Not to get all morbid on you, but we only have a finite amount of time on this big blue marble and it’s not intended to be spent huddled over your desk eating microwave dinners. With so many amazing meals just begging to be eaten in Chicago, we narrowed the field down to the 65 best foods from around the city.
65 Things You Need to Eat in Chicago Before You Die
1. Full slab of St. Louis-style ribs
SmoqueAddress and Info
Chicago’s barbecue scene is surprisingly impressive, but other local ribs can’t touch the dry-rubbed, apple- and oak-smoked St. Louis-style racks at this North Side gem.
2. Cemita Atomica
Cemitas PueblaAddress and Info
West Loop, Fulton Market
Bad news: the original Humboldt Park restaurant has closed. Good news: the posh West Loop one serves just as great a version of this Mexican sandwich with three kinds of meat, cheese, avocado, the herb papalo, and smoky-hot chipotle.
3. Pan pizza
Pequod’s PizzaAddress and Info
Known as the deep-dish pizza locals actually eat, the pies at this Clybourn Avenue mainstay sport a hallmark caramelized cheese crust that’ll make you think twice about how you want to tackle each colossal slice: crust first, or save the best part for last?
Papa’s Cache SabrosoAddress and Info
West Town, Humboldt Park
This sandwich was invented here at La Borinquen to represent the whole Puerto Rican character in one bite -- meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on a garlicky “bun” of fried plantains. There are still La Borinquens around, though our favorite example today is at this rotisserie chicken place.
5. Arroz Gordo (Fat Rice)
Fat RiceAddress and Info
Having been a fixture in Chicago’s underground dining club scene for years, the Fat Rice chefs' blend of Chinese and Portuguese cuisine is embodied in their eponymous dish. Meant to be tackled by groups of four or more, feasting on the bountiful bowl is like digging for buried treasure in the form of prawns, sofrito, and Chinese sausage.
6. Bing bread
ParachuteAddress and Info
This upscale Korean restaurant from Top Chef alum Beverly Kim and her husband Johnny Clark has many good dishes, but one was an instant classic -- the warm, nourishing bread stuffed with bacon, potato, and onions, which seems to be Asian food by way of your Polish grandmother.
7. Seoul Sassy chicken wings
CrispAddress and Info
It’s hard to think of a food that wouldn’t benefit from a coating of the ginger-soy-garlic panacea known as Crisp’s Seoul Sassy sauce. Needless to say, we weren’t surprised the Korean chicken wing spot took top honors in our local wing ranking.
8. Boat noodles
Andy’s Thai KitchenAddress and Info
If you’re the sort of person for whom Thai food means pad Thai and nothing else, please, just this once, throw something else into the mix. In this case, that thing should be this impossibly flavorful assembly of brisket, pork rinds, and other goodness in all its sweet, spicy, meaty glory.
9. Churros and chocolate
XocoAddress and Info
River North, West Town
Rick Bayless’ casual sandwich place (and its very similar airport sibling Tortas Fronteras) is recommended for lunch. But a couple of freshly made churros (like unrolled donuts) and a pot of thick chocolate dipping sauce is a combo that works anytime.
10. 40-day ribeye
David Burke’s PrimehouseAddress and Info
Best steak in Chicago? Here it is: the 28-day aged-in-house ribeye at David Burke’s is very good for a better-than-standard steak. The 55-day aged ribeye is for the bold, who like a taste of blue cheese funk and iron bar in meat. The 40-day aged ribeye is stronger than the former, not as off-putting as the latter -- in short, it's just right.
11. French fries and ice cream
EL IdeasAddress and Info
Inspired by Chef Phillip Foss watching his daughters dip their fries in their ice cream, this dish has taken different avant-garde forms. But however it gives you potato to eat with your ice cream, it’s everything charming about Foss’ playful South Side fine-dining tasting menu spot in one bite.
12. Ma po tofu
Lao Sze ChuanAddress and Info
Chinatown, River North, Uptown
With its bobbing cubes of squishy tofu, this is a quintessential Chinese comfort food -- if your idea of comfort includes a bowl of bubbling volcanic ooze, like chili pepper-flavored lava. One of the city’s great vegetarian dishes, especially when you order it with pork.
13. Turtle sundae
Margie’s CandiesAddress and Info
If you’re looking for “artisanal” scoops and chic digs, you’ve come to the wrong place: Margie’s is a dingy yet charming relic from the past, and slings the best old-school sundae in town -- complete with nuts, whipped cream, caramel, hot fudge, a cherry on top, and a wafer cookie.
Kuma’s Corner/Kuma’s TooAddress and Info
Avondale, Lincoln Park
There’s nothing more metal than a burger that boldly defies burger convention. Case in point: Kuma’s Slayer, which involves a 10oz patty stacked atop a bed of fries, and smothered in chili, cherry peppers, caramelized onions, andouille sausage, shredded and melted Monterrey Jack, green onion, and a side of angel’s tears (not really).
15. Cake shake
Portillo’sAddress and Info
This legendary chain goes full-tilt dessert Inception with a dessert within a dessert known as a “cake shake,” into which an entire slice of diabolically rich chocolate cake is ground. Balance out all that sweet with a Chicago-style dog.
16. Mr. G
J.P. Graziano Grocery Co.Address and Info
Near West Side
The best sub in the city of Chicago features a spicy array of top-quality meats and cheeses from this old Italian wholesaler and grocer, all on a crusty coal-fired roll from the equally vintage D’Amato’s Bakery nearby.
17. Rainbow cone
Original Rainbow ConeAddress and Info
Remember concocting “suicides” at soda fountains as a kid? Well, this is kind of like that, but actually great -- as in, “some of the best ice cream in America” great. The cone comes stacked with a scoop each of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (NY vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio, and orange sherbet.
18. Single burger
Au ChevalAddress and Info
Between a golden meat-to-bun ratio, house-made pickles, Dijonnaise, supremely thick and juicy bacon, and an oozy fried egg, Au Cheval’s single (which is confusingly actually a double) will leave you wanting for nothing.
