The one question I get asked most frequently as a food blogger?
“Where are your favorite places to eat in Chicago?”
Seems like a simple enough question, but those innocuous few words often lead to nothing short of a full diatribe from me. At any given time I might have multiple “favorites” top of mind, but most likely I’m going to fire back with questions about vibe, mood, ambiance, cuisine type, dress requirements and price points. How can you expect me to whittle it down to just a little ‘ol handful?
Chicago is perhaps the most ripe breeding ground in the country for foodie FOMO. There is a constant deluge of new, trendy and tasty restaurants popping up, not to mention the ones that have been around for awhile and are still nothing short of fabulous. You could literally eat at a different spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday for a full year and still not come anywhere close to visiting them all.
So, how does one navigate this massive landscape?
By making lists!
Which is exactly what I’ve done. Thanks to your repeated favorite question, it has led me to creating a few, fun categories that highlight my personal “Best of Chicago” and local favorites for where to get your grub on. Now when someone asks, “what’s good to eat around here?”, I can answer, “I have just the list for that!” Organization for the win.
- Presidio | My current “new” favorite and certainly the most stylish of the bunch. They do a wonderfully unique take on brunch that feels just as gourmet and polished as any evening meal. You can read my full review on Presidio’s brunch here.
- Toast | Your old favorite pair of blue jeans brunch. I’ve been visiting Toast for as long as I’ve lived in Chicago and it never gets old. Consistently delicious diner-style breakfast with a twist. Don’t miss the mascarpone-stuffed french toast, it’s a revelation.
- Cellar Door Provisions | A little off the beaten path, but very worthy of the journey. A frequently rotating menu keeps things fresh, while the house-made pastries are reliable perfection. Favorites include: the staff meal, english pea tartine and strawberry crepe cake. All of which likely won’t be there upon your visit. Sorry. However, my review of Cellar Door Provisions is here, so, yay!
- Big Star | The cult classic. Since opening its doors in 2009, Big Star has been the “it” place to go for #TacoTuesday, #TacoWednesday and #TacoEveryday. Whiskey and perfect al pastor are the name of the game here. While the expansive, bustling patio is a total see-and-be-seen spot, the quality never waivers. Pro tip: the tacos here are totally boss, but the queso fundido is the menu’s true CEO.
- Antique Taco | Cocktails served in darling, tiny, glass milk jugs. Cooking classes. Elote salad. A bomb-ass crispy fish taco served with Sriracha tartar sauce. How do I love thee, Antique Taco? Let me count the ways!
- Cemitas Puebla | This one is kinda a cheat. While they do serve tacos (and delicious ones at that), my favorite item at Cemitas Puebla is actually a sandwich. The Pueblan delight is called a Cemitas Milanesa and has an insanely crispy pork loin, fresh avocado, oaxacan cheese and housemade chipotle sauce on a soft sesame roll. It’s TO DIE FOR. Get a carne asada taco on the side for extra yum.
- Kai Zan | Anyone that knows me well knows how deep my love for Kai Zan is. It’s like really, really deep. It’s the only restaurant in the city that I visit on an almost weekly basis and is my go-to for not just the best sushi, but best meal in Chicago. From start to finish, everything is exquisite, impressive and like nothing you’ve ever had before. Pro tip: go with the Chef’s Omakase for an utterly mind-blowing experience.
- Momotaro | My fancy sushi favorite. Want a great date night or hot spot for a girls night out? Momotaro is it. A vast departure from your neighborhood sushi joint, this is where you go to get a little gussied up and turn it up a bit. Expect to dine on delicacies like big eye tuna airbread and uni rice with truffles. Although, yes, you can just get a spicy tuna roll, too. Find my expanded thoughts on Momotaro here.
- Lawrence Fish Market | The secret weapon. While Lawrence Fish Market is a counter-serve only locale, that doesn’t mean the sushi isn’t bangin’. It is… but, it’s certainly best consumed at home. Lawrence is sushi party tray heaven! You can order an obscene amount of amazing fish for an absurdly low price. Ask any true foodie, they’ll tell you, Lawrence is 100% Best of Chicago.
- Coalfire | Just take a look at the picture above. Need I say more? Coalfire’s pies are absolute works of edible art. But that pizza there, she’s more than just a pretty face. Those soft, pillowy clouds of ricotta cheese just make this pizza for me. I love smushing them down and covering my whole piece in a blanket of tasty, heavenly cheese. The only thing better? Adding a drizzle of Coalfire’s signature spicy honey as the perfect topper to complete a full sensory experience of savory, spicy, salty and sweet bites.
