Friends, Romans, etc.
After leaving Chicago a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about the many wonderful memories I have experienced there and began to notice a common theme that also relates to one of my favorite hobbies: eating. During the three and a half years I spent in Chicago, I have had the pleasure of literally eating my way through the city and in doing so have discovered a number of delectable establishments that will haunt my dreams for years to come. As a farewell of sorts to my most recent home, I wanted to share these with you should you ever happen upon Chicago with an empty stomach.
hands down, my favorite restaurant in Chicago (conveniently located right around the corner from our apartment). Not terribly expensive, Gilt Bar has amazing hand-made pastas and ice cream and a great selection of interesting cocktails. Full disclosure, I have, single-handed, eaten gallons of their mint chocolate chip ice cream. I may or may not have also dreamed about it. Also, the trufflepastaohmygod.
Guys, listen to me, deep dish pizza is disgusting. I'm sorry, it just is. Cheap ingredients, an inch and a half of low-quality mozzarella smothered in tomato sauce from a can. Gross. SO, if you are in Chicago and looking for some amazing pizza (and a variety of other delicious items), La Madia should be your number one destination. They have a bad-ass wood fired oven and out of it comes the most incredible creations (triple pepperoni with TRUFFLE OIL anyone?) Our last night in Chicago, we made our best attempt to eat our way through the entire menu in order to implant it in our minds for all time.
Spectacular Vietnamese food in the gold coast. Good for a fancy date night (you will need reservations, but it's worth it). The atmosphere at Le Colonial is akin to that of a turn of the century hotel, and the dishes are light, fresh and spectacular.
A great place for drinks and small plates after work with friends. Maud's has a dark, moody and very prohibition style atmosphere (among the waitstaff, ironic facial hair and vests abound). You have to try the smoky violet smash. Easily one of the best drinks I have ever had in my life. Warning: more than one smash will leave you kersmashed (but in the most delicious possible way!)
If you have a special occasion to celebrate, Nightwood is your spot. Located in Pilsen (read: you need a cab or a car to get there from downtown), this restaurant serves all locally grown and sourced items with a menu that changes daily depending on what is available. Everything they serve is spectacular. You simply cannot order badly (unless you are vegetarian and order some of their scrumtrulescent pork dishes...). It is pricey and requires travel, so it's better for a special occasion.
Our go-to rainy day lunch spot. This little hole in the wall in downtown Chicago serves a great lunch menu. Ginza is perfect for those frigid winter days where the only thing that will make you forget the sun sets at 4 PM is a bowl of miso soup, green tea and gossip with good friends.
A charming little reasonably priced French restaurant in the gold coast. The lovely menu is filled with savory items that will fit the bill whether you need a quick refuel during a day of errands or a cozy dinner with your loved ones. Bistrot's prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is casual, and it is within spitting distance of great shopping (Anthropologie!)
A classy 30's style hole in the wall (literally, there is no sign out front - only a painted plywood facade) in Wicker Park that serves delectable and mysterious concoctions in a moody, hushed room with high backed chairs and many little nooks and crannies for cuddling up and sharing secrets.
Violet Hour is the perfect place to take friends who come to visit and want to experience something uniquely Chicago. Also, while they have an extensive menu of interesting cocktails, you can also tell your server what kind of flavors you enjoy in your drink and the bartenders will create something unique!
THE place for steak frites. mmmmmmmmm. This Parisian inspired restaurant has a variety of small-to-large plates for you to choose from. They also have a crazy fancy lounge/club type space upstairs that is occasionally visited by celebrities. I can assure you that my lack of suavity has assured that I will never be let up there.
A slightly more affordable (and low-key) alternative to The Nightwood if you are looking for some wonderful local cuisine in Bucktown. Dinner at The Bristol is served at big farm tables and the restaurant has a great communal feel. A great place to take your friend for dinner who has just let you learn to drive stick shift on his car. (You know, in theory and all)
Extremely Honorable Mentions:
-Uncommon Ground (great locally sourced cuisine a killer drink menu and awesome dessert)
-Avec (délectable plates ranging in size from small to large)
-Julius Meinl (delicious coffee and other beverages, as well as great food. A perfect spot for meeting your best friend for brunch)
-Cocoro (incredible japanese food - we'd usually hit up ginza for lunch and cocoro for dinner, never the other way around...not sure why)
-Spacca Napoli (great thin crust pizza and steps away from Architectural Artifacts, one of our favorite rainy day activities)
-Xoco / Frontera Grill (Rick Bayless's restaurants. The food is wonderful but the wait times are INSANITY. Call ahead or go in when they open and get on the list and then go shop Michigan avenue. It is actually worth the wait.)
And there you have it. My surefire way to ensure that you will never visit Chicago without a decent meal.