19. Polish sausage
Jim’s OriginalAddress and Info
South Side cop? Trucker hauling a late-night load? U of I student trying to soak up some beers? They all come together all night long at this standup-only hot dog stand, famous for these plump, garlicky sausages served with mustard and grilled onions since 1939.
20. Pig face
Girl & the GoatAddress and Info
Say “hello” to your new favorite porcine delicacy (and yes, it really is worth the months-long reservation wait). The juicy meat has been wood oven roasted until tender, and is served with cilantro, tamarind, red wine-maple sauce, crispy potato sticks, and a perfectly runny sunny side egg.
21. Cinnamon roll
Ann SatherAddress and Info
Shopping mall cinnamon rolls can’t hold a candle to the pillowy, made-from-scratch buns at this time-tested diner that arrive at the table in pairs (!), come doused in a seemingly indelible pool of glaze, and are best washed down with a cup of coffee and shameless conviction.
22. Peking duck
Sun WahAddress and Info
Get a big group of friends, get your BYOB ammo ready, call ahead to reserve your birds, and get ready for the perfection that is a bite of succulent duck with crispy skin. Then take many more bites and find yourself pleasantly surprised by how cheap the bill is.
23. Glazed old-fashioned donut
Doughnut VaultAddress and Info
There are many great donuts in this city, but nothing is more iconic than a wonderfully moist old-fashioned donut lacquered in sugary glaze from Brendan Sodikoff’s seemingly always-sold-out donut emporium.
24. Depression Dog
Red Hot RanchAddress and Info
Logan Square, Lakeview
With the noticeable absence of Hot Doug’s in our lives, we’ve glommed onto a dog that’s much more simple but still every bit as traditional. The late-night hot dog stand offers steamed dogs simply dressed in mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers, and an overly generous mound of fresh-cut fries.
25. Peach Italian lemonade
Mario’s Italian LemonadeAddress and Info
Slushy Italian lemonade is different from hard Italian ice, and the place to go for it is this stand opposite Al’s on Taylor. It’s only open in the summer and the peach flavor is rarer than that, popping up for a few weeks every summer when peaches get cheap (and some years not at all).
The Tamale GuyAddress and Info
Roaming the dive bars of Chicago
Once you’ve had your hunger pangs -- built up over hours of drinking at some cash-only bar -- satisfied by the red cooler of Claudio Velez, brimming with hot tamales, your late-night drinking escapades will be lacking without them. Consider eating tamales from the Tamale Guy like taking communion directly from the patron saint of late-night munchies.
27. Mozzarella sticks
Roots Handmade PizzaAddress and Info
You’ll know that Chicago truly is the mecca of the Midwest when you look over a menu of ridiculously cheesy Quad Cities-style pizzas and think to yourself “I could use some jumbo mozzarella sticks too.” But your gut instinct is spot on here, because the mozzarella is made from scratch, coated in garlic breadcrumbs, and will inspire the envy of neighboring booths as you chew on a strand of cheese stretching to infinity.
Smak-TakAddress and Info
Mix and match the sauerkraut/mushroom and potato/cheese varieties of these phenomenally fluffy pierogi at one of Chicago’s Polish institutions.
29. Hot chocolate
Mindy’s Hot ChocolateAddress and Info
Ordering what the restaurant is named for is probably a pretty good rule of thumb. Especially at Mindy Segal’s Bucktown bistro, where dinner is what you eat to get to her cookies and amazingly thick and rich hot chocolate for dessert.
30. Italian beef
Al’s Italian BeefAddress and Info
What we like about Italian beef is that it’s a workingman’s lunch, but it’s not a gut-bomb -- it’s an artfully simple interplay of beef and Italian-spiced broth. It’s got class. We’ve argued the best many times here, but a good starting point is the original Al’s on Taylor Street. Get yours dipped, with sweet or hot peppers.
31. Chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates
AvecAddress and Info
Avec will see your run-of-the-mill bacon-wrapped dates and raise you medjool dates stuffed with spiced chorizo, wrapped in bacon, and drenched in piquillo pepper tomato sauce perfect for sopping up with bread.
La Sirena ClandestinaAddress and Info
The fillings in these little baked beauties change constantly, but the fact that you should always, always order them does not.
33. Fried chicken
Big JonesAddress and Info
Many places offer Southern food these days. Not all of them really “get” Southern food. This is not one of those places, and perhaps no dish makes that more plainly clear than the fried chicken.
KatsuAddress and Info
West Rogers Park
If you are a person who enjoys sushi and you’ve never had the full-on omakase experience, you’re doing yourself a disservice. If you decide to take your maiden omakase voyage at Katsu, you’ll understand why.
Baker MillerAddress and Info
You probably think you have had oatmeal before. After you eat this oatmeal, you will quickly realize you were wrong about that (unless it’s your second, third, or fortieth time eating it, which may come to pass once you’ve experienced a bowl of this hand-rolled, seasonally topped breakfast deliciousness).
36. Smoked shrimp
Calumet FisheriesAddress and Info
You shouldn’t necessarily limit yourself to the smoked shrimp (not that you’d leave unhappy if you did) -- but whatever manner of water-dwelling creature you go with -- smoked chubs, fried catfish -- you aren’t getting the full experience if you don’t eat it on the hood of your car.
37. Chicken Vesuvio
Harry Caray’sAddress and Info
Probably invented at a 1920s restaurant called The Vesuvio, this Chicago classic of roast chicken, garlic, and white wine has long been a socially acceptable alternative to red meat for manly dinners. Where better to eat it than inside of the namesake restaurant of legendary broadcaster and boozer Harry Caray.
38. Sausage pizza
Vito & Nick’sAddress and Info
The platonic ideal of Chicago-style thin crust. Best paired with a pitcher of Old Style.
39. Goat cheese cashew caramel gelato
Black DogAddress and Info
North Center, Ukrainian Village
This tangy, nutty bowl of perfection will make you wonder why more frozen desserts aren’t incorporating goat cheese.