- Pequod’s | Crispy cheese or bust! I’m not much of a deep dish pizza fan – sorry Chicago! – but, on the occasion when I do crave a big ‘ol hunk of bready zzah, Pequod’s is the only deep dish for me. With a crispy, crunchy, caramelized cheese crust surrounding a tangy, saucy, gooey, deep dish pizza, it’s a tasty delight any way you slice it.
- Spacca Napoli | Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza straight out of the oven. Is there anything better? Chewy, bubbly, beautiful. Love the kind of pizzas you can just fold together and shove in your face! My Spacca favorites: the Funghi e Salsiccia (mushroom and sausage) and the Bianca Regina (all white) pizzas… they’re small enough that ordering two pizzas is totally reasonable. No, really.
- Au Cheval |Their single cheeseburger is a long-reigning favorite in Chicago and for good reason. It’s a smushy, delicious towering masterpiece! People wait through considerably annoying wait-times just to get their hands on this diner delight. You can add a sunny side up egg or slab-cut bacon to yours, but I like mine just as it comes: with Dijonnaise, pickles and two slices of American cheese. The only mystery I still can’t crack? Why the ‘single’ burger comes with two patties. Hmmm.
- Cochon Volant | They don’t call it Le Cheeseburger Royale for nothing. Cochon Volant’s take on a cheeseburger has quickly risen the ranks to pole position in my burger book. Yes, despite what they say (who are “they” anyway?), Cochon has my favorite burger in the city. With prime dry-aged beef, crispy bacon, confit onion, American cheese, Dijonnaise and pickles, it’s the perfect blend of all things that make a burger fabulous. ‘Cuz really, who needs lettuce and tomato anyway?
- Kuma’s Corner | Some of the best beefy goodness in the city… if you can stand head-banging heavy metal while you’re eating it. Personally, the second I sink my teeth into a Kuma’s Corner Plague Bringer burger, I hear nothing but angels singing. With crushed garlic, garlic mayo, fresh jalapeño, house-made hot sauce, tortilla strips, monterrey jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion, it’s a pretty intense experience. Breath mints most definitely required.
Best Date Night Spots
- RM Champagne Salon | When the weather permits, RM is 100% my favorite spot to be wined and dined. Their private patio just oozes charm. With its hanging cafe lights and brick flooring, you feel just like a young lover in Paris. Accordingly, their classic French menu does everything to foster that notion… featuring glorious cheeses, multiple bottles of French bubbles, foie gras torchon, a croque madame and raw bar, you can almost see the Eiffel twinkling in the distance.
- Bavette’s | Steak on fleek. My favorite choice for doing a steakhouse in Chicago. I love the dark, languid sexiness of Bavette’s. Classic banquettes and dark lighting mean cuddling up to your honey with a side of old school charisma. With its shellfish plateaux and killer bone-in, dry-aged ribeye, Bavette’s is simple perfection.
- GT Fish & Oyster | I met my husband here, so for that reason alone GT always holds a special place in my heart. Romance aside, GT also happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, hands down. The seafood-forward menu sings with delicious items like gnocchi with uni butter, the best lobster roll in the city, shrimp bruschetta with avocado, and a caviar service that will make you fall in love in one bite. Sound aphrodisiacal? It is.
- Stan’s Donuts | For those that don’t know, Chicago has a very strong donut game. There are multiple spots to get your gourmet donuts now, so how do you know where to go? There are donuts with bacon, donuts with raspberries and oreos, dreamsicle donuts… but none are better than the donuts at Stan’s. From the biscoff cookie butter donut, to the nutella banana pocket, to my favorite, the pistachio glazed, these sweet beauties are best in show.
- Amorino | Amorino technically isn’t a Chicago original. It was brought here by way of Paris and is an artisnal ice cream treat like no other. If you haven’t experienced Amorino before, having it in Chicago would be a tasty way to start! Pick three flavors and watch as they’re sculpted into a beautiful rose-shaped, edible creation. With flavors like Tiramisu, Stracciatella and Pure Coconut, a flower has never smelled so sweet.
- Sweet Mandy B’s | Good ‘ol fashioned desserts like grandma used to make. Sweet Mandy B’s is just the most darling of bakeries in Chicago with all of its throwback décor and warm nostalgia. Treat yo self with cupcakes, traditional pies, banana pudding with Nilla wafers, pineapple upside down cake and more!
There it is! Your complete Best of Chicago guide to eating anything and absolutely everything. I’m hungry just looking at it. If I missed any of your Best of Chicago favorites, leave me a note in the comments below. Cheers to a Tasty Life!