“Oh dear god,” I thought while stuffing yet another slice of deep dish pizza down my throat. I’m not even hungry, but there I am on my third (or is it fourth?!) slice. Tomatoes spilling over my cheese-covered fork. “At least you have to eat this thing with a fork.”
Eating pizza with a fork and knife. It slows you down, making it more difficult to fill up too quickly. But I’ve managed to do it. Take-away boxes are quite common in American restaurants, even pizza ones, and yet at each pizzeria I ate at in Chicago, I managed to clear my plate every time. #oops #notreally
When I booked my trip to Chicago and Illinois, food was (once again) one of the leading factors on why I was traveling. Chicago is that quintessential American city. It’s home to so many different traditions that are so typically American, it’s just come to represent what America means to me. Maybe that’s because ever since I studied communication at college and learned that most broadcasters mimic the “General American” accent typical of Chicago, I’ve just always thought of Chicago as…American.
And like all my trips back to my homeland, it’s almost always about the food. I think no matter where you live, food is always a big part of your childhood. In some ways, it even can come to define who you are. I remember hearing stories of my mom’s pregnancy with me—there was a pizzeria in New England that apparently she was obsessed with, so I’m guessing I’m made of 90% pizza. It’s just who I am.
Food in Chicago covers the full gamut. There’s the typical American fast food—worthy of its own story because, really, fast food (while often unhealthy) is a big part of the America story. But other stereotypical American foods come out in Chicago: breakfast is a big deal in the USA. I’m not sure why, but it just is. There’s even a new trend for restaurants that exclusively sell breakfast cereal. Weird. But cool.
Pizza, perhaps obviously, is a bit part of the Chicago cuisine. As are steaks and other hearty, protein-intensive meals. /
Happy eating! (And, uh, a pro tip for traveling to Chicago: don’t bring skinny jeans if you’re planning to eat all the things I ate here…. Or if you do, make sure you book a hotel with a decent gym, because trust me—this food is certain to make you gain a little bit of weight!)
Breakfast at the famous Lou Mitchell’s Diner. You get a donut hole when you enter and the food portions just never slow down after that. Breakfast skillets are the speciality here with big omelets and a whole lot more.I took a food tour with Tastebud Tours through the “Flavors of Chicago” including the Chicago food specialities like pizza and hot dogs but it also included visits to more off-the-beaten-path restaurants. On the tour we learned a little bit of local Chicago history, such as the fact that the chocolate brownie was invented here during the World’s Fair!Chicago is famous for their hot dogs, served Chicago style which includes seven very important ingredients. Don’t make me say what they are because, well, I can only remember one and that’s “celery salt.”The famous “Cheezeborger, Cheezeborger” at the Billy Goat Tavern—made famous in a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch. It pretty much tasted like any other fast food burger, but it was definitely cheap and the staff at this tucked-away underground restaurant made it a place worth visiting.Longman & Eagle is *the* hipster bar in Chicago. Located in Logan Square, I went on a Sunday afternoon with a friend also visiting from out-of-town. Lots of people were at the bar & restaurant for their popular Sunday brunches, but we stuck to the bar with high-quality whisky cocktails. Seriously: so so good!I ate a lot of pizza in Chicago, but often ate a lot of them pretty fast, too, but I did manage to get a photo of this one from Connie’s—one of the city’s more famous pizzerias.“OMG THIS IS BREAKFAST” is what I thought when this showed up in front of me at Hash House A Go Go. Chicken-fried-steak, mashed potatoes and country gravy served over a biscuit (somewhere in there, I don’t know where). Obviously it was my most favorite breakfast ever.My weekend in Chicago started with one of those oh-so-American things: fried pickles at Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch! It’s a local restaurant chain named after a famous sports broadcaster. #nomnomnomOne of those deep dish pizzas — this one we sampled on our Tastebud Chicago food tour at Pizano’s Pizzeria. I think this may have been one of my favorite deep dishes but the verdict’s still out. Lots more to try on my next visit!So, this is a breakfast at Chicago. It’s just another view of my meal at Hash House A Go Go before heading out on my Illinois road trip.Donuts are the new trendy food group in Chicago with many bakeries selling speciality flavors. Firecakes was around the corner from my hotel, so I went on a Saturday morning. I tried just about every donut they had in the shop—including the weird ones like “Maple Glazed Pineapple & Bacon” and “Peanut Butter Cup.” It was all very sugary.Another one of the hipster cafés I visited in Logan Square, Lula Cafe serves a mixed bag of cuisine. I had a breakfast burrito for brunch there, but again—it was all about the cocktails.This isn’t a photo of food, but it was in the room I stayed in on my last night in Chicago at the super cool (and super friendly) ACME Hotel. It’s a guide on how to work off the deep dish pizza. I can’t stress enough: the food in Chicago is good, but be warned: you will have to exercise. But, uh, I didn’t use the gym there—though I did hang out in their trendy bar, The Berkshire Room, with my good friend Pola!