40. Tagliolini nero
BalenaAddress and Info
Everything that is wonderful about impeccably executed handmade pasta and everything that is wonderful about harnessing the rich flavors of the sea in one beautifully executed dish.
41. Lamb vindaloo
Hema’s KitchenAddress and Info
West Rogers Park
There are many reasons Hema’s continues to stand out among a sea of excellent Indian restaurants on Devon Ave. One of them is unmistakably this marvelous melding of tender lamb, coconut, curry, and spice... if you’re the sort of person who can handle it, ask for extra heat.
42. Mussels and frites
HopleafAddress and Info
This highly regarded house of Belgian brews serves mussels steamed in wheat beer, served with beautifully crisped frites, garlic aioli, and bread for the mandatory task of soaking up any leftovers.
43. Garrett Mix
Garrett PopcornAddress and Info
You won’t understand the power of addiction until you sink your filthy paws into a bucket of Garrett’s cheese and caramel corn combo. What you hit bottom (of said bucket) 10 minutes later, it’ll suddenly all make sense.
Lem’s Bar-B-QAddress and Info
Greater Grand Crossing
The city’s oldest BBQ joint is home to the best rack of juicy, toothsome ribs in town, topped with the original spice-kicked BBQ sauce that Myles Lemons invented back in the 1940s.
45. Birria tatemada
Birrieria ZaragozaAddress and Info
This is a one-dish restaurant, which works when the dish is so good it could prompt serious thoughts of moving to the South Side. Spicy, comfy braised goat with chewy freshly made tortillas, served by the nicest family in town.
46. Breaded chicken sandwich
Johnny O’sAddress and Info
Now this is a gut-bomb -- a flat chicken filet deep-fried and covered in cheese, peppers, and tomato sauce. Mainly found in Bridgeport, some swear by the version at Ricobene’s, but this is our choice, not least for the friendly owner, a lifelong Sou’Sider.
47. Ouef Outhier
The BlanchardAddress and Info
The fanciest rendition of scrambled eggs you're likely to consume, delicately nestled inside an eggshell with the top removed with surgeon like precision. Joining the party with the impossibly creamy chicken embryos is vodka creme fraiche and osetra caviar (yep, more eggs), all mingling together in decadent harmony.
48. Sausage biscuit
Bang Bang Pie ShopAddress and Info
Bang Bang’s small-batch sour cream biscuits are topped with ginger-sage sausage, gravy, and a poached egg and come with a side of seasonal jam. Only sandwiches of this high a quality could make it a tough decision of whether to order a biscuit or a slice of pie (“both” is the correct answer).
49. Whole animal service
FrontierAddress and Info
You have yet to conquer Chicago’s carnivorous landscape until you’ve seen a cherry wood-smoked pig (or boar or goat) carved into it’s many usable and delicious parts.
50. Whole chicken & chamomile
RoisterAddress and Info
Though the Alinea Group’s casual concept is still in its relative infancy, its unique chicken preparation has already taken Chicago’s dining scene by storm. The coveted dish showcases impossibly moist deboned, buttermilk-brined, and deep-fried thighs, cast iron-seared breast meat, and legs that have been sous vide and tossed with sunchokes. Also available in sandwich form at lunch.
51. Prosciutto butter toast
MonteverdeAddress and Info
Though Sarah Grueneberg’s acclaimed restaurant may be best known for its hand-rolled and extruded pastas, it’s the savory prosciutto butter-laden toast that keeps diners coming back for more. Paper-thin radish slices, dill, and lemon provide just the right out freshness, texture, and acidity to cut through the richness of the toast.
BomboBarAddress and Info
In a city brimming with classic, American-to-the-core donuts, this hole-less, cream-filled Italian variety is a welcome change from the norm. Swing by the counter-service offshoot of Bar Siena for original (chocolate-filled), salted caramel, vanilla bean custard, a rotating selection of seasonal bomboloni, and more.
The Fat ShallotAddress and Info
Food Truck; Revival Food Hall
There are BLTs, and then there’s this BLT -- the veritable pinnacle of bacon-loaded sandwiches. Two hefty slices of truffle aioli-coated Texas toast contain enough bacon strips to induce a heart attack; peppery arugula, tomato, and avocado complete the masterpiece.
54. The OG
Honey Butter Fried ChickenAddress and Info
A lesson in superior sandwich construction, this fried chicken number is exactly what all other fried chicken sandwiches should strive for: a bun that’s sturdy enough to hold the sandwich ingredients, yet soft enough to sink your teeth into with ease, flaky-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside chicken strips, candied jalapeño mayo, and crunchy slaw. Pro tip: for an extra hit of brininess, request pickles as an add-on.
55. Breaded steak sandwich
Ricobene’sAddress and Info
The unassuming, blue collar breaded steak sandwich is the eating challenge that no one feels the need to brag about having accomplished. It's a simple pleasure: the beef fried and seasoned as if it were a chicken Parm, then layered with mozzarella cheese, sweet sauce, and hot giardiniera.
Johnny’s GrillAddress and Info
This old-school-diner-turned-hipster-diner has an Irish spin, but everybody turns out for the all-American double decker burger swimming in melty cheese.
57. Brisket frito pie
Green Street Smoked MeatsAddress and Info
Green Street accurately captures the honky-tonk feel of Texas BBQ, but this dish goes it one further to capture the true feeling of eating out of a gas station.
58. Black and white pizza
Nomad Food Co.Address and Info
Pizza places keep opening up, many of them great, but how often do you taste something really new on a crust? This pizza food truck (most often found at the Green City Market; the North Center home base is only for events) achieved that with this umami bomb pizza featuring black garlic tomato sauce, mozzarella, goat cheese, and chives.
Osteria LangheAddress and Info
“There’s not one table that doesn’t order plin,” says Aldo Zaninotto, owner of this Italian restaurant, of the little cheese-stuffed pillows of buttery pasta goodness.
