, and a hint of spice from its chipotle glaze.

Bang Bang Pie Shop

Candied Bacon
Bang Bang Pie Shop, Logan Square
Oh, pork belly. You give us bacon. You give us the pork belly tacos from Big Star. And you also give us these little bundles of bacon-y joy, which start with applewood smoked Nueske's that're given a dose of brown sugar and black pepper from the Bang Bang folks, with just as much attention to detail as they put into the pies and biscuits.

Chez Moi

Pied de Cochon
Chez Moi, Lincoln Park
This is one of the pig's more overlooked cuts (the name is literally "pig's feet" if you failed/ didn't take French), but the LP bistro gives trotters an elegant turn, deboning them and serving them up with foie gras and fingerlings. Not recommended if you're averse to a little pork fat, though if you are, you probably didn't make it this far anyway.

Sean Cooley

Pork Wing Carnitas
Polanco, Logan Square
Despite what Geico would have you believe, pigs can't fly, and thus these "pork wings" are actually shank cooked carnitas-style, served with a spicy sauce, and some vegetation you aren't likely to bother with.

Marc Hauser

Spicy Pork Rinds
Publican, West Loop
So, Publican probably could have populated a good proportion of this list just on its own, but it's near-impossible to pass up these airy, crispy, spicy hunks of Slagel Farms pork skin that pretty much demand you polish them off with a selection from the excellent Belgian-leaning beer menu.

The Mr. G
J.P. Graziano, West Loop
Ham is great by itself, but there may be no finer vehicle for it than this platonic ideal of an Italian sub from the West Loop institution. It consists of thin layers of prosciutto di Parma (along with soppressata and Genoa salami) that are played against aged provolone, truffled mustard-balsamic vinaigrette, marinated artichokes, and fresh basil... it all works together perfectly with the crusty-yet-soft D'Amato's bread.

Lisa Predko

Pig's Tails
The Purple Pig, River North
Like the Publican, The Purple Pig could make a serious claim for several spots on the menu (their crispy pig ears are another version not to be missed). But few places tackle the tail successfully. They're braised in balsamic until they're impossibly succulent and simply offset with a bit of egg and parsley. You'll wonder why these flavorful end bits aren't on more menus.

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1. Girl & The Goat 809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard's West Loop restaurant is a perennial hot spot that defines the Chicago food scene. The menu is filled with incredibly innovative meat, vegetable, and fish small plates meant to be shared and devoured. Of course, a meal at Girl & the Goat isn't complete without an order of goat, served a variety of ways (in empanadas, as carpaccio). Reservations are hard to muster but you'll snag one eventually and find that the wait is so worth it.

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2. Billy Sunday 3143 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

This 50-seat tavern has an appropriately turn-of-the-century feel courtesy of its china-filled hutch, lantern-esque lighting, and old-timey photos of people not smiling. While small plates are served, the libations here rule.

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3. Spiaggia 980 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 (Gold Coast)

Walls of wine bottles line the entrance to this elegant Italian eatery (which nabbed a 2014 James Beard nomination for Outstanding Restaurant), ushering diners into a contemporary space with black marble and white tablecloths. Chef Tony Mantuano heads the kitchen, making the preparation of elevated, artfully plated dishes look like a walk on the beach (by the way, "spiaggia" means beach in Italian). Jackets are no longer required in the dining room, but let it be known, this isn't the type of place where you want to show up looking like a schlub.

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4. Mott St 1401 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

Tucked away in an unassuming red brick storefront in Wicker Park, this vaguely Asian restaurant from the Ruxbin crew serves an eclectic menu of family-style plates inspired by the comfort food cravings of the restaurant team. Mott St truly does cook up a little bit of everything, from steamed pork dumplings and soy-glazed wings to congee and udon. If small plates aren't for you (we get it, sometimes you just want an entrée all to yourself), then perhaps the double chuck patty Mott Burger is. The restaurant's communal tables fit all too well with the tapas-like menu.