Where to Eat in Chicago
Here’s the full list of all the restaurants and bars mentioned above. But like any other big city, there are lots more restaurants and bars worth checking out. I made a full list while I was there of all the places I wanted to eat and didn’t get to half of them. Next time!
If you want a quick and easy way to sample some of these places and also get the local food history for Chicago, definitely consider doing a food tour. The Tastebud “Flavors of Chicago” tour was a great introduction to Chicago cuisine! Their website: tastebudtours.com
Cafés & Breakfast Places
Hash House A Go Go
hashhouseagogo.com — A small chain restaurant in the USA, featured on Man vs. Food because of their HUGE PORTIONS.
Lou Mitchell’s Dinerloumitchellsrestaurant.com — Popular diner that’s been around for a long time, located at the beginning of Route 66 (a popular start for any American road trip). Food is about the same quality as any diner, but the restaurant couldn’t be any friendlier and the atmosphere is fun.
lulacafe.com — Prices are good at this trendy café in Logan Park (Chicago’s most hipster neighborhood, clearly) and the menu
firecakesdonuts.com — Lots of exotic flavors and an always-busy, tiny location in the city center. Show up early to make sure you get your donut!
pizanoschicago.com — One of Chicago’s award-winning deep dish pizzerias with a secret family recipe
conniespizza.com — Another family-owned, Chicago deep-dish style pizzeria that’s been around for over 50 years!
downtowndogschicago.com — I tried this downtown hot dog eatery on a food tour with Tastebud Tours. The Chicago style hot dog is a local specialty, and a bit of an acquired tasted… (Subtext: it was okay. But it was just a hot dog, really.)
http://www.wienercircle.net/ — I didn’t actually visit this famous hot dog stand on this trip, but I’ve been before and it was one of my favorite Chicago experiences. There’s a lot of snark served up at this popular late-night eatery, but it’s worth it!
Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch
harrycarays.com — Local chain restaurant with tasty burgers and lots of fried foods, too. Their location at Water Tower Place also includes a sports memorabilia museum.
Billy Goat Tavern
billygoattavern.com — Not sure if this is a dive bar, a late-night eatery or a bar, but whatever—it’s all about the atmosphere (and that delicious fast-food cheeseburger).
Where to Drink
Longman & Eagle
http://www.longmanandeagle.com/ — Probably my favorite bar that I visited while in Chicago. Located in Logan Square, they’ve got an impressive food menu, a big list of whisky and contemporary cocktails and even rent out a few hotel rooms for overnight visitors (starting at $95/night).
The Berkshire Room at the ACME Hotelacmehotelcompany.com — Cocktails aren’t cheap but they’re top-notch and the crowd inside is a mix of locals and tourists.
Note: I visited Chicago for some of my time while on a press trip with Enjoy Illinois tourism. They’ve got a great interactive website which lists many Chicago and other Illinois food & drink places. It allows you to sort by different cuisines and cities, which is helpful for trying to find recommended places to eat. Check it out here: enjoyillinois.com
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