60. Xiao long bao
CaiAddress and Info
Xiao long bao -- soup dumplings that pop in your mouth -- are coveted by dumpling fans, who line up for hours at world-famous places like Din Tai Fung in Asia. Cai’s aren’t on the same world-famous stage, but they’re the best example you’ll find in Chicago.
61. Mushroom and kale pie
Pleasant House BakeryAddress and Info
Any filling will do, the flaky butter crust on these British savory pies is so fine, but we’re especially partial to the locally grown simplicity of this vegetarian combination.
62. Pork belly pastrami sandwich
The Pork ShoppeAddress and Info
You’d be crazy to eat this lush, fatty-smoky-bacony sandwich as your meal. Better to share it with someone as an appetizer before your brisket comes.
63. Rotisserie duck
The Duck InnAddress and Info
A full feast for at least two, this crispy-skinned duck comes with duck fat potato salad, baby kale (so it’s healthy, see?), cherry duck sauce, and an immense feeling of satisfaction.
64. Chicken boti
Khan BBQAddress and Info
West Rogers Park
This Pakistani restaurant specializes in meats grilled fresh in a stone tandoor, and best of all is chicken coated in mind-bendingly bright yogurt-cilantro raita.
65. Crab legs
The Angry CrabAddress and Info
West Rogers Park, Wicker Park
Cajun-Vietnamese seafood took the city by storm in the last year, and it all started with lines out the door for bags of spicy crab legs, potatoes, and sausage at this northwest side storefront.
1. Smoque BBQ3800 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago
2. Cemitas Puebla1321 E 57th St, Chicago
3. Pequod's Pizza2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago
4. Papa's Cache Sabroso2517 W Division St, Chicago
5. Fat Rice2957 W Diversey Ave, Chicago
6. Parachute3500 N Elston Ave, Chicago
7. Crisp2940 N Broadway, Chicago
8. Andy's Thai Kitchen946 W Wellington Ave, Chicago
9. XOCO1471 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
10. David Burke's Primehouse616 N Rush St, Chicago
11. EL Ideas2419 W 14th St, Chicago
12. Lao Sze Chuan4832 N Broadway Ave, Chicago
13. Margie's Candies1960 N Western Ave, Chicago
14. Kuma's Corner2900 W Belmont Ave, Chicago
15. Portillo's Hot Dogs100 W Ontario St, Chicago
16. J. P. Graziano Grocery Co.901 W Randolph St, Chicago
17. Rainbow Cone9233 S Western Ave, Chicago
18. Au Cheval800 W Randolph, Chicago
19. Jim's Original Hot Dog1250 S Union Ave, Chicago
20. Girl & The Goat809 W Randolph St, Chicago
21. Ann Sather909 W Belmont Ave, Chicago
22. Sun Wah BBQ5039 N Broadway St, Chicago
23. Doughnut Vault401 N Franklin St, Chicago
24. Red Hot Ranch2072 N Western Ave, Chicago
25. Mario's Italian Lemonade1068 W Taylor St, Chicago
26. Roots Handmade Pizza1924 W Chicago Ave, Chicago
27. Smak-Tak5961 N Elston Ave, Chicago
28. Mindy's Hot Chocolate1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago
29. Al's Italian Beef1079 W Taylor St, Chicago
30. La Sirena Clandestina954 W Fulton Market, Chicago
31. Big Jones5347 N Clark St, Chicago
32. Katsu2651 W Peterson Ave, Chicago
33. Baker Miller4610 Western Ave, Chicago
34. Calumet Fisheries3259 E 95th St, Chicago
35. Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse33 W Kinzie St, Chicago
36. Vito & Nick's Pizzeria8433 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago
37. Black Dog Gelato859 N Damen Ave, Chicago
38. Balena1633 N Halsted St, Chicago
39. Hema's Kitchen2439 West Devon Ave, Chicago
40. Hopleaf5148 N Clark St, Chicago
41. Lem's BBQ House311 E 75th St, Chicago
42. Birrieria Zaragoza4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago
43. Johnny O's3465 S Morgan St, Chicago
44. Alinea1723 N Halsted St, Chicago
45. Bang Bang Pie Shop2051 N California Ave, Chicago
46. Frontier1072 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
47. Avec615 W Randolph St, Chicago
48. Roister951 W Fulton Market, Chicago
49. Monteverde1020 West Madison Street, Chicago
50. BomboBar832 W Randolph St, Chicago
51. The Fat Shallot125 S Clark St, Chicago
52. Honey Butter Fried Chicken3361 N Elston Ave, Chicago
53. Ricobene's252 W 26th St, Chicago
54. Johnny's Grill2545 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago
55. Green Street Smoked Meats112 N Green St, Chicago
56. Osteria Langhe2824 W Armitage Ave, Chicago
57. Cai2100 S Archer Ave, Chicago
58. Pleasant House Pub2119 S Halsted St, Chicago
59. Pork Shoppe5721 N Clark St, Chicago
60. Duck Inn2701 S Eleanor, Chicago
61. Khan BBQ2401 W Devon Ave, Chicago
62. The Angry Crab5665 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
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.
The Hyde Park outpost of Cemitas Puebla is the third Chicago installment of this family-owned Mexican spot that specializes in Poblano foods. Owner Tony Anteliz frequently visits Oaxaca for authentic Mexican cheese and other goods, and he crafts the signature Cemita sandwich with Krakus ham, guajillo-rubbed pork loin, and breaded pork milanesa, all topped with avocado, smoky chipotles, and Oaxacan string cheese. The joint's salsas and chipotles (made in-house) are not to be missed.
Pequod's should be on everyone's bucket list for deep-dish pizza in Chicago. The Lincoln Park mainstay specializes in cast-iron pan pizza with a caramelized cheese-topped crust. The lacy and blackened edges are a Pequod's signature, and the crust is crunchy and dense, while the cheese is sharp and tangy. The Clybourn Ave restaurant is open until 2am, so it's got your late-night pizza needs covered.
