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30 Spots to Eat Like a Local in Chicago

From goat empanadas to caramelized cheese pizza, we fill you in on some of the tastiest spots in the city.

West Loop

Michelin stars coexist with under-the-radar gems in the West Loop. If you can’t snag a seat at these hot spots with our insider tips, then try their nearby neighbours.

1. Girl & the Goat

Why go? Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard offers an extensive menu of small plates, from wood-oven-roasted pig face to goat empanadas.

Tip: Go straight to the bar, and let them know you’d like a table... eventually.

Still can’t get in? Blazing Argentine grill El Che Bar serves a variety of tasty meats, like tenderly charred quail or roasted pork ribs.

El Che Bar, 845 W. Washington St., 312-265-1130, elchebarchicago.com
Girl & the Goat, 809 W. Randolph St., 312-492-6262, girlandthegoat.com

 

2. Next

Why go? Grant Achatz’s menu changes themes every few months, allowing diners a chance to explore, for example, dishes out of ancient Rome or inspired by Hollywood blockbusters.

Tip: Follow @nextrestaurant on Twitter to snap up same-day seats.

Still can’t get in? At Fulton Market Kitchen, a barrage of vivid rotating street art complements chef Chris Curren’s refined rustic dishes. Order the truffle-stuffed roast chicken.

Fulton Market Kitchen, 311 N. Sangamon St., 312-733-6900, fultonmarketkitchen.com
Next, 953 W. Fulton Market, 312-226-0858, nextrestaurant.com

 

3. Roister

Why go? Chef Andrew Brochu’s Whole Chicken & Chamomile is at once the most delicate fried chicken, the most sophisticated roasted chicken and the most elegant chicken salad you’ll ever have.

Tip: Be there when it opens at 5:30 p.m.

Still can’t get in? Proxi may look like a chi-chi downtown watering hole, but chef Andrew Zimmerman will confound your expectations with his fried halibut collar with Thai garlic chili sauce.

Proxi, 565 W. Randolph St., 312-466-1950, proxichicago.com
Roister, 951 W. Fulton Market, roisterrestaurant.com

Deep dish pizza

The Perfect Deep-dish Pizza

Steve Dolinsky, James Beard Award-winning co-host of the Feed podcast, on his favourite pies.

Lou Malnati’s

“Each bite has a perfect ratio of cheese/crust/topping/sauce, and that sauce – a rough mix of chunky tomatoes, sprinkled with grated pecorino Romano and seasoned with oregano – offers excellent acidity to balance the rich, melted cheese.”

439 N. Wells St. and other locations, 312-828-9800, loumalnatis.com
 

Labriola Cafe

“Owner Rich Labriola is a baker, so he understands the importance of moisture and temperature. The result is a pizza with a crispy bottom and a perimeter of caramelized cheese that you can pretty much eat with your hands.”

535 N. Michigan Ave., 312-955-3100, labriolacafe.com
 

Bartoli’s

“The owner’s grandfather was Fred Bartoli, founder of the original Gino’s East. This is his gift to Chicago – a throwback, just like he remembers from his childhood. They spent a year working on their sauce; it’s a mix of chunky and puréed plum tomatoes, plus hints of sugar, oregano and basil.”

1955 W. Addison St., 773-248-0455, bartolispizza.com

The Ultimate Food Hotel

Once a 19th-century men’s club, the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel now offers a circuit of food and drink options.
 

The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

1. Enjoy a cheeseburger and an order of crinkle-cut fries at the Shake Shack.

2. Sink into a dark leather chair with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in the 1890s gothic revival Drawing Room.

3. Play bocce with a beer in the old-fashioned Game Room.

4. Dine on grill classics like chateaubriand or skate wing in the wood-panelled Cherry Circle Room.

5. Pull up to the eight-seat bar in the Milk Room for a personally crafted cocktail made with rare vintage spirits.

6. Share platters of steak or shellfish with all the sides at Cindy’s rooftop restaurant.

12 S. Michigan Ave., 312-940-3552, chicagoathletichotel.com

Logan Square

Serious chefs are opening cozy places in Logan Square, where the vibe is more relaxed and the plates are made with love. The best are along Armitage, just a short cab ride from downtown.

1. Giant

When did someone last tell you that you had to have the eggplant? At Jason Vincent’s modern tribute to classic Midwestern cuisine, the humble aubergine is served in a sweet-and-sour sauce with cashews and pancetta.

3209 W. Armitage Ave., 773-252-0997, giantrestaurant.com


2. Osteria Langhe

This Italian spot is rooted in the mountainous Piemonte region, where the focus is on locally sourced meats and aged sheep and goat cheeses. Try their irresistibly tender little pillows of La Tur and Parmesan cheese filling called plin.

2824 W. Armitage Ave., 773-661-1582, osterialanghe.com
 

3. Table, Donkey and Stick

This place is as relaxed as an Alpine lodge après-ski – its inspiration. Pull up to a dark wooden table or enjoy the outdoor firepit while sampling a selection of European wines and cheeses and house-cured charcuterie (with secret ingredients, like pistachios or blueberries).

2728 W. Armitage Ave., 773-486-8525, tabledonkeystick.com

Beer Pairings

Beer Pairings

Chicago is hopping with unique gastropubs serving specialty brews and a menu to match.