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5. Smoque BBQ 3800 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60641 (Irving Park)

This Texas-style barbecue joint in Irving Park kicked off the smoked meat movement on the North Side in the mid-aughts, and it's been delivering great brisket, pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, and Rudy Mikeska sausage ever since. Smoque still has lines out the door because it's a must-stop on any eating tour of Chicago. FYI: it's BYOB so bring a frosty six-pack to fend off the inevitable meat sweats.

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6. Uncle Johns Barbeque 8249 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago, IL 60619 (Woodlawn)

Step through bullet-proof glass to get stunned with some amazing BBQ. UJ's BBQ is the perfect place to unwind with brew and soul food.

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7. Tortoise Club 350 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654

If the Tortoise Club sounds like a speakeasy where Humphrey Bogart might have charmed a classic bombshell with one sideways glance, it's not a coincidence. This upscale American restaurant and lounge, decked out with bourbon, scotch, wine and an amazing-sounding wild pheasant pie, abounds with class.

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8. Bang Bang Pie Shop 2051 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

Logan Square's Bang Bang Pie Shop is a reminder of a simpler time, when everyone's favorite neighbor Ethel would let her pies cool on the windowsill. The pies at this bright and buzzy corner bake shop are handmade daily using the freshest seasonal ingredients, and their comforting scent alone will have you floating through the entrance. There are classics like key lime and apple, plus unique recipes like butterscotch meringue and maple bourbon pecan. You won't want to miss the small-batch sour cream biscuits either, which are served with ginger-sage sausage, gravy, a poached egg, and a side of seasonal jam.

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9. Chez Moi 2100 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Chez Moi's space sports wire-caged crystal chandeliers interspersed among massive still life oil paintings; the food's Frenchy, like boudin noir over crushed apple 'n mashed potatoes, boneless pigs' feet crepinettes w/ foie 'n fingerlings, and braised short ribs with fried celery angel hair.

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10. Polanco 2451 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

Polanco is a Latin steakhouse dishing out crazy good T-bones, chicharrones, and ceviches. Did we mention it's also run by a guy who's the youngest of 15 children in a family of butchers?

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11. The Publican 837 W Fulton Market St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Town)

Paul Kahan's West Loop restaurant feels like the Midwest; big and welcoming with communal tables, it's a farmhouse and a beer hall at the same time. The menu focuses on three things: beer, pork, and oysters, but you'll also find vegetable and fish alternatives. The beer selection features brews from all over, with a fair share from Belgium and Chicago.

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12. J. P. Graziano Grocery Co. 901 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

An old-school Italian grocery and importer, distributing all over the city since 1937, made the evolution to sandwich shop and gave the fourth-generation store a new life. People line up outside the door for a bite. It’s a busy scene among shelves of canned and pickled provisions: a meat slicer on overdrive, plastic-gloved counter workers slopping macaroni salad into little plastic cups, stuffed hoagies (made from D’Amato bread) being rolled to-go in paper. The classic Italian is a mainstay, but go for the Mr. G: hot sorpresata, prosciutto, genoa salami, sharp provolone, fresh basil, grilled and marinated artichokes, vinegar-oregano tossed lettuce and (here it comes) truffle-mustard-balsamic vinaigrette.

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13. The Purple Pig 500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 (River North)

All-swine-everything is the name of the game at this River North staple from James Beard award-winning chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. The Mediterranean menu features meats, cheeses, and adventurous tapas-like plates like fried pig's ear, pork liver pate, and housemade sausage served with a poached lobster tail. The lively space is dominated by an L-shaped bar and high-top communal tables, complemented by a few tables-for-two along the wall. The Purple Pig attracts a mixed crowd of suits and skinny jeans, especially for post-work drinks. Note: it doesn't take reservations.

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14. Avec 615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661 (West Loop)

With celebrity chef Paul Kahan at the helm of this tiny West Loop restaurant, it's not a surprise that Avec continues to draw crowds of devoted regulars, first-time tourists, and everyone in between. The Mediterranean menu is all about small plates, and the chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates are a perennial crowd favorite that hopefully will never come off the menu. Everything works and tastes beautifully with the comprehensive wine list featuring selections from Southern France to Portugal.

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