Papa’s Cache Sabroso is the place to go if you have a penchant for pollo, particularly of the Puerto Rican persuasion. This Humboldt Park Latin-American mom-and-pop restaurant provides meat dishes, salads, and sandwiches that taste decidedly homemade, a style only enhanced by the dining room’s humble décor of maroon plastic tablecloths and a tiled ceiling. Dishes are inexpensive, but if you’re looking for a steal, Papa’s Dinners are served either with arroz con gandules or arroz blanco con habichuelas, and the menu’s signature is Papa’s Pollo Chon Entero, an entire rotisserie chicken.
This perpetual hot spot in Logan Square specializes in the cuisine of Macau, which translates to a mix of European and Asian comfort foods. The signature dish is arroz gordo, aka fat rice, a paella-meets-bibimbap bowl of layered rice packed rich with clams, prawns, sausage, chicken, eggs, olives, and chilis. Everything about Fat Rice is conducive to sharing, from the appetizers and entrees to the communal tables.
This 40-seater in Avondale scored a Bib Gourmand Michelin rating with its Korean-American fare and cocktails. The minimal seating creates a long list of reservation hopefuls and, more importantly, an unbeatable intimate ambiance. You can order dishes like baked potato bing bread with bacon, Hawaiian kanpachi, and dolsot bibimbap on their own, or you can opt for an adventure with the 4-course tasting menu.
This Korean counter-serve in Lakeview serves up all sorts of Korean-American comfort food. The kimchee and bibimbap-like Buddha Bowls are just the setup for the main event: jumbo fried chicken lacquered in the restaurant's signature sweet-and-sticky Seoul Sassy sauce. The spot is BYOB, so be sure to bring some ice cold potables to wash down that damn good chicken.
It’s possible that Andy’s Thai Kitchen of Lakeview is BYOB because Chef Andy would rather you choose what potion you use to douse the Thai hot spice in your throat. Powerful flavors bathe Andy’s dishes, from the appetizers, salads, soups, entrees, curries, to, most of all, the slurp-worthy noodles. Speaking of noodles, hop the pad Thai fence and explore new noodle terrain, with the boat noodle, a dish complete with beef brisket, thin rice vermicellis, Chinese broccoli, bean sprouts, garlic, onions, pork skin, and cilantro.
The second, Wicker Park location of Rick Bayless' Mexican wonderment is serving up special tortas, brunch, and tasty 'tails.
Located within the James Hotel, this upscale River North steakhouse serves reputable dry-aged ribeyes, porterhouses, and strip steaks. Aside from the classics, the menu features creative carnivore dishes like Wagyu beef sashimi and kobe corn dogs, as well as pasta and a host of vegetable sides for those who aren't meat inclined.
EL Ideas is a micro-fine dining restaurant that specializes in twists on traditional haute cuisine. Located in Douglas Park, this hidden gem offer signatures like mandatory plate-licking (for one course, at least) liquid-nitrogen ice cream and fries. A rotating tasting menu includes items like a heart of palm, ghost pepper, and popcorn caviar and pierogi with beets, wagyu, dill, and sour cream.
Spice lovers and adventurous eaters alike rejoice at Uptown’s Lao Sze Chuan, a Sichuan mecca in Chicago. Begun by Tony Hu, the mastermind behind the Tony Gourmet Group and a graduate of China’s first culinary institution, Lao Sze Chuan promises authentic cuisine founded on high quality materials and ingredients, all prepared by chefs hailing from the restaurant’s regional namesake. With a diverse selection of saucy, hot dishes, you should top your table with Tony’s Chicken with Three Chili and one of the less conventional plates offered, like ginger pork stomach or pork intestine with pork blood cake. Not for the faint of heart (or faint of taste bud), Lao Sze Chuan will provoke you to expand your Chinese culinary horizons well beyond General Tso’s and white rice.
To put it in blunt terms, you simply haven't lived the true Chicago life until you've been to the legendary Margie's Candies. Serving Bucktown since 1921, this generations-old candy shop offers every confection imaginable, all made by hand every day. The ice cream, scooped into homemade waffle cones and delicately dipped in a rich chocolate sauce, is so decadent that both The Rolling Stones and The Beatles have ventured here after shows to satisfy their (brown) sugar cravings.
Kuma's does burgers, and a lot of them. With its bloodthirsty bear paintings and Slayer-grade metal on repeat, you’ll know you’ve stepped into carnivorous territory long before a tatted waitress brings you one of several hunks of meat, like, say, the Neurosis, a massive, juicy beef patty smothered with sharp cheddar, Swiss, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and horseradish mayo.
Portillo's is a Chicago-area hot dog chain serving up authentic char-dog-style frankfurters.
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.
An unexpected ice cream combination has kept Beverly’s Rainbow Cone in the hearts of Chicagoans since 1926: a retro sugar cone piled with layers of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio, and orange sherbet. Lick layer by layer or go for a cross-section bite. You can’t do it wrong. Carry-out cakes of the same invention are on offer in the bright pink stucco store, in addition to sundaes, splits and shakes. A kiosk location at Navy Pier brings the sugar rush waterside.
This upscale West Loop restaurant is known for its European flair and sophisticated American diner-style eats. Au Cheval usually has a wait out the door at peak dinner hours because it's home to iconic signature items like the fried house-made bologna sandwich and the so-called single burger, which actually comes with two thin patties and is topped with American cheese, house Dijonnaise, pickles, and if you know what's good for you, the optional bacon and fried egg add-ons. The brasserie-like space includes an open kitchen and a bar where local, domestic, and international beers are all on tap.
Jim’s Original is there to fulfill the 4am Polish sausage craving you’d be lying if you said you’ve never had. The 24/7 stand has perfected its recipe in the decades since 1943, and its most illustrious Polish sausage sandwich buries a smoked pork and beef Polish sausage in a white bun smothered with yellow mustard and heaps of sweet grilled onions. If sausage isn’t for you, order up a hamburger or a chicken sandwich at the counter. Take napkins for the road; since there’s no place to sit, you’ll want to dive in immediately upon reassuming the driver’s seat.