Moody Tongue

Brewer Jared Rouben uses everything from fruit to truffles in his beers, but his tasting room serves only four accompaniments: cheese, salumi, oysters and Viennese chocolate cake.

2136 S. Peoria St., 312-600-5111, moodytongue.com

 

Cruz Blanca

Rick Bayless’ Mexican-inspired pub offers refreshing lagers made with ingredients like hominy, smoked wheat and cocoa nibs, which play off the chilies that go in their chicken, pork or mushroom tacos.

904 W. Randolph St., 312-733-1975, cruzblanca.com

 

Forbidden Root

Beers made with botanicals and fruit like ginger, blackcurrants or cherries complement earthy, artisan-crafted bar foods at this brewpub. Nosh on a plate of feta, Taleggio and pecorino Romano with your King Hell cherry ale.

1746 W. Chicago Ave., 312-929-2202, forbiddenroot.com

From Breakfast to Bedtime

Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, here are some spots you’ll want to flock to when starting your day or winding down.

In the morning

Morning

Nico Osteria

Enjoy breakfast with an Italian spin, such as eggs with a side of Roman gnocchi or a house-baked croissant served with fior di latte. Served Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; brunch Saturday/Sunday, starting at 9 a.m.

1015 N. Rush St., 312-994-7100, nicoosteria.com

 

Beatrix

A full range of sweet and savoury dishes, plus a pastry bar for a quick croissant (or butterscotch-oatmeal cookie), makes Beatrix a sunny all-purpose breakfast stop. Open seven days a week, from 7 a.m.

519 N. Clark St., 312-284-1377; 671 N. St. Clair St., 312-642-0001, beatrixchicago.com

 

Bohemian House

Start a very relaxed weekend with an artisanal take on hearty Czech food. Try the Bavarian pancakes with whipped farmer’s cheese, red plums, pecans and toasted meringue. Open for brunch on weekends, starting at 10 a.m.

11 W. Illinois St., 312-955-0439, bohochicago.com

In the evening

Evening

GreenRiver

The cocktail menu here is a book, organized by types of grains used in spirits. You’ll soon be caught up in the tales of colourful characters like the Hinky Dink, made with Polish rye, beet and pistachio syrups and absinthe, or the Gray Wolf, a blend of Japanese whisky and plum vinegar.

259 E. Erie St., 18th Floor, 312-337-0101, greenriverchi.com

 

CH Distillery

How local are the spirits in this bar? Just look through the glass at the gleaming copper stills; everything you’re drinking, from vodka and whisky to amaro, is fermented and distilled just a few metres away.

564 W. Randolph St., 312-707-8780, chdistillery.com

 

Best Intentions

This neighbourhood tavern has an impressive list of liquors in stock, and its summertime treat is perfect for the patio: a malted shake made with Wondermint liqueur from Wisconsin’s Death’s Door Spirits.

3281 W. Armitage Ave., 312-818-1254, bestintentionschicago.com

Pilsen

Chicago has the largest Mexican community in the U.S. after Los Angeles, and the best place to experience its cultural influence is Pilsen.

1. Start with the permanent collection of paintings and sculptures at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

1852 W. 19th St., 312-738-1503, nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org
 

2. Make your way up to 18th Street, where you’ll find a parade of restaurants, shops and street art. For a family-run taqueria (but one with a pedigree from chef Rick Bayless’ empire), try the artful tamales, tacos and soups at 5 Rabanitos.

1758 W. 18th St., 312-285-2710, 5rabanitosdotcom.wordpress.com
 

3. Afterwards, stop in at Escaramuza USA for handcrafted Mexican artworks and jewellery.

1644 W. 18th St., 312-563-9779
 

4. If you’re still hungry, Cantón Regio, inspired by the meat markets of Mexico, cooks up vast quantities of arrachera (skirt steak), sold by the kilo, with grilled bulb onions and housemade tortillas fresh off the griddle.

1510 W. 18th St., 312-733-3045
 

5. Finally, finish your walk with a mini tres leches cake at Bombon.

1457 W. 18th St., 312-733-7788, bomboncakes.com

Coffee Mashups

Coffee Mashups

How Chicago’s coffee counters are spiking their offerings.

Sawada Coffee

Japanese latte artist Hiroshi Sawada blends green matcha tea with coffee to create the lush Military Latte.

12 N. Green St., 312-754-0431, sawadacoffee.com


Heritage Bicycles General Store

This cycle shop and coffee counter rents out handcrafted bikes for the afternoon. Fuel your trip with an iced latte and a breakfast burrito.

2959 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-245-3005, heritagebicycles.com

 

Bombobar

There’s coffee and doughnuts, and then there’s getting a freshly fried ball of dough and a squeeze bottle of filling to express yourself in the doughnut arts.

832 W. Randolph St., 312-492-7775, barsiena.com/bombobar

Top Dogs

Top Dogs

Portillo’s

A big barn of a place with a hot-dog stand’s heart, Portillo’s will satisfy your need for the juicy, garlicky snap of a Chicago dog or the oregano-and-grease profile of Chicago’s classic Italian beef sandwich.

100 W. Ontario St., 312-587-8910, portillos.com

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