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.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day at neighborhood institution Ann Sather, a Swedish restaurant that has built its reputation on gooey cinnamon rolls and light Swedish pancakes. Even if you opt for the French toast, you still can't get away from those buns: it is made from halved cinnamon buns dipped in egg and filled with mascarpone. The charming dining room, mirroring a Swedish great room, packs during brunching hours, so come early. A sampler platter hits the traditional savories you expect with lingonberry-glazed duck, meatballs, potato sausage, buttered noodles, sauerkraut, and brown beans.
Nowhere on Uptown’s Sun Wah BBQ’s menu will you find its most sought-after dish, the three-course Beijing duck feast. The Chinese restaurant’s worst-kept secret, the duck is expertly carved, plated, and served to you by one of the chefs in a jazz-like rhythm of slicing and dicing as the bird’s tender, juicy meat falls off the bone and barely hangs onto its glistening, crunchy skin. The remainder of the duck is then syphoned off into duck fried rice and duck soup for subsequent courses. While you in no uncertain terms come to Sun Wah for the duck, there are other delectable options for those who duck meat altogether, like the Singapore noodles or black mushrooms with fried tofu.
This wildly popular fried-dough purveyor in River North (it has a second location in West Loop and a "Vault Van" that changes location every day) breaks hearts with its limited amount of fresh-baked donuts. DV only bakes a certain amount of donuts every day, and once they run out, they're gone 'til the next morning. The dense, old fashioned-style donuts come in flavors like buttermilk glazed, toasted almond, and lemon-poppy seed. Stop by on the early side (it opens at 8am on weekdays, 9:30am on weekends) for the best selection and the shortest lines.
Chicagoans love their dogs hot and Red Hot Ranch's blinking red arrow sign directs them to this cash-only standby for "Depression Dogs:" Vienna beef dogs with mustard, onion, relish, sport peppers with a fist full of french fries in the bun. The natural-cased weiners pop when you bite them and the fries are crisp. Thin-pattied double cheeseburgers satisfy, but when in the dog house, get the dog.
Brain freezes are a necessary evil at Mario’s Italian Lemonade in University Village, the local favorite for Italian shaved ice treats. Armed with both a spoon and a straw, the tropical fruit-flavored Italian ices at Mario’s will make a frozen warrior of you, as long as you don’t leave your cash at home (no cards are accepted here). With flavors like cantaloupe, lime, piña colada, and watermelon, it’s fitting that Mario’s is only open during the summer months.
Helmed by the people behind The Fifty/50, this deluxe corner spot in West Town is slinging "Quad Cities-style" pizza. The hand-tossed crusts are infused with the same malt you taste in your beer before they're lathered with homemade sauce, doused in mozzarella, topped with your choice of fresh ingredients and cured meats, fired, and sliced into thin, easy-to-eat strips. Perfect for big family outings and group nights, the bar and patio seat more than 300.
At Smak Tak, a Polish kitchen in Jefferson Park, you get the feeling you’re in a cabin basement in the Polski hinterlands. In a good way. With only five tables and all wood plank everything, this restaurant excels in specialties like potato pancakes, pierogis, and breaded and broiled meats. Let’s be real, you’ll take full advantage of Smak Tak’s BYOB policy because, well, it’s pretty dark in there, and what else is there to do in your middle-of-nowhere village anyway?
Pastry chef Mindy Segal's Bucktown restaurant is synonymous with comfort food from both the sweet and savory sides of the spectrum. Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, Mindy's Hot Chocolate serves soul-warming dishes, like the Slagel Farm beef burger topped with a fried egg, creamy mac & cheese, and daily soups with crusty sourdough bread. Of course, a meal here isn't complete without dessert, which should include an order of the amazingly rich hot chocolate and a slice of the daily cake (or anything off the dessert menu -- it's all addictive).
University Village’s Al’s Italian Beef is a strong believer in letting you choose how juicy you want it to be, it being their famous original Italian Beef sandwich, of course. The beef, which is thinly sliced and dry-roasted in a secret recipe blend of pure spices and natural juices, undergoes a hot-and-sweet-pepper-gravy transformation at increments ranging from “dry” and “dipped” to “regular” and “wet.” The counter-serve restaurant also offers fresh cut fries, char-grilled burgers, tamales, and chili. Sit down indoors or outdoors, or take out; Al’s isn’t picky.
La Sirena Clandestina in Fulton Market combines bright, coastal Brazilian fare with a dark, sexy atmosphere suitable for the date you’ve thus far struggled to impress. The chocolate-brown wooden tables are littered both with teeny glistening candles and cocktails, like the Bikini Weather (coconut, passion fruit, and tequila), which, by the way, are robust and beach party-worthy. As for food, the menu is a mix of small and large plates, unified by an emphasis on Brazilian meat and seafood tastes, like head-on prawns or ceviche. Share the tres leches for a sweet end to the evening.
If you’re looking for real Southern comfort in Chicago, then Big Jones in Andersonville is for you. The menu is filled with authentic Lowcountry dishes adapted from antique cookbooks, like cornbread muffins taken from an 18th-century plantation recipe and traditional Cajun gumbo. The sustainable menu changes seasonally, but no matter what, expect the signature fried chicken every night. Big Jones’ weekend brunch is also a stunner, especially if you nab a table on the back patio.
West Rogers Park is hiding incredibly fresh, high-quality sushi at Katsu, an unassuming restaurant with a must-try omasake experience. Though the dining room is casual, the prices are not, particularly for the omasake, but it's well worth it for the treasures the chef presents with precision, flair, and even flecks of gold. The other rolls on the menu keep things simple yet elegant, with options such as spicy octopus, salmon, and the Katsu Maki Roll (tuna, yellowtail, masago, king crab, avocado, cucumber).
The former owners of Bang Bang Pie Shop are behind this grain-centric sweet and savory bake shop in Lincoln Square where all the items from breakfast to lunch -- and the flour itself -- are made in-house. Of Baker Miller's breakfast options, the milky bowl of oatmeal topped with seasonal jam, cultured cream, and toasted pecans is a standout, as is the heirloom blue corn grits with sausage. There are a few sandwiches available on the lunch menu, like a BLT with feta and tomato jam, which are served with a slice of pie or side salad. That's a no-brainer.
It's no wonder Calumet Fisheries, on the far south side of Chicago, was featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Open since the 1940s, the family-owned seafood shack is one of the only smokehouses left in Chicago that smokes fish naturally over a wood fire. It offers an endless variety of smoked fish -- from salmon, sturgeon, and white fish to trout, catfish, and shrimp. Not to mention, its fried stuff is pretty good too.
Housed inside a landmark building that was once home to Frank Nitti, the notorious enforcer of Al Capone’s gang, this storied steakhouse is named for the famous sportscaster Harry Caray. It serves a wide variety of prime cuts and Italian-American dishes, but the thing to order is the chicken Vesuvio, a Chicago-born speciality made with roast chicken, garlic, and white wine. A giant mural of Caray beside the building will be the beacon that leads you to this buzzy, River North institution that's a time capsule of sports memorabilia and relics of the gangster-era.
This family-owned South Side institution has been making legendary thin-crust pizza since 1932. The square-cut, crispy-like-a-cracker pies can be topped with a variety of toppings but the crowd favorite is the sausage pizza topped with fennel-seasoned sausage. It's hard to miss Vito & Nick's red, white, and green awning, and the interior is as old-school basic as the exterior. Heads up: it's cash-only.
From the ice cream queen whose small-batch, handmade frosty treats long graced local restaurants and specialty stores, Black Dog is an adorable corner parlor with pink, white, and floral-striped walls, a handful of wooden tables, and -- most important -- velvety gelato in unique flavors. Trust on this one: the goat cheese cashew caramel is a bowl of tangy, nutty goodness that will make you question why more frozen desserts don't involve goat cheese. Some other bizarre yet genius flavors? Sesame fig chocolate chip, blueberry French toast, and maple cayenne bacon.
The menu at this acclaimed collaborative effort between Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality Co. showcases executive chef/partner Chris Pandel's modern-yet-homey interpretation of Italian cuisine, and spans from hearth-fired pizzas and burrata di panna to far-from-ordinary house-made pastas, including tagliolini nero tossed with crab, sea urchin, and mint, and walnut pesto-coated Sardinian gnocchi. The concept also offers an exceptional brunch program packed with sweet and savory dishes.
Owner Hema Potla serves up her authentic, home-style Indian cooking to the West Rogers Park area inside this casual dining room elevated by small Tiffany sconces and white tablecloths. The thing to order is the lamb vindaloo, a spicy and comforting dish perfect for a chilly day, which the team here is happy to make even hotter upon request, bathing the lamb in a flaming hot gravy with potatoes, coconut, and curry leaves. Feel free to bring plenty of friends: the restaurant can accommodate large parties and is BYOB, so you can bring plenty of wine, too.
This Andersonville beer bar is known for its rotating selection of draft beers primarily from the Midwest and Belgium. More than just a bar that serves food, Hopleaf has an outstanding menu of Belgian-inspired food like mussels from Prince Edward Island, charcuterie, and steak frites. The place is casual and laid-back, just like a neighborhood bar should be.
Lem's has racked up throngs of fans since it opened in 1954 thanks to its juicy BBQ ribs, which are served out of a retro roadside stand complete with a tall, neon-lit sign. This South Side institution still tops its meats -- from hot links and rib tips to chicken and shrimp -- with the original spicy BBQ sauce that late owner Myles Lemons created back in the 1940s. Prepare for large portions at small prices, and to take your order with you -- this tiny counter doesn't have seating.
This cozy counter-serve spot on the South Side is owned by a friendly family who bring Chicago a beloved regional specialty from Jalisco, Mexico: spicy, braised goat, or "birria." The grass-fed, locally sourced goat is the one and only dish you'll find in this unfussy, orange-accented space -- served in tacos, in quesadillas, and by-the-pound so you can take the tender, piquant meat with you. The move is to order the birria tatemada, which places the goat on chewy, freshly made tortillas. On the side, go for the fire-roasted salsa presented hot inside a stone bowl.
Johnny O's is beloved by locals for its cheap and hearty burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches, particularly the breaded chicken sandwich, a flat chicken filet deep-fried and covered in cheese, peppers, and tomato sauce. Either step up to the takeout window or nab one of the tables with red and white checkered tablecloths inside the shabby space. The friendly owner is a lifelong Sou'Sider himself and gives this tiny sandwich shack a family feel.
From the mind of chef Grant Achatz (who earned his stripes under Thomas Keller), Alinea presents a wide range of boundary destroying "progressive-American" fare that combines technical showmanship with mind-blowing deliciousness. Chicago locals love checking out the specials here, and we highly recommend that tourists stop by when visiting Chicago. Keep hounding their website for tickets (yep, that’s how they roll), because it’s a meal you’re not likely to forget.
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.
It may not be the final frontier, but with ice-taps pouring 16 traditional and seasonal brews, a meat heavy menu featuring specialty sausages, steaks, and "Animal Service", flat screen TVs, and a beer garden, you won't need to explore any further. Allied: Ready yourself for Animal Service with some Smith & Forge, the hard cider that's built strong -- built from Apples and built to Refresh.
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.
From the team responsible for three-Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning Alinea, this West Loop restaurant delivers the same world-class eats in a decidedly more casual space. The New American menu is served in three formats: à la carte in the dining room, family-style chef's tasting at the kitchen counter; or the fully-immersive chef's tasting in the basement prep kitchen. The large dining room, bustling open kitchen, and slightly-louder-than-normal music makes Roister feel extra lively and energetic.
Pasta is the heart and soul of West Loop's Monteverde, spearheaded by Spiaggia alum chef Sarah Grueneberg. The Italian restaurant serves pasta made in-house and imported from Italy, and though most dishes come in individual servings, some are served family-style. It wouldn't be one of the best celebrity chef restaurants in Chicago without stellar wines, and the reasonably-priced bottles come from Italy, California, and other top wine-producing regions.
This cute little walk-up window on the side of Bar Siena specializes in plump bombolini and house-made gelato. The cream-filled, hole-less Italian donuts come in flavors ranging from vanilla bean custard and salted caramel to peanut butter and jelly and nutella cream, and luckily, they're served in portions of three, so you don't have to choose just one. The move is to order a few bombolini and a waffle cone filled with two scoops of gelato, but then again, there are gelato cookie sandwiches and insane specials like a Nutella calzone too. Sugar high starts now.
After catering parties, doing pop-ups, and becoming one of Chicago’s most popular food trucks, The Fat Shallot set up a permanent spot at Revival Food Hall, where it's serving gourmet sandwiches (including breakfast options) in a sit-down, industrial space. Offerings range from a New Orleans-style pulled pork and cheesy reuben to a BLT with truffle oil aioli.
This Avondale quick-serve is a fried chicken lover's mecca that's doing great things for fast-casual dining and antibiotic-free, cage-free, humanely-raised chicken. The menu includes stellar sandwiches complemented with toppings like jalapeño mayo, Thai green curry, and the namesake honey butter; plus two, four, and eight-piece fried chicken plates served with corn muffins. There are quintessential Southern sides (we see you, pimento mac & cheese), plus dump cake for dessert. A balanced meal indeed.
This family-owned Italian-American counter-serve is a South Side staple for its pizza, subs, wings, and, most famously, its breaded steak sandwich. Ricobene's occupies a large food-court like space with fluorescent lighting and minimal ambience, but you're not here for the decor, you're here for the fried skirt steak covered in mounds of warm mozzarella and soaked in red sauce on a French roll. Sit and stay or take your order to go, but whatever you do, be prepared for a messy meal.
The original Johnny's Grill was a greasy spoon fixture for years before its lease ended in 2014. A year later, chef/owner Sarah Jordan (Boka, Blackbird, Cicchetti) opened a same-but-different Johnny's in the exact location that's both an homage to the original and a total upgrade. The space and menu is still very much a diner with all formica everything, but there's now a bar, patio, and creative comfort dishes like house-made pop tarts, extra crispy fish & chips, and a sharp double cheeseburger that joins the ranks of the best in Chicago.
Down an alley off Restaurant Row, this hidden gem serves up smokehouse BBQ in their rustic warehouse setting as well as outside on a huge, hidden deck. Like their BBQ, their decor reminds us of the simple, worn aesthetic of the Lone Star State with it's exposed wood, peeling painted brick and iron pipe fixtures. Bask in the warm glow of cafe lights and try the pulled pork sandwich or brisket by the half pound with a side of spicy pickles or some good 'ol slaw. Texans know that the best thing to wash down BBQ with is beer; Green Street features a substantial draft list of mostly local Midwestern craft brews, but they also have southern-style cocktails like bourbon-spiked sweet tea.
This Logan Square spot seamlessly blends slow food (literally, there's snail confit) with fine wines, all while transporting you to the Northern Italian countryside. Expect rich and hearty dishes like prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin and hand-pinched ravioli tossed with Parmesan, thyme, and butter (the house speciality). You'll want to grab a table in the Giardino Segreto ("secret garden" in Italian), but heads up: you'll need a reservation to dine on this lovely patio, so be sure to plan ahead.
Chinatown’s Cai strays from other dimsum eateries by dodging the cart setup and offering a menu akin to your family photo album, but with portraits of ridiculously good-looking Chinese bites, and therefore the family you always wanted. The giant banquet hall is always packed, so embrace that you’ll be getting to know your neighbor’s elbow pretty well. Cai has some of the best shumai in the city; nibble on the har gow, or shrimp dumplings with paper-thin crystal wrapping.
Pilsen’s Pleasant House Pub serves up pints and pies in an English pub setting. The menu is divided into pub snacks, pub plates, sides, salads, and flaky, savory “Royal” pies, which you can “crown” with mashed potatoes and gravy. Choose to eat this decidedly British fare in either the indoor or outdoor area, and if you have any room left, jump on the sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Stocked with a full bar of cocktails and craft beers, Pleasant House Pub will have you gabbing in your foolish English accent after one too many.
This 38-seat outlet of porcine goodness is decked out with mounted farm tools and pig diagrams in a barn-like space. Smoked baby back ribs, pulled pig & fowl, Texas-style brisket, and sliced steak dominate the menu alongside a choice of three different sauces: molasses-based Sweet & Sticky, vinegar-y Tart & Tangy, and Wicked Spicy. Atop a fluffy brioche bun, meaty, fatty bacon that's been cured for ten days a smoked for 12 hours meets pastrami on what is undoubtedly one of the best sandwiches in the city.
The name of this spot might conjure up images of a cute bed and breakfast, but in reality, The Duck Inn is a stylish restaurant decked in bare brick and orange accents that specializes in -- you guessed it -- duck. They aren't playing around here: The seasoned rotisserie duck, four-course chef's tasting menu, and creative dishes like potted foie gras and scallop and clam stew earned it a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2016.
Khan BBQ in West Rogers Park excels in sizzling Indian and Pakistani barbecued goods, particularly of the poultry variety. Dishes here, like chicken boti and tandoori fish are exceptional for their smoky flavor, the steamy evidence of which floats up to Khan’s tricked out chandelier that protrudes from the neon blue and green ceiling. To be frank, Khan’s is not a destination for atmosphere; staff scurry hurriedly and the experience is often frenetic. The good news is you’ll have too much naan, goat, rice, and chicken stuffed inside you to care.
This BYOB Cajun spot serves up some of the freshest seafood in the city (think giant, spice-encrusted crabs and plump shrimp immersed in garlic butter) ordered by the pound. Your food will be delivered via large plastic bag plopped down on your paper-covered table -- no plates or utensils